Evidence shows Barbadians have a passion for discussing problems, especially with a focus on apportioning blame. However, when it comes to taking the bull by the horns and wrestling it to the ground, to use a frequently uttered cliche in contemporary domestic political parlance, somehow there often seems to be reluctance for whatever reason.
As a result, we tend as a country to go around in circles and few problems are tackled with the required determination and resolve to come up with effective and lasting solutions. Indeed, many problems confronting the country today are not altogether new. They were discussed before, only to end up being swept under the carpet in some instances, and with the passage of time some have been made worse.
However, occasional flare-ups do serve as a reminder that, though out of sight, the problems remain very much with us and are simply lurking in the background. Why do we seem so afraid as a people to face up to unpleasant truths and take the necessary remedial action? Is it a deep-seated fear of failure? A lack of will, especially at the key decision-making level? A lack of confidence in our own abilities?
We need to come to grips with these realities because the tendency to avoid facing up to unpleasant truths is hampering our continued progress as a country. And the sooner we do so, the better it will be. We can no longer afford to bury our heads in the sand and wishfully hope that a fairy godmother or father will appear from out of the blue, wave a magic wand, shout “Abracadabra!” and our problems will suddenly vanish into thin air.
Miracles of this kind occur only in the realm of fairy tales, but not in the real world. Despite our exposure to external influences which impact on our very way of life, we ultimately are the masters of our destiny through the responses we adopt to these situations. Being small does not mean we are inherently helpless or doomed to fail. Indeed, being small, as the late economist E.F. Schumacher reminded us, has many advantages which, in some cases, are not available to larger, more prosperous and developed countries.
The first critical step towards solving any problem, whether big or small, always involves acknowledging that the problem does exist and that it poses a real or potential threat to interests which are valuable and need to be protected. Recognition of the existence of the problem then paves the way for an examination of options which are available and the eventual selection of the one considered most effective in terms of a response.
National leadership is key in this whole exercise, especially the visionary and inspirational kind. Such leadership can bring out the best in people during trying times. It can mobilize them around a common purpose and convincingly point out a way when there seems to be none. Just as the great Winston Churchill did as prime minister of Great Britain during the dismal days of World War II and the biblical Moses did when he was assigned the task of shepherding Israel through the harshness of the desert to the promised land.
More than ever, our national leadership must rise to the occasion and we are not specifically speaking of those who hold such positions in national politics, though they must set the tone, but leaders from across the social spectrum – in business, the media, labour, religion, education, and civil society. There is need for these various constituencies to come together, weigh the options, agree on a way forward that can be sold to the population, and applied to inform a national strategy for revitalizing the country, not only in terms of the economy, but wholistically.
As agenda setters who wield considerable influence in moulding perceptions and promoting public education on key national issues, the media have an important role to play in the process. However, it will require journalists and media commentators to have a full grasp of the issues.
From interacting with Barbadians, we detect that there is a lot of pessimism in the country that borders, in some instances, on a sense of helplessness. Rather than focus on the negative which is the natural human tendency, it is always best to seek out the positive which exists in every crisis.
In the final analysis, whether we win or lose the battle will be determined by the mindset we adopt. And, drawing on ancient wisdom, we have the assurance that all things are possible if only we believe.