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Dennis Jones is a Jamaican-born international economist, who has lived most of the time in the UK and USA, and latterly in Guinea, west Africa. He moved back to the Caribbean in 2007. This blog contains his observations on life on this small eastern Caribbean island, as well as views on life and issues on a broader landscape, especially the Caribbean and Africa.

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Monday, August 24, 2009

If You Don't Understand, Don't Make Up Stories

People have a tendency to need to understand. However, they also tend to make things fit the understanding the already have. You see this clearly when you take people out of their normal context and present them with something new, it can be anything, the reaction is similar. It's like when people do not know a word and they move to translating it into a word they know. So 'chug' can become 'chuck'.

When we lived in Guinea, our staff did not know about resealable Ziploc bag or rolls of cling film with edge cutters. When the cook put left overs into the Ziploc, he would then look for some sellotape ("Scotch") to seal the bag. Imagine his amazement when I showed him how to use the resealable strip. Likewise, when he was trying to cut pieces of film to wrap left overs, he would use a pair of scissors. So, when I showed him that the box had a sliding cutter under which the film should pass so that it could work, we had another Eureka moment. We had many more. He was not silly or lacking in intelligence. He merely could not work outside his experience.

I have noticed that Barbadians tend to not express views that non-nationals cannot have very strong support for them. I need to try to figure out why they think this, but later. So, in a simple sense, they equate national interest only with the support of nationals. Therefore, non-nationals must be against them. When I explain to people that I like Barbados very much, but I also see many things that do not work well or could work better, they start to say "But, why you dragging down our country?" I explain that it is not "dragging down". I look for things to be excellent, and always want to use the scope available to get to that best point. Therefore, on the contrary, I am looking to pull up. So, I see a country where a bus can take you anywhere on the island for B$1.50 (cheap), but I also see buses that are far too large for the normal passenger volumes. That's a familiar problem in transport, because you need to cater for peak loads. But, is there no way to scale down on the buses used? My wife always asks why park-and-ride is not standard. We ask. We answer. So, it goes as I pass everything. I am critical in that I look to see that I witness the best. If you stand atop anything, you must be able to still look upward for where you can go.

When my friends and I went to watch the latter days' events from Berlin's World Championships, we cheered for Jamaica, naturally, but we hollered too for Barbados. Last Thursday heard THE holler. Jamaicans in Kingston showed a much bigger public reaction to Ryan Brathwaite's win than was evident in Barbados. We hugged everybody in Bubba's when the boy won, full of the excitement rolling on from the two wins Jamaica had also registered. We showed love and affection to the staff every day. We argued with the Bajan manager that if he loved track and field as he had protested, then why were were watching lacrosse, American football replays, and Little League games when live action was on in Berlin? Follow the logic. We waited patiently on Saturday and took it as it was served. I asked afterwards whether the waitress had found serving us "pleasurable" or "miserable". She said "Pleasurable." We hugged her and told her she was now family.

Jamaicans are seen as 'can do' people. So, on Sunday, when we found that the live action was not going to be picked up but would only be shown in Bubba's a few hours later, we took charge. We brought a laptop to the place. We asked if there was a wifi connection, and when told yes, we asked if we could get the code. Yes, again. We hooked up, connected, and yes again. We had live feed via Internet. The bar changed. People gravitated to our little table of only 3 Jamaicans. "Dey watching it. It's live here." They too had wanted to see but were powerless to make it happen. We created a new pole of interest. We wanted to hook the laptop to a big screen TV but could not. One friend said, "Inna Jumayka we wudda run get cord fi do de hook up." The staff returned the love and the pleasure and we got 'brawta' of free food.

Therefore, I found it really disappointing yesterday when I read some comment about me posted on an Internet site, that I knew to be untrue, and I found deeply offensive. I asked politely for the remark to be removed, and did so again over several hours. No concession. I pointed out that my credibility in Barbados is based on my saying that I have a neutral position. It's an independence that allows me to be heard better. This did not seem to matter or register. No substantiation, therefore, I had to live with slur.

