The practice of remixing (this is not quite the term but it makes the point however) old-time songs/tunes by several Jamaican reggae artists is indeed a useful one because it popularizes the songs and the lyrics, making them more meaningful and accessible – and perhaps palatable - to a completely different audience, in our case, the local Caribbean populations, especially the younger folks. Well, that is my hope and wish. If we would pause to listen to those songs/lyrics which we have heard on numerous occasions and which simply invoke a sense of nostalgia, we may find that the lyrics hold profound meaning for our approach to life in general.

One such example is the remix of The Gambler, originally sung by Country and Western singer Kenny Rogers. Busy Signal brings a different and popular joie de vivre or élan to that song, as part of an anthology by VP Records and Warner Music Nashville called, "Reggae's Gone Country". I always liked the song but was especially drawn to it given the Reggae/Country/Lover's Rock genre injected into it (I am not a trained musician so I may not be using the right words, but you get the point). I had to take note and with conscious songs, I tend to isolate the message and moral.

The following lines in The Gambler therefore struck me, forcibly:

He said son I've made a life, out of readin peoples faces, And knowing what their cards were by the way they held their eyes So if you don't mind me saying, I can see you're out of aces

Reading people's faces (both in literal, and perhaps more so, metaphoric terms) - and having the discernment and acuity to do so - is in fact a valuable skill to possess in a world where others seem to be engaged in a continuous battle of outsmarting and outfoxing both their friends and enemies. This is true in almost all spheres of life. In the political domain, politicians tend to locate their survival not necessarily in serving their constituents; rather, in outmanoeuvring their opponents by whatever means necessary. Lest we get touchy about this, as we are wont to do, this posture is not endemic in politics. It is very common in the work place. There are many live examples of people attempting to get ahead at the expense of others. Getting ahead per se is commendable; however, getting ahead by tricking, cheating, deliberately withholding information, and generally deceiving is depraved.

It is quite possible to discern the good employee from the bad; the decent boss from the untrustworthy or even the honourable and respectable politician from the degenerate one. Survival, in this Wild West (or Madness, as one Calypsonian calls it) depends on being intelligent, alert, discerning and informed. If as a citizen, employee, manager, and so on, you are not "readin peoples faces", then you will be hoodwinked and essentially taken for a ride. Grovelling and servitude will be your permanent state. History is replete with examples of entire nations (or cults) being fooled by one man.

If on the other hand you are alert, it is possible to know when people are being truthful or, when they are telling lies; when they are genuine and when they are merely exploiting you, in the words of the gambler, "knowing what their cards were by the way they held their eyes." Or, I should add, how they smirk! Indeed, if you can see through the false prophets, you will not run out of your aces.

The foregoing ought not to mean that you must stoop to their level. Maintaining your class is always the best approach. It seems to me that if most of us, especially those in leadership positions in all spheres of life would follow the gambler's advice, "if you gonna play the game boy you gotta learn to play it right", there would be no need for suspicion, antipathy, antagonism and the general apprehension that inevitably accompany these emotions. If all members of both cricket teams engaged in a match felt that either side played honestly, then it is less likely that players would be inclined to match fix, or engage in acts such as appealing for out-caught after stealthily picking up the ball from the grass.

There are times when only you (and God) know that you have cheated. There are several examples of that and yet such people knowingly celebrate victory. This is not a simple matter. Why? To destroy another cricketer's career or chances of being selected for the next test match by dishonestly claiming his wicket is not only malicious, but ruthlessly depraved. Alongside this ignoble act, you go one up as having beautifully caught a ball and you celebrate with your teammates what essentially is robbery. This example is not dissimilar to what happens when in some countries, political parties rig or manipulate the polls to remain in office, or a student carries notes to the examination room and, if not caught by the invigilator, ends up with a grade "A". Amazingly, we are selective in our condemnation of such acts. A teacher will find cheating in examinations is "sacrilegious", a priest/pastor will condemn adultery, but may both embrace cheating in a general election if it benefits their political party. What double standards!

Mercifully for the honest, there are consequences in not playing the game right. You eventually get caught. It may take a very long time but it happens. If Muammar Gaddafi, former Libyan strongman, were alive, you could ask him; if Saddam Hussein, the former President of Iraq were alive, he would confirm. You can ask Hosni Mubarak of Egypt who must now be regretting his unquenchable greed. If only they had taken the gambler's advice! What is consistent especially in Gaddafi's and Hussein's demise is that they did not know:

… when to hold 'em, … when to fold 'em … when to walk away, … when to run

Greed controlled and consumed them. They also did not know, "what to throw in and … what to keep." This speaks to achieving balance and moderation. If you do not know when enough is enough, you may lose everything. What happens though is that power, in any sphere of life, is addictive and, I imagine, exhilarating. The age-old saying that everything should be done in moderation is relevant here too and would have saved the lives of many, both innocent and guilty. How long does one continue to be a money launderer, or drug pusher, or dictator, or an abusive husband (or whatever) before everything falls apart? In the scheme of things, not long!

You can be lured into a false sense of complacency if you become too secure in your space. Such a posture causes arrogance and haughtiness. At that stage, you lie to yourself and worse (or tragically), you believe those lies. Others tell you what they think you want to hear and what they believe you will reward them for. These are not your genuine friends but you unwittingly embrace them because you are not cognizant of "readin peoples faces". Sounds familiar? It should because we have come full circle aka "what goes around comes around"!

In the final analysis, what should be your strength becomes your ruin. This is what overreaching one's self is about. And just when you think it is peace and safety, a sudden destruction because, as our gambler correctly advises, "every hand's a winner, and every hand's a loser!" Time will tell, soon enough.

A Happy New Year to all.

(c) Dr. Francis O. Severin is the Acting Director of the University of the West Indies Open Campus Country Sites.