It’s a New Year. Happy New Year everyone. I thought I would begin the year by trying to bring a focus to one of the most serious issues still facing us as a nation.

My son says:

“I don’t know who discovered water, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t a fish.”

This is his way of explaining the phenomenon that it is difficult to see your own circumstance from within that circumstance. That is why we have to have therapists, pastors and teachers. But more importantly, that is why we have to have theatre and painting and sculpture and music. That is why we need these devices that allow us to see ourselves from outside the water, to have mirrors, not as vehicles for narcissism, but as tools for development, to help us see the water we’re swimming in.

There is clearly a paucity of community-based artistic expression in the Bahamas, one of the reasons we find it so difficult to understand what’s happening to us. Being too busy to watch an Ian Strachan or a T’rez Davis-Nixon play, to really listen to Phil Stubbs or Ronnie Butler or to stop and contemplate the works of a Stan Burnside or John Cox leaves us at the mercy of thought agents who are more concerned about selling advertisements or about getting elected than about polishing mirrors. It leaves us complaining about the picture frame without even seeing the picture inside.

For example, for over 40 years (a really, really long time according to the Bible), the Bahamas has attempted to make a governing structure work which to the rest of the world is missing an important part. While the structure of government clearly does not work without that part, we are so accustomed to our reputation as an extraordinary people, we assume any poor performance by the system must be due to the ineptitude of those operating it. So we simply change them and hope for better performance by the new operators.

Rinse and repeat.

A governing structure with no vehicle for the involvement of the citizenry except to change the National Administrators every five years can never produce good governance, regardless of its leadership. Good governance requires involvement by the citizens in the creation of the goals and objectives that shape national policies, which in turn requires the citizens to look into their mirrors, place their dreams on the table and craft, for themselves, visions for their community and for their country. And that must precede the commitment to fancy strategies at the national level.

To do this, the structure needs two things, as noted above: local engagement in the development of national policies and lots of mirrors. It needs institutionalized community-based dreaming, not externally directed symbol-chasing. It needs James Catlyn and Nicolette Bethel, Amos Ferguson, KB and Stevie S. It needs places for community gathering and sharing, like Wesley Hall, St Agnes Hall and the Dundas Center. It needs the Zanzibar and the Jungle Club, where community expression and entertainment share the spotlight. It needs the re-creation of structures that encourage community self-definition.

In short, it needs things that can never be part of a national-government’s agenda. The national economy, national defense, education, public health and security are all full-time concerns for national administrators. The national approach to these things should be informed by local agendas, but those local agendas must also have their own life for true governance. And for that, some form of autonomous local government (at least one level) is a must, as is an infrastructure of theatres, music halls, a focus on artistic training, local entertainment places, art galleries and the like. And there must be ways for the average citizen to involve themselves in the decision-making process of his or her community’s concerns without national government interference. With only a national government, we are like fish swimming aimlessly, wondering why everyone else has legs or wings.

Someone better soon discover water.