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Point and Counterpoint- Knocking on Heaven’s door: Narcissism and Belize’s political ecosystem

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Posted: Thursday, May 20, 2021. 3:28 pm CST.

The views expressed in this article are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Breaking Belize News.

By Dorian A. Barrow, Ph.D., Florida State University: The term political ecosystem was coined by French Anthropologist Bertrand de Jouvenel in 1957 and he took it to mean the relationship between the political, as broadly understood, and a country’s economic, social and cultural institutions and the people who populate them.  Belize’s political ecosystem, i.e. the relationship between our political leaders and the broader society, has always been fuelled by the narcissism of our political leaders, but recently those narcissists behaviours have become much more salient.  The excessive interest in admiration of self by our political leaders, that selfishness involving a sense of entitlement, and the lack of empathy for our working class including our teachers and civil service class workers, have been exacerbated by our union’s recent justified call for prudence. 

This call for prudence by the unions, that is, the call for our political leaders to be more disciplined and reasoned in governing of our country’s affairs, for them to use more sagacity, shrewdness, skill and good judgement in their management and use of the country’s resources, have led to some unwelcomed tensions between the Government of Belize (GOB) and some of the workers of Belize.  And since these tensions are likely to worsen over the coming months, it is now even more important than ever for all of us to monitor our political ecosystem if we are to better understand the social dynamics of what is wrong in the country, including why we are losing more control over our economic lives.  But what is the narcissism phenomenon and how is it manifesting itself among our political elites?

Anthropologist Eric R. Wolk (1972) categorizes narcissism as a social dysfunction among individuals or groups, where as psycho-analyst like Freud considers it a psychosis prevalent among some individuals as a character trait.  Narcissism is essentially a self-centeredness arising from an individual’s failure to distinguish self from external objects.  It is characterized by three main type of behaviours.  The first is a lack of empathy for others, that is, an incapacity to feel the pain of others.  For example, when the richest man in Belize, Lord Michael Ashcroft gets on national television and says “don’t come to me asking for sympathy.  If you want to find sympathy go to the dictionary where you will find it somewhere between shit and syphilis”, he is being narcissistic.  Or in 2008 after the UDP swept out the PUP from government, the Honourable Patrick Faber saying “it’s our (UDPs) time to eat now” he was being narcissistic.

The second type of behaviour characteristic of the narcissist is a type of selfishness involving a sense of entitlement.  They have this exaggerated sense of self-importance and expects to be recognized as superior even without achievements that warrants it.  They believe that they alone have all the talents.  So when the junior Minister of Finance, Hon. Chris Coye, said to the unions’ negotiating team that it is either “my way -the IMF way- or the highway” with regards to the 10% salary cut, he was manifesting a form of narcissism.  Or the other day when the PM slipped and said something to the effect that “there are no talents in Belize”, this could be interpreted as an act of narcissism.  It is this feeling that only a certain class of people are endowed with the right answers to our problems and only them have the God given right to lead, an expectation to be recognized as superior even without achievements that warrant it.

But the worse form of narcissism prevalent among the political elite is their excessive interest in or admiration of oneself.  These are our political elites who have an exaggerated sense of self-importance, achievements and talents.  They seem to be preoccupied with fantasies about success, power and brilliance and they require excessive praise and attention.  Our national assembly are full of them, on both side of the aisle – the Kareem Musas, the Julius Espats as well as the Shyne Barrows and the Hugo Patts.  But they are present also in our Town Councils and includes political elites like Mayor Sharon Palacio and Mayor Earl Trapp.  For example, when Mayor Trapp, who leads a minority Town Council, said that he was prepared to be “a Dictator” if necessary to have his way with the Council, he was acting like a Grandiose Narcissist!

But how does one deal with narcissism in someone we must deal with, like our political leaders?  Fortunately, narcissists are somewhat predictable, so there are a few guidelines that can help. According to the literature we should first accept that ,outside the political season, they will be difficult to deal with.  If possible, put some distance between you and them.  Do not try to change them and as Senator Elena Smith has found out, don’t expect them to change, or you will be as disappointed. Know that if you challenge them directly, the will likely retaliate in anyway they can, this may include bringing others into the situation and attempting to turn them against you.  If you do need to confront any of them, try not to do so in front of a large audience, for they will want to safe face and will feel more threatened, sparking more retaliation.  Follow Senator Smith’s lead, surround yourself with supportive people to absorb some of the negativity you make experience from them.  The light at the end of the tunnel is that some narcissist may learn to be self-aware in time and learn to notice when they are hurting others.  But we must never forget that narcissists are primed to be grandiose, selfish, but require constant excessive attention.  Greenberg says that though they are “hypersensitive, they don’t have object constancy and they usually need you more than you need them”.  So accept that our political elite will always be difficult to deal with once elected to public office, but always remember that they need us sometimes much more than we need them.

Feel free to challenge any or all the issues raised in this piece and let’s get our discussion on national sustainable development of the country going. 

Dr. Dorian Barrow is currently working at Galen University as the Dean of the Department of Education. He has a long history of involvement in education in Belize, having served as a Lecturer at the University of Belize, and as Chief Executive Officer in the Ministry of Education. Dr. Barrow is an eminent professional who is well respected both locally and abroad. He is serving as an editorial member and reviewer of several international reputed journals and has authored many research articles/books related to education. Apart from education, he is also a sports enthusiast.

 

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