Yesterday I saw two young ladies that I have not seen in a long time.
One was well dressed and groomed, looking upbeat and smiling, with a bible under her arm, obviously going to a church or prayer group meeting. I first met her when I used to go to dispose garbage at the garbage dump just south of Belmopan…she was probably around 10 or 12 years old at the time…and she, along with perhaps another dozen children, seemed to spend their days at the dump picking up anything they could get to use for their survival. The filth of the burnt garbage would soil her modest clothing and her skin…but she seemed rather happy and pleasantly disposed….and always willingly came to help unload the garbage…as I would give them a little tip for doing so. They would stand together and wave a grateful goodbye when we were leaving. I made sure to never treat them in a condescending pitiful way, but rather with respect and courtesy as I would any other child. She would be around 16 to 18 years now, but has the body appearance of a grown woman.
The other looked a little stressed out, sweating and pushing a pram on a rocky road with a small baby inside….she said the baby was three months old. She used to be a very beautiful young lady, full of life and seemed very intelligent and hard working….perhaps around 16 then, since she was completing high school around that time. Even though from a modest family, she was always well dressed, groomed and manicured….she used to smile a lot and be very friendly and outgoing. The last time we spoke, maybe a year ago, she was riding to University of Belize on her bicycle….she seemed very sure of herself and obviously with a very positive outlook….even more beautiful than before. Now she is overweight, as most Belizean women seem to get with child-bearing….and seemed shy, soft spoken and in low spirit. She would be around 18 or 19 now….I did not ask if she had completed her university diploma.
Young people of Belize are facing all kinds of challenges….economic, social, moral….and each of these impact the others.
If I had met these two persons on different days…..it probably would not have spurred me to write about this observation….but since I met them within hours of each other….the dichotomy so stark, that it guided my “pen to paper”.
It was obvious that the first young lady had found her way out of the garbage dump….and was now improving her moral, social and economic position. I am not certain which came first….but I would hazard a guess that someone reached out to her….or she reached out to someone….who helped her to raise her moral compass first….and which is helping her to improve her social and economic position….not the other way around.
While I did not get into details of “fact” with the second young lady….I hazard a guess that she did not complete her university diploma….her moral compass had permitted her to engage in activities that led to her getting pregnant…and which now seems to be causing stress and strain on her current economic and social wellbeing…and future.
Our young people are making choices every day…..and these choices are being made based on their economic, social and moral positions.
The example of these two young ladies raises an important question: What does moral position have to do with economic and social outcomes?
In a haste to improve economic and social outcomes….many expose themselves to thoughts and actions that require a wider, more shallow, moral compass…making acceptable many actions that otherwise would not even be considered. Actions have reactions….and there are consequences/outcomes to every choice of action.
There are many examples that young people see on a daily basis…..where corruption, graft and/or illegal activity….have lead to apparently higher economic and social status…even if temporary and transient. This causes great confusion for young minds…and a great challenge for their moral maintenance and growth….because they see that “right” is many times punished….and “wrong” lavishly rewarded. Even though a parent may be doing all they can to instill good moral judgment for the making of better choices in life…..the society’s (and in many cases even the laws, policies and practices of government) structure of reward and punishment system completely undermines their efforts….and the young minds bend more towards “glitzy and gaudy” societal influence and away from “boring and dull” parental or family influence.
The example of these two young ladies also point to an important conclusion: The economic, social and moral choices that we make can cause us to move upward or downward within the same society….regardless of prevailing general conditions.
We know that every day people are moving upwards and downwards on the societal totem pole….however, growing poverty imply that there are many more moving downwards than upwards.
One has to wonder…..how much of our growing poverty has to do with the increasing failure of our economic and social environment?….and how much it has to do with the general decline and/or confusion in moral standards?
In no way am I taking my eyes off the declining economic and social conditions….which I know needs to be fixed….and can be fixed…but am acknowledging, out of the corner of my eyes, that improving moral standards…and fixing the reward and punishment systems…especially within our institutions… is going to have to be an important ingredient of any plan for economic and social recovery.
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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