Jamaica has always been a blessed contradiction: a mixture of good and bad that pulls at the heartstrings in very profound ways.
Lately, however, it seems that amid the jubilation of our athletic accomplishments, a much more dire picture is emerging that envelops our national consciousness and presses critical issues to the fore. When it all comes out in the wash, many citizens are left with a sour taste in their mouth and holding the bag. The end result is an increasingly distressed and disenchanted citizenry.
One of the first places where this becomes evident is in a reduced nationalistic perspective. No longer are people willing to look beyond themselves to the greater good. The season of discontent makes everyone intent on just “defending their own.” Nowhere is this more evident than in the social clubs and special interest groups. Even though the country is being driven to a proverbial wreck, we are less interested than ever in undertaking the task of fixing it.
An informal poll at one such service club revealed very troubling statistics: a year-on-year 4% average reduction in enrollment and a 20% drop in attendance. Even though people need service clubs now more than ever (see article on Five Reasons You need to Join a Service Club), they seem to be one of the first items on the chopping block, the end result invariably being a reduction in our capacity to generate strong, meaningful leadership evolving out of pure volunteerism.
Without that leadership, we cannot expect change in our current course. It probably is the underlying reason for one of the other critical manifestations of a disenchanted citizenry: voter apathy. The last release out of the Electoral Office of Jamaica showed that more than 46% of the eligible population did not vote. Of that number, more than 70% were from the middle income bracket. It speaks to an average productive Jamaican unmoved by his or her capacity to contribute to the process of change. We seem unwilling to either endorse or reject the current efforts at governance. If that isn’t a clear indication of a distressed or disenchanted citizenry, I’m not sure what is.
What, then, is the remedial course of action? For many it tends to be migration, which only reinforces the fact that we seem fed up. Though it may seem tantamount to abandonment for some, it is a real option for others. A look at migration data from STATIN and the United Nations show that Jamaica currently enjoys some of the highest migration numbers seen in over six years — numbers that are apparently higher than countries like Cuba, Armenia and Afghanistan! A net loss of 15,000 people may not seem like a lot, but juxtaposed against the 23,000 people gained versus the difference between births and deaths and you begin to understand that fewer than half the people whom Jamaica gains every year will choose to stay here.
At the end of it all, what are we left to believe? Apparently not the concept that the Tourist Board ads endorse, of a tropical paradise where every little thing is gonna be all right. We obviously have chronic issues that seem almost systemic. Jamaica today is not the Jamaica of old, and it needs help. We could very well pass the buck to the politicians and regurgitate that all-too-familiar cry of “How come?!”
The issue is that it doesn’t seem to make a difference. We need to become the architects of our own success, become involved, become our own change agents and try to make a difference.