As Bahamians, we underperform. As individuals, we are phenomenal. For a country of under 400,000 we produce a simply freakish number of high achievers. Yet as a community we underperform in every aspect of public life. We underperform in business, education, cultural development and in our responsibility for the environment. Why?

One answer is, we give ourselves permission with our words. Language is such a powerful tool, one we use most aggressively to support our underperformance. Listen to these:

It’s our Colonial heritage”

“It’s a hold-over from slavery”

“Black people can’t work together”

“The white man holdin’ us down”

“Politicians only wan’ keep the power for themselves”

“The Chinese get’n all the business”

“I’s a small man”

None of these statements is either true or relevant. Our Colonial heritage is only the framework from which we make the decisions about our future, from which we choose the objectives to work towards. There is no ghost of Queen Victoria that forces us to decide against our own interest. We are responsible for our decisions, and if our decisions are not producing positive results for us, we are responsible for changing those decisions. Not the Colonial past. Imagine believing that I have to be a drunkard because my grandfather was one. Or maintaining an education system that does not produce productive citizens because it was introduced by colonists.

Black people CAN work together. In business, the Sunshine Boys proved that. The early PLP proved it in politics. Junkanoo groups prove it every parade. The idea is clearly nonsense. In any case, our citizens are not all black, so why is that important? We should instead be focused on all of us learning to work together.

There is no such thing as a small man. There are men who have not yet discovered their value or their potential, but there are no small men. In this arrangement, is a small man’s child also a small man? I hope not.

These things we repeat without thinking get their power from our repetition, whether they are true or false, positive or negative. Unless we repeat them, they have no power and they are not truths for our children.

So perhaps it is time to take the first step in improving our national circumstance. Rather than searching for some messiah to “cure” the mantras with which we keep ourselves enslaved, we might simply stop repeating them. Marley said it this way:

“Emancipate yourself from mental slavery. None but ourselves can free our minds.”

It is time we stop giving ourselves permission to underachieve.

December 16, 2016

There is a saying that, “To do a good job, you need the right tools”, and I believe that’s true. The history of man has in fact been the story of the creation of better tools. Unfortunately, having better tools does not guarantee a good job, since the tool must still be directed, and that same history is littered with the misuse of tools to the detriment of the human race.

Thomas Edison and his assistant Nikola Tesla developed electricity to bring low-cost and reliable light to the masses, but their personal feud led Edison to invent the electric chair, for the killing of human beings. Ernest Rutherford split the atom, dreaming of the almost unlimited power that would be available to man for his development, and would probably be shocked to hear that an Atom bomb had been used to kill almost 130,000 people at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, certainly not what he had in mind.

In our present era, the computer, the internet, international networks and social connectivity are the signal tools created for the benefit of mankind’s development. They are intended to create the climate for unprecedented enlightenment, development and mobility. The number one business on the planet is visiting other places, and the number one fascination is intergalactic travel. The tools for these activities are being refined daily.

Yet the majority of humans still use those tools for destruction, while some acquire them only to use as doorstops in an otherwise unchanged world, to prove that they have the power to have them. We in the Bahamas, for example, the richest and most gifted nation in the region, have acquired all the tools – modern technology, membership in all the global organizations, access to debt, an educated class – yet live as though we are virtual cavemen, brutalizing each other and constantly finding ways to denigrate and disrespect our national family, using our influence only to acquire more debt. The social tools we use only to confirm mental slavery and sociopolitical dependence.

The proper use of tools demands purpose. A hammer can be used to build, to kill or to destroy. It requires a purpose and a plan to be useful. To have purpose requires a dream. Looking like someone else is seldom a worthwhile dream, or as Dolly Parton once said, “Being a second class version of yourself is better than being a first-class copy of someone else”.

To build dreams, we must first become real people, with a strong sense of who we are, of our own identity. Until then, acquiring the tools (like universities, social programs, the latest technology, international memberships or lots of debt) is only “for show”.

