I was searching the Internet recently for information related to shaping and implementing national change projects. Changing the administration is only one part of the adjustment we need to make in Barbados. The other piece of the puzzle lies in adjusting elements of our national psyche to embrace more positive characteristics and abandon others not fitting for our development.
One national change project that featured prominently in my research was recycling in Canada which began in the 1980s and currently has a programme supported by sanctions and levies. There has always been a strong partnership between non-governmental organizations and government in changing Canadian attitudes to garbage and garbage separation.
The result has been that for more than 30 years the programme has been growing. Canada is much cleaner and now uses garbage to produce a number of useful products. This type of change across a country or a community can address varying issues that arise from time to time. Another example I found outlined projects conducted in Harlem to address gang violence and the behaviour of men and boys in the community.
The question has to be asked – what issues do we have in Barbados that could benefit from national change programmes? We could then identify the commonalities among them and implement strategies that address the root problems we wish to reshape.
For instance, we have returned to the issue of garbage collection. We will now have a levy tied to water bills. What we have not continuously talked about nationally is garbage and how we can recycle to lessen the impact on our lone landfill. Not only is recycling not yet a part of the national psyche in Barbados, but there is still a significant problem with illegal dumping. Anybody who hikes across the island can report about the mounds of plastic, paper, old equipment and other types of waste deposited in cane fields, gullies, and other land recesses.
Another example – a friend of mine was discussing the effects of marijuana use on some of her work colleagues. This is another national discussion we are having in a very segmented manner. Marijuana has come to international attention in the last couple of years with its medical benefits and other uses such as papermaking being espoused.
While I am all for the decriminalization of marijuana, I am also concerned about the effects of marijuana abuse, particularly in the male population in Barbados. While I have no evidence to support my theory, I suspect that several men abuse marijuana in their attempts to address non-treated mental challenges.
While we have always talked about mental illness in Barbados, mental wellness, as a concept, has trailed. While many of us may not be mentally ill by definition, many of us are also not mentally well. Barbados can be a very cold and uncaring society. The standards of success and acceptability are rigidly set and there are no easy paths back once a person has been deemed to fail or transgress. Not only are there no clear ways to regain favour, but people are also allowed and expected to remind the person who failed or transgressed as much as possible about their failing.
This leads to high levels of stress, feelings of self-loathing and mental wellness is compromised. People are ostracized, with the spaces they retreat to being labelled as ‘blocks’. In that highly stigmatized space, marijuana provides an ‘out’ and redemption.
How are the instances of littering and marijuana abuse linked? What is the underlying commonality? People who do not value themselves and care little about the society in which they live, (because they do not feel embraced), will be prone to litter. People who are exhibiting signs of stress but who do not believe there is enough support or even the permission to ask for support may turn to substance abuse.
For me, the underlying issue is one of intelligence – not the kind we are so hung up with. If we institute a programme to build emotional intelligence, we can get better results. Barbadians can become environmentally conscious and more emphatic to each other at the same time. Both non-governmental and governmental agencies have a role to play in national change strategies. It has to be a policy embedded in schools but it also has to be included in workplaces and community agencies.
These are issues that we have talked about and half-talked about for years. In the face of our broken economy and the need to move Barbados to a higher level of productivity and people engagement, we simply have to try something different and hope for a different result.
(Marsha Hinds is public relations officer of the National Organization of Women. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)