I will see if it starts to affect how people view me, though it's too early to say. I got a call from one paper last week to make comments about the apparent ending of the world recession and the piece is due out today. I will listen for remarks that suggest that "He's biased...".

I understood that part of the problem for the person making the remarks is that he is part of a world that has to see Barbados as BLP or DLP. Those are his points of reference. If you are not one, then you must be the other. Not dog? Then you are a cat. We should be familiar with the fallacy. Even a non-national must fit one in that person's mind. So, not understanding how someone could be independent, a fabrication was done to make interpretation of remarks fit one side or other. The conclusion was done. My tolerance might have been higher had I read "Based on comments made, I believe that Mr. Jones tends to favour ..." But instead the person blared "Living in Barbados is a shill for the BLP, and is carrying a huge grudge against the DLP because they did not facilitate him with work, work permit fast enough etc." To shill is 'to act as a spokesperson or promoter'. No understanding that I had been in no need of work or work permit after a short time in Barbados. I am still in that enviable position. I was paid off handsomely by my employer in exchange for my resignation. I got the equivalent of nearly two years' pay. I sit pretty. Income secured. In recessionary times, I do not need to take a job that someone else may need.

I certainly do not need to go through any bureaucratic hoops to get my degrees certified and get my Caricom eligibility to work. I work, but not for pay. People hear me on the radio as caller or panelist, but for no remuneration. I am asked by local papers to provide articles and comments, but I do not get paid. I am a free agent. I can pick up and head off when and almost where I please: I am in work Nirvana. My wife asks "Do you want to come with me to ...?" and I can say "Sure. When?" We only need make sure our little one's schedule is covered and off we go; our house keeper can manage for a few days. So, I get to travel and see new places; we sometimes take the little one too. If I need or want to go to the US to deal with something, it's no big deal. I have a G4 visa and in I go, and off I go to do what I need to. My wife and I have different rights than ordinary non-US travellers, based on having been staff of the IMF--we are privileged in that sense. So, my real constraints are interest, timing, and occasionally a sense that it's not a value for money proposition: two nights in X for US$1000 in fares? No. Let's use that money for other things, like going to the US Open tennis later this week.

What is so funny and ironic is that of the people I know in Barbados I can count only three whom I have met who profess to be BLP supporters. In fact, they are all former or current MPs: two of them I met a few weekends ago at limes; one I met when we butted heads over economic policy while our kids played tennis. I know where their headquarters are, as my wife's office used to be down the street from it and I went to a supermarket nearby once to get seasoning. Most of our Bajan friends profess to be DLP supporters, some with blood ties that flow very deep; some even ran for the party. When we watched the election night coverage, it was clear what kind of household I was in. The MP for my area is a DLP man whom I have met socially a few times and find quite funny and I have also met his family, whom I like a lot. I've been invited to DLP HQ meetings in George Street and cosied up over cou-cou and Q & A. I now hear that my latest hang in Brittons Hill is a DLP hang out. And so on.

What I wanted to know is where is my contract? What does it set out as terms? And--excuse me--where is my money? To that I heard that deafening hollow sound that comes from people standing naked with nothing left to show.

Small minds can only handle small things.

The person who runs the Internet space where the 'offence' took place discussed with me previously getting more of my 'intellectual' friends to participate in discussion. I explained that they probably wont because the 'people' currently participating seem to feel free to be wanton with their remarks, incapable of checking facts, and merely uttering unsubstantiated opinions, and that is dangerous. No one of my friends needs to be heard that badly, I think. We all have other ways and places to make our points. We also need people with whom we can deal reasonably and for whom truth means something other than a word that rhymes with Ruth. So, there you have it. Dialogue? What dialogue? Ranting and raving over which party did this or that? Jumping on bandwagons? Please.

