On Professionals

In The Bahamas, we’re really blessed.

Now I know it’s become commonplace to say that, and the normal response to that kind of statement is “Amen”. We claim our blessings for all sorts of reasons. Some of them are rather shallow if we examine them too closely. Why should we invoke blessing, for example, if we are spared the destruction of the same hurricane that’s left scores of others dead, or if we happen to win some international prize or another? I’m not sure that it’s blessing to be spared when others are not.

Still. I’m going to say it again. We’re really blessed.

I’m not talking about achievements here. No. I’m not sure that achievements count as blessings. After all, although we may be divinely supplied with the ingredients for our achievements it is up to us to figure out what we do with those ingredients. As Jesus’ Parable of the Talents suggests, gifts are not given to us to bury in the ground. The servant who received two talents and invested them and made them four was rewarded with the same words —”Well done, thou good and faithful servant; I will make thee ruler over many things” — as the one who received five and made them ten. But the one who received only one, and placed it in a hole in the ground, was stripped of what he had.

The blessings I’m counting are talents, given to us raw, for us to invest and multiply, in the hopes that one day the Lord will say to The Bahamas, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.”

Over the past week, the cultural blessings of Bahamians were, happily, on display for all to see. For the first time in many years, audiences in the capital were exposed to the raw talent of Bahamians, young and not-so-young, from the other islands in our family. Thanks to the Independence Committee and to the Ministry of Youth, Sports and Culture, the E. Clement Bethel National Arts Festival had the luxury for the first time in ages to bring many National Winners from their home islands to Nassau for the Independence season, and they performed for us all.

And they blew our socks off.

The creative talent that is spread throughout this archipelago boggles the mind. Now this is something that foreigners have often said of us. The thing is, I’m not sure that we have taken them all that seriously. One of the dangers of being blessed with plenty of talent is that we take talent for granted. English and North American music teachers have been passing through the College of The Bahamas and other institutions, glorying in the musical gifts of young Bahamians, and we have ignoring them. Rather than setting about investing and multiplying our talents, we have been systematically digging holes and burying them in the ground.

We are a nation of artists, dancers, musicians, actors, and storytellers. We reinvented the Caribbean tradition of John Canoe. But, with the exception of a number of artists and a handful of entertainers, we have virtually no professionals in any of these areas. Our actors and musicians and writers and dancers are all working other jobs to put food on the table and to keep the light on. We are a nation of wicked and slothful servants who seem to believe that talent is enough, that investment in that talent, that focus and skill and multiplication are unnecessary, that there is nothing to be gained by professional training in any of these areas.

It seems to me, given the Parable of the Talents, that this is a considerable sin.

The difference, you see, between an amateur and a professional is this. An amateur practises until he or she gets it right (and if there isn’t enough time to practise, the true amateur hopes that audiences won’t notice the difference). But a professional trains until he or she cannot get it wrong.

Why we believe that we have no room on our society — our creative, abundant society — for people who have developed their talents to the point that they cannot get them wrong I do not know. Why we have turned amateurism into a culture of “all right on the night” I cannot say. I’m not at all certain what it is that makes us think that creative genius is something that shouldn’t be developed, that raw talent is all that matters. But I do know that the numbers of Bahamians, young and old, who are willing to allow their talents and the talents of their friends, brothers, sisters and children to languish inside, to remain undeveloped, are far too high. When we do more than allow it — when we encourage it by proclaiming that there is nothing for anyone with artistic training to do in this country — we are digging holes for our talents, and setting ourselves up to be stripped of what we have.

Let me leave you with just one example.

Not so long ago I had the opportunity to hear a young woman — a college student — who had one of the purest and most beautiful voices I have heard in a long time. Imagine my surprise a month or so later when I walked into a business establishment to find her working behind the counter! When I asked her what she was doing, she told me that she was working to make money to go back to school. What was she studying? I asked. (I knew enough to sense that it wouldn’t be music, but hope sprang eternal.) Computers, she told me. Her parents’ wish, because her parents believed that to study music would be a waste of her time.

I said a small prayer for her and her parents. Another talent-hole had been dug.