Are We a Nation of Hustlers?

June 5th, 2019

I was watching prime time television the other evening when an ad that I had not seen before popped up. It was from a well-known telecoms firm, and it made me stop and think.

The ad was the usual busy-busy stuff – smiling/laughing, well-dressed young men and women flitting around at work, on cellphones and laptops, etc. They are all happy, not struggling at all. Then came the message: “We Jamaicans know how to hustle,” the telecoms firm declared. Oh, OK…?

And then, the punchline: “We want to power your hustle!”

I did what they call a double-take. I have never had a very high opinion of hustlers. When I hear that word, I think of tricksters or what we would now call “scammers,” who are trying to make money by whatever means necessary. They are determined – yes, but they are also somewhat lacking in principle, let us say. They are untrustworthy and definitely unscrupulous.

Language is a funny thing, though. Having investigated further, I realize that the meaning and connotation of the word “hustle” has changed somewhat. Now it’s cool to be a hustler, apparently. There is a highly-rated motivational book titled “Hustle: The Power to Charge Your Life with Money, Meaning and Momentum.” A hustler nowadays is a dynamic individual, ambitious (as the old-style hustlers always were) and focused on money, money, money.

I think what the advertisers are trying to say is that Jamaica is full of entrepreneurs – what we used to call “go-getters.” So those who are “getting their hustle on” might be hairdressers, small business owners, photographers, self-employed people who are getting ahead, seizing opportunities, and making money. I am not disparaging young entrepreneurs. Their energy and self-belief is something I admire daily. But I am not inclined to call them “hustlers.” I guess I am sticking to the old-fashioned sense of the word.

Entrepreneurship is seen as something Jamaicans are, indeed, very much inclined towards – although successful Jamaican entrepreneurs always stress that it’s not for everyone. Sometimes, it is just fine to work for the boss. Many Jamaicans do have a strongly individualistic streak though, so it is not surprising that entrepreneurs flourish. We must also remember, however (as other entrepreneurs have warned) that is very, very hard work – and often, at times, downright stressful.

However, the typical hustling mentality of cutting corners, stealing others’ ideas and other kinds of dishonesty may work for a while, but will ultimately degrade your business – and you, as a human being. I guess, though, that hustlers are never discouraged. One thing they do have is plenty of drive. They are not going to give up.

There was a film called The Hustler (1961) starring Paul Newman – he of the ice-blue eyes. Mr. Newman played a “pool hustler,” winning (and losing) money, going from place to place playing pool. He is a hard man, unlikable – but there is an element of redemption in the film, which is quite a classic and really worth a watch.

It’s quite funny. There was another movie (2005) starring Terrence Howard. It is the story of a struggling pimp who makes his way into the rap music industry. It is called Hustle and Flow. 

Ah, well. Much more importantly, my question is: Do we want to be seen as a nation of hustlers? Well, apparently we are because we are being exhorted to…

“Hustle On!”







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