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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.

Friday 4 January 2013

GK: Drawing People Together

"Don't judge someone until you've walked a mile in their shoes" is as dog-eared a maxim as they come, but like all cliches it endures because it's true.  Bridging the communication gap between people is also one of the greatest challenges we ever face.  This is because understanding others is not intuitive; we all view the world through experiential lenses that are shaped by our environments, families, our communities, the language(s) we speak and the ups and downs of our individual lives.  As this is an organic process, we're rarely aware of how and why we hold the views that we do.  We are therefore inclined to assume our worldview is simply the way the world is, misinterpreting the fishbowl for the ocean.
A quick example - the grammatical gender a language ascribes to a noun literally changes how the speaker views that object.  Heck, there are tons of words and concepts in world languages that simply can't be translated directly into others.  Then you get into experience; it's no wonder Mitt Romney simply couldn't understand the ground-level realities of the 47% and assumed they were playing the victim card.  He has never had to face the uphill adversity that so many average Americans live with day-to-day.
One of the key traits of strong leaders is the ability to communicate, which has to flow in multiple directions.  Too often we confuse communication with the notion of messaging, which only flows one way (Stephen Harper, for instance, is a master at messaging but dismal at communication).  Real communication is like diplomacy or mediation; it takes time to understand the players from their own viewpoint, establishes common vocabulary and then builds a common direction from there.  Leaders are meant to serve as the stone in the soup, being the thing that challenges people to find common ground and build a whole that's greater than the sum of its parts.
As such, the best leaders live and breathe holistic communication - walking with others, bringing people together, empowering the people to collectively create a shared vision of the future.  Communication is a lot like art that way - a pain-staking, challenging process requiring patience, a willingness to listen and a keen eye to recognize opportunity not for oneself, but for the people one wishes to communicate with.
Which is why I'm so excited by this:

It's time "forward together" leaves nobody behind.

Wednesday 2 January 2013

Glass Houses Reflect Ideas

So for a moment there, I was all pleased that I'd made an exciting new analogy.  Then I found out someone else has been there, done that.

This isn't discouraging; it just goes to show more and more people are recognizing the same trend:

The Glass Panopticon

After a full day of an email barrage about Facebook graphics, promotions and posts, I got stuck in traffic. I was bored and started perusing Twitter feeds to see who else was in traffic with me. Then I realized, there’s a marketing opportunity. Then I said…stop! Everything seems to be revolving around Facebook communities and Twitter feeds. A tornado in Dallas or Tupac’s hologram at Coachella, there was a good chance you knew about it through some social media vehicle.
I got home and this thought of an all-encompassing media sat on my shoulder like an angry Greek god, toga and all. It took a second to get out from all the minute details of social media to look at it from a 50,000-foot view. This all felt familiar and it hit me…Michel Foucault.
Michel Foucault was a French philosopher and social theorist who spent a great amount of his time on critical studies of social institutions. One of his most famous works was a book on the prison system titled Discipline and Punish. One concept of the book is the discussion of the Panopticon. In a Panopticon, a single guard has the ability to watch over many prisoners while the guard is unseen in his tower. Prisoners never know when they are being watched so they must act as if they are being observed. It becomes internal monitoring. An example of this is how sports stadiums are set up. The way seats are tiered is fantastic for the audience to watch the game, but it also allows for guards and security cameras to have full view of the fans. Follow me so far?
So Josh, we get it, you are nerd and enjoy philosophy, but what does this have to do with social media?
Social media has become a glass Panopticon.
While there are those who have designated Twitter as a personal brand developer, there are many people who tweet random musings. As they tweet, corporations and marketing companies are scouring the Twittersphere and pulling information about this person. So, 18-year-old college student Joe says he loves tacos and McDonald’s Big Macs in one tweet and the next tweet he says he can’t stop listening to the new Hoodie Allen single, some marketing exec can say, “well, we now have data that men 18-24 love tacos, Big Macs and Hoodie Allen.” The following week, a new McDonald’s commercial hits the airwaves with Hoodie Allen on it pimping a new Big Mac taco. And Joe goes…”wow…I love all of those things! McDonalds is speaking to me.” Good for McDonalds! They gave Joe what he wanted, before he really knew he wanted that. That’s good marketing. In this instance, the general public can be remotely watched without them knowing or even caring.
However, within this glass Panopticon, the individual has the advantage the prisoner did not have in the original Panopticon. The social media inclined individual can see what the companies and corporations are doing, how they are responding and how they act in the world. The individual has the ability to watch the company and respond with a post, a tweet or a video about that business. Now, let’s say Joe finds out that McDonalds is using the worst possible potatoes for their French fries. These potatoes are grown in a toxic dump and harvested by migrant workers from Eastasia. Joe can blog about it and other individuals can share the information. Corporations have to respect that the eye is on them and they can no longer hide in the tower.
So that’s where we are…in this glass Panopticon. Some might just call it transparency, but I don’t feel that’s it. I see each side getting too wrapped up in the details of everything that is social media. So while businesses and marketing entities forget the individual can see them…the individual forgets that the business and marketing entities are watching them.
We could definitely drill down and discuss the Panopticon influencing online persona or how the Panopticon is an extension of control. However, first things first, let’s realize we are watching each other and that is the most important part.


