Culture Clash: The Intelligence Needed To Care

Published in Culture Clash — a weekly column in The Tribune — on September 27, 2017

What makes you think you’re so smart? Maybe you got a few As and Bs on your national exams, maintained a decent GPA, got into your first choice university, landed a great job with a fancy title, or get a lot of likes on your lengthy Facebook posts.

Maybe your family members and friends pale in comparison with you. You’re a vessel of little-known tidbits, can recite excerpts of the classics, and play piano by ear. All of this could be true while you fail to effectively communicate because your emotional intelligence is undeveloped and, to be quite honest, you’re not even trying.

Emotional intelligence, according to Peter Salovey and John Mayer who coined the term, is “a form of social intelligence that involves the ability of monitoring your feelings and emotions and those of other people, discriminating among them, and using this information to guide your thinking and actions”.

In her book E.Q. Librium, Bahamian EQ practitioner and executive coach Yvette Bethel points out that the definition makes a distinction between feelings and emotions, and it’s an interesting one to explore. In short, Bethel explains feelings happen anywhere in the body while emotion includes reaction to a stimulus and often involves ego.

In developing and practising emotional intelligence, it is important for us to think about the ways we navigate feelings and emotions, or the way they can affect the way we navigate the world. Our responses are informed by our own lived experiences, values, and beliefs and affected by our mental and emotional states at the time.

Key to cultivating emotional intelligence is empathy — the ability to experience the emotions of another person. In order to communicate with emotional intelligence, we have to be able to relate to the audience’s conditions. This requires not only an understanding of who is in our audience, but how they feel. This knowledge has to be factored into our messaging for communication to be effective.

In a video circulating on Facebook, a child is shown trying to jump a barrier as classmates look on. Again and again, he runs up to it, and gets his hands on the top, but doesn’t quite make it over. With every attempt, his classmates cheer wildly. When he doesn’t make it, they shout words of encouragement. By the penultimate attempt, he is in tears, but his classmates’ cheers are only getting louder. Before the last try, they encircle him, building his confidence back up. When he makes it, it is a shared victory. Not only have the children in that video been taught the value of community, but to practice emotional intelligence. They know what failure feels like, and what people need to keep going, and to eventually succeed. They give that to the boy in the video without tiring, counting cost, or changing their energy. It is their job to support him.

Just weeks ago, scores of Bahamian people were evacuated from the southern islands of The Bahamas under the threat of Hurricane Irma. Some refused to leave and, upon receiving this information, many Bahamians lambasted them. They were called foolish and uneducated, and some people even wished the worst, supposedly to teach them a lesson. This kind of response is quickly recognised as unchristian, but there is no need to connect it to religion. It is a character flaw that leads to communication failure. It is evidence of the inability to manage one’s own emotions — like anger or frustration — and the failure to consider the emotions of others.

Maybe it is difficult to imagine living on a Family Island, vastly different from the capital, and content with what one has while happy to be without certain elements that come with “development”. It’s easier to think of our parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents who are reluctant to leave their homes.

The people we offer to take on trips, host during renovations, or bring into our homes when they are not feeling well. They decline every time because they love their homes, their independence, and the little things around them that make them feel at peace.

Somehow, even if we don’t quite understand it, we’re able to respond with love to these people who will not even go a 20-minute drive away, but can’t temper our frustration with people we think are foolishly, wilfully putting their lives at risk. We don’t bother to see it their way, understanding the deep connections they have with their homes and the fierce will to protect them, come what may. We are too busy making our own point.

This week, the prime minister announced, without much detail, plans to accommodate Dominican students affected by Hurricane Maria as soon as possible. We have seen evidence of the devastation in Dominica where even accessing clean water is a challenge.

The response to this announcement, just two years after Family Island students needed to be relocated to attend school, has been severely lacking in any kind of intelligence. People immediately asked where the money would come from, where the students would fit, how many people would be coming, and how long they would be permitted to stay? These are valid questions on the surface, but the tone is clear.

Many are opposed to this move and choose to hide behind faux-intelligence, prudence, and “critical” thinking. No one batted an eye when Dominica gave $100,000 to The Bahamas following Hurricane Matthew in 2016. No one bothered to make a GDP comparison between countries. It was fine for Dominica to help us, but we are too poor and under-resourced to offer assistance now. Maybe we are rich in fear and poor in community spirit, no matter how we try to spin it.