Ask this. Have the proliferation of tools available to the Bahamas significantly changed the quality of life or the expression of dignity for the Bahamian community over the past half century? Most of us would be ashamed of the honest answer.

“We have the tools. We can remake it better than it ever was. We can make it the Six Trillion Dollar Country.”

That is, if that’s what “we” want.

We are not here to survive.

When we are gone, our legacy will not be the number of hurricanes we survived. Each of us as individuals has a purpose, whether we have paused to acknowledge it or not, and it is not to make it to the grave uninjured.

As a society, there are questions we must address if we are to leave the world better than we found it. Most of those questions are not about physical survival. They are about the creation of value, the creation of space in which the purpose each of us embraces is given wings. The questions a society must address are the big questions of fulfillment, not merely survival.

But yes, I acknowledge that to ask the questions of fulfillment we do have to first answer the questions of survival. That is why Maslow documents that the first two concerns for any human being are about physical survival.

But after that, it is all about growth and fulfillment.

In listening to the daily public conversations there is an overwhelming concern for the society to address the question of survival. That demand has engaged us for at least a half a century. In that time, we have become one of the wealthiest nations in the hemisphere, boasting almost three vehicles per household on New Providence, a highly educated populace, the most internationally mobile people in the region, with unfettered access to the latest technology. Clearly, we have solved the questions of survival many times over, but seem to be stuck with that single question on our lips.

The bigger questions, the questions of growth and fulfillment, we choose to leave to those we call “First World”, even as we watch their social and developmental short-comings on our oversized flatscreens. We step aside when the questions of economic and physical development are raised, arguing that our economic and physical survival is under attack by some current bogey-man [today it’s the Chinese], and that we must “circle the wagons” again. So we never get around to asking or answering the bigger questions.

For example, our economy is based on tourism. Instead of a concern for business opportunities that build wealth from that industry, we chase only the “security” of jobs in the hospitality sector. Our built environment, which shapes our self-image, and therefore our behavior, and will tell future generations who we were, we leave to the benevolence of outsiders, and value our own architects and planners less than plumbers and electricians. Our education is defined, not in terms of personal and societal growth, but in terms of the security of a job. Research and intellectual pursuits are considered “fluff”.

The questions of survival have been answered. Our grandparents knew how to survive hurricanes without plywood, impact windows or NEMA. They thought that sending us to school would mean that we would begin to address the bigger questions of growth and fulfillment.

They were wrong.

October 29, 2016

 

This fable was part of a “Conversation With Pat Rahming” with students of the art and architecture classes at the College of the Bahamas on Friday, September 16, 2016. It addresses the popular discussion of building a nation.

Two friends, Og and Shabog, crouched behind a tree, waiting for the winter’s food to come by, armed to the teeth with rocks and their best clubs. Og turns to Shabog and, out of the clear, blue sky says,

“Let’s start a nation.”

Shabog’s short forehead furrowed, as he searched his computer-like prehistoric brain.

“What the hell’s a nation?”

The ground began to shake. The mammoth would soon be in the valley below.

“ Gorgon the Seer talked about something called a nation he once saw when looking into the future. Sounded cool.”

“So how do you start one of them?”

“When we get back to camp, let’s go ask him. Here comes the beast. Time to go to work.”

The old man motioned for them to sit down on the ground. He walked around the fire, selected a special branch from a pile next to his stool and dropped it into the fire. As the smoke engulfed him, he stood above it, eyes closed, head raised toward the cave’s ceiling. Then he sat down, opened his red eyes and began to speak.

“I see a great tribe made up of many tribes. Under a mystic spell, all the tribes in the great valley will put down their clubs and rocks and become one great tribe. All tribes will be one within what will be called a nation tribe.”

Og was curious. “How will that be possible? Each tribe is so different.”

The old man’s voice got higher and stronger, and he began to rock back and forth on his stool.

“In the future, a wise man says that what makes a tribe a tribe and what makes all tribes one are the same.  All warriors and their women and their children are carried to their destinies through the measure of the same five tests. The tribe confronts the tests for each tribesman, but the nation tribe will face them for all the tribes.”

