The milieu of mediocrity
As we approach the fourth decade of nationhood, Bahamians can look at their country with pride and a sense of accomplishment in many spheres. To our collective credit, the Quiet Revolution that initially ushered in Majority Rule, followed by national Independence, has not been disquieted by calamitous civil strife. Successive transitions from one government to another following the democratic exercises of general elections have, in the main, been peaceful and devoid of Constitutional conflict. We understand that this is our country and that we must all take ownership of our nation, our institutions, and our future. Notwithstanding our successes, however, there is a milieu of mediocrity that has crept into our society which we must honestly recognize and address. Therefore, this week, we would like to Consider This…. have we truly recognized that the only way that we will become the best little country in the world, will be to rise above the milieu of mediocrity which persistently permeates our patrimony and seek instead to aspire to and embrace excellence in every aspect of our national consciousness and conduct?
Let us examine how mediocrity has infected our society by examining the principal patrimonial pillars including our families, our schools, our churches and our government.
The family unit
Few will dispute that the Bahamian family unit is in crisis. Too many of our children are having children too early in their lives. This has certain significant implications for the development of our national human capital. Because of the alarmingly high incidence of teenage pregnancy, our children, who are themselves bearing children, do not have sufficient time to enjoy their own youth much less ready themselves for the next step. They are simply unprepared for parenthood and all that goes with it.
Additionally, because of the generational problem of kids having kids, the extended family that used to be able to step into the breach has deteriorated, often leaving our teenage parents inadequately prepared to provide for their offspring. In many instances, teenage parents encounter such omnipresent and insurmountable challenges just making ends meet that they are unable to provide for the holistic development of their children. The result is a mediocre existence for both parents and children, creating unfulfilled adults who are missing something essential from their core beliefs and who are unable to navigate out of the storms life presents, into a successful, safe harbor.
In the short-term, the family suffers and in the long-term the society reaps the adverse effects of this reality. Sociologists the world over will attest that the absence of the father from the family exacerbates this phenomenon and our children are the ones who suffer. Too often, fathers of children born into this situation are not there, either for personal or financial support, which places an even greater burden on the family unit.
But we as a nation have come to accept, even celebrate, ‘single pregnancies’. No longer is there such shame attached to this condition as there once was. Indeed, girl children who become pregnant for older men often do so to secure those much-needed extra funds they believe a child will bring in – as if money is all it takes to raise a healthy, holistic human being. Nowadays, our society is complacent when it comes to out of wedlock pregnancies. Unlike days not so far gone by, now churches christen out of wedlock babies with as much pomp as they do children born of a marriage. Today prospective grandparents step up, support, assist and even encourage these bundles of unwed joy.
In years gone by, unwed pregnancy was associated with family embarrassment and dishonor. Today, our society has become very accommodating of this lifestyle, accepting the mediocrity of bringing a new life into the world without the very necessary traditional family structure that has proven the world over, to be the best way to produce well-adjusted, healthy kids. Instead of trying to change this lifestyle, we have compromised and settled into this mediocre milieu that has greater, long-term implications for our society.
The milieu of mediocrity is further compounded in our schools and institutions that are designed to educate our children. Although our teachers, with the best of intentions, attempt to correct the deficiencies that are manifested in children from dysfunctional family units, they are constantly confronted with challenges that seem to be insoluble. Even in those instances where a degree of success is achieved in our schools, too often those efforts are not reinforced by the family environment to which our children must return at the end of the school day, an environment that shows by example that excellence is way too difficult to attain and a C or D grade is good enough.
Moreover, today’s parents do not hold our teachers in such high esteem as did parents of yesterday. Although often highly critical of their teaching methods and the outcome of their children’s school day, parents still expect that our educators can do it on their own, with minimal – if any – parental involvement, for the most part because the parents themselves were badly educated, having in many instances to cut short their own educations because of the arrival of a child.
Faced with such obstacles, who cannot understand how our educators themselves are forced to settle for mediocrity in their daily labors, giving even more fertile ground for this attitude and behavior to take root and grow within our youth?
There was a time when our churches would have been more effective of stepping into the gap left by such dysfunctional families and lacking educational system. But nowadays, all too often, our churches and many of their pastors who are supposed to shepherd their flock are more concerned with the financial benefits that they can extract from their congregations. Accordingly, many Bahamians have lost faith in the moral authority that our churches have enjoyed in decades past. The result is that fewer persons either attend church or worst yet, look to this institution to alleviate the milieu of mediocrity that pervades our society. In fact, this mediocrity has taken root within our institutions of spiritual enlightenment.
No longer can we hold many of our religious leaders up to the highest standard. Now, more than ever before, just when we need them to be above reproach, some of these leaders are demonstrating serious morally impaired judgment and very questionable behavior. It is almost as though, given the malaise of mediocrity that suffuses their congregations, the standards they now uphold can be lower, more mediocre than ever before, blending with, instead of uplifting their flocks.
Our elected and appointed leaders, including many in the public service, have failed to reduce the degree of mediocrity in our society. In fact, they have succeeded in elevating mediocrity to a new level, making it almost the lingua franca of that sector of society.
We actually expect second rate service from government, whether it is poor electrical and water supply, long, slow lines at Road Traffic or frustrating application processes. A smooth road is not the norm. Prompt answering of a telephone at a government office is astonishing. A system that actually works is nothing short of remarkable.
It is a real shame that mediocrity has become so ingrained that we are so surprised by good service, commenting on it with shock to all who listen when we are well taken care of – as we are always supposed to be – by the public sector.
Working to attain excellence in all that we do, and demanding it of all those who surround us, is hard and thankless work. Sinking into the soothing morass of mediocrity – especially when everyone else is already there – is a much easier course of action. Human beings, like running water, tend to take the path of least resistance and doing things acceptably instead of exceptionally is much, much easier to accomplish. So we settle for second best. We seek to be popular and liked by not demanding the very best. We compromise our dreams by not working hard enough to attain them. Before you know it, we are as mediocre as everyone else. And, sadly, so are our families and our nation.
To change this sad state of affairs, we must demand the best – if not the best outcome, at least the very best effort – from one another. We must become no one’s second best, no one’s run of the mill, no one’s commonplace country. We must become that shining city on the hill and not that darkened neighborhood in the shadowed valley. No matter how difficult, and notwithstanding that some of us may have personally contributed to this milieu of mediocrity, we must shake off the mediocrity within, refuse to accept it from others and individually do all that we personally can to take our rightful place as the best little country in the world.
Philip C. Galanis is the managing partner of HLB Galanis & Co., Chartered Accountants, Forensic & Litigation Support Services. He served 15 years in Parliament. Please send your comments to [email protected]