Minnis’ announcement seemed hasty, especially without having details of the plan to share, but there are better ways to pose questions and offer recommendations. We can have critical, constructive national dialogue without rejecting a plan we have not seen along with the people it is meant to help. To do that, we would have to acknowledge our own feelings and emotions, admitting to our fear of losing what we have.

We are most concerned about job security and the national debt and subsequent increases in taxation. While these are valid concerns, in the near future we will have to turn our attention to our shrinking land mass and rising sea levels, inability to save ourselves, and the need to build relationships with other countries who can lobby for and with us.

We will be looking to other countries in this region to band together with us in the fight for “developed” nations to do their part to mitigate and respond to climate change.

At the current rate, the next generation of Bahamians will be climate refugees. If we held and understood this knowledge, perhaps it would trigger the empathy we need to respond to Dominica’s situation and our prime minister’s commitment with emotional intelligence. No one wants to need help, much less to receive a protested offer.

We all have feelings, and experience emotions in response to our environment and experiences. We do not all practice the emotional intelligence necessary for leadership, community-building, advocacy, and critical dialogue. Communication is key to all of them, and dependent on our ability to reach our audience and be understood.

If we are not considerate of others’ emotions, we risk our messages — however articulate, factual, or relevant — being completely missed or ignored. If you find yourself under fire for comments, resist the urge to defend with “what I meant was” and spend time answering “How was I perceived, and why?” Impact is more important than intent, and emotional intelligence goes a long way in bridging the gap between the two.

Culture Clash: The Climate Change Threat

Published in Culture Clash — a weekly column in The Tribune — on September 20, 2017

When we talk about climate change, it is often in limited, abstract ways. Climate change is not just about the temperature, land mass, or sea levels.

The effects of climate change include economic loss, changes in atmospheric concentration, and cultural loss.

The Bahamas, being an archipelagic nation and a small island developing state, must acknowledge climate change as a real and present threat — not one that may materialise in a century. This hurricane season has turned up the volume on conversations about climate change, though the focus has been more on adaptation than mitigation.

Most people are thinking about ways we can build differently so we better withstand hurricanes, but we also need to think about the ways we contribute to the problem as well as changes in policy and personal practices we need to make. For us to take climate change seriously, we need to know exactly what it is and how it affects us.

What is climate change?

Climate change does not refer to weather conditions. Weather changes from day to day and place to place while climate is the usual weather of a place. Climate can change according to seasons. Climate change, then, is the change in the usual weather of a place. This change could be temperature in a particular season, the amount of rainfall over a period of time, or the frequency and intensity of storms.

Global average temperature is currently around fifteen degrees celsius, and we know it has been higher and lower before. The problem is the rapid increase we are experiencing. Research shows that temperature has increased by 0.8 degrees celsius from the late 19th century to now, and seventy-five percent of that increase was only in the last 30 years. This exponential increase that can only be attributed to human activity.

What causes climate change?

Climate can change due to changes in the sun, or the ocean, but we also affect climate through our daily activities like driving and burning coal. When we burn fossil fuels, which emit carbon dioxide, gases are released that heat the air. The problem here is that only so much carbon dioxide can be naturally absorbed. We complicate it further when we clear land, getting rid of trees that are one of the best carbon-absorbing resources. Not only are we releasing more of this gas, but we’re depleting the earth of its natural fix.

While industrialized countries are the main producers of greenhouse gases, Caribbean countries consume the largest amounts of fossil fuels in the region for the production of electricity. Here is our reality: our countries are at the greatest risk and are least able to adapt to climate change.

How does it affect The Bahamas?

We can see the effect of climate change, from beach erosion to coral reef bleaching. In the name of development, we have given up much of our protection in the form of mangroves. We have paid little attention to food security, believing our proximity to the US will feed us forever. We have not been realistic, or thought about the impact of our decisions on our existence as a country.

Climate change means more than unbearably hot summers and higher electricity bills because air conditioning feels like a necessity. As the earth’s temperature rises, we will experience more than warmer weather (while other places may get colder or experience other weather changes), but other things happen that we do not see from here. Ice will melt, resulting in rising sea levels.

Eighty percent of The Bahamas is less than one meter above sea level. To put this in perspective, if the Greenland Ice Sheet melts, sea levels will rise by six meters.

In a 2002 report, The Caribbean Planning for Adaptation to Global Climate Change Project named increases in the number and intensity of storms, heavy rainfall in the north and drought in the south, and land loss due to rising sea level as major concerns for The Bahamas.