Og and Shabog looked at each other. They have no idea what was just said.

“But what are these five tests?”

The cave was now filled with smoke, and Og and Shabog were feeling a little strange.

“They are the test of food, the test of safety, the test of the tribe-family, the test of honour and the test of becoming. Every warrior passes them for his woman and children, the tribe passes them for each warrior and the tribe nation passes them for the tribes.”

What the old man was saying made no ense to Og. Maybe this nation idea was just the old man’s imagination. Besides, he wasn’t saying anything about how to start one of these nation things. They might as well leave. But Shabog was now leaning forward, listening.

“To survive the first test, the test of food, the nation makes its food. Women no longer need to go into the forest and the tribes no longer have to go from forest to forest or follow the herd across the plains searching for food. The nation creates forests and herds, and the tribes trade with each other for food and water. In the nation there is enough food for everyone. No one dies for want of food, and the first test is completed”

Now the two friends were sure the old man was crazy. Imagine having enough food for many tribes. This nation thing must be just a wild dream.

“The second test is the test of safety. In the nation, everyone is safe because all the tribes agree to live in peace. Each man’s cave is respected, and called his property. Each tribe sends out their best warriors to stand watch, and punishment is the same for all. Fire is always lit, and each cave has wood enough to spare. The test of safety is passed in the tribe nation.”

Shabog started to laugh. There is no way a tribe would feel safe being guarded by another tribe’s men. But the old man was on a roll.

“Every man must belong to a tribe, and the tribe is the first family a man finds. The nation will be the second family. The nation family respects the tribe families and makes provision for each tribe to become stronger. The nation celebrates its tribal makeup and the things its tribes share. The nation keeps the customs of the tribes sacred, and creates customs all tribes share. In the tribe nation all tribes are one, but all tribes are still true to their own past.”

“Wait!” says Shabog, “You’re saying that this big tribe wants each tribe to be strong? Doesn’t that make it harder for the nation to control the tribes?”

“Yes it does. But is it not true that the stronger each of a tribe’s warriors is, the stronger that tribe is? In the same way, by having strong tribes, the nation becomes stronger.”

“Yes, yes. I see.”

“By building strong tribes within the nation tribe, the nation passes the test of the tribe family. And that is where the next test begins – the test of honour. Regardless of their tribe, the nation honours all great heroes of the hunt, keepers of the tales, the great doers of magic and all the greatest feats of strength in public ceremonies and monuments. Each man, regardless of his tribe, is given value in the nation tribe. And thus the nation passes the test of honour.”

The old man stopped, and the cave was silent again. Only the crackle of the fire broke the almost sacred silence. The two friends understood the need to honour the great ones, and this test made sense. With his eyes closed, the old man raised his arms towards the ceiling.

“Finally, the greatest test of all is the test of becoming. The nation seeks to make every tribesman great. Its warriors are trained by the best warriors from all the tribes. The same  is true for its singers of songs, makers of loincloths and painters of cave walls. In the nation, the many different tribes have come together to give every tribesman the best chance to be great. In the future, this will be the greatest test of the nation. In the future, the nation will create great halls for the pursuit of wisdom and places of becoming great. In this way it will pass the test of becoming.”

The old man opened his eyes slowly, and Og and Shabog noticed that they were completely glazed over. On his face there was now a strange, toothless grin as he rocked back and forth on his stool, covered in dark grey soot.

Suddenly a great shadow fell across the fire, and the old man’s woman stormed into the cave.

“You crazy old man. You burnin’ tha’ bush again? You know thas what gat you crazy now. Seein’ the future my eye! You’s just be dope up on tha’ bush, thas all.”

And thus ended the dream of Og Nation, One Million Y

ears BC.

Once upon a time, humans lived in caves. Some still do. Literally. We went out, found and killed stuff and brought it back to our cave. While we were gone, we knew our family was protected by the cave, and it made us feel good.

