About twenty years ago, about six months into my medical training, a discussion ensued in my class, which although I did not know it then, has in hindsight, helped me to understand the true nature of the political beast. At that time, we had two very distinguished professors who were constantly destructively criticizing the other, as it was well known they both were competing with each other for the post of head of their department.
After class, one of my Jamaican friends, gave me a lecture on this curious phenomenon which I would now relay to you. He went to the blackboard and drew two vertical lines, one bigger than the other, and said there are two ways to “big-up” ourselves: first, we can strive to do the best we can and grow and develop and in the process we let the positive fruits of our labour overflow, and in so doing, we also uplift the others in our midst. He said that this was very rare, as nowadays, we fool ourselves and “big-up” ourselves by “putting-down” or “belittling” the other. He said that this was a sign of immaturity and also an unconscious inferiority complex, as when we engage in this activity, we have exhausted all avenues of enlightenment in actualizing our potentials and we delude ourselves and those around us to think that we are better than the other after we have succeeded in demonizing the other.
Several years later, during my clinical training, there was a professor who was well-known for doing a certain surgical procedure. We would call for his expertise from time to time, but what was puzzling, was that he did not teach his residents the relevant surgical techniques. Then one day, he got sick, and was not available, and given that he did not pass down the wisdom to his apprentices, the patients sufferred. Later my Jamaican friend explained to me that this professor was protecting his own turf, because if his apprentices were percieved to be better than he was, this would have negatively affected his reputation and moreso his earning potential. He explained that this is why in the region we do not engage in succession planning and it is usually the people whom we serve who end up suffering as a result of our selfish ways and myopic vision. This stunned me as I thought at the time and still do, that one of the greatest satisfaction in ones life occurs when a student does better than his teacher, as the student is able to see farther since he was able to stand on the shoulders of a giant.
A year into my internship, a major issue arose between me and another colleague which was so serious, I was ready to leave my profession as there were many untruths that were being said about me, where my integrity and character were called into question. Fortunately, one of my professors intervened and successfully persuaded me to reconsider, and he left me with the following words of wisdom, “Mouth is meant fee talk, and pen is meant fee write.” He elaborated that no matter what we do in life, people are going to say and write any and everything about us to bring us down when we are doing well, and that is the modus operandi in our part of the world. He went on to explain that not because something is said or written makes it true. He concluded that we have to be critical of all that is written and is said, and always ask, who has most to gain and who has most to lose, and by using this lens, we would see the hidden agendas and the intended motives.
Several years ago, I was frustrated and was discussing my discontents of the situation in St. Kitts-Nevis with a colleague. I told him that this was not the St. Kitts I loved and the St. Kitts for whom I came back home to serve. I came back to help with the growth and development of the country and to help with raising the standards of our people. He told me that he felt the same way, but what he noticed was that the political establishment was creating the illusion of progress by lowering the standards of its people. I was confused and he went on to elaborate, that by lowering the bar, we collectively feel we are progressing forward and getting closer to the goalpost, when what is actually happening is that we are not moving at all but it is the goalpost that is getting closer to us. In other words, instead of it becoming a race to the top, it becomes a race to the bottom.
A consequence of this is that mediocrity and the divisiveness of the political tribalism has become our religion, and we accept as de facto the maxim that “the number one priority of our politicans is to get (re)elected” and we enable that environment to enable them to do so at all costs. And when I turn around and challenge some of my learned colleagues why they do not speak truth to power as this is really a mental and social health issue, they readily admit that they are indebted to the establishment as they have mortgages and loans to pay and have children to send to school.
Recently and disturbingly, I have noticed that we have started to outsource (1) (2) our image building campaigns and demonizing apparatus to “politcal hitmen”, who are now using the latest techniques and technologies in psychological and cyber warfare, to manufacture credibility and to sully the names of their opponents, and worse yet, to gerrymander the local and global public square. I have even had the opportunity to speak to one of these politicians who proudly admitted that modern politics is an art as well as a science, and this sentiment was further reinforced by a now deceased political scientist who proclaimed “that politics is really the art and science of perception and persuasion.”
Before leaving, it would be remiss of me not to publicly say, that in my own humble opinion, our learned lawyer colleagues are mainly to blame for the situation we find ourselves in today. I have to admit that it boggles my mind why for almost three decades of our Federation’s history, they as a group did not have the foresight or testicular fortitude to advise and nudge the founding fathers of our constitution, the previous governement and the present government, to have anti-corruption laws passed initially in, or ammended afterwards, into our constitution. Although we are quick to blame the present government and point fingers, I feel that all, past and present lawyers, who knew and know better, have to shoulder the blame as they all dropped the ball when it was in their respective courts.
So let me leave you all with some questions, which I have asked and no one has yet been able to answer. “Is a government with the potential for corruption an asset or liability for the Federation?” Furthermore, if it is foreign direct investment we are trying to attract and are competing for, do we have to become “professional loophole finders and navigators” to earn our living? Is such a scheme even sustainable in the first place, and should we be proud that we are able to compete with the developed world in this endeavour? And lastly, since there is more “black money” (3) out there than there is legitimate money, what have we got ourselves into?
What I have tried to do in this article is to throw some light on the dark side of our human nature, as no matter what sphere of life we find ourselves in, be it as doctors, lawyers or politicians, if we are not aware of these tendencies, we will only fuel them and they in turn will eventually consume us. What we need now is to reclaim the nobility of our respective professions. I am hoping that we will get “the road to Damascus experience” sooner than later and see the folly of our ways and change course and realize that our number one priority should be to serve our respective communities to the best of our abilities, and this will in turn help to uplift our people along the way, not only economically, but also mentally, socially and spiritually.
If we cannot find it from within to regulate ourselves by having the Integrity in Public Life and Freedom of Informaiton Legislations, along with Electoral and Constitutional Reforms put on the table, debated and passed, our Stately friends from without should rise to the occasion and help nudge us to do the right thing, as not to do so, would only tarnish the image and integrity and governing principles of their Authority and in turn that of their Organisation.
I fervently hope that our present politicians from both sides of the political divide can look us into our eyes and honestly and truthfully say that “I have never cherished any fear of any revelation because before God and man I have always known that my hands are clean.” I also dream of the day, in our Federation, when we would have a new breed of politicians, who would lead the way by their example, dismantle the shackles of political tribalism and emancipate us from this tyranny of mental slavery (4).