The 2017 hurricane season has already shown us that we are not prepared for the effects. Unless we intend to be climate refugees, we need to listen to scientific facts, use technology, and build innovative systems for mitigation and adaptation in response to climate change.

What can we do?

Though it may not be our favourite thing to think about, discuss, or act on, we all know a little something about the environment and how we impact it. We need to do a better job of using what we have.

One of our greatest resources, and one we tend to think about in terms of tourism only, is the sun. We can significantly reduce the amount of fossil fuels we burn by switching to solar power.

This, of course, comes with other benefits like reduced cost (over time) of power generation and less frequent interruption of power.

In his contribution to the United Nations Climate Summit in New York City in September 2014, former Prime Minister Perry Christie called on “developed” nations to honour their commitments to climate finance support to assist vulnerable countries like The Bahamas.

We need to familiarise ourselves with the Paris Agreement on Climate Change which The Bahamas ratified in August 2016 and consider the effect of the US withdrawing from the agreement.

In its Manifesto, the Free National Movement referenced climate change and the vulnerability of these islands. The party promised, among other things, creation of a Ministry of the Environment, implementation of a Waste-to-Energy programme, phasing out of plastic bags by 2020, and properly testing emissions.

Has there been discussion about any of these commitments since May 10, 2017? When should we expect work to begin? Are we doing our duty, as citizens of The Bahamas, to remind this administration of its commitments and demand that they are met? Are we paying attention to our representatives’ participation in global meetings and agreements, and creating an environment where consultation with the Bahamian people and reports on these meetings are the norm? What are we doing to hold our representatives to account?

In his address at the COP 22 conference, former Minister of Foreign Affairs Fred Mitchell said, “Climate change is not an esoteric matter but an existential one”.

Indeed, climate change is a threat to our existence, and we must treat it as such. Let’s not forget our responsibility to govern our own behaviour. Let’s not relax and wait for our representatives to do what must be done.

Be mindful in use of energy and water, reduce waste by being a more conscious consumer, learn more about climate change and its effects, and call on our representatives to fulfil the commitments made in the FNM Manifesto’s section on the environment.

Sunday Sermon: Maybe It’s Not You

I spend a fair amount of time reading articles, blog posts, and email newsletters full of expert tips, advice, feel-good material, and any number of other kinds of material. Today, I read an article about fitness — which really isn’t my favorite topic — and one paragraph in particular really stuck with me, and I decided to share it here.

Women are conditioned blame themselves all the time, because everyone blames us—literally us, and not difficult scenarios—at every opportunity. I’m here to say to you—no. The path for anything is not straight and you will not always get it right the first time. Expect difficulties, expect setbacks, expect to have to look at everything with clear eyes and realize it is both possible for things to not be going smoothly *and* for that to not reflect on you as a person.

For me, that take-aways are:

  1. Sometimes things are difficult.
  2. Not winning or not succeeding in a task or moment does not mean you suck.
  3. You’re not the sum of things you didn’t do perfectly.

Keep trying. Get better. Celebrate success on your own terms. You deserve all of that.

Culture Clash: Nationalism And Collective Energy

Published in Culture Clash — a weekly column in The Tribune — on September 13, 2017

THE past week has been hectic and panic-filled as the country prepared for Hurricane Irma which we expected to impact more islands and people than it did.

We rushed to stores to buy food, water, ice, plywood, and all of the other supplies demanded by this active hurricane season.

For as long as we had electricity and internet, we tracked the storm like meteorologists-in-training, checked on family members and friends, and monitored social media closely. It was the latter that inspired us to activate one of our most popular, prized team sports — national outrage.

We have no shortage of reasons to be angry. Our educational system has been failing for years and continues to go without critical review and transformation. Crime and the fear of crime inspire no innovation in prevention techniques or programming.

The poverty rate is over ten per cent and successive government administrations continue to play numbers games with unemployment by creating temporary jobs as opposed to developing new industries, helping people to up-skill, or encouraging entrepreneurship.

The Disabilities Act has been passed, but the able-bodied continue to park in parking spaces designated for differently-abled people. The abuse of children is so commonplace and normalised that we agree to call it “discipline”. All of this and more, but what really gets us going? People on the internet who make negative posts and comments. These inspire more nationalism than anything else.

From Nellie Day who wrote about the “small beach shacks and huts”, she claimed we live in to the people who complained about Shaunae Miller’s dive to the finish in the 400m at the Rio Olympics, Bahamians are keen to teach non-Bahamians not to mess with The Bahamas. We, as Bahamians, can complain about poverty, crime, and environmental hazards, but no one else can.

