Jamaica Gleaner
Published: Sunday | December 23, 2012
Home : In Focus
Restructuring values and attitudes
A policeman uses the long arm of the law to chase away looters of a truck transporting beer along the Linstead Bypass in March 2010. Columnist Martin Henry insists that there must be a serious programme of resocialisation to tackle lawlessness and disorder. - Ricardo Makyn/Staff Photographer
Martin Henry, Contributor

Christmas and end of year are here again. A good time to consider resocialisation - if we are not too caught up with flossing and blinging out and tormenting our neighbours with the blast of Christmas parties, although things may be quieter and more reflective this year, at least in western Jamaica.

This newspaper, in its lead story last Tuesday, announced a ''Silent Night' for scammers' and, by extension, for scam-dependent communities. With the police lockdown on the 'life-tekking' lottery scam which had been flourishing in sections of our 'tek' culture, one community leader in Granville lamented, "Nuh money nah run. People caan party widout money. So we might as well put off Chrismus dis year." The Gleaner labelled Granville "the epicentre of the scam".

The birth of the Christ was intended to launch a revolution of redemptive resocialisation. As Zakaraiya, Jan di Baptis faada, prophesied concerning the birth of Jesus for whom his son was forerunner, "Siek-a ou Gad gud an kain tu wi, di maanin son a-go shain dong pan wi. It a-go shain pan di wan dem we a liv iina di daak an we fraid fi ded. An im a-go shou wi ou fi live iina piis (Luuk 1:78 & 79, Di Jamiekan Nyuu Testiment." But peace is a rather scarce commodity in the land whose national anthem is a prayer to the Eternal Father.

On November 13, a Jamaica Resocialisation Programme (JRP) was launched. According to a tiny report in this newspaper, "The Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Investment and Commerce have joined forces in the battle against the human development crisis that Jamaica currently faces, a battle that includes issues such as weakened family structures, loss of social cohesion, and crime."

What's the Ministry of Industry, Investment and Commerce doing here? Apparently, civilised social behaviour has economic value, a fact which is now being realised!


But why aren't all other ministries in? National Security, and Justice, for example, have a critical stake in how the culture of violence over dissing and the culture of 'informa fi dead' are affecting the fight against crime and the struggle for the delivery of justice. Health should be deeply concerned about how trauma cases from culturally entrenched violence and daredevil recklessness, and the chronic disease burden from lifestyle recklessness, are bleeding the system.

Attitudes and values are the single most important factor affecting the preparedness of youth for work and life, so the Ministry of Youth should be deeply involved with the programme for resocialisation. The heated national debate about children being housed in adult lock-ups, which is now subsiding in its current iteration until another tragedy happens, has hardly bothered to ask how to stop producing so many children in trouble with the law, some of them hardened criminals by mid-teens.

Work attitudes, which may not have improved since Carl Stone's classic benchmark study for the Seaga Government exactly 30 years ago in 1982, are one of the most important factors in the country's sagging productivity rating than. So why aren't the other production ministries visibly involved? We could go on, but you get my drift?

This is the kind of programme best led by a prime minister, as P.J. Patterson attempted, but failed to follow through on, for the Values and Attitudes Campaign launched in 1994 in the 50th anniversary of Universal Adult Suffrage.


The new JRP "is a high-priority strategic intervention intended to transform the value system and the attitudes of the population in general, with an intense focus on children in the school system," The Gleaner reported.

Acting Chief Education Officer Clement Radcliffe told the launch that Jamaica is, "to a certain extent, a nation in crisis that needs to be guided down the road to recovery".

Whatever happened to the National Standard of Public Behaviour which was drawn up by the Behaviour Standard Committee of the Bureau of Standards and publicised nearly three years ago at the very start of 2010? One would have thought that there would have been a massive and sustained public education and behaviour-change campaign following the proclamation of the standard. But then, from the recurring history of start 'hot, hot and stop braps' for national behaviour-change campaigns, one shouldn't be surprised that there hasn't been such a campaign.

