May 14

MINISTRY OF HAPPINESS AND WELLBEING

Just imagine for a moment that a Government of a modern day country chose to establish a ministry dedicated specifically to the happiness and well-being of its citizens and residents. Sounds outlandish, right? I mean, a Government  (according to Wikipedia and the Business Dictionary) is a system or group of people governing an organized community or state…that sets and administers public policy and exercises executive, political and sovereign power through customs, institutions, and laws within a state. Not much room for the exploration of happiness and well-being in such a stiff-necked, protocol following world of Government one might say. Having worked within the structures of local government in the UK, I can testify that I witnessed no proactive strides to foster happiness and well-being within either written policies or human practices. Job descriptions were flooded with to do’s, but no attention was given to how the civil servants felt. Feelings were simply not questioned unless they rose to high levels, spilling over into ‘misconduct’ that interfered with the carefully planned out functions. No wonder there is so much talk of ‘extended tea breaks’ in our public sector world.

 

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Anyway, imagine how surprised and delighted I was upon recently visiting the UAE (United Arab Emirates) and discovering that the Emirates had the foresight to establish a fully staffed government ministry…not just a department…dedicated to the happiness and well-being of persons living in/visiting each of its seven (7) federate areas (emirates). Now I was part of a theatrical delegation from Jamaica, proudly representing a monodrama piece, “Who Will Sing For Lena?” by Janice Liddell, at the biennial Fujairah International Arts Festival. From the moment of landing at Dubai airport, there was an immediate sense of feeling welcomed and respected. The feeling permeated the entire visit. It may not sound like a big deal, but having lived the majority of my life in England and had opportunities to travel, I can tell you that ‘welcome’ and ‘respected’ are not words that readily come to mind when recalling arrivals on the tarmac (in the earlier years) at many world airports. Even when returning to my UK ‘home’ soil I did not feel the warm and dignified welcome I got upon landing in Dubai. The point I am working to make here is that our Arab brothers and sisters, contrary to the stereotypical portrayals in the western media, took me aback with the genuine and consistent royal treatment meted out to our Jamaican delegation from the day we landed, right up to the day we left!  Are we following the right models?

 

 

Now back to the UAE Government’s bold and refreshing move to establish a ministry for happiness and well-being. It became apparent as our festival package unfolded that many of the volunteers coordinating same were high ranking government personnel, including a Chief Happiness and Positivity Officer (what a job title!), that willingly answered my many questions about life in the UAE and the practical work of my now, favourite ministry. It was clear to me that the work of this ministry is more than just words on paper or that the officers pay more than just lip service to the cause/mission of the ministry.  It was in the air. In the smiles. In the social conduct. I was impressed.

 

 

Having packed up and relocated my life from England to Jamaica some years ago, I, for the first time, found myself considering whether or not another relocation was now in order. Had I become complacent in my assessment of the place I call home? Had my love for Jamaica blinkered me to really examine whether or not it is STILL the best place for me to continue calling ‘home’? What criteria have I been working with? Being the birthplace of both my dearly departed parents, Jamaica is a place I fell in love with even before first setting foot on the island in 1989. I recall vividly hearing my father’s stories of the land he loved and yearned to return to. I remember the first vacation here, when I bawled on a dingy, out at sea, at Doctors Cave Beach, because I didn’t want to go back (to England). I wonder now if all of these retained reflections are mere sentimentality. Dare I take off the rose tinted glasses and take a real hard look at my perception of my tropical island home. The unique, world emulated culture, natural beauty and spiritual potency of this island are just a few of the things that still tick my boxes. But are these enough? If so, why then, after 23 years, has a visit to a distant land, with a very different culture, a language that I can’t speak, got me (re)considering my love affair with Jamaica? Like any relation-ship I must now ask, is it sailing in the right direction? Have I given back to the country as much as it has blessed me or was it a one sided relationship? Are we still compatible after our respective evolving?  Why all the questions all of a sudden? (Sorry, that was another one!). Was it the potent sense of peace, consistent civil order or just the reciprocal respect that prevail on a daily basis in the UAE that caught my eye? Could it have been the reverence and respect shown to the country’s women and children that wood me?  It is do-able, I kept telling myself! I am not ignoring the fact that the nations common practice of Islam must certainly play a role in fostering greater unity and social cohesiveness, but short of a wholesale conversion to Islam in Jamaica, perhaps we could start with a simple Government implemented solution, that we might make our people happier and healthier…perhaps?

