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CCE in brief

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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.

Saturday 1 December 2012

Proactive Mental Health in Ontario

Thursday 29 November 2012

Communication: People Need Symbols

Anonymous uses Guy Fawkes, partially to conceal the identity of members but also to create an identifiable brand.  We might think of this and cringe, but symbols are fundamental to the way we view our world.  Flags are symbols.  Uniforms are symbols.  Even letters are symbols, representing intangibles like sound.  Zero represents a concept, nothingness, that doesn't even exist in nature.
We communicate the world we live in through metaphor - images painted on cave walls, languages, parables, art are all expressions of the world as we interpret it - not as the world is in and of itself.  Like any telephone game, layers and personal experiences get added to the expression of what is over time until the metaphor we communicate is something entirely different than the thing it represents.  Thus, bridges have gender, ideologies are understood as uniform blocks, The Other is separate from ourselves. 
The invention and use of symbols is a powerful tool - essentially, the building block of communication.  Through symbols, we can record information across time, we can teach, we can conceptualize, plan, build, etc, but it equally creates a filter between the world we are a part of and the world we comprehend in our heads.  Call it a prison for your mind.
Cultures around the world have identified this concept, through metaphor, and have equally proposed solutions, which in turn become wrapped in metaphor.  We like to focus on the ever-expanding differences, but here's the thing - when you get passed the telephone-game of social adaptation, you find core concepts and symbols that are truly universal in nature, like the tree, the snake or the circle.
The differences aren't a bad thing - they add diversity, complexity and through co-morbidity, opportunity.  It's social evolution, an exact mirror of what happens with biological evolution.  It pays, though, to always stay grounded in where the diversity stems from.  The predecessor of symbolism, that nebulous Centre, is the emotional starting point of our communication big bang.  From the centre stem all things; therefore, from the centre, all things can be unravelled, understood and rebuilt.
Those of us yearning for a connection with something greater than ourselves, meaning to life, etc. and look for an external diety or an external paradise are caught in a cycle of conceptualization.  The answers we seek aren't boxed definitions at all, but rather the absence thereof. 

Meaning is not found without; it's felt from within.  Those who become too enchanted by symbols lose the opportunity to divine the understanding they can otherwise unlock.

Sunday 25 November 2012

Are Our Public Services At Risk?

This past week, a new addition was welcomed to our family; the professional medical care we received was top-notch, surpassed only by the human connection and empathy of the doctors, nurses and other specialists we encountered.  There was one surprise, though - on the Labour and Delivery floor walked a couple of penny-pinchers in suits carrying clipboards, looking over the medical staff's shoulders and discouraging supply use wherever possible.  The professionals we dealt with referred often to the pressure being placed on them to move patients out of the system as quickly as possible to reduce cost to the overall system. 
It's a theme I have come across many times in the past year or so - police officers confessing to personal and system strain due to an insufficient number of officers on patrol; obstetricians frustrated at the score of stories being circulated about the use of cosmetic Cesarean Sections, which is not reflective of their patient experiences at all; front-line service providers ranging from teachers to phone operators saying they need to put their foot down somewhere, because what is being demanded of them isn't long-term sustainable.
The arguments surfacing are all about money - the Political Right will decry well-heeled public servants living high of the taxpayer hog, due mostly to union interference.  The easy answer goes like this - kill the unions, roll back the extravagant wages and benefits of these police officers, paramedics, fire fighters, nurses, doctors, water inspectors, teachers, etc. and let the free market determine what their services are truly worth.  But truly, can you put a dollar value on preemptive social care?
I have also come across public servants who felt constrained from doing their work by the nature of the system in place.  When I was hit a number of months ago by a negligent driver, the officer who ended up with my case actively discouraged me from seeking justice, saying it would be a waste of time; he'd been through the ringer on similar cases countless times.  He sounded downright defeatist and professed a disturbing lack of faith in our justice system, seeing as how he was part of that system.  That wasn't the first or last time I have encountered front-line service providers who feel their efforts are often futile. 
It almost becomes a vicious circle - instead of serving a noble cause, front-line service providers come to accept they haven't enough fingers to plug all the holes in the dyke and instead look at their job as a pay cheque and try to get what they can from it; that's the trend being set up and down the social scale, after all.  As the economic watering hole shrinks, the haves are shoring up their interests at the expense of the have-nots who are beginning to believe that the cards are stacked against them.  It's wholly disheartening.
The same holds true for politics; the Party of Transparency has become as opaque as any in Canada's history, while the odd slip of a story of entitlement or cronyism, or perhaps down-right corruption, creeps through to an already-preoccupied public consciousness.  People are loosing faith in our public system; instead of the complete collapse that threatens in Greece, we instead face democratic death by a thousand cuts.  The pragmatic are hedging their bets and turning elsewhere than the polling booth to exert their influence and keep trouble from lapping at their shores.
Penny-pinching, service-hoarding, self-interest trumping social contributions - it's all very tragedy of the commons, all very feudal.  But it doesn't have to be that way.  The best public servants aren't in it for the money; it does a disservice to their contributions to think otherwise.  It's true that, given meaningful work, some food and regular acknowledgement, volunteers will work endless hours willingly on causes they believe.  The same can be true of public sector employees - if we provide decent wages and benefits, get that part out of the way, then add value to their work experience and provide the best environments for them to work in, we can motivate a whole new level of commitment, contribution, productivity and even innovation.
But we have to take a leap of faith to try this model out - there are few templates to follow.
I look at the emerging trends, then I look at the bright new face that greats me every day - and I wonder what sort of society he will inherit.  I hope that it will be a strong one.  That, after all, is what Canada should be about.