Finding a balance

The Good Life

Some time in the 1980s, in my work with the Cultural Foundation here, I made the acquaintance of an American lawyer (he’d been living here for years) who was simply scathing in his appraisal of Cayman.

According to him, the politicians were corrupt, the civil service was inept, the roads were a mess, the people were lazy and the place was devoid of any kind of higher intellect.

‘Even the architecture of the place is abysmal,’ he once told me. Ironically, 22 years later, he’s still here and while I haven’t spoken with him lately I wouldn’t be surprised to find that his views are unchanged.

Often the subject of private discussion here, this evaluation by people from other countries who criticise the Cayman way seems to be gaining momentum in recent times and has even begun to creep into the local media of late.

The problem with the grumblers (many of whom are new status holders) is that, first of all, their voice is raised in only one direction – the negative.

Everybody has their own take on this, but my common sense tells me these voices have lost balance when everything that comes out of their mouths has to do with what is wrong with this place.

They have become, in effect, ‘professional complainers’ in that their entire output is given over to telling you what needs fixing in the Cayman, or the region in general, with not a moment spent on what may be right about the place.

It’s a totally one-sided view, and, frankly, I’m bored with that kind of prattle. In public I tend to ignore it. In private I walk away from it. It’s just railing for railing’s sake.

But to say that, as C.L.R. James would put it, is not to say all.

Most of the complainants are from the so-called ‘developed world’ and reflect a range of nationalities – the Americans tend to be the most outspoken; ‘back in the States’ is their logo – but the wider point to be made is the one of credibility.

America, for example, is a country with 2 million of its people in jail, and 60 million unable to afford health insurance.

America has the worst divorce rate, the worst drug problem, some of the worst ghettos on the planet and guns in almost every house. It doesn’t sound like they have the credentials to tell us how to do it in Cayman.

Shouldn’t they be fixing downtown Baltimore, and Newark, and Philadelphia and East Los Angeles before they tell us about housing here? Shouldn’t they be doing something about their congressmen going to jail before they talk about politicians here?

America is the only major nation in the world that hasn’t signed onto the Greenhouse Gas Emission Accord. Sign that and then you can complain about our local dump.

Many Americans tend to rate economic success as the only criterion worth considering; in fact, we’re beginning to see it may turn out to be clean air and clean water and they’re not doing so well in those areas.

In the developed world, just last week, we’re now aware that the UK Government has lost confidential personal data of 10 million adults and 15 million children; they don’t know where it is, and they don’t know if some criminal element may have gotten it.

The newly elected leader of France is already in a personal imbroglio. (As Rex Harrison said in ‘My Fair Lady’, ‘The French don’t care what they do, actually, as long as they pronounce it properly.’)

The Swiss have the highest suicide rate in the world. The point is to get the mote out of your eye before you get the right to do nothing but criticize mine.

Obviously, nobody would dispute that improvements are needed here, but some of the folks who have come to Cayman from other countries should complain less and show at least some appreciation for the good life they’re living here.

They may also be encouraged that their insults to the nation – something that would draw a slap or worse in other Caribbean countries – seem to pass generally unnoticed here, but they should not presume that the silence means Caymanians, and other expatriates, are unperturbed. Confrontation may not be part of this culture, but long memory certainly is.

Finally, if appeals for balanced appraisals don’t succeed, they should be reminded that the same airplanes they got on as Ivan approached, or the ones they boarded after the destruction, are still flying north most days. They can even get a window seat and wave goodbye to all their complaints as they depart.

The Good Life is a column written for the Caymanian Compass by Dave Martins and appears on Fridays.

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