 

 

When asked about the crime rate in his area, a senior UAE police officer (who invited us to be guests at his home) had to scratch his head to recall the one (1) murder that happened back in 2013. A domestic dispute. I remember blowing down heavily at his response, as I reflected on the lives of those lost and being lost in Jamaica daily. The officer spoke of doors and gates to compounds being left open at night. I immediately recalled hearing my father speak of the same comfort in his rural home community in Manchester, back in the day. Today’s Jamaica has two States of Emergency, multiple murders daily, women and children looking over their shoulders, young disenfranchised men being rounded up in packs and detained at police stations for days without ‘due’ processing…we know the rest. Don’t get me wrong, while it saddens me to reflect on the dark side of our island, I remind myself and others often that the majority of my country folk are kind, loving, decent and honourable people, that will light up your day with the wittiest one liners…stop to help a roadside damsel experiencing vehicular distress and sing sincere hit songs of love! All is certainly not lost, but while we witness the media hyped destabilization of our peace and security, perhaps it’s time for our government officials to try something outside the box…as their Emirati counterparts have clearly had the foresight to do. In the meantime, while we await the injection of conscience for our leaders, we can each be our own Chief Happiness and Well-being Officers, taking stock of the contribution we are making to the happiness and well-being of our fellow country folk? How about a little more compassion and empathy for ALL Jamaicans, non-judgement of those outside our circles and a refocused perspective of hope for starters? Wouldn’t hurt us, neither on an individual nor collective level right about now.

 

 

Radical changes do not have to come from revolutions by fed up citizens. Should, perchance, the collective conscience of our government officials, led by our current commander in chief, give rise to a commitment to work towards the happiness and well-being of EVERY citizen…(more) bloodshed may just be averted. I’ve been called the eternal optimist a few times in my life, so should you at this point scoff at my lofty idealistic notion of putting government and conscience in one sentence, my only retort at this point is …”God nah sleep”. Mystical magical manifestations were not confined to the biblical era.  Let your consciousness be focused on the positive attributes of our land, the many possible solutions and Love. We will always attract what our powerful collective minds dwell on most. It’s divine order.

 

 

While the state of ‘Wakanda’ is being brought from fiction to reality, for now, I’ll continue to assess my relationship with Jamaica and determine whether or not we need to take a little break or work to re-ignite the passion!  What do you think?

 

Happiness, Wellness and Plenty Blessing!

 

Apr 4

ON PARENTING AND PERSPECTIVES

 

On a beautiful sunny Sunday afternoon, after a beautiful day at the beach, I witnessed a minor disagreement that stole my attention. A young man, well let’s say around 32 years old, from my perspective…on a little boat, on its return voyage from Lime Cay to Port Royal…started an argument with the one-eyed, visually impaired (in the good eye), steerer of the vessel.

 

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What struck me only momentarily on the day, but came back to me with a thud just now, is that the oddity (in my mind) was not in the fact that the man steering the boat was not bearing the full credentials of a person I would choose to be steering a little boat with me on board, but in the fact that this young, seemingly ‘uptown’ man, with a multiracial audience of strangers, elected to argue with (distract!) our already disadvantaged steerer! Add to that, a group of four young boys that our argumentative man was accompanying, (three of whom appeared to be his sons). Yes, I completely overlooked the vision issue and was drawn in by the drama unfolding with our arguer. My thinking was, his children are on board and his presence of mind didn’t say…let me allow this man to focus on getting us all to dry land safely??!!! He was peeved and had to get it off his chest.

 

SOBERING THOUGHTS

 

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By this time I’m trying not to engage my Risk Manager brain cells, upon noticing that the randomly distributed life jackets were ‘clearly optional’, and working on containing my UK Local Government ultra-Health & Safety training, to the tune of many sections, subsections and clauses. Who insures the boat and its passengers? What inspections of the vessel take place and how often? As I mention that, there really are a minefield of responsibilities and potential legal liabilities that many businesses and their leaders are totally unaware of. Directors Liability Insurance, for example, might seem like a luxury to many, but with the onerous responsibilities laid out by the Companies Act 2004, that luxury might be more appealing if one juxtaposed it with the seizure of personal assets of Directors because of a ‘breach’. Directors, don’t start stressing…yet; carry on with the story…I’ll link you at the end.

 

ROCKING THE BOAT

 

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So, back to the boat. The young man, who I was now actively psychoanalyzing, took to chastising the Captain of the vessel, who had instructed him to dust the sand off his and his flock of 4 boy children’s feet/shoes before entering the boat. “This is the third time yu a upset mi yu know!” he started (which immediately gave him away as a Jamaican living in Merica. A home-based brother would have said ‘dis’…not ‘upset’. The latter is more in sync with a culture where adults routinely ask children, if their feelings were hurt. Not a routine inquiry of Jamaican parenting…from my experience and vantage point of course. Anyway, Mr Merica by now is on a full scale rant…“why do you do it?” he asks earnestly. “You didn’t ask anyone else to dust their feet off”. The third time, he kept repeating, that he was upset by the Captain and he is tired of it. Up to now our Captain is clearly trying to remember this dude from the droves of boat riders over the years, not helped I’m sure by the fact that he obviously could not swear to a 20/20 glimpse at Mr Merica. Despite some feeble attempt to throw off his aggressor with utterings about not remembering him from before, the verbal lashing continued, including the threat that Captain needed to check himself because he, Mr Merica, is noticing a trend that he doesn’t like. At this point, I wondered if I was the only passenger noticing that the complainer kept going on and on, despite the Captain shifting his focus to steering the boat. He went quiet for a few seconds, only to pipe up again with the same rant. I had deduced by now, that his sense of self-importance had been eroded and it had triggered old feelings that he just had to vent.

