“He who speaks without modesty will find it difficult to make his words good.” ~ Confucius.
One of the things about growing up a Preacher’s Kid (PK as they say in the US) is that you are always having to watch what you say. Not just what you say, but how you say it. In my household, quite apart from being kind, saying the right thing, being polite (mannersable they would say in Jamaica), we even had to make sure not to use slang, street talk. The word ‘gob’, for example, was a very crude, common word for mouth, and one we could never use within my mother’s hearing.
When we moved to Jamaica I took it upon myself to learn to speak patois, practicing words, phrases, pronunciation, until I became fluent. Because for the most part it was a new language, it fell outside of the jurisdiction of my mother. Unlike the words that would have immediately triggered her thunderous look, a ‘go to your room’ message in a glance, I could happily show off my prowess with impunity. No-one in my family knew whether the words were good, bad or indifferent!
Learning the lingo was my ticket into the Jamaican experience. The joke is that for many of my peers, especially those whose parents were educated, middle-class professionals, they were not permitted to speak patois at home. Patois was the language of the streets, of the playground, of the lower socio-economic classes. I was too young to be aware of such distinctions, my quest was to be as fluent as possible, to be able to fit in, to flex myself into any conversation or situation. I gradually became multi-lingual, as I learned to speak patois outside of the classroom, and English inside.
Once we hit high school (in Jamaica, as in the UK, ‘high school’ began at age 11, or grade six), those classmates who had not been raised to speak patois, whose parents would correct them if they slipped, would find themselves the butt of many jokes. They spoke too proper: “speaky-spokey” was the derisive term. It was their turn to learn to speak patois in order not to be mocked and teased mercilessly. By the time I finished high school, the sentence underneath my photo in our yearbook described me as a ‘walking-talking English-Patois dictionary’. Trust me, I was proud of that!
Jamaicans who emigrate have to learn to blend and fit in to their new land by adopting phrases and accents of the UK, the US or Canada. It may be out of necessity if your papers are not quite straight, and you don’t want people to know your true origins. But whenever two or three Jamaicans are together, the patois will ‘bruk out’ and a passerby may be unable to understand a single word overheard. The joke is that Jamaican patois is such a dynamic, living language, that it changes, grows and morphs in real time. Those who return whether on a visit or to live, find that they are immediately identifiable as coming from ‘farrin’ (foreign) because their language has not kept up. We are often stuck in the slang of the era we departed.
Because of my upbringing, and my mother’s monitoring of our language, I never felt comfortable with the word ‘gob’, so when I learned the word ‘gobsmacked’ it was a little shock to my system. The word, commonly used in the UK, is very descriptive, meaning that you are shocked, silenced, as if you had been smacked in the mouth. When you get a piece of news that so shocks it leaves you speechless, you later report that you were ‘gobsmacked’. It still sounds rude to me, yet it is extremely graphic! And it seems the perfect expression for some of the news we have had to handle on a daily basis over the past few years.
Apart from walking around with bruises and broken teeth, we seem to have become numb to the daily bombardment of shockworthy news. This morning I wake up to a sucker punch from across the Atlantic, as the UK delivers a resounding victory to a leader who seems very similar to the one this side of the pond. Has the world gone mad?
As we turn our weary eyes away from discouraging sights; as we turn a deaf ear to the twenty-four/seven onslaught of cable news, it is easy to become jaded, to feel that nothing good ever happens. And yet there are good things happening every day. There are people working hard to fight for change, to correct injustices, to right wrongs. We have to do our part not only to share good stories, to highlight positivity, but to be a part of the solution. It is easy to fall into the habit of lamenting, of complaining, of whining. But it is the acts of individuals that can make a difference, and hopefully be that equal but opposite force for good that will grow and overcome the negativity.
Recently I read about a school in Ireland that has dropped the homework requirement for the month of December, and has instead challenged the children to do acts of kindness, to help teach a generation the habit of being kind. It isn’t difficult. Kindness is sometimes lost in the basic hustle of the day. Do you let another car merge, or do you fight for your place in the line? Are you setting an example for your kids and grandkids to follow?
This Friday morning, I challenge you to not only spread and share positive stories, but also to become involved in groups or organizations that work for the good of others. We can change the temperature of this world with our thoughts, deeds and words. Have a wonderful weekend, Family!