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Motto under microscope

Our National Motto, under the microscope of relevance.

As we cast about our eyes, seeking not only a clear view of our current challenges and opportunities, but more importantly, the best path through the rocky gully in which we now walk as a nation, I have asked myself, what exactly should we make of our national motto “Pride and Industry”?

For sure, each breathing Bajan above the age of five knows this. But I ask myself: What do we really understand from this? Is your meaning, also mine? How many “meanings” are there? And specifically, do we live these by words? How do we honour these words in our daily lives? Which comes first: the pride? Or the industry?

Indeed, the meanings that we could apply are as many as we might to words such as love, truth, and similar “simple” words — which turn out to be not so simple after all!

Let’s take the plunge, and ask a few “simple” questions, as we drop by a class at Turners Hall Primary, under the care of a “Miss Archer”, who asks of her charges: “Is Pride a good word, or a bad one?”

The child at the front of the class immediately pops up a hand, and spurts forth “Miss Archer, if it was a bad word, it wouldn’t be in our motto!” The legions of our Miss Archers across this fair country, I’m sure, would remind their charges: “Well maybe — but how come the Bible says something about pride going before a fall, hmmm?” Silence descends, and the class looks to “Miss Archer” for enlightenment.

I’m not sure if “Miss Archer” would then take her cue and launch into her “shades of gray” set-piece, but you get the drift.

When I was yet in short pants, I was a “proud Bajan”; proud of these perceived attributes:

a) We were 98% literate.

b) We had one of, if not the highest, population densities in the world.

c) We were respected around the “West Indian” islands.

d) We could walk around everywhere, without fear.

e) We played cricket with incontrovertible excellence.

These things rested well with me as a Bajan, although I was growing up “under a nutmeg tree” — in Grenada! To be sure, there were, and are, a legion of other reasons, or perceptions, for the individual pride which resides in our individual hearts, witness our adherence to the rule of Law; religious tolerance; our ranking in the UN’s Human Development Index etc.

However, I put it to you — and to myself — that some of these need examining under the cold eye of an impartial microscope, lest we blithely assume that they still represent fresh, lovely fruits on the national vine.

Growing up stupid under the then extant colonial system, I often tried to make sense of the world, by asking appropriately stupid questions — so here goes:

1. Where does pride spring from? From achievement, or from anticipation thereof? From a politician’s glib lips, or from the priests who had great influence over us? From one’s teachers, who had even more? Forcefully, my alma mater’s (Grenada Boys Secondary School) motto, comes roaring back: “Non Palma Sine Labor”. Whew!!, my then headmaster, the much-loved K.I.M. Smith, M.A. (another Bajan happily living amidst the nutmegs) would now be proud to hear me offer the English version: “No reward without labour”. Hold the thought, please.

2. What is to be expected of any motto; or any anthem, for that matter? Did we come up with this one, merely because the motherland had one? Because every other nation, had one? Was it perhaps a “rush-job” as we understandably scrambled forward at speed to our Independence? A dash of plagiarism?

3. Is our National Motto yet valid, and relevant, to current and foreseen circumstances?

4. What does a review of same, suggest to us, in terms of actions crucial to our future prosperity; our place in the world; our relevance within the Caribbean, and beyond? To our survival?

5. Is “industry” a word most associated with factories? Or is “industriousness”, perhaps, more apt?

Each breathing Bajan urgently needs to do a little self-examination: starting off by recalling President Kennedy’s injunction “Think not what your country can do, etc”; move on to note those changes to your own life/lifestyle that have occurred before your very eyes. List those that are “good”; “bad”; and “more effort required”. Ask your children what they feel about the motto, and its place in their lives. Your summing up, I hope, will yield a positive number. Indeed, I pray for this.

However, I fear that we have gotten it wrong, and we urgently, critically, need a new motto. Plus enlightened leadership at all levels of our society, all categories of endeavour, to lead us forward on a new national path. We are now a significantly changed society:

* Taking more than we give

* Talking more than doing

* Expecting more than is reasonable

* Lusting for what we want, rather than what we need

* Turning away from God

* Scorning the law

* Consuming with little thought of sustainability

* Taking what we have not justly earned

* Contributing the minimum effort, rather than our true potential

* Believing that subterfuge and “sharp practice” is an acceptable alternative to honest dealings.

* Worshipping at the altar of government “freenesses”

* Increasingly, taking what rightfully belongs to others

* Thinking of self, rather than our fellow-man.

The bottom line is that we’re demeaning not only our own lives — what we have so far achieved — but jeopardising the futures of our children. This cannot ever be “pride”!

I plead “guilty”. What do you plead? What, if anything, do you promise to do, to make a real change? How about: “Bajan industriousness, with Bajan pride”?

Back to Miss Archer, who in a clear voice, responded to her expectant charges:

“The greatest mango-tree starts with a seed

Planted with vision and wisdom

Watered with loving care

Weeded with dedication

Rooted deeply in soil known to be good

Fertilised when weak

Pruned with discipline

Defended when threatened

After all the hard work is done

Respected by all when it touches the sky

And flowers and bears its fruit

Whereof we reap — PRIDE!”

These are the sort of foolish questions (like Sir Isaac’s apple?) that are liable to bonk you, when you doze-off under a nutmeg tree. I was just dreaming, right?

PS: The real Miss Archer did a great job on my Godson, Raneal, at Turner’s Hall Primary. God Bless you lady, and excuse me if I misquoted you — slightly.

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