 

DADDY WISDOM

 

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In between rants, he also entertained us by guiding his sons on such topics as their need to forget about what they like doing and find a job that earns them lots of money. I bit my Child Development, motivate-kids-to-live-their-full-passion lip and looked away. I even resisted the urge to whisper in the ear of the little boy sitting next to me…”do what you love son, money can’t buy happiness”, but daddy would have seen the move and we were only about half way across the waters. Cutting the story/journey short, as we approached the dock, where a few yachts/boats were shored…notice I’m getting into my nautical terminologies, as I am not averse to coming down from the hills and boarding a yacht ;)…Mr Merica announced to ‘his boys’ (I’m sure those on the land heard him too)…”that’s the yacht that used to belong to your grandpa…my father” (honestly, he said that!). As I started the concluding paragraph on his psychoanalysis in my head, he went on…”it’s not working now though, that’s why grandpa had to sell it”. I sensed that all other silent passengers aboard the boat must by now have been waiting for the inevitable finale to the sole voice of the voyage. He finished the announcement with…”I’ll have one bigger than that one day boys…work hard so one of you can buy it for me”. My thought by this time was, I hope the children have a mommy/mommies whose sense of balance is sharper, otherwise this boat load of future fodder are going to need a great deal of daddy override to ‘adjust’ some of the seeds of wisdom he is planting in their fertile young minds. But then again. That is just my view of the situation…from my unique perspective. This approach to parenting, despite the strong ego, fueled by the drive to prove oneself and perhaps a tups of low self-esteem, might be just the ticket for these young men. Because that’s the other point. Each of us can only see the world from our singular perspective…anything else is tantamount to imagination.

 

PARENTING 101

 

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We often hear parents say that children never came with a manual, so perhaps it’s time for parenting guidelines to be prepared, including a compulsory mandate that all Parents must have common sense. Anyway…again my opinion, from my conditioned perspective. At a time when world leaders and citizens are losing the temperament to agree to disagree with opinions from perspectives of others, it is important for us to respect the rights of others to have and express theirs. We are all unique beings on this journey. I wonder what Mr Merica would write about his experience of that boat ride? Or the other silent ones on the voyage. Now that would literally be a whole different set of stories!

 

In conclusion, the important message I want to leave you with today is…if you’re going on a boat ride across deep waters, make sure you focus on the attributes of your ‘Captain’ and not the distractions of a serial ranter. One is more than likely than the other to sink the boat. (Notwithstanding my prejudice, our Captain turned out to be a master at his craft and got us to shore safely!).

 

ARE YOU A DIRECTOR?

 

Appointing a new company director

 

Oh yes, I almost forgot. Any Directors of companies out there, don’t miss the boat! ;). Ask Sarifa about securing a Directors Liability quotation for you… (can’t resist it)…before the ship sails! Or…wait, wait, wait…you run aground! [Mic dropped].

 

Oct 3

3 H’s…Hurricanes, History and Halloween

 

This month of October 2016, is certainly shaping up to be an action packed month!

 

HURRICANES 

 

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I’m writing this from within my concrete fortress, awaiting the ‘real’ coming of Matthew…the hurricane that is. Yet Matthew is acting like a man that has announced he is on his way home, but ‘stop a’road’, keeping his lady (read Jamaica) waiting…in anticipation! It seems that by giving these weather conditions names, they actually take on human characteristics.

 

Even before my first visit to Jamaica in 1989, I was familiar with the devastation that hurricanes can cause, because my original travel date (in 1988) was cancelled because of the big bad Hurricane Gilbert!

 

Being from the insurance sector, I had naively assumed that Lovindeer’s song…’Wild Gilbert’ was alluding to the claim settlements from insurance policies, when he sang of “mi colour TV…a Gilbert gi me”. It only occurred to me quite recently, while conversing with a friend, that Lovindeer may actually have been referring to looters availing themselves of furniture items from vacant homes, devoid of roofs! I’m such a believer in the good side of human nature! Lovindeer, I will await your confirmation.

 

THE WAITING GAME

 

I personally witnessed the lingering, taunting behaviour of Ivan in September 2008, which played with us throughout what seemed the longest night of my life! Hearing but not seeing the menacing visitor was the worst part.

 

The wait! From the many social media posts today, that is what is challenging most folk at the moment. When you are poised and ready for action…any prolonged delay can frustrate! The coming and going of the heavy rains merely serves to taunt us some more.

 

STOP EAT OUT DI SUPPLIES!

 

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Another issue caused by this delay is the gradual depletion of emergency food supplies, before any emergency! The cupboards look so ‘fat’ with their snacks and surplus ‘bounty’ that I’ve had to remind my teen son to take it easy! Bare cupboards when Matthew does eventually drop in on us wouldn’t be pretty!

 

What about that eerie silence, indicating that the animals are well aware of the impending onslaught…which is what it will likely mean to the smaller species on the island. Where do all the birds go during a hurricane? Have you ever wondered?

 

Anyway, My Dear Fellow Jamaicans, I hope that when these few lines reach you, they will find you dry…with a roof on your home and in the best of health!

 

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HISTORY

 

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Also, in this hemisphere, we recognise February as Black History month along with the big brother island, USA.  I was a little confused when moving to Jamaica, having lived all my Black History months in England, during the month of October.

 

BLACK ‘JAMAICAN’ HISTORY

 

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This relatively small island has some rich history of its own, which, while indelibly mixed with influences from various other peoples, recalls its most prominent historical era as the African slave trade. In spite of the unspeakable evils and latent damage caused during/post this era, I like to celebrate the resilience of a strong and tallawah people, boasting the greats like Marcus Garvey, Nanny of the Maroons, Paul Bogle, Sam Sharpe and other heroes that resisted and led the struggles that liberated and uplifted the majority peoples of our beautiful island.

 

Let’s remember their sacrifices and bravery on this coming Heroes Day…17th October 2016. On that day, let us remember and honour all seven of our national heroes.

 

HALLOWEEN

 

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The end of the month also sees some of our tropical island folk adorning themselves in ghoulish or ghostly garments and celebrating the ‘Halloween’ Festival on 31st October. Many think that these ghostly traditions started in the United States of America, but in spite of the huge commercialized celebrations each year across the USA, the origins of Halloween or All Hallowed Eve, are actually European. The Celts, who were a European tribal group that existed during the Iron Age (6th Century BC), are apparently the ones to blame…I mean credit.

 

What started as a Celtic festival celebrating their 1st November New Year, was based on the belief that the souls of the dead would be ‘available’ on this 31st October date. For what? Don’t ask me.

 

But why the dressing up?

 

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The Druids, who were the teachers, philosophers and judges within the Celtic religious system, celebrated Samhain, the original name for the festival, by sacrificing animals, lighting huge bonfires to encourage the sun not to ‘vanish’, danced to keep evil spirits away and left their house doors open in the hope that the spirits of their loved ones might join them around their firesides. You a’hear me?!

 

Think about it…Jamaicans, that traditionally use every trick, practice or ploy in the book to keep spirits OUT of their homes…following a foreign cultural practice that is inviting them in? No sah! Tape measures over doors, bible open to a Psalm, passing a child over the grave of a deceased relative…you name them, we, to this day, still practice ‘protection’. Hocus pocus or not, Jamaicans don’t take chances with this ‘duppy’ thing! And why does this Halloween thing smack so much of Obeah?

 

Anyway, back to my point about the dressing up. The Celts wore animal heads and skins as costumes because it was believed that spirits would either be entertained by the living or find a body to possess for the incoming year. By dressing up, they thought the ‘duppies’ would bypass them! Don’t laugh! Belief kills and belief cures…right?

 

So, now that you know the origin and traditions of the Halloween celebrations…do you still want your children dressing up in ghost, devil and witches costume? I hear many guffawing and saying it’s just a little harmless fun. Or is it that we, like the Celts, are unconsciously trying to avoid being possessed by the ghosts that are conjured up on this All Hallowed Eve?

 

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In my humble opinion, without sounding too much like a Halloween party pooper, it’s not every tradition or cultural expression that should be adopted from the apparently ‘developed world’, especially when the tradition comes from a very ancient, primitive and un-developed era in that world. Or maybe we aren’t afraid of foreign duppies? Can you imagine our kids dressing up as a rolling calf (clad with clanking chains) or in an Obeah man costume, school pencil behind an ear, in the pitch black night…walking around knocking on the door of the average Jamaican? The story might very well end up with neither trick nor treat! ‘Jamaican duppy know who fi frighten’.

 

THE 3 H’S CONNECTION

 

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It might just be that as we sit awaiting the restoration of power by JPS over the next few ‘hurricane’ days, we might just find ourselves in that rare, technology starved family huddle, telling some candle-light ghost stories. While we do…let those of us that partake in Halloween, also reflect on the roots of our 31st October rituals and consider…does this practice correlate with who we are? Ourstory? The story that we celebrate during the month of October (in the UK), as Black History Month!

 

Stay dry, stay focused…stay safe!