I discussed over the weekend with some people that maturity for a country is a process that is very complex. One of its complexities is to deal with the changes that come from outside. Only a few countries were on a 'natural' path for the Industrial Revolution, but its results then spread. So, countries had to adapt to things that were outside their progress to that point. Many made the adjustments well, but the paths were different. You see this more clearly if you think about a society that now has the car but had been plodding along literally with donkeys. People then drive cars as if they are riding donkeys. They stop when they feel like it (donkey needs hay). They carry people if they can, with no regard for if it's really appropriate (in this case, is helmet needed, or bus too full, etc). They leave their cars askew (donkeys can reorient themselves once tethered). You get my drift.

I think what I experienced (and it had its echoes in some other events at the weekend) tells me that a real rocky road is ahead. It's harder because of the length of time that one side had controlled things. So, there are all the pent up frustrations and expectations on one side, and the bitter disappointments on the other. So, common sense has to take a back seat. Trouble is that the world does not give you time to figure out at leisure what you really need to do, it moves on. Look around and see the economic malaise and think of what will have changed by the time people have figured out what they should have been doing.

13 comments:

Dr. Gio said...

I have followed your attempt to engage people on the blog you mentioned, I would beg that you not consider that group representative of Barbados, but rather a self selecting group who enjoy engaing in to type of dicussion you critizse.

I agree with your points about Barbadians and accepting critisim, such people do represent a significant problem, but I disagree with your assement that they don't listen to you because of your nationality, it is the excuse rather than the reason. And they find excuses to attack whoever says something they don't like.

I still contribute to the blog inspite of the short coming because I believe there is a silent readership which can be influenced and I don't let myself be concened with people that can't/won't/have no interest in reasoned debate.

So please continue to contribute, I for one enjoy your posts and views.

Dennis Jones said...

Dr. Gio,
I see that the place concerned has set new rules in place; they are too narrow as it is better to cover anything incorrect and meant to be malicious, rather than two specific points. I have sent an e-mail to the administrator there to make that and some other points.

I do not NEED to be there. I have my onw blog. If people are happy doing what they do, then leave them to it is one attitude. Just make sure it does not spoil your own fun.

I hear what you say about general attitude to criticims, and I agree. That's patently clear, as is denial that it happens. Us/Them. Dog/Cat.

Keep making your contributions wherever and whenever.

Sargeant said...

Can’t say I didn’t warn you but in the words of Harry Trueman “ If you can’t stand the heat get out of the kitchen” In my last post I mentioned that if you were perceived as having ventured too close to the political arena you would be subject to personal attacks and insults, well alas the prediction has come through. One of the things that you will learn about Barbados is that the political supporters of the major parties are more rabid than the politicians and while the politicians socialize with each other the followers are at each other’s throats. Every word a Commentator utters is not considered as neutral, Barbados has never had the luxury of neutral observers so people who describe themselves as neutral are viewed with suspicion, you are either for us or against us.

So what happened? The Yardie Jamaican attack did not work; The uppity educated newcomer wounded you but you persevered; it was the claim that you did not support a party because a benefit did not materialize that provoked the angst.

I’ll continue to read your blog and if there is anything that I don’t agree with I’ll let you know but it is a pity that you seem to be withdrawing from the fray.

Dennis Jones said...

Sargeant,

Last first. I have not withdrawn from the 'fray'. It can take place in and from many places, eg the US or Jamaica. (That makes the latest comment from the PM interesting. I've asked what happens to the idea when you remove the person? My view is that if a certain person is removed, he can more easily sling his arrows from afar. If he is muzzzled in Bim, then that will not look good for Bim.)

I think scrutiny of comments in good in general. It can be seen easily when it is biased. The fallacy people fall into is that the comments expressed represent the totality of views. Some read and do things behind the scenes.

I often talk about credibility. If the only response is to 'silence' or 'attack' critics or non-supporters most people see through that. It can then be used more easily to pull down those who make the utterances because the words remain as a trail.