Our issues with this country, the way it is run, and the way its people behave are valid. Our responses to these issues, however inflammatory, insulting, and unproductive, are valid. It’s similar to sibling relationships. We can bully our brothers and sisters at home, but no one at school can even look at them the wrong way without having to deal with us. We don’t recognise our own behaviour as violent or counterproductive, but when others behave the same way, we read it as violence. How do we respond? With more violence, of course.

In the blink of an eye, we go from a Christian nation — a praying nation — to a band of keyboard gangsters. We forget about love, forgiveness, and divine intervention because someone callously wished ill on these blessed and highly favoured islands. We combine our powers and, for as long as the power company and internet service providers allow, hurl insults filled with vulgarity at our new enemies.

This becomes the national priority of the moment and is when we reveal our true selves. Maybe we are not the Christians we pretend to be on Sundays, during referenda, and when some — not all — of our islands are spared a hurricane. Every ounce of misogyny rises to the top as we associate our adversaries with the worst things we can think of — femininity and vaginas.

It is used against both men and women, stripping the former of their masculinity and reminding the latter that they are seen as little more than their reproductive organs. Many of us use these words and phrases with little thought, not intending to belittle or harm women and girls, but words have meanings.

Why is the wrath of the Bahamian people cloaked in misogyny? And why do we, when challenged, try to defend ourselves and our choice of words instead of recognising the issues and committing to better behaviour? What would our comeback be if our opponents called us on our misogyny, and that became the new way of seeing The Bahamas? Would we care then?

There are better uses of our time and energy as Bahamians who care about this country and impacting its trajectory. Thousands of tweets at people who think we did not deserve a gold medal we will always have do not shift it.

Bullying and doxxing people who make foolish statements about us do not improve our circumstance. We are constantly proving our creativity, but only occasionally show our dedication to our country, our people, and our future.

How can we use our time, energy, and creativity to turn our love of country into commitment to a collective vision for this nation? Can you secure a space for a reading programme? Do you have vacant property that can become a community garden? Can you teach the children in your neighbourhood to swim? Do you have access to resources a non-profit organisation can use to benefit its community?

Think about what you have — tangible and intangible — and how it can be used to benefit others. #CYC is just a term and the internet. We, as a people, have more than that, and we should be using it to improve our circumstances, across all islands and cays.

Today, many Bahamians feel like winners. We made people wish they never said anything negative about The Bahamas, and then we prayed a hurricane away (even if it was after it hit our southern islands). Still, our greatest battle has not yet been fought.

We have numerous issues to address as a nation, and one of them is the safety and comfort of those evacuated and displaced because of Hurricane Irma. They will need long-term shelter, food, clothing, toiletries, and various forms of support.

It takes more effort than angrily replying to people on social media, but we have the time, creativity, and motivation to help our fellow Bahamians.

Instead of complaining about the extra food we bought, donate it to those in need. When shopping, pick up a few extra toiletries. A number of organisations are assisting in hurricane relief efforts and will need our support.

Equality Bahamas volunteers will be at Lignum Vitae, 11 Meeting Street, on weekdays from Thursday to Tuesday, 4-7pm and at the farmer’s market at Doongalik on Village Road with Seasonal Sunshine Bahamas on Saturday, 9am to 1pm. We’re collecting toiletries (especially pads and tampons), underwear, and new clothes. Even if you’re not able to donate, you can volunteer with one of the many organisations doing this work and share posts on social media to help increase reach. We need to construct a positive narrative of the Bahamian people and our collective power. Let this be a start.

Donation Drive on the Porch at Doongalik

#HurricaneIrma

#HurricaneIrma Donation Drive

#HurricaneIrma

#HurricaneIrma

Culture Clash: D-Average Students Aren’t The Problem

Published in Culture Clash — a weekly column in The Tribune — on September 6, 2017

Every year around this time, the entire country is frustrated by the BJC and BGCSE results. The “national average” becomes a measure of our worth and indicator of success, both present and future.

For the past decade, this “national average” based on national examination results has been a D, and we have come to casually define ourselves as “D-average”. It is the first thing that comes to mind when someone runs a red light, an MP makes a nonsensical statement, a neighbour fails to sufficiently prepare for a hurricane, or people lose money in looms. We’re quick to say, “There’s the D-average again.”