As I commented when the National Standard of Public Behaviour was unveiled in January 2010, Jamaica has become too much of a coarse, vulgar and rambunctious place. The country is awash with non-criminal social violence. The nation is extraordinarily disorderly and 'chaka-chaka' in social relations.

A big part of the problem, I pointed out then, is not just the fact of poor behaviour but the normalisation of poor behaviour. UWI professor of criminology, Anthony Harriott, makes the same point in Understanding Crime in Jamaica with respect to crime: Certain "activities of the political elites have profound implications for ordinary criminality, especially the normalisation of crime, which is reflected in the view that criminality has become conformist behaviour, or, as cynically expressed in Creole, 'all a wi a thief'."

As speaker at the presentation of the National Standard for Improving Public Behaviour in Jamaica, High Commissioner Burchell Whiteman, a man of immaculate personal behaviour, pointed out, Jamaica's economic development prospects are being put at risk by the country's reputation for violent behaviour.

The National Standard for Improving Public Behaviour in Jamaica was presented at a time when the then Government had just launched the Jamaica Debt Exchange Programme and was about to enter into a new deal with the International Monetary Fund. Economic transformation, I noted then, cannot, and will not, take hold and progress on the platform of antisocial behaviour in all spheres, which is now a defining characteristic of Jamaica.

I have repeatedly argued that we overemphasise the economic and seriously underemphasise the social in dealing with the challenges of nation-building, and we do so with serious consequences. Economies can only flourish when social order flourishes.

And it is not just criminally violent behaviour and its impact on that grand pillar of the macroeconomy, 'foreign direct investment'. Poor behaviour and poor work attitudes are seriously hampering the performance of an entire society. Just take three examples: What is the cost of hoggish driving to the country in lost time and accidents? What is the impact of sleep deprivation from violently loud music on student and worker performance? What is the individual cost and social cost of poor student behaviour now rampant in schools across the country?

At the November launch of yet another resocialisation programme, the nation's chief education officer declared, "This programme is critical, as it relates to the structuring of behaviour management in schools. The Ministry of Education is in full support of the training that will be executed, as it is a part of our wide cross section of events to ensure that the school will be a place where education can be executed without disruptions or misbehaviours."

The youngsters making school a nightmare for both students and teachers come from somewhere. And school behaviour cannot be fixed without a larger societal fixed. While, undoubtedly, there has been a deterioration of social behaviour, if the level of raw violence is excluded for the moment, the socialisation problem is as old as the emergence of a free society at Emancipation.


What is needed, then, is very basic socialisation rather than any resocialisation on the pretence that there were some glory days of the past to which we can return via a snappy, well-executed public-relations behaviour-change campaign. Take the fundamental matter of family structure and the raising of children, with home as the first and greatest socialising agent. Jiggling the 2011 census data a bit, under 20 per cent of the adult population has ever been married. Curiously, the census reports marital status from age 16.

Patterns of sexual relations and living together in a variety of non-married arrangements have changed little since the anthropologist Edith Clarke studied the matter and wrote her report as the now classic book, My Mother who Fathered Me, in 1957.

Romanticising the single mother does nothing to eliminate the mountain of statistical evidence that the children of single parents, particularly among the poor, turn out worse on every index of behaviour and performance and pose the greatest challenges to social order, a subject for another time.

We are not yet sure just what the JRP intends to cover. But the programme cannot hope to turn the nation around behaviourally without paying attention to a whole set of behavioural problems beyond the sex and the noise, the rampant vulgarity and the violence.

Are we going to tackle the universally poor attitudes towards time and towards work performance? Will the programme be interested in encouraging deferred gratification to enhance savings and domestic investments, and a curtailment of the floss and bling culture? Can we expect the programme to tackle the ubiquitous 'bly' on which so much corruption is based? Will it be working on a customer service culture?

Cynicism about the programme being sustained and delivering even modest results with time is perfectly understandable. For one thing, there have been so many aborted starts. For another, the Government chronically has no money for social interventions. But it's Christmas, the season of hope.

Martin Henry is a communication specialist. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and medhen@gmail.com.

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