Many of us Jamaicans are like windscreen wipers

I’m sure many working-class motorists in Jamaica can relate to approaching corporate area stop lights on red with dread; stopping a little way off to give themselves enough room to crawl down to the white line and hopefully by the time they come to a halt, they will mercifully get green and escape the overwhelming offers and demands to clean already sparkling windscreens. If you accept the ‘free’ offer (or demand) to have your windscreen wiped you are simultaneously expected to pay for it. If you don’t accept the demand and indicate your non-acceptance with a simple, gracious no, you are generally still forced to accept and then expected to fork out some coins or paper notes.

If as a result of the intrusion, you flash your hands violently, ‘wrench up’ your face and kiss your teeth or turn on your own automated windscreen wiper, you are threatened and ‘cussed out’ thoroughly – especially if you are a woman. If you have the misfortune of having to go back to the stoplight a few moments later, the windscreen wiping youths oftentimes shoot your car with their soap water plastic weapons in protest for you not accepting their earlier demand.

I want to imagine that anyone with even a limited sense of right and wrong will know that something is dastardly wrong with this situation. In the same way that a woman should be able to tell a man ‘no, I am not interested in having sexual relations with you’ and he is expected to respect her decision, the windscreen wipers ought to respect the simple gracious ‘no thanks’ from motorists. This is not about how dirty your windscreen is, nor is it about how true or false the windscreen wipers’ needs are. It is about a basic principle of respect. No means no.

But if you drill down to the real issue at play here you will find that it’s not so much about poverty as it is about a sense of entitlement. Among a number of these street youths is a sense that because you the motorist are driving a car in AC comfort you are able and expected to make a donation to their needs, which I suspect comes from our Garrison culture, but I digress. I know so many motorists driving what you would call a crissaz who simply do not have enough money to buy lunch on a given day, make the car payment that month or pay their JPS bill. The fact that you appear to have life ‘better off’ than others seems to mean that you are obligated, forced to share that ‘better-off-ness’ with the ‘less fortunate’ (some of these youths are conmen, but I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt for the purposes of this blog). This is situation is problematic on a number of levels.

Firstly, giving is both about the will, heart and capability of the giver as well as the need of the recipient. And by all means, we should give to those in need, including to windscreen wipers who genuinely need help. “A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed,” Proverbs 11:25. However the recipient cannot simply ‘stick up’ the giver for gifts. This is what you would call extortion. Imagine a charity organisation going to a private sector company demanding a donation and then if they don’t receive it, they launch an attack on the company. Makes sense? And what about the fee that contractors pay certain ‘influencers’ in the community to ensure that the materials for the new constructions aren’t ‘demanded’ by the community. If you look around, you will observe that this issue of entitlement is widespread in Jamaica and in a sense many of us are like the abusive windscreen wipers at the stoplights.

Even in companies, employees after working more than a few years or so tend to feel like the company owes them bonus, Easter bun, Christmas cakes and other benefits; not staying focused on the fact that their salary is all the company is really obligated to pay. Christmas cakes are nice, but it’s an extra not an obligation; not something you are owed. Sadly, if some companies don’t pay bonus or other non-salary benefits, ‘management’ can depend on a wave of bad mouthing, low productivity and low morale.

Take a look at another longstanding troubling situation in Jamaica – squatting. In a Gleaner report of 2009, it was reported that some 900,000 Jamaicans occupy state lands illegally and I figure this number has grown over the years. We can reasonably assume that illegally seizing a piece of land, building a house and making a dwelling is usually out of very desperate need. But if we are to go by regular news reports and the pulse of the streets, the general perspective of some squatters (not all) is that someone owes them something.

Have you ever seen the news reports of houses (sometimes on squatter land) damaged by fire or flooding and how some of the residents of these houses are almost threatening the government to help them? Don’t get me wrong – we must all help each other as brothers and sisters of Jamaica, but if we don’t put our perspectives and attitudes in check, I believe we will not be able to make any serious national ‘emancipendence’ strides.

Part of the solution to this problem is for leaders – at every level, from households to organisations, communities and government – to engender a sense of responsibility and gratitude which we must also be careful to teach our children from the moment they can speak. This teaching needs to be systemic and systematic if we truly want change.

  • We must teach children to feel the pain of working hard to achieve something regardless of their socio-economic background. Rich or poor, let them learn to put in the effort over a period of time to achieve a dream. Saving up to buy something, taking up a sport or the arts are good options.
  • When giving them gifts, teach them that although they may not have paid for it, it was not free, it always costs something. In other words, teach them the value of things.
  • Let children volunteer and serve vulnerable communities – through church, girl guides, scout, key club or other extra-curricular activity – so that they know for a fact that serving and giving back do make a difference.
  • We must teach them to value human life and to honour each person not because of what they have or don’t have, but because they were also created by God and in that way are your brothers and sisters.
  • The key to all of this is having a national focus on effective parenting and mentorship, where we are deliberate about imparting right values and attitudes at a time when our children are receptive and trainable. 

If we start afresh with the next generation maybe we can begin to solve some of the big problems that we face as a nation. The economy, health care and education are all vitally important in the mix – but these areas are all dependent on a nation of people with a progressive positive world view that can truly result in prosperity. “Ill-gotten treasures have no lasting value, but righteousness delivers from death.” Proverbs 10:2.


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