There’s a clever e-mail being passed around that tells the story of a sea captain who complained to the first mate “that the men smelled bad.” The captain concluded that the crew needed to change their underwear more often. Thus, the first mate immediately set about to execute the captain’s orders: “Pittman, you change with Jones, McCarthy, you change with Witkowski, and Brown, you change with Schultz.”
The moral, of course, is “someone may come along and promise ‘change,’ but don’t count on things smelling any better.”
Few would argue that the political scene in our beloved America has produced horrific smells for a very long time, no matter whose ship is out front. Greed and deceit are predictably contagious, especially among the “lifers.” Citizens aren’t clean either; heavy handed manipulation, by special interests groups, has tipped the scale.
No wonder we’re a nation devoid of trust.
There’s a remarkable story about trust in Barbados, the Caribbean island, south of Jamaica. Both Barbados and Jamaica were colonized by the British. In the mid-60s, they gained independence and set up “parliamentary style democracies,” thus economically they were on about the same level, “one not much richer than the other.”
Today: “Five decades after independence, median income in Barbados is twice what it is in Jamaica. Literacy rate in Barbados, over 95 percent ... in Jamaica, it’s estimated that a fifth of the population is functionally illiterate. And Jamaica has one of the highest murder rates in the world, while Barbados is near the bottom.” (www.thisamericanlife.org archive 410)
What’s happened? For inspiring details, check out the above website, but here’s a summary: In the early 90s, when oil prices shot up, Barbados was forced to turn to the International Monetary Fund for a foreign currency loan.
The IMF made demands that would have destroyed the Barbados economy. The unions, businesses, chamber of commerce and eventually the government came together in unity. Pay cuts and other major adjustments were accepted. Even the IMF was persuaded to back off from some of its requirements.
The Barbados citizens needed to attract their lifeline: tourism and American dollars. The entire little nation became one in purpose on an unheard of level. Leadership with integrity played a huge role. Several decades earlier, Jamaica went through the same thing, but poor leadership, division and mistrust rocked that island.
An entire globe can learn from Barbados, especially from the unity among government and citizens, both focusing on the bigger picture. A ship that sinks puts all aboard at high risk, no matter who’s in the captain’s quarters and who is in the belly of the boat. And, dreadful fools on every level ignore the gales.
American gales warn against government spending and tax increases. Grover Norquist, President of Americans for Tax Reform urges voters to stay focused on the money. The ATR warns that taxes on energy alone will kill 150,000 jobs next year. (www.atr.org) And, another thing, Norquist warns against distraction of “shining things,” such as immigration and the mosque near Ground Zero. Stay focused on the money, he insists.
If problems are simply shifted around and there’s a pretense toward solutions, if we constantly work against one another, no election will make a difference.
Look at it this way: We have a chance to replace dirty underwear with clean. Let’s not miss this opportunity come Nov. 2. And we shan’t forget November 2012, either. But, that’s just the beginning. Will we follow in Jamaica’s path, or choose Barbados and the unified vision of an entire population?
East Valley resident Linda Turley-Hansen (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a syndicated columnist and former Phoenix veteran TV anchor.