We don’t consider lack of respect for law and order, or the quickness of a lie as opposed to time and energy it takes to tell the whole truth. We don’t think about the scarcity of resources necessary to complete tasks, or the desperation of people who need a way out of poverty. The D-average is the national scapegoat, and every summer we are reminded everything can be blamed on it.

Resist the urge to make sweeping generalisations about lazy students, poor parenting, and underpaid, overworked teachers. We know we will not be able to solve a problem until we define it. Is the underperformance of students in national examinations the problem? Could the problem be the exams themselves? Should we be thinking about the way we prepare students for these exams? With over fifty per cent of students sitting the national exams getting under a C, the problem cannot be the students. The existing system is not working.

For emphasis, our students are not the problem. They are not, year after year, failing us. We are failing to properly serve them.

Missing the Basics

Social promotion is still practised in our schools. Students who do not meet the minimum standard for one grade are pushed through to the next. They fall further and further behind, unable to catch up because a level of knowledge and understanding is assumed, and the students are often too embarrassed to admit they have not acquired them. This can manifest in a number ways, from the appearance of disinterest to poor behaviour. Teachers can often identify these issues, but are limited in what they can do in a class of dozens of students with limited resources, minimal involvement of parents/guardians, and an unchanging educational system.

Home Life

In pre-school and primary school, learning cannot stop in the classroom. Homework and grade level-appropriate project help to bring context to new knowledge, and give students the opportunity to practice what they’ve learned and test their understanding of material.

This, more often than not, requires parent/guarding participation. Someone in the home needs pay attention to what is being taught and how the student is progressing by assisting with homework, reviewing tests, and meeting regularly with the teacher. Some parents/guardians are willing and able to do these things, but others are either ill-equipped or unavailable for this level of involvement. Multiple jobs, shift work, and low literacy are among the barriers to greater involvement in their children’s education.

Beyond help at home, nutrition and rest are critical to student performance. In 2014, it was reported that 19.3% of five to 14-year-olds were living in poverty. We often hear stories about students going to school hungry, and not having money or anything packed for lunch. How can we expect them to learn under these conditions?

Some students work after school and on weekends to help ends meet, and some have to help in other ways like taking care of elderly relatives or children younger than themselves. With these responsibilities, and concerns about their homes and families, it is not hard to understand why students are struggling in school. Add to this the lasting effects of hurricanes like Hurricane Matthew, from missing school to untreated PTSD.

Learning and Teaching Styles

In many ways, we have not built schools and educational programmes that accommodate our students. One style of teaching does not work for every student. Learning styles are typically broken down into four categories: visual, auditory, reading and writing, and kinesthetic.

Do teachers cater to all of these learning styles? Are they trained to identify students’ learning styles and adapt lesson plans to suit their needs? Do we need to start using learning styles to compose classes similar to the way we rank them by grade?

Even the best lesson plan will not produce results if it seems like it is in a foreign language. As Director of Education Lionel Sands said on a radio talk show this week, we need to prepare school for our students, not students for schools.

How can we make the shift from teaching (and learning) toward the goal of succeeding in an exam to encouraging curiosity, creativity, and critical thinking, practising new skills, and exploring ideas with new-found knowledge?

Students learn in environments of dread because they anticipate exams to come. This helps to feed anxiety and forces memorisation and regurgitation rather than real engagement with and understanding of the material. Classrooms need to be student-centred, not test-centred.

Testing and Evaluation

Every student is not good at taking tests. Test-taking is a specific skill. Some students perform well on multiple choice questions while others excel in short answer and essay questions.

In many cases, results speak to a student’s ability to strategise and navigate a specific type of test rather than knowledge.

How can we evaluate students and test their understanding of material in ways that yield real results? How can we prepare students for test-taking, outside of teaching the material? These are the things we need to consider when we expect to use exam results as the ultimate measurement tool.

The national average should not be used as a collective insult. It is not a reason for us to feel bad about ourselves, or fear for the future of this nation.

The D-average is a call to action. The results are abysmal, and that a reflection of the system, not the students.

As citizens of this country, it is on us to call on the Ministry of Education, educators at all levels, parents, and students to address this national issue.

We cannot afford to forget about this until it’s a handy weapon in an argument. We need a national action plan for the improvement of our educational system, and we must be prepared to do our part — churches offering student breakfasts, civic organisations operating homework help centres, education experts providing ongoing training to teachers, and communities supporting parents.

The D-average is our problem to solve, and whether or not we get rid of BJCs and BGCSEs, our work is cut out for us.

What are you prepared to do? How can you contribute to the effort? Email me, and let’s get to work.