Monday, June 22, 2009

Joyce Gladwell: 'Connect to God'

Author Joyce Gladwell at the Counselling Centre named in her honour in Elmira, Canada. (Photo Hubie Chin)

Monday, June 22, 2009

"We need to separate organised religion from our concept of God," says Jamaican-Canadian psychologist and author Joyce Gladwell. "Sometimes organised religion does not cooperate with God and can even work against God."
Who would believe that she was saying this in the rural town of Elmira, Canada, not knowing that miles away in her homeland, Jamaica, an internationally renowned evangelist had just been arrested for carnal abuse? As I read the report, I remembered Joyce's words on the trauma of child molestation: "We need greater awareness of the damage that early sexualisation and forced sexualisation can have on the development of the individual and the impact on their relationships in later life.
"I had a client as old as 60 still dealing with abuse from age seven," disclosed Joyce. "There was one instance of so-called 'mild' abuse in which a man exposed himself to a girl of 13 - this was a trusted friend of her family and this betrayal shook her world."
Joyce recalls gratefully her mother's extraordinary devotion to her children's upbringing and her father's loving guidance. She recommends that parents should be very watchful of their children, ensuring that they have a well-ordered life. She is concerned that Jamaican boys are not being raised to discipline themselves sexually, but are seeing masculinity being defined by the number of women they "have".
We decided to visit Joyce and her husband, retired mathematics professor Graham Gladwell, after hearing that she had been recognised for her community work by the Canadian government, and also that she had been honoured for her work in mental health by the local community where the counselling centre was named after her. I felt a bit like the pilgrim finally at the feet of the wise elder. But the serene counsellor offered no quick fix.
“You have to situate the therapy in the culture, and work to discover what is creating the background that breeds the dysfunction,” she offered. She said that when one views Jamaica in a historical and sociological context, one can understand the tremendous frustration of many Jamaicans who may have a strong work ethic but limited opportunities.
Joyce was born in Harewood, St Catherine over 75 years ago, the daughter of Donald Nation, a respected school principal and his wife Daisy. Her book “Brown Face, Big Master” describes the sheltered childhood of herself and twin sister Faith. Earlier this year I wrote about Faith Linton’s book, “What the Preacher Forgot to Tell Me” – both ladies are deeply spiritual but independent thinkers.
“Consciousness that God is in everyone and available to everyone is essential,” Joyce believes. “God the Creator, the Sustainer is present in every human being, however depraved. Our role in the human community is to recognise God in each person, and to call out each person to connect to God and find their true destiny in that connection.”
Then Joyce surprisingly stated that she does not believe that we should condemn and ostracise homosexuals. Indeed, she has written an opinion piece in the Presbyterian Record ( in which she discusses God’s acceptance of all that He has cleansed. “I long for justice for my gay brothers and sisters, for openness as we listen to one another, for fellowship where we are now divided,” wrote Joyce.
Lunch with Joyce and her husband is delicious soup and salad made with vegetables grown in their backyard. “You’ve heard of the 100-mile diet,” twinkled Prof Graham. “Well, this is the 30-metre diet.” I nodded appreciatively as I enjoyed a freshly picked strawberry.
Then it was on to the Joyce Gladwell Building in the nearby town of Elmira where she was a widely respected family therapist. In the introduction to the second edition of her autobiography, Joyce explains, “At age 50 I returned to University. The boys [her three sons] had graduated from high school, and moved on to work and further study; I was free to focus elsewhere.” Joyce graduated with a master’s degree in Marriage and Family Therapy and eventually became director of the counselling centre that she had helped to establish.
Joyce and her sister Faith had been fortunate to become recipients of the first set of government scholarships to private high schools in the 1940s, and her description of a political debate at ‘St Hilary’s’ reveals an exciting time in Jamaica’s history.
“We were arguing about politics,” Joyce wrote in “Brown Face Big Master”, “and two of the leading parties in Jamaica were supported fiercely by rival groups in our form. For it was about 1945 and Jamaica had just achieved universal suffrage, full representation, and a measure of self-government… Now our attention was directed to our own country and we were actively taking part in the political life that was surging around us.”
The mistresses at ‘St Hilary’s’ were alarmed: “This response came almost entirely from our form …[with] a high proportion of girls on scholarships and others of wholly Jamaican background.” Joyce’s father Donald Nation had joined Norman Manley’s party and had been elected to the House of Representatives.
“My father did not allow us to speak or think carelessly,” said Joyce. “He held everything up to a high standard. He was no pushover.” This inspired his daughter to show her mettle wherever she went, writing letters to the editor of her local paper and challenging the mayor on an issue asking him, “How would you like to be remembered?” Joyce laughed heartily as she recalled that she later served on a Board with the said man, who found a convenient excuse not to sit beside her.
Recently, Macmillan Caribbean has re-published “Brown Face Big Master” as a Caribbean Classic, the first autobiography to be so named. Joyce Gladwell’s narrative traces the awakening of a beautiful Jamaican girl to knowledge and faith, conquering the demons of doubt and depression, and growing into a woman of fine intellect and deep humanity. Every Jamaican should read this book, for its history and its heart.
NB - Joyce Gladwell is the mother of the best-selling author and New Yorker writer Malcolm Gladwell - his works "The Tipping Point", "Blink" and "Outliers" are now world famous. The final chapter of "Outliers" - "A Jamaican Story" describes the brilliant career of his mother and her twin sister Faith Linton - they were the high-achieving "Nation twins".


  1. Thanks for this, Jean. (Of course, I came here via your link on Twitter. :-)) Made a note just yesterday to make sure to read "Black Like them" - a piece by Malcolm that was published in The New Yorker in 1996. Interested in his examination of the differences between American blacks and West Indians.

    1. You're welcome .. I need to read that too.

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