When bad weather came, we blocked the entrance to the cave and moved deeper into its safety.

stoneage-family-20578687

Today, our cave looks different. It’s got many entrances rather than the standard one, these things called “windows”, and thin walls. It’s much easier for the neighbours to get in to take our “stuff” while we are away, and a wooly mammoth or a bit of bad weather can easily leave us cave-less.

So we’ve learned to rely on things called “locks” and “hurricane straps” and “impact windows” and “reinforced concrete” to feel OK about leaving our cave to go out hunting. Today, we can even use magic eyes to see what’s happening in and around the cave while we are miles away with something called “cell phones”.

This is what we call cave security.

Oh, and today we call our cave our home. The neighbours who want to take our treasures we call burglars. The witchcraft that allows us to watch our homes while we are away we call surveillance. The wooly mammoth is gone, but the bad weather we now call hurricanes.

This week, Patrick Rahming & Associates and Cacique Homes have arranged for experts in the various aspects of home security to bring us up to date about these things. We’ll hear about developments in the technology of impact doors and windows, surveillance systems and building intelligence. And since stuff happens, we’ll hear about the role and benefits of insurance.

The event is called “Is Your Home Secure”, and is open to the public as part of our effort to share information. We hope you find it useful.

(The flier is below.)

Seminar Flier 3_0

 

 

 

How many times have you heard it? You’re listening to your favorite politician tell you how he plans to create a better world…..

“I’ve got a great idea….I’m going to…”

A year or two later, you remember the “good idea” and check it’s progress, only to find that it had not worked as expected. Was it a matter of resources? Was the timing wrong? Or was the idea a good idea in the first place?

One current example is the “idea” of making Bain and Grant’s Town a Free Trade Zone. The apparent rationale is that it would “revitalize” the area. It would not.

Are the people of Grant’s Town poorer than the people of Pinewood Gardens, Nassau Village or Yellow Elder Gardens? No. Their plight is similar, except for one thing: the former area has had a longer time to decay, and the rot is more evident in that area. Money might create a less derelict environment for a while, but it will not address the real reason for the decay.

Those of us who grew up in either Bain Town or Grant’s Town lament the decay, because we remember the proud people who, with very little money, fought the decay daily. They kept their yards clean (even under the floor) and their houses repaired (most of the time by themselves). It was important to them that everyone knew they were decent people. There are still many of those people in the area, and they still insist on being known as “decent people”. For them, duty free materials might be a nice bonus, but it would never be the reason they repair, expand or refurbish their property. Their reason would still be that they are “decent people”.

The idea would also not encourage significant business. The two existing duty free zones have both been struggling economically for decades. Freeport is nowhere near the business environment that Marsh Harbour is. Nor is Bay Street. The fact is that while there are certainly benefits to creating free trade zones, it is the mindset of the people of the zone that creates the environments, both personal and business. And the mindset of the people of Bain and Grant’s Town, the mindset created by the promises of politicians of paternalistic policies, the mindset the “idea” of the free trade zone is designed to exploit, is one of dependency. Most of the present residents honestly believe that to change or improve their condition they need Government help, despite the good work of activists in the area to demonstrate otherwise.

Bain and Grant’s Town is a major part of the City of Nassau, not its backyard. When both the political establishment and the people of the area recognize that fact, then the planning agenda of the City will include them, and real change might become possible.

The problem is this: the “good idea “must first of all be a way to solve a problem that has been identified for which a solution has been conceptualized. When you know you need to cut the grass and that a lawnmower is a solution, the “idea” of borrowing a lawnmower makes sense. But before you decide that the height of the grass is a problem, the lawnmower is irrelevant. First the problem must be identified, then a solution conceptualized, then “ideas” about how to make the solution possible. That is the sustainable sequence.

“I have an idea. Let’s make Bain and Grant’s Town a Free Trade Zone”.

Totally irrelevant idea.

August 6, 2016

Richard Lightbourne thought he saw a problem and proposed a logical fix for it. If the statistics show that people struggle economically when they have lots of children, then those having economic problems should have fewer children. The perks would be that the country’s social service network would be relieved.

