Earlier this week I ran into Bunny Goodison, and we got to talking about the demise of values and attitudes in Jamaica. We spoke about the fact that even though we may see growth in the economy, there is still a critical mass of the population that doesn't know what it means to be productive, and sadly, may not easily find a place in a more competitive economy.
So even as we see the employment numbers declining, and GDP growth chugging along, the fact is that there is still a great concern about many of the youths who grew up in a time when the values of working were never a priority. In fact, Bunny said we may have about two generations that fall into that category.
As I thought about this some more over the ensuing days, I reflected on the importance that was placed on this by former PM PJ Patterson, in his Values and Attitudes campaign. He realised how much of a problem the lack of proper attitudes and values was going to be for the proper development of Jamaica.
The reality is that no country can develop in any sustainable way without a foundation of proper values and attitudes. One may argue that this is the reason we have laws, that is, to bring people in line when they deviate. However, this is only effective when the general behaviour of society is aligned with ethical values and attitudes, and the unethical behaviour is in the minority.
Jamaica has, however, developed in such a way that it seems as if the unethical behaviour is challenging ethical behaviour as the acceptable way of life. When this happens, the laws are not as meaningful, because the people who have grown up accepting unethical behaviour are the ones who enforce the laws.
So many of us grew up accepting indiscipline on our roads -- drinking while driving, boorish behaviour by taxis and buses -- children in bars and at betting shops, underage drinking and smoking, evasion of taxes, domestic violence, and the list goes on.
The danger of constant exposure to that sort of behaviour is that we accept it as the norm, therefore when the child that grew up in this culture becomes a police officer, he/she turns a blind eye to indiscipline.
The reasons for this acceptable norm of behaviour are complex, and sociologists may need to explain it, but one reason for it is the attitude we had in the 1970s and 1980s, where even the slogan of our tourism campaign was 'Jamaica, no problem'. So Jamaica was a laid-back place for both locals and tourists. We could consume alcohol and drive, play music at anytime of the night, tourist harassment was seen as hustling, and if the authorities came down on someone for breaking the law, the attitude was "Bwoy, look how dem fighting down the poor man."
The result of all of this was that anyone who wanted to enforce the law was seen as unreasonable, and this was in no small way promoted by the attitude of politics and the politicians.
So when the political parties had rallies, it was okay for the supporters to hang outside of the buses and destroy property as they travelled to meetings. Some will remember when the supporters, under the influence of political fever, would smash the windows of stores and engage in violent confrontations. In fact, there was a time when political meetings were being held that the law-abiding citizen would stay off the road and allow the law breakers to gain acceptance.
Combine all of this breakdown in proper behaviour with the fact that around the end of the 1980s to today, the role model of many young people became the deejay and the area don. As Bunny said, when he was growing up everyone wanted to be a lawyer, doctor, accountant, nurse, teacher, or other professional.
Today, I see some change as people look to become sports personalities or entrepreneurs, but the values and attitudes have still not improved.
By the late 2000s, the politicians, many of whom helped to create the societal indiscipline, decided that out of necessity we needed to change it for the better. By that time there was a serious breakdown in values, and the two generations that Bunny referred to did not know how to be productive contributors, and this is reflected in the type of music we produce.
So the lyrics of music today tell the children -- who are encouraged by their parents to gyrate to it -- that they must take advantage of the other sex or glorify the gun culture. This, of course, didn't start today, as in the late 1960s to 1970s the "rude boy" culture started to find its way into songs, in response to the perceived social oppression of the time. But at that time there was still respect for authority.
So today, the Government is trying to change that lack of disrespect for authority and indiscipline. The problem is that after decades of acceptable social decay, any attempt to change it will meet resistance. So when Dr Omar Davies tries to introduce discipline to the transport system, the response is protest and demonstration.
When the police try to maintain road discipline or deal with night noise, the patrons come down on them as "fighting against" people who want to make a living. When the tax authorities try to deal with tax evasion they face an uphill battle.
If, however, we want to create a country that is the preferred place to live, raise families, work, and invest, then we must create a society where the rule of law and order is paramount. The only way for us to create this is to ensure that engrained in all of us, as law-abiding citizens, is the desire to always do the right thing. This is not something that can be enforced by application of the law only. It must be learned as a way of life.
As I said to Bunny, I grew up learning from my parents that I should always do the right thing, no matter what the immediate consequences, as this is the only way to hold your head high over time. But how many of us have been able to learn that, given that many of the parents -- themselves teenagers -- were not prepared with that knowledge, much more to teach it.
In fact, the school curriculum never taught you, and still doesn't teach you, to be a good parent or a good citizen. I would go as far as to say that some teachers themselves are not good role models for the children they lead, as they themselves lacked the grounding in proper values and attitudes.
So thanks for the conversation, Bunny. Indeed, if we are to develop a society aligned with Vision 2030, then I don't think it is possible without us changing our values and attitudes, as we could end up with a lot of money but an undisciplined society.
Dennis Chung is a chartered accountant and is currently Vice President of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Jamaica. He has written two books: Charting Jamaica’s Economic and Social Development – 2009; and Achieving Life’s Equilibrium – balancing health, wealth, and happiness for optimal living – 2012. His books are available on Amazon.com. He blogs at dcjottings.blogspot.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.
This article is published with permission. It was published on Dennis Chung's blog, dcjottings.blogspot.com, on Friday, August 8, 2014.