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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.

Monday, 2 June 2014

Why Rob Ford Isn't Getting Any Better

Note the framing here.  Rob Ford, who has repeatedly denied and repeatedly apologized for substance abuse and out-of-control behaviour is talking about his recovery in terms of losing fat and building muscle.

While it is vital to be in good physical shape both in terms of energy levels and discipline, you can be in marathon-running shape and still be an addict and still be manic.  

I've never been consumed by addiction problems, nor had to face the re-evaluation of self that comes with it.  For a great read on that process (and the one Ford needed to go through) read Jim Coyle's brave depiction of the process, here.

What I can relate to, however, is the need to recognize that behaviour isn't just a matter of choice; it's got deeper underpinnings than that.  More on this in a bit.

Rob Ford makes bad choices.  He makes them all the time.  He lies or diminishes his actions, but invariably gets caught and is forced to apologize.  These apologies are followed up with a promise to never again do all the bad things he does.

Then the cycle resets, and he ends up a bit deeper in the hole than he had been previously.  This is how he ended up in treatment in the first place - not out of a "come to Jesus" moment that he needed help, but because he/his brother thought it was necessary for PR.

It's great that Rob Ford has apparently taken ownership of his choices (It's a cop-out to blame it on others.  No one has enabled me) but he still hasn't identified the right problem.  By figuring some exercise and time in the rehab penalty box counts as paying his dues and lets him back into the game, Ford is missing the whole point.

Back to me.

In elementary school, I was a terrible student - bad at taking notes off the board, regularly late for class, distracted, so on and so forth.  Despite this, I was gifted, a natural problem-solver and developed solid critical thinking skills early on (which, alas, landed me in detention more than once).

It wasn't until highschool that I was diagnosed as ADHD - a controversial label, to be sure, but one that gave new perspective on the challenges I'd faced as a youth.  This diagnosis wasn't a convenient excuse to forgive my dis tractability or diminish my social responsibility - quite the opposite.  By realizing I faced a different suite of challenges than my peers, I was better able to develop the internal tools and external accommodations I needed to excel.
Rob Ford - mayors are like goalies, see; the puck stops here.

The great thing is, with these accommodations and such, I'm able to waste less time lost in a distracted fog and am better able to harness the massive bandwidth my lateral thinking process affords me to addressing big-picture problems.  

Recognizing the challenges I faced wasn't an excuse or an admission of weakness; it was a crucial step in overcoming barriers and maximizing my personal potential.

I don't know if Rob Ford has ADHD - his behaviours suggest a number of potential diagnoses, best left to professionals - but he's clearly got some internal influences that guide him towards making poor choices.  Lifting weights and eating less fried chicken isn't going to change this reality; thinking so is only ensuring the cycle gets repeated, again.

Just as you wouldn't tell a diabetic to "just produce more insulin" independently, it makes no sense to tell someone with a "mental health" issue to just make better choices and be done with it.  Better choices are possible, but not in isolation.  Internal tools and external accommodations are necessary to facilitate those outcomes.

Who knows - maybe Ford is developing these tools at rehab and maybe his family has turned over a new leaf and will be proactively empowering Ford to make better choices going forward.  The "it's all on me and by willpower alone I'm going to do better" narrative might be PR, as the Fords are afraid of losing face or appearing weak, as they have accused so many others of being.

But I doubt it.

What we have all seen, time and again, is a family that insists Robbie is a good boy who just needs to clean up his act a bit instead of an individual with more pervasive but equally-manageable challenges that needs some help to be at his best.

In the real world, there's no shame in that - even Stephen Harper has sung that he gets by with a little help from his friends.  When you believe in survival of the fittest, however, you will refuse to admit anything that could be misconstrued as weakness out of fear an opponent will seize on that weakness to tear you down.

The Fords have reason to harbour such concerns, of course.  While Ford has been particularly egregious in attacking his foes and deflecting all criticisms, he's really just a caricature of what we see across the board in War Room politics.

"Defining your opponents" has become a more palatable way of saying "tear their character to shreds."  "Message discipline" is the modern-day equivalent of omerta.  Actually taking responsibility is impossible in this scenario, because to accept ownership of any mistake is to open yourself up to remorseless, vicious attack.

Just watch the remainder of the Ontario election for evidence of how this plays out.

By refusing to recognize that he's got additional challenges, Rob Ford is fixating on and attempting to address the wrong problem.  As such, he won't be getting any better - if anything, his next fall is likely to be even harder.

At least he's in good company.

Until we collectively get past the stigma and taboos we've placed around cognitive functioning, the witchcraft or left-handedness of our age, we will continue to whack the wrong mole and apply band-aid solutions to structural problems.

It's a frame the political right, by all regards, should already be comfortable with; you have to recognize that salvation isn't something that rests in your hands alone.

Only by accepting our own limitations and recognizing our place as parts of a greater whole can we empower a responsible society, rather than enable individual selfishness.

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