Honesty Is The Best Development Policy
For some strange and serendipitous reason I ended up at a police station in the heart of downtown Kingston late one Friday evening trying to bail a friend of mine who had been accused of theft by his employer.
While patiently awaiting the comedy of errors many have come to expect from interactions with government administrators I instead had a pleasantly surprising time in the reception area.
I developed a whole new respect for the front line staff of the Jamaica Constabulary Force who sternly but compassionately counsel, lecture, comfort, reprimand, and parent Jamaican citizens twenty four hours a day, seven days a week.
While waiting to be attended to I listened intently to a young woman barely out of her teens recounting her tale of being assured a hefty sum in exchange for some of her goods by an older man in her community. The man promised he wouldn’t ‘go roun’ (deceive) her and that he would therefore compensate her upon delivery or shortly thereafter. The anguish in her voice and the lines of grief on her face projected an image of the imminent fear of facing wailing and hungry children at home; an outstanding school fee to be paid; or the looming belligerence of the banker managing the ‘paadna’. One could see that this sum of money meant the world to her at that point in time and also that failure to produce it would mean dire consequences.
I watched as the female officer connected with her woman to woman, mother to child, and consoled this devastated young lady. I observed her gently stroking the top of the younger woman’s back in a counter clockwise motion to comfort her the way you would comfort an infant with fever, seemingly in order to keep her rage from boiling over. She then paused and looked the other woman in the eye and said something to the effect of: “Miss, I am very sorry but I cannot arrest the man, because while he did not pay you as promised for the sexual act he performed on you, it is illegal to exchange sex for money in Jamaica.”
In that moment when the story ‘came to bump’ many thoughts raced through my mind simultaneously.
I must confess, my knee-jerk reaction wasn’t the kindest as I struggled to come to grips with that curve ball in the plot but thereafter my mood became somber once I realised that what is lawful and what is just are sometimes diametrically opposed to each other.
This young woman entered into an oral contract with the gentleman to provide work and to be compensated at an agreed rate. Upon completion of the mutually agreed task the other party reneged on his obligations and sought to unreasonably deny the complainant her remuneration.
One of the things about this long-term abusive relationship I am in with my lover, Jurisprudence (just Prudence for short) is that she has successfully adjusted my lens so that I now see the world through her eyes. Typical woman, right?
When I shared this encounter with Prudence she became quite fixated with the illegal nature of the act and how it nullified the agreement ab initio. Once she starts quoting Latin I know she has a bee in her bonnet that is the source of unending annoyance for her so that’s usually when I would either change the subject or concede to her superior intellect. Happy wife, happy life, right?
Despite the knowledge I am sapping from the lexis and my subconscious surrender to its sometimes peculiar logical framework I was still disturbed by the fact that this young girl, barefoot and breathless, would leave the station and walk home ashamed, humiliated and poorer.
Even if the law were adjusted, as I believe it should be, to allow for mutually consensual transactional sexual relationships it wouldn’t prevent deceit because dishonesty is such an integral component of human nature, at least through my cynical eyes. Incidentally it should be noted that this quality is particularly accented in the Jamaican cultural experience.
The presumption that the basic nature of man is coarse and brutish has fascinated philosophers of law and society for millenia and certainly any observant trip around Kingston would seem to validate this. However in the instant case would the decriminalisation of sex work have eliminated the desire of the not so gentle man to gain access to the woman’s inner sanctum without fairly compensating her? Obviously the law cannot curtail the idea that if one can get something for free, one should, but it certainly demonstrates the protective utility of the law while at the same time illuminating an inadequacy of the law with respect to curtailing the vices of man.
Deep within Jamaican people is a proclivity to be reticent when it comes to full disclosure.
Being dishonest, that is the ability to look someone dry in the eye and say something you know to be untrue, is arguably a firmly entrenched component of the Jamaican cultural vocabulary. Anansi is us and we are he.
So much so that I believe if you are a Jamaican employer of any kind you must accept without reservation the fact that your staff will steal from you.
Not only will they steal from you the moment your back is turned, but if you find out and fire them they will disgrace and humiliate you, then send gunmen to kill you.
No matter your best efforts at loss prevention they will find a way and typically by the time you discover it there’s little you can do about it beyond reporting them to the police which will in all likelihood result in them sending gunmen to kill you.
So there’s little you can do but pray what little conscience they have will urge them to be reasonable in their dishonesty, as reasonable as dishonesty can be.
I once admonished a young man I used to provide some financial support to for his barefaced lying and repeated attempts to ‘go roun’ me by twisting my achilles heel, which is sympathy, in order to get me to dole out more money to him.
When I barked: “I not giving you another dollar or any more help because you don’t know not to bite the hand that feeds you!”
His incredulous response was: “But boss mi neva bite yu hand, mi jus ben’it lickle!”
I was stumped. He got me.
So here I was finally having the bail application processed and wondering whether in my instinctive reaction to rush to my friend’s assistance, I had neglected to listen to Prudence’s voice quizzing me whether I had done my due diligence or if the accused was credible.
Jamaica has a cultural pathology that results in a penchant for mendaciousness. This makes it very difficult for trust to be established and therefore inhibits the ability of the populace to agree to move together in any positive direction.
Why would we be honest with each other if we don’t trust each other? The absence of trust negates the formation of strong relationships. No meeting of the minds can take place and therefore no social contract can be formed. In considering what are the barriers to our development particularly with respect to their elimination or mitigation we must therefore consider, along with the macro-economic variables, how our collective values and attitudes propel or inhibit our development as a nation.