Small roads. Small island. Small Minds: Devastation in the Virgin Islands
There is a silent devastating killer in our territory. No I am not talking about cancer, heart disease or young people with guns. I am referring to the one that kills our advancement. Still, I am not talking about crooked preachers, corrupt officials or bad teachers. Their behaviors are the symptoms. I am talking about the true cause and it is called familiarity. Some of you may not agree or grasp how familiarity can be a killer. I mean, after all familiarity makes things easier and comfortable right? However, that is exactly the problem.
When we are able to wake-up every day and see faces, travel roads and shop in stores where we know individuals, sometimes on a very intimate scale, it doesn’t challenge our ability to endure, adapt or adjust. It doesn’t force us to become problem solvers, patience gainers or faith builders. It creates a weak psyche where we find it hard to move on from abusive relationships, toxic friendships, draining jobs and even those corrupt officials. We often temporarily distant ourselves from these I listed when they make us unhappy, but eventually the loneliness and void eats away at us so badly that we retreat to the dysfunction. This does two things: It validates the offender causing them to not repent on their actions and secondly the offended misses the opportunity to learn how to start anew.
Now, everyone living here isn’t like that. Some have ventured away physically and mentally where they are not held hostage to the familiarity crutch. Sadly, these people are outnumbered. We have those in the crutch constantly barraging those without the crutch making it difficult to make collective progress. Faith is a huge element needed for success. It comes from you knowing that you can make it through a tough patch even when things look grim. It lets you lean on God, prayer and your abilities. But here again, familiarity kills that because we often rescue each other from difficult situations, not dangerous ones, ignoring the benefits that come from the test God is allowing us to go through. Difficult times are needed. It builds your stamina and tests your character. But because we are not conditioned to being around strangers or unfamiliar situations, we resort to, what I call, the “Easy Button”. We beg, borrow or steal; usually all from people we know. We label anyone outside of our situation or interests as “outsiders” then treat them as such by rejecting their talent, ideas and resources.
Familiarity spreads into the 3 areas of work I regularly develop in my staff; it affects their performance, productivity and punctuality. How? Well, they feel that the people who saw them at their best yesterday, will see them today. So if they are at their worst today, but was at their best yesterday, it is no big deal because the people who are seeing their worst, supposedly knows they can do, be or look better. But then they confuse who you are. You begin to compete with yourself on whether you are a high performer or low performer, where companies (and the public) won’t know which is dominant. The familiarity complex gives them the notion that they don’t have to be consistent because their bosses know them, like them and therefore won’t easily fire them for the next applicant. It gives them the notion that they can selfishly “show-off” in the workplace in front of customers because they don’t want their familiar-faced customers to think they are servants or slaves (loyal) and customers to believe that they, the worker, are bigger than the job and really don’t need it. This area here is caused by immaturity, which, of course is bred by familiarity; leading many employers in the Virgin Islands to resist hiring natives. If we were different, there would be no need in policy for EDC benefitted businesses to mandatorily have natives on their payroll.
When will we be mature enough to become global impacts? When will we become comfortable enough in our skin to be married an Oscar talented actor who does love scenes with strangers? When will we not be so sensitive about ourselves and culture where we can handle the chastising of a professor, sports agent, publicist, etc. so our talent can be cultivated into massive success? When will we be able to keep up with cultural evolution and co-exist?
This familiarity complex is killing us faster than any other plague. It is ruining our advancement and hindering our endurance. It keeps us comfortable. It keeps us safe… But keeps us stagnant; mentally and economically. But there are ways to solve it. The cure for familiarity is exposure. This is why I started the 7-Year Project in 2011, to allow our students to get the opportunity to travel, but then I was met with severe obstacles from public officials. (A separate issue.) I feel the territory must have a travel club for adults. Partner hand? That’s antiquated. Focus on an investment group where you make installments towards an annual or quarterly trip (like a partner hand but for a focused purpose). It will help us to advance significantly! As long as we relish in the comfort and the familiarity of each other, we will find ourselves lagging behind the rest of the world, and in a maturity context, even falling behind Third World countries; because to be honest, when I travel the world people refer to the Virgin Islands as the Third World territory of the United States with the only nice thing to say about us refers to our beaches.
Devin Robinson is a native Virgin Islander, columnist, community advocate, business & economics professor and author of 8 books. You can get information on his latest book, “Power M.O.V.E.: How to Transition from Employee to Employer at http://www.powermoveprofessionals.com/.