But that’s not how it works.

Fortunately, few of us are the result of an economic plan, nor were our parents pessimistic enough to predict their own hard times and avoid the extra expense. And no one had the right to tell Grammy to tie her tubes.

Recently, the PM unveiled a scheme that he says would form the basis for a new Master Plan for the City of Nassau. Like Mr. Lightbourne, the study, no doubt expertly conducted by a Viennese Technical College and the College of the Bahamas, presents a logical guide for the physical development of Bain and Grants Town, based upon what appears to be an external value system. Whether it is logical or not is irrelevant. Planning is first of all about intent. It is about the intended development of the potential of the community being planned. And the key to its success is self-determination.

Communities are defined by shared values, not political constituencies or convenience. Bain Town is different from Grants Town. No amount of legalese will change that. But it can compromise both of their developments.

Having not seen the plan presented, I admit my comments may be out of order. The fact that activists in the area I spoke to had not been interviewed suggests that the plan may be premature. Mr. Lightbourne’s intention was good (I believe), but his solution would have imposed his privileged values on Bahamian women. Government and the IDB may also have good intention, but they have similarly placed the cart before the horse (the solution before the question) and are preparing to impose external value conclusions on those communities.

The community reacted both immediately and passionately to Mr. Lightbourne’s comments, but not at all to the news of a master plan for their city. Unfortunately, the effect of a master plan on the social development of the communities included is crucial to the behavior we see on the streets. You see, an environment that does not express the value of those inhabiting it produces people who show no value for themselves, and therefore for others. If crime is an issue, self-worth is the number one weapon. And the master plan‘s intent is the first volley in the battle.

 

 

This is a part of a presentation developed and presented about 5 years ago, shared with at least one Government Minister.

Imagine:

  • You take the edge of the wharf along Woodes Rogers Walk, the one used by the booze cruises, water taxis and ferries, and extend it out about 75 feet. That leaves more than enough for those present uses.
  • Imagine extending this new wharf as a walkway all the way around to the end of Prince George Dock. (Still leaving enough space).
  • You now have over 2 acres of brand-new, unzoned, publicly-owned waterfront property (plus the Customs Building, of course).

Now, imagine:

  • You create a zone of art, craft and entertainment, using both the new property and the existing Customs Building on Prince George Dock. The development would be similar in some ways to Bayside in Miami or Navy Pier in Chicago.

Market Range2

Then imagine:

  • The whole development themed as the Nassau of 1850, with buildings built of “old” wood, lit by gas lamps and with cobblestone floors. The façade of the Customs Building converted to the façade of the then Bay Street (or its equivalent). Workers in the area might even wear period clothing.
  • A replica of the Queen Anne’s Revenge (Blackbeard’s ship), moored at the western end of Prince George Dock as a tour.
  • A new dockage for themed water taxis and ferries at the western end of the development, and an open, floating stage for occasional free concerts at the eastern end.

Balcony House

 And now, can you imagine?

  • The whole development created by a Public-Private Corporation designed to create entrepreneurial opportunities for local businesspeople.
  • 20-hour-a-day commerce and entertainment from Rawson Square to Navy Lion Road, with millions of satisfied visitors annually and hundreds of successful local businesses.
  • Existing Woodes Rogers Walk businesses sharing this new success, with both new volumes and extended business hours.
  • This development fuelling new and more vibrant business in the whole area.

By the way, the development would draw on the history of Nassau harbour as the most important (and safest) in the region, with a key role in piracy, slavery, rum running, wrecking and, of course, Colonial rule. It would be called Olde Nassau Harbour, and I believe it could be the most potent destination attraction in the region from its completion.

Just thinkin’…..

July 17, 2016

 

 

“You can’t build a long term business with short term strategies”

(Webinar on E-Commerce)

In the recent Budget Communication, government unveiled a new Apprenticeship Program, with a $22M price tag. The Opposition noted that it was pretty much the same as the program they had proposed, with a different name. What both entities seem to have agreed on is the need to provide job training for the multitude of school leavers who are un-prepared for entry to the workplace.

