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The 'Us' vs 'Them' mentality


By Francis Wade


To examine the nature of murders in Jamaica is to confront stories of vanity, violence and vengeance. By and large, murder in our country is not a random crime.


Over 90% of our murders are said to be committed by people who know the victim, or have some vested interest in having them dead.


A tremendous number are related to revenge killing, disagreements and paybacks for “disrespect.” A wrong look, an accidental bump or a bad joke can get someone killed.


In short, our murders are being conducted by those of us who insist on being vain, violent and vengeful.


They have taken the lessons they have learned about God literally, and to its extreme. They have the very same mindset that we have taught our children, and that our parents taught us. And, we defend this mindset as one that is ordained by God.


The belief that God is violent has had a palpable impact on our society.

An outsider who has no understanding of our culture would conclude that we Jamaicans are in love with physically violent behavior.




We joke about it, sing about it, boast about it, promote it, threaten each other with it, resort to it when we are upset and perpetrate it at will. Furthermore, you would think that the kind of violence that they would see the most of would be murders, assaults, rapes and other criminal acts.


Not so.


The kind of violence they would see occurring most frequently would be related to violence that we don’t even see for ourselves, because it is so common.


Instead, it would be violence we perpetrate on each other daily, and one example of the form it takes falls under the general heading of “physical punishment.”


We use physical punishment as a tool of enforcement, and we use it frequently in the following settings, among others: parents on young children, teachers on young students, boyfriends on girlfriends, citizens on gays, policemen on the accused, fans on football referees, prison warders on prisoners and drug dons on innocent citizens.


The only common thread between these everyday examples is that they involve one ostensibly strong party acting against a weaker party.


Through everyday, commonplace violent acts we teach our young, and reinforce for each other, that violence is an acceptable way of imparting useful and necessary “lessons.”


We then go further, and defend our right to impart these “lessons,” becoming indignant if anyone attempts to question what we see as something close to a God-given right.


We insist that we have a right to physically punish those who are powerless, and weaker than us.


In other words, we claim that we have a right to take violent action against them, arguing, once again, that “it worked for us” and making the point that the only reason who have so many criminals is because “no one nevah give dem a good beating.”


Yet, our society is capable of rethinking and changing itself in this matter. At one point in our history, domestic violence was acceptable, as was violence against Rastafarians. While we argued then that it was necessary “punishment,” we no longer say this with quite the same conviction, nor do we use past history for a justification for its continuation.


Perhaps murder, when it occurs, is just an extension of the punishment and violence we willingly perpetrate against each other, especially against those of us who are relatively weak and powerless.


Physical punishment, capital punishment and murder are accepted legal and extra-legal ways to teach someone else a “lesson.” What if we got out of the business of teaching lessons through physical punishment altogether?


After all, it’s common sense that violence only breeds further violence. Why wouldn’t physical punishment do anything else than lead to further punishment down the road? Perhaps the way to reduce violence, and physical punishment is to stop it altogether in any form it may take.


What gives this propensity to exact punishment is that we, ordinary Jamaicans, have become intolerant and fearful of “the other” – those that are different from “us.” We “create camps” – dividing ourselves “us” and “them,” and then set about the destruction of “them” – all in order to protect “us.”


Editor's note: The concluding part of this piece will appear on Sunday



Francis Wade is a management consultant based in Kingston, Jamaica. His passion is the transformation of Caribbean workplaces, economies and society. He blogs at Chronicles From a Caribbean Cubicle.


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