I have asked some friends at the Washington Post for some info on how the defamation and press freedom issues are playing out in the US, where there is more scope for litigation and also sheer volume of Internet use.

If info from Canada seems pertinent, could you flag. I have a friend at CBC in Montreal, who may help there, too.

It's in my self interest to not fall foul of these matters too.

If you continue to read my blog, you may see the results of that. Better if I can get one of the WP people to write the pieces.

Always welcome feedback.

Jdid said...

labels are part and parcel of Barbados. you should have recognized that by now. Who ya mother is? Which high school ya went to? Where ya live, which parish ya from. Bajans use this info to make sense of their world the people in it and to what we call "pigeon hole" persons. Its just par for the course. I dont like it either but thats how it is.

So yea you're either B or D. I was supposedly affiliated to one party for the last 20 years plus. mind you i was then rather clueless as to issues or differences in ideology or well basically everything that a 10 -11 year old child was clueless to but I was labelled.

And two things. one I wouldnt get too upset about the labelling cause even if they didnt say it out loud all of barbados probably has you labelled one way or the other and two its the internet. my internet experience has led me to believe that most who comment in bajan and by extension west indian forums just want to talk loudly to be heard and really are clueless which is why the folks who really could add substance to the discourse stay away.

Dennis Jones said...

Jdid,
As you say, labels are useful, but I would differ on what is a label. Part of my argument is that if on the one hand people want to say that the views of foreigners do not matter, why not just leave it at that? There's seems to be a double think. I does not matter but we care what side it takes. That makes no sense.

It makes less sense when it's not true. If you look at week x, you see RED. Look at week y, you see BLUE. Look at many weeks you see nothing at all. That's not how people should form views. It's a cherry picking exercise: take the fruit I like and make a pie with that. Is that where things have reached.

There's some other principles at play, such as who is 'running' the show. I expect a certain standard and tone from an administrator: he/she is the gate keeper. But, I wonder if the audience is really directing the play. That's really hard to understand.

Barry said...

Dennis,

I just came across a link to your blog on caribbean360.com and I was intrigued at your hyper-positive attitude... Bajans in general could learn a thing or two from your perspective, but I feel the small need to defend against the generalisation that we as a people have closed our minds to criticisms and observations of deficiencies.

In my experience, Bajans who have been fortunate enough to leave "the rock" and spend a meaningful amount of time living in a "worldly" place such as USA, Europe or further afield, have a much easier time understanding someone else's perspective when it differs from their own. They are also much more open to new concepts and ideas, to change, and to the fact that Barbados is not Heaven on Earth (even though I myself consider it to be pretty close!)

Bajans who have never had the above opportunity to broaden their "global experience" tend to be defensive of their beloved Barbados and the beloved practices which, unfortunately, are the only ones they know. My thoughts are, however, that the defensive attitude usually comes out of a love and admiration for their Island and the lifestyle they have come to adore, in much the same way a child will blindly defend their parent because the parent is the primary role model and largest influence in their life - and is all they know. It is only when you get older, and wiser, that you learn to identify the shortcomings of your own parents (no one is immune) but love them in spite of said shortcomings... Bajans need to learn to identify and change, or accept, any shortcomings of this beautiful Island - but until they grow in wisdom and experience they will continue to blindly defend the only thing they know.

Not all Bajans are closed-minded, but the ones who are usually tend to shout their objections the loudest because they cannot identify the possibility that they are wrong... open minded people know better. "It is better to keep your mouth shut and be thought a fool, than to open it and remove all doubt"

Keep up the blog, in the confidence that the open minded people are reading for their own interest. The open minded readers are the ones who will ignore baseless slander, the ones who read between the lines when local newspapers report one-sided stories, the ones who recognise blind negativity as a symptom of inexperience and lack of awareness of the world at large. They are the ones, ultimately, that you are writing to, and the random negativity is just noise. Keep up the hyper-positivity, I find it refreshing that a non-national can come to our Island and be confronted with the closed minds, yet maintain such a positive outlook - I know several non-nationals who have tried to live here but cannot cope with the closed-mindedness and the "clique" behaviour. The good news is that there are plenty Bajans of similar mind to yourself out there!