On the surface, this seems an appropriate response from a caring government. But on reflection, it is the most shocking admission of failure by both the present PLP and the former FNM governments. Both are admitting that the nation’s education system is not expected to produce individuals prepared for engagement with the real world. In fact, they have together perpetuated an agreement to fund four entities to do the same job: produce a citizen capable of functioning productively in the society. There are four line items in the Budget to produce the same functional individual: the Ministry of Education, BTVI, The National Training Institute and the new Apprenticeship Program.

The three clearly-remedial programs demonstrate two very serious biases. The first is the commonly-held belief that someone who chooses to fix cars is less intelligent than someone who chooses to become a lawyer. Not only is this not a reasonable assumption, the case may in fact be reversed. But as a result of that assumption, the Ministry of Education’s program facilitates the lawyer with his academic degrees, and treats the fixer of cars as a problem to be “fixed” in the shed out back. Painting the shed makes it no less a shed.

The need to re-assess the very core of the nation’s educational strategy has been urgent for decades, but is still buried under a conversation about “grade average”, a concept most teachers have agreed has no discernable use in the real world, where 50% of those reaching the end of their schooling are not qualified to graduate, and most, as noted above, are useless in the workplace.

The second issue is the ease with which we agree to postpone addressing our crippled education system by creating remedial programs, most of which become entrenched. Fifty years ago, schooling included technical and trade instruction. That  system, regarded by today’s “modern” educators as archaic, produced the fathers of our nation. Today’s system is creating unproductive (and therefore dependent) young people, many of whom have expressed their frustration in ways that frighten most of us.

Remedial programs can never be the building blocks for the development of a progressive nation.

June 18, 2016

“The bitterest pill I have had to accept is that in a democracy the majority can never be wrong”

Stokeley Carmichael – Civil Rights Militant

Last week I shared the thought that voting against a Constitutional amendment designed to make all citizens equal under the law because you don’t trust or like the government is like filling your gas tank with water because you have a beef with the gas station.

Regardless of what the various personal views on the four referendum questions were, I believe the questions answered were different from those asked. Those actually answered were:

  • Do you trust the PLP government?
  • Do you believe a Bahamian who chooses a foreign love-mate still deserves to be considered Bahamian?
  • Should a person have the right to choose his or her sexual preference?

The answers were “no, no and hell no”.

Meanwhile the Constitution, the document on which all laws in the country are based, and through which our children and grand-children will chart their future, remains hopelessly flawed, after almost five decades of majority rule. Gender equality is a small part of what needs attention in the Constitution, but the attitude towards it is clearly that we would rather suffer the status quo.

On talk shows and in political speeches, we hear a lot about the “maturity of our democracy” and the “will of the people”. Stokeley Carmichael reminds us that in a democracy the majority determines what is “right”. This concept of democracy, to which we are committed, depends on the quality of information available to the majority when making their decision. Manipulating that information is the product of politics. Researching and debating that information is the responsibility of citizens. If citizens avoid the work of honest debate and research, their decisions are based upon the information presented primarily for the benefit of politicians. That is the way it is. Bad citizens make bad decisions.

As an aside, the public is aware that no government over the past forty or more years has been good at delivering education, either formal education or public education. 50% of those flowing through the schooling system can’t even graduate, and the public has not yet answered the question of gender equality despite two “educational” campaigns.

As managers of the people’s business, the government does not “win” or “lose”. They take instructions. Although they might be confused, they in fact cannot have “a horse in the race”. They have a sophisticated media empire available to them to educate the public, but have so far not learned to use it for public purposes.

“Winning” and “losing” is fine for sports (or election to Parliament), but not appropriate when discussing the repair of the document that will shape the future of unborn children. When we take that attitude, we all lose. Who do you hurt when you fill your gas tank with water? Certainly not the gas station.

June 12, 2016

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ARTICLES BY PAT RAHMING