In the days that race towards us we should endeavour to teach ancestral words of wisdom. We shall need teachers to accomplish this task. But who shall teach our teachers? I seem to recall a time less than forty years ago when the village still raised the child, when any adult could reprimand for an offence, whether or not they were acquainted with my family.
I seem to recall a time when as a young boy I could assist a grandmother in crossing the street without thought that I should be congratulated or given a Certificate of Distinction, or the Order of Jamaica. It was merely the common, good thing to do. Also there was a time when if I found a dollar I had to ask around whether someone had lost it, and even then sometimes could still not claim it as my own.
Are these basic ideals of human dignity as simple as they seem? Today we are in somewhat of a hurry to lay the foundations of institutions, some of which we misname ‘university’. Why this hurry? Is it for economic gain? Why not lay these foundations well and strong, with rounded planning, careful insight, proper investigation? We shall find a university quite different from a printery, as it does not describe a place where certificates are manufactured. Rather it describes that place where Youth enquire into the deeper meaning of Life, finding shape of spirit in thought and word and deed, emerging as men ready to face the uncertainties of an unbalanced world. If we are keen on only issuing certificates instead of rounded individuals, perhaps our ‘universities’ ought indeed to be printeries.
Of thought and religion there shall be freedom. There should be freedom to investigate the natural world swirling about infant, adolescent and adult. There should be freedom to question every aspect of life, without resignation to dogma or some blind and blinding faith. We ought to let our children know that there swims a living, breathing world pulsating with a thousand, thousand differing ideas – of how to be born, and live and die.
I find in Jamaica those who hug and keep the Old Testament. Some of these folks are more “Old Testament” than the Book itself. They have not from its pages garnered light to illumine their path, but instead use it to pall their vision. They see not birds of the air, that they do not spin or weave, yet are cared for. Nor can they see the forest for the trees. No, their eyes see only darkness and they who supposedly live therein. They emphasize this darkness until it assumes Shape and Substance and Power. And in this darkness Jamaicans are compelled to live. And I wonder of our leaders!
Those who steer the ship or who claim to lead should perhaps lay down in clear and certain terms the nature of our destination. After we are laid beneath field and plain, in hillside and mountain, at what stage of growth shall our children, their children, have reached? Is there a plan by the leaders of that speck of land in a shining sea to get us toward some future goal?
All across the globe are nation states with plans that stretch ten, twenty, fifty years into the future. What of Jamaica? Fifty years from now, what shape shall the education of our youth take? What level and quality of life shall our people enjoy? A year from today shall people still exist beneath the searing tides of violence, unable to extend their wings towards fuller, truer freedom? Shall the state be able to protect, once and for all, its citizenry? Shall we be able to, of our own effort, wisdom and will, feed ourselves? Shall deejays still call death and damnation on those who are different in whatever way, cast pall of darkness over minds of youngsters, and denigrate women with their vacuous lyrics? Shall the ordinary people of Jamaica have enough of material and money to live in comfort, or shall they continue hence to cast aspersions against the day? Shall my people still press their faces against the cold darkness, eager for the visionary light, to see, to see that which they have dreamed in heart, song and thought, but never yet beheld? Or shall they still curse the shade of midnight their race stamped on their skin, the curl it drew in their hair, unable to see the beauty in its velvet depths? Tomorrow, shall the ordinary Jamaican be able to rest assured that he or she may walk the night, losing cognizance of the hour, yet be safe from that harm which man brings to man? In this conference of human interaction who are we really? Have we penetrated to our very roots to examine self in its subterranean grasp, or to the extremities of our branches to envision the journey we are taking? For rest assured that in this century called the Twenty-First, self-knowledge shall be a valuable treasure – something to hold and prize and be proud of. Without being local and national it shall be difficult for us to be truly international. For we cannot arrive empty-handed, we cannot arrive naked, we cannot arrive bare of feet. I wonder of our leaders!
All around us sings fertility – of mind and field and men. Are our leaders able to see this, or are they content only to sit and gorge themselves, until they and family are fat and complacent, wallowing in the mud of our most critical inertia? Any person worthy of being called a true leader of men is one who fully understands that a call to leadership is a call to selfless service. This service shall place self behind the people, eager to push them to greater heights, and yet beneath the people, overanxious for their elevation – ever nudging, bracing, coaxing – with power of muscle and mind. This kind of leadership shall see to every aspect of life. It must be like a heavenly net through which nothing that is to be caught may escape. In my Jamaica today, our leaders sit with broken nets… seeming too lazy even to mend, while the earth lies fertile and the sun in golden glaze falls merrily on our faces. Everything that needs to be caught is falling through.
Courtney A. Hogarth is a Jamaican artist resident in Beijing, who was awarded a Ph.D. in Classical Chinese Painting by the Central Academy of Fine Arts in that city.