I'll be reading the blog.

Barry

sheens said...

Hello,

I came across your blog by chance and I must say that I find it refreshing. It's always good to hear what people are thinking. I agree with majority of the observations you've made about my country. I love Barbados but I"m one of those persons who consider themselves more Caribbean oriented. There, through my travels I normally identify myself as a Caribbean national. (I only hope that one day CARCICOM will adopt that habit in practice and not on paper).

It is true that in Barbados, there is a narrow mindednes behind how people here perceive themselves and others. Regardless of your nationality, colour, what have you, you are label along political lines. I've never been able to vote in an election here (due to being out of the island for a lengthy period of time) and I"m labelled a B.. I don't understand how that happened but is so. Like yourself, I really find myself in the middle. I see both parties as having a vested interest in Barbados but may have a different approach (somewhat) to getting our country on track. However, some bajans may not see it that way.

As a non-national, you will always find yourself judged more harshly...it's unfair but that is how it is ....well at least for now... AT the same time, having spent some time in Jamaica, I've seen for myself, that a similar attitude exists. I can't say for all of Jamaica but it is there among a few.. Like yourself, I found myself in another Caribbean country that I really love and continue to write about academically, but I saw that there were things that need changing.Like you said, I"m all about excellence. But at the end of the day, no one likes to hear criticsm especially from someone that they don't consider 'one of them'.

Well that's just my two cents. I really like your blog. Keep it up and I will keep reading.

Dennis Jones said...

@Barry and Sheen,

Thansks for both sets of comments. I have a view that a judgement is based on facts and substance, it can be as harsh as the facts allow. That is light years away from a baseless assessment.

One of my concerns is the readiness to label, which of course avoids any need to engage on issues or matters of substance. The need some feel to drown out opposing voices has been one of the concerns I have been wrestling with recently.

sheens said...

Hearing the opposition is never easy. Somedays I find myself just not in the mood to hear criticism, no matter how objective or constructive it maybe. However, it is a part of life that I have to embrace. Having an argumentative discussion is never easy especially when it is on a highly sensitive issue. I think it boils down to a culture that does not readily embrace freedom of speech. You must admit that this freedom is rather selective and only for a few in these parts. Fear of upsetting the status quo results in quick and harsh judgement as well as unnecessary labels which in the end work against us.

I hope you bring more topics to the table ...it would be good if this blog could be an example of free speech..lolol

Dennis Jones said...

Freedom of speech seems very selective indeed, and is often freedom for views that support. Totally agree that 'Fear of upsetting..." sentence.

More issues and views, for sure. Everyone has a story.

George C. Brathwaite said...

I have sympathy for your awkward position. I do not know if I can say it boils down to nationality, I think it is a relative 'conservative and protectionist' internal mechanism whereby all political communities revert to a lesser or greater degree of insider/outside dynamics.

As you realise, even Barbadians who choose to align themselves with one party over the other, get castigated in similar ways. Sometimes it makes you wonder if you have to ask for permission to speak. Seems as though people forget that you are an individual with the capacity for independent thinking, and before any associations, you could think.

I wish you well in every endeavour, I urge you to address any issue you so desire because I believe that I live in one of the most democratic countries in the world. Best wishes.

Dennis Jones said...

George, my position is not awkward, but others seem to feel that they can freely put others into awkward positions and walk away. If you have based your positions in life on political alliances then so be it. But, puzzles have to be solved. In the past few years I have seen enough fence jumping between BLP/DLP as to suggest that the distinction is false. If it is false then what is going on? When a leader can cross the floor and no pause for breath and become near leader on the other side? Que pasa?

I take the urging, though maybe I will be selective. Democracy will not be a mantra as far as I am concerned. It must exist and be seen to exist.

Howay the lads!