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Belize’s Culture & Economic Development

Posted: Monday, March 31, 2014. 12:35 pm CST.

belize flag

culture (meaning)
1. the total of the inherited ideas, beliefs, values, and knowledge, which constitute the shared bases of social action
2. the total range of activities and ideas of a group of people with shared traditions, which are transmitted and reinforced by members of the group: the Mayan culture

Below are generalizations of a sub-set of aspects of Belize culture that impact our rate and quality of economic development.

In Belize, most things are left for “later”. If it is not life threatening it can be done later. This attitude is very pervasive, and results in procrastination, latency, last-minute rush, and in creole “hurry-com-up”, which means something that is hastily, and normally incompletely or inadequately done. This manifests itself in many ways in daily life, not in the least of which is frequent late arrival for work, meetings or invitations known popularly as “Belize time”. This laid back attitude has its advantages and disadvantages relative to peaceful co-existence of so many mixed races, but in economic life, this lack of urgency hinders our pace of development in more ways than we care to accept.

Belizeans are generally not capable of offering, and then listen in turn to others ideas, analyzing each objectively, and then selecting the best one of all based on an agreed set of criteria. They are quick to find the error, mistake, oversight, shortcoming or what is wrong with the idea….much more so than finding the good intent, what is correct and right about the idea. Lay persons will argue with experts in a field, because everyone has “the right to his own opinion”….and essentially because there is a pervasive belief among Belize adults that devalues expert knowledge….arguing that experience is as good or better than education…denying ourselves the synergistic benefit of both working together for mutual benefit. This is a strange thing, in that Belizeans are very ready to accept as gospel, an idea that comes from a foreign source, especially if it is from North Americans or Europeans. This inability to identify and agree on good ideas, collectively contribute to refining them, and then objectively selecting from among them the one that serves their best, common interests…is a major contributor to slow, retarded development, duplicity, acts of reinventing-the-wheel and worse of all, inaction. We see this in the way how domestic and foreign investors and investments are treated. We will search in a hay stack for the needle to pinch their balloon….with our microscopes we will find the one little mistake, oversight or error, ready with our swords to cut off their ears….we will try to shake down the investor for every dollar that he does not have before we lift a finger to help him get his investment up to speed and returning a profit…..profit? that is none of our business!

Belizeans have seen new ethnic groups arrive in Belize, and in no time, they advance their financial status and clout in the economy far beyond the Belizeans that have lived here for many generations. This is seen among the Mennonites, the “Arabs”, the Hindus, the Chinese and even the “evangelical” immigrants from Central America. This rapid economic advancement owes itself to a greater cohesion, collaboration and cooperation among the participants in these communities, especially the leaders. Generally, Belizeans are not the happiest people to see their own family, friend, neighbor or community member prosper….they will criticize, complain, sabotage and find the most creative ways to tear down….rather than to support and help build up. As a Belizean see his neighbor having success with his panades shop, every other Belizean on the street will open a panades shop….instead of one becoming a barber, one a baker, the other a candlestick maker.

The underdog is the favorite generally for Belizeans. Persons seeking to excel in school…or in the work place…will be criticized by their peers as nerds and brown noses, instead of encouraged to do better. Profiting, and doing what it takes to make it, is viewed negatively in Belizean society. However, Belizeans would be quick to pay homage and be subservient to a foreign person of means. If a Belizean has a rich neighbor and a poor neighbor, he will send a gift to the rich neighbor before he sends one to the poor neighbor. A Belizean views himself as of a higher status if he consumes foreign goods and services. A foreign manager will get more ready cooperation from his Belizean workers than a Belizean manager, because he “knows”. The Belizean manager is viewed as a peer, and if he does not equalize himself with these peers, he is thinking himself “higher than us” and more often than not, sabotaged. These qualities are neither conducive nor incentive for people to do better and to become the best that they can be. More often than not, persons with a higher ambition feel it necessary to leave Belize seeking the opportunity to be the best persons that they can be. This is perhaps why most corporations and institutions in Belize feel the need to hire non-Belizeans as their top brass. Perhaps this is why it is very rare for important decisions to be taken in the Belize government if it is not recommended or sanctioned by a foreign consultant. This amounts to a nation exhibiting a very low self-esteem, incapable of engaging in objective compare and contrast analysis and debate, reaching meaningful consensus on high-ambition objectives, making decisions in its best interest, and then taking decisive action based on those decisions….but rather a nation quick to reach its lowest common denominator….for example, rapidly identifying with and absorbing hip-hop culture from inner-city USA, yet looking with scorn and/or jealousy upon US scientific explorative, innovative and entrepreneurial ways.

Belizeans generally do their best when they work by themselves. Any engagement that requires group or team work will encounter any amount of difficulties and challenges….especially if there are two or more interested parties. We prefer to give up on an opportunity to gain ourselves, if that opportunity required sharing with a family member, friend or neighbor as a partner. We avoid every opportunity to seek out and arrive at win-win scenarios….equations for mutual benefit….we generally “want our cake and eat it too”. Perhaps this comes from a miscalculated understanding that the world is a zero-sum game….that where one gains, another must lose. This is seen in the relationship between importers and producers….between cruise tourism and over-night tourism developers…between tax collectors and tax payers….between government and opposition…among others…..where processes that would lead to a better mutually beneficial co-existence is trumped by the need, want and desire to satisfy the insatiable appetite of selfish me-only motives.

Knowledge of organizational culture in the context of our national culture has been used here to show how it impacts on the business and economy of Belize. Having only general knowledge in this field, I felt compelled to touch this topic, hoping that persons more qualified in the area would try to get more scientific research done to put flesh on this skeleton….as I don’t see much being done in this important area.

There are aspects of Belizean culture that can be considered good for business and the economy, for example the friendly and open, almost naïve nature of the people which is generally good for tourism….but, there are also important aspects of the culture that offer frictional and other resistance to development, especially in vital factors of production and productivity.

We need to acknowledge that culture is much more than music, food, dress and arts….that beliefs, values and behaviors are actually more important in terms of cultural impact on economic development….and we should make greater efforts at understanding these aspects of our evolving culture through continuous scientific research….and engage in developing expert knowledge in cultural engineering that can help to guide us in promoting those positive aspects of our culture…and changing those not-so-positive ones.

This article was written by Richard Harrison, Belizean investor in production and services businesses in Belize. He holds a Masters in Business Administration degree from Lancaster University.


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