The Glass Panopticon

Divide-and-conquer is an age-old method of population control.  There's this thing, though, where it relies on those being controlled not being able or motivated to communicate with each other.  People, however, are designed to come together, so this is an impossible challenge that will inevitably wear those who would selfishly hoard power down.  It's a cyclical story we've seen again, and again, and again.
Society and technology continue to evolve in steadily rapid contractions; what's emerging is a fully-integrated, transparent and communicative system that requires each part to be at its best for the whole to excel.  This is what Don Tapscott calls Networked Intelligence; it's what I call the Conscious Society.
The truth will set you free; we are increasingly conscious of the fact that, in person or online, we all live in glass houses - even the people at the Centre who once were confident of their concealing cloaks.  It's unwise to throw stones when all turns to silver glass; fortunately, there's another use for stones - they can build, too.


Sunday 30 December 2012

Harinder Takhar - In It To Win

             - Michael Bryant

Seven individuals are running to become the next Leader of the Ontario Liberal Party and Premier.
It's a fascinating race with a remarkable slate of candidates, each bringing with them tons of experience amassed inside and outside of government.  It also happens to a be remarkably diverse slate, as far as traditional politics goes; there are two women candidates, two openly-gay candidates, a candidate with a physical impairment (that makes zero difference in their ability to do the job they're running for) and of course, the first Sikh candidate of South Asian descent, Harinder Takhar.
From the get-go, there have been clear front-runners, some wild cards and one self-described "dark horse."  A couple of candidates that were not given much consideration at the outset have run campaigns that demand attention.  Nobody following the race questions any of the candidates' commitment to win - unless that candidate is Takhar.
Why is this?  Like all the other candidates, Takhar had to raise funds and collect names to earn a seat at the table.  He's also gone to the trouble of fleshing out policy ideas and is out there now, pressing the flesh, sharing his ideas and listening to those of others - just like all the other candidates.  That's a lot of effort if you're really just vying to be the next Minister of Finance. 
Having spent some time around politics and worked on a few campaigns over the years, I can't believe that anyone would do any of this unless they were seriously trying to win - especially if they've been through the process before.  Politics isn't an occupation, it's a lifestyle; you do it because you're driven to.
So - if Takhar truly is running to win, why are people doubting him?  Nobody has suggested that any of the other lesser-known candidates are just looking to play king/queen-maker.  The answer, I think, is as predictable as it is uncomfortable.  Just as most of us will automatically think "he" when someone is talking about a doctor or "she" if they're discussing a teacher, we all have something of a preconceived notion of what a leader should "look" like.  It's s bit like labeling a peach-coloured crayon "skin-tone"; we don't often stop to think outside our personal boxes until we are challenged to do so. 
Not that long ago, few of the candidates in the running would have been taken seriously by the majority of voters.  Times have changed and will continue to change, but it still takes trailblazers to increase our opportunities by demonstrating what is possible.
By seriously running a serious campaign, Takhar is just such a trailblazer.  However well he does in his bid to be leader, Takhar is opening the door for future generations of potential Premiers from across the ethno-cultural spectrum, helping them maximize their personal potential by expanding the opportunities available to them and providing a role model.  As our current Premier once said, it shouldn't matter "where you come from, but what you find along the way."
The more trailblazers like Takhar can broaden our perception of what a leader can look like, the closer we get to a point where we really aren't subconsciously judging candidates on the colour of their skin, their gender, religion or sexual preference, but by the content of their character, the power of their vision and their ability to inspire others to follow where they lead.
There are seven individuals running to become the next Leader of the Ontario Liberal Party and Premier. 
May the best person win. 

Some Mental Health Myths to Forget About in 2013 (Liza Finlay and Alyson Schafer)

Without a doubt the most astute piece I've read in a while.  Everyone can benefit from the points laid out below:

They're trite. They're tired. They're untrue. We may not even be aware of it, but most of us live by a set of aphorisms that are, quite frankly, made up. Fictions. Fallacies.
In our psychotherapy practice, we call these myth-conceptions pop-culture poppycock that stubbornly persists despite having no scientific basis or benefit. These bull-crap beliefs become entrenched at an early age and are handed down from generation to generation with the same alacrity of grandma's cookie recipe changing hands. We gobble them up, swallowing them whole and without question.
But we need to question. By challenging faulty beliefs we're free to set a new course, to create a mental map that is consciously chosen. Here are a few of the most pervasive myth-understandings to leave behind as you head into a new year. Leave these mental albatrosses buried in 2012 where they belong.
1. People don't change. Yes, they do. All the time. In fact, change isn't only possible, it's necessary. Darwin helped us figure that out over a century ago when he observed some species flourishing where others floundered. He called this finding "survival of the fittest" -- and by fittest he didn't mean strongest, he meant most adaptable. In our practice, we see magnificent examples of adaptation all the time. But you have to want it; it's not so much that people don't change, it's that they won't change.
2. If it's worth doing, it's worth doing right. Wrong. If it's worth doing, it's worth doing poorly. Worthiness and mastery are not intertwined concepts. Indeed, if perfection was the only barometer of merit, most of us would never get out of the starting gate. Talk about performance anxiety! The bottom line is this: if we only dwell in those endeavours that come with a guarantee of success, we live a shallow life. For 2013, each of us needs to develop the courage to be imperfect. Good enough is good enough.
3. You don't make the same mistake twice. Sure you do. Mistake-making is murky, and muddy, and wonderfully nuanced. The journey to enlightenment is a journey of a thousand steps. Psychological theorist Alfred Adler called life "the great becoming" -- we are in a constant state of 'bettering'. And if we want to be a part of that beautiful bettering, we need to risk, to make mistakes. Life is long. Get dirty.
4. It isn't fair! Yikes. Stop moping! On the BS-scale, that one's right up there. It's a cop-out, a handy way of sidestepping personal responsibility when we feel unable to face the challenges of life. Listen, the dog actually does wag the tail. We are not simply victims of life's happenstances. In actuality, we not only create our own realities, but we have the opportunity to recreate them, too. If you feel that life isn't fair, instead of waiting for someone to hand you a Kleenex, why not ask the question "what am I willing to do about it?"
5. There are two sides to every story. While that's a great start, in fact there are many more than two sides to every story. This is an example of dichotomous, or black and white, thinking. Sorry, but life is lived in the grey areas. No two of us interpret events the same way, meaning that there are as many "sides" to a story as there are humans on the planet. The world would be a better place if we attempted to wrap our minds around all of them. It's messy, but it's just. So, instead of "I'm right, you're wrong," consider what another person must believe in order for them to perceive this as their "truth."
6. All you need is love -- la la la la la. We love The Beatles too, but it's time to put down the hookah pipe and think seriously about the love-is-all-there-is mantra. We don't actually love everybody -- and nor should we. (Let's face it, we may even find some a challenge to like.) The commandment to love thy neighbour is a metaphor. What we are really charged with is the task of respect. We follow a philosophical tenant that requires us to treat all fellow beings with equanimity -- including the cranky neighbour and the obnoxious in-law. So, yes, love