Being right isn’t enough

Happy 2012!

Here in Jamaica, the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) just lost their bid to remain government for the next 4-5 years.  By all accounts (polls and general sentiment amongst my peerage) the results were going to be close.  But methinks no one saw it coming…the People’s National Party (PNP) won the December 2011 election in fine form, winning 41 seats out of a possible 63; the JLP winning 22. The process itself worked…no one has cried foul with respect to the proceedings on Dec 29. I cast my own vote in under 5 min. So how could so many people have gotten in wrong? Here are my own thoughts on the issue. And as they say, hindsight is always 20/20.

Your decision making platform is directly related to your circumstance.  So someone with adequate resources at their disposal will process options differently from someone scrambling to have their basic needs met.  I believe that the JLP was doing well given the context of the Jamaican and indeed, world economy.  Of course, that was from my personal vantage point. I was able to eat well, pay my bills, take modest vacations on the island, live debt free, school my kids, I was gainfully employed and I was even able to save a little.  So when faced with missteps that the JLP had made during their term like the mishandling of an extradition request for a known JLP strong man and the resultant chaos and loss of life that this mishandling caused…the mishandling of significant funds that were to be used to fix and build out our roads…the innuendo around the integrity of key players of their administration, I was prepared to overlook the deficiencies in the administration for what I termed “the greater good of managing the economy”.
I suppose the JLP was banking on the majority of persons processing in the same way that I was.

Here’s the thing: the number of people living below the poverty line in the island had increased. 

The JLP displayed no empathy for the growing number of people that were finding it increasingly difficult to have their daily needs met.  They set out their equations and the numbers looked right.  But those equations ignored one critical variable: human emotions.  Jamaicans have very clear notions of what disrespect looks like and they reject disrespect very quickly and very definitively. In addition to what the masses perceived as disrespect from the JLP, their ability and willingness to do what I did in overlooking the “missteps” was severely impacted by the awful reality of their lives. They simply did not possess the space to appreciate macro-economic variables being aligned correctly when mounting bills, lack of food, absence of jobs and a rapidly declining standard of living were what they looked at each and every day.

So along came the PNP with declarations of love and promises of jobs in the form of JEEP and clearly articulated understanding of the plight of the people. Love and understanding mean nothing to those of us who are relatively comfortable. But to a drowning man, it appeared a better proposition to the alternative: a regime of suffering and the absence of empathy. Hence, the majority made their decision based on their context and not based on the equations handed out by the JLP or the track record of the PNP for the 18 years they were in power prior to the outgoing JLP administration. The space to make decisions after thorough analysis simply does not exist in Jamaica’s context of poverty, and the JLP ignored, to their downfall, the Jamaican psyche. Thus, they did not frame their communications appropriately. They did not work the communities effectively. Instead of being focused only on what was “right” in terms of managing the economy, they should have placed equal focus on getting buy-in from the Jamaicans who put them there to serve.

Subsequent posts will explore the benefits of a strong Opposition, the JLP’s next steps and hope for Jamaica.

One thought on “Being right isn’t enough”

  1. Well said. My (retired) housekeeper and her daughter are both supporters of the JLP. The daughter who happens to be a delegate, couldn't convince her mother to go to the polls and cast a vote because their water was cut off. On the face of it, in their neghbourhood lack of water isn't unusual, but they were among only a handful of persons in the community who paid for the service. 

    The failure of the representative, (who by the way lost at the polls) to address this issue helped her to make her mind up. She couldn't bring herself to vote for the PNP, so she simply did not vote for anyone. Multiply that by thousands then replace water with light, road, jobs, school fees, bus fare or any number of similar issues and the results will make perfect sense. 

    There was indeed a colossal failure on yhe part of the JLP to translate the macro economic concerns into the language of ordinary Jamaicans. For example, "it is not the job of the government to create jobs" into, "the government will continue to make job creation it's number one priority & do everything it can to ensure that those who are hurting have as much help as possible to get back on their feet. We will continue to improve the PATH programme, increase the list of drugs for access under the National Health Fund, make it easier for individuals to start a business, regularise squatter communities with improvements in roads, light & water, etc, etc".

    Mrs. Simpson-Miller may not enunciate like the educated middle-class, but the Marvas of Jamaica and their sons and daughters, got her message. To help those in pain we must first acknowledge that they are indeed in pain. 

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