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Recovering backpacker, Cornwallite at heart, political enthusiast, catalyst, writer, husband, father, community volunteer, unabashedly proud Canadian. Every hyperlink connects to something related directly or thematically to that which is highlighted.

Tuesday 17 April 2012

Opportunity Knocking: How to Address Our Social Woes

    - Dwight Duncan, Ontario's Finance Minister

I know I’m a broken record on this, but there’s a reason for that – the evidence is pointing us in one direction.  We just need to walk the path leading us to the bright future that lies ahead.

Where We Are

We’re looking to incite more from people – more critical thinking, more innovation, more proactive efforts to think outside the box and work with partners.  We have to, because we can no longer afford to implement familiar half-solutions to expanding social problems.

We have ballooning social service costs – those costs are part of our challenge, why we have to tighten our belts in the first place.  When time was, the latent inefficiencies in our existing systems didn’t matter, because there was enough dough to cover the ground regardless.  That is no longer the case.  History makes it abundantly clear why cutting those services isn’t the answer, either – less access to services means greater social problems, which has a multiplier effect on crime, productivity, etc.

Work isn’t fully harnessing the opportunities emerging through the Knowledge Economy – yet.  Like the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, it’s going to take us a while to find the right balance between work and life to get there.  We need to rethink motivation , how we tease the best out of people, from an evidence-based perspective – which means reforms to work, education, the work/life balance, etc.  That’s a lot to think about; we back off answering the big questions because we’re intimidated by them.

Lastly – the mental health crisis.  Call it what you will; blame it on “weak individuals” or a lack of societal involvement if you must.  The fact is stress, anxiety, depression, etc. are on the rise, and our current model of institutional design is actually exacerbating the problem.  Oh, and there’s still that little-discussed correlation between mental illness and creativity.  The solutions we are looking for loop back nicely to one of the problems we’re uncertain how to address.

Where We Are Headed

When we look at the multitude of challenges and opportunities we face, it’s pretty daunting.  Where does one begin?  

The right place to start is in acknowledging these are all different aspects of the same creature.

Finding efficiencies and addressing the until-now missed systematic duplication, gaps and overlaps means motivating people in different ways – not through carrot and stick, but through meaning, being part of something larger than ourselves and touching legacy through the process.

By empowering people to be more engaged, giving them skin in the game, plus creating opportunities for collaboration – you help them become more self-dependent, or interdependent in a proactive (better workplace design, exercise clubs, volunteer activities, etc.) rather than reactive (social services, health care, legal services, justice system, etc.) way.  That’s what society is all about – we just need to recognize and embrace that concept fully.

The changes everyone says are needed in education, work design, essentially every field – these changes have to embrace technology, empower individuals through training and accommodation and create that level of meaning that incents them to be more than what they are.

All of this means spending more time understanding who we are, as people, how and why we interact and what motivates behaviour.  That leads us back to mental health.  As frightening a concept as it is, we have to break down the silos around mental health/cognitive development and understand our “selves” as being biological expressions impacted by environmental factors. Yes, this means revisiting notions of free will, self-control, etc., but it simply has to be done.  You can’t find a solution if you refuse to correctly identify the problem.

As a society of individuals, like an organism made up of cells, we truly are more than the sum of our parts.  Accepting this doesn’t need to be daunting – it can be empowering.

There really only one way we can get to where we're headed.

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