As I was traveling from the U.S. the other day, I was able to sit and chat with a prominent clergyman in The Bahamas. Since he serves in the Over-the-Hill community, I asked him what he thought was the principal problem in that community that made it an area needing special consideration by the government. After some time to think about it, he said firmly that it was “attitude”. He said that the attitude of too many people toward life and living was a problem.
After some discussion, we both agreed that this attitude problem may have a special concentration and scale in the Over-the-Hill area, but was something that was true for too many people throughout the country.
Famed American motivational speaker Hilary Hinton, better known as “Zig Ziglar”, once said: “Your attitude, not your aptitude, will determine your altitude.” Sharing a similar thought, Dale Carnegie, a pioneer in leadership development, said, “Happiness does not depend on any external condition, it is governed by our mental attitude.”
What is attitude? Attitude is how we come to a settled view of life and living as we accumulate thoughts and feelings about the world over time. As we age, we come to have thoughts about the world, and we develop emotional conditional responses (feelings) about those thoughts. This conditioning of thoughts and feelings becomes our attitude. These attitudes can reflect themselves in racism, classism, cynicism, pessimism, skepticism, negativism, positivism, optimism or some other ism. However they are reflected, attitudes shape both our approach to and behavior in life, work and play – enabling or endangering our efforts.
Many Bahamians are seeking happiness or some greater happiness today; they want to accomplish more. Despite hampering conditions in our country, they can do so but need an attitude push. The economic and social circumstances of this nation require enormous effort to strive — and yet more to thrive. Very few positive things seem easy to achieve. Getting a business started, operating a business, even closing a business is hard work in this country. Raising children, educating children and then having them flourish is difficult. Getting elected to govern and governing is challenging. While these difficulties can be an impediment to making progress, they can be less so with the right attitude toward life and living. These are the attitudes that should dominate if we are to get over the hump that seems to be stagnating us.
First, there is the attitude of accepting responsibility for our success. In this country it is a common practice for far too many people to lay their lack of achievement at the feet of someone else. How often have you heard, “I would be so much better off, if only my mother or father had done this or that”; “If only the government would do this or that”; “If only these pastors would do this or that”; “If only these foreigners would not do this or that”; or “If only my teachers had done this or that”?
You rarely hear these people say that they failed to plan, they failed to learn, they failed to follow through, they failed to work hard, they failed to work smartly, they got up after failing, they didn’t really do their part or they made wrong choices. No! Their problem was what everyone else did or did not do. This is what I call “blame-itude”, that is, the blame-it-on-others attitude. However, the instant we accept responsibility for our own success, we gain power to address our weaknesses and reinforce our strengths for greater strategic behavior. This new attitude will exponentially grow our prospects to succeed.
Second, there is the attitude of excellence. Excellence is an attitude, and mediocrity is its alter-ego. Far too many people in our country simply do not value excellence. What is excellence? It is doing all you can with all you have to achieve the best that you can. This definition of excellence allows everyone to be excellent because it does not require anyone to do what others do; rather everyone does what he or she can do, to the best of his or her ability.
My excellence might produce a higher output because I have more, but if someone else does as much as they can do with the “less” they have, then they, too, have achieved excellently. Sadly, even this liberal definition of excellence does not work for too many of us; rather than do as much as can be done with the little in hand, that little is used as an excuse not to do much at all.
When we adopt an attitude of excellence we begin to see an ocean of possibility and triumph, instead of a dry field of threats and defeat. We begin to see an expanding pie that can feed more, rather than a fixed one made smaller with every bite from others. With excellence, creativity and innovation become common to our efforts and our deeds. If we shun what I call the “medio-cratude”, which is an attitude of doing just enough to get by, and embrace an attitude of excellence, both happiness and achievement can be ours.
Third, there is the attitude of solitude. Too many of us do not place enough value in the power of working with others to get things done. Truth be told, the most successful Bahamians and businesses in The Bahamas built their achievement on networking, cooperation, partnership and teamwork. The most miserable failures were solo attempts. If we are to achieve the happiness and progress we desperately want going forward, we cannot walk alone. We must embrace and be committed to finding others with the things we lack, so that we can bring what we all have to the table. After this, the team must be respectful with one another and diligent in order to accomplish what any single person cannot accomplish on their own.
We have an attitude problem in this country in too many areas. The great thing is, though, that attitudes can change. It may not be a simple process, but it is possible. It requires self-examination, honesty and humility. When achieved, the sky becomes the limit. Let’s see if we can get there.
• Zhivargo Laing is a Bahamian economic consultant and former Cabinet minister who represented the Marco City constituency in the House of Assembly.