Tue | Jul 23, 2024

Dennis Minott | SCHOOLID-19: The pandemic of narcissism choking Jamaican culture and education

Published:Sunday | May 26, 2024 | 12:06 AM
Dennis Minott
Dennis Minott

Jamaica is renowned for its proficiency in organising and showcasing cultural manifestations and school examinations. These achievements are worthy of recognition and accolades, as seen in the efforts of institutions like the Inter-Secondary Schools Sport Association (ISSA), the Jamaican Association of Principals of Secondary Schools (JAPSS), The Overseas Examinations Commission (OEC) in tandem with the Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC), and the Ministries of Culture, Sport, Education, and Youth. Our success in these contexts is akin to that of a skilled craftsman working with precision, much like a master machinist operating a state-of-the-art German lathe.

However, in recent weeks, it appears that our youth have been engaging in and diligently rehearsing a different kind of precision - one that involves a genuine full-dress parade of cruelty, barbarism, slackness, and callousness, regardless of the cost or consequences. This phenomenon is not limited to certain schools but is widespread across Jamaica as seen in the roll call of ‘overachiever’ institutions including Calabar High School, Campion College, Catholic College of Mandeville, Grange Hill Secondary, Irwin High, Jamaica College, Kingston College, Kingston Technical High, Marcus Garvey High, Meadowbrook High, St George’s College, St James High School, The Queen’s School, and William Knibb High School.

And now, the New Munro-T Variant of this grievous disease has been detected in six students of a “prominent St Elizabeth school”. ( I dare not go any further with the significance of six in the instant context.)

The pervasive nature of maladjustment on Jamaica’s educational territory, psyche, and reputation has led me to coin the term “Schoolid-19 Pandemic.” In recent years, the term “narcissism” has become increasingly prevalent in our everyday school lexicon, often used to describe leaders and individuals exhibiting self-centred traits. This phenomenon is not limited to the global arena but is increasingly noticeable in Jamaican culture and education. Narcissistic leaders and learners, characterised by their distinct set of traits, can have both beneficial and detrimental effects on their environment. Understanding and addressing this pervasive issue is crucial for the well-being of our society. UNICEF has been studying the outbreak of this phenomenon in Jamaica for years, highlighting the need for a comprehensive approach to the issue.


Narcissistic leaders and individuals typically possess a strong ability to envision and articulate a compelling vision for the future. This can inspire and motivate followers, who respond with the admiration and attention craved by these leaders. However, their sensitivity to criticism and difficulty in accepting dissenting opinions can lead to abrasive and destructive interactions. Their lack of empathy and inability to listen to other people’s views can further alienate those they lead, as they tend to view subordinates as inferior. Relationships with narcissistic leaders often involve devaluation or humiliation of others without remorse, contrasting with the consistency and genuine concern exhibited by healthier narcissistic behaviours.

In Jamaica, signs of a culture under siege by narcissism are increasingly evident. There is a growing emphasis on individualism over collectivism, with self-absorption and self-promotion being glorified in popular culture. Dancehall events, courtrooms, official political fora, and social media often highlight influencers who embody these traits, reinforcing the notion that self-centredness is a path to success. This shift is accompanied by a rejection of moral and social restraints, with superficial values replacing deeper ethical considerations.

Narcissists’ dependency on others for validation is another troubling trend. This dependency fosters a culture where individuals are constantly seeking admiration and approval, leading to a fragile sense of self-worth. Consequently, mental-health issues such as anxiety and depression are on the rise as such individuals struggle to find peace and fulfilment in an increasingly competitive and superficial environment.

Historical and contemporary examples of narcissistic leaders underscore the impact of these traits on society. I guess people like Napoleon Bonaparte, Adolf Hitler, Vladimir Putin, Donald Trump, “Bibi” Netanyahu, Muamar Gadaffi, R Kelly, Dianna Ross, and Joseph Stalin could be cited as classic examples, using their charisma and strategic brilliance to inspire loyalty and achieve their grandiose visions. However, their leadership also brought about significant disillusionment, destruction, and suffering. Closer to home, I guess actual and virtual Jamaican leaders such as Michael Manley, Sir Alexander Bustamante, SSP Reneto Adams, Adija “Vybz Kartel” Palmer, Jah Cure, Shabba Ranks, Buju Banton, Warmy Warmington MP, and “Bishop” Kevin Smith while charismatic and influential, have also exhibited narcissistic tendencies that have made a lasting impression on this highly interconnected region and on the thinking of this big little nation’s youth.

In the educational sphere, narcissism manifests in various ways. Influencers, dancehall artistes, and even some high school or teacher training college principals exhibit these traits, prioritising personal glory over the collective good. This shift is not without consequences. Students are increasingly modelling their behaviour on these figures, valuing self-promotion, brand-name shoes and other apparel, superficial personal success over empathy and genuine achievement.


However, all is not lost. There are ways such as mandatory Compassion and Emotional Learning (mCEL) to counteract the negative effects of narcissism and foster a healthier culture and education system through what is known as Social and Emotional Learning (SEL). Deliberately promoting a culture of empathy is paramount. Encouraging citizens to understand and appreciate diverse perspectives can be achieved through systemic, curriculum-wide education, community service, projects, and cultural events that celebrate diversity. By fostering a sense of collective identity, we can emphasise shared values, history, and goals that transcend individual interests.

Humility and self-awareness are also crucial. Education systems should encourage individuals to accept their limitations and recognise the value of others. Role models who demonstrate humility, self-awareness, and respect for others can inspire these traits in fellow citizens. Active listening and open communication should be prioritised, creating environments where individuals feel comfortable sharing their thoughts and opinions.

Gratitude and appreciation for others are often overlooked but are vital components of a healthy society. Encouraging citizens to express gratitude for the contributions of others can foster a more supportive and cohesive community. Community service, projects, and educational programmes that emphasise responsibility and accountability can further reinforce these values.

Inclusivity and diversity should be at the forefront of our cultural and educational initiatives. Valuing and celebrating diversity can be achieved through various programmes and events that highlight the richness of our collective experiences. Fostering a sense of community and social cohesion through shared values and goals can strengthen our societal fabric.

Lastly, monitoring and addressing narcissistic tendencies in individuals, particularly young people, is essential. Through education and self-reflection, we can promote healthier leadership and decision-making practices that prioritise the collective well-being over individual glory (“glamour and the glitter”).

Here’s the thing. The pandemic of narcissism choking Jamaican culture and education is a multifaceted issue that requires a concerted effort to address. By promoting mCEL-based empathy, humility, and collective well-being, we can prudently immunise our society from the graver detrimental effects of narcissism and foster a healthier, more inclusive environment for future generations. The legacy we leave behind should not be one of self-absorption and superficial success but one of genuine connection, empathy, and shared progress ... one of kindness and consideration for others, especially in our schools.

Breakdown of the term narcissism:

• This refers to a personality style characterised by an extreme focus on self. People with high narcissism are preoccupied with themselves and their needs, often at the expense of others.

• They may display an inflated sense of importance, a deep need for admiration, and a lack of empathy for others’ feelings.

• It is important to remember that narcissism exists on a spectrum. Everyone exhibits some narcissistic tendencies sometimes, but it becomes problematic when it is a pervasive pattern that negatively impacts daily life.

Dennis Minott, PhD, is the CEO of A-QuEST-FAIR. He is a multilingual green resources specialist, a research physicist, and a modest mathematician who worked in the oil and energy sector. Send feedback to: a_quest57@yahoo.com or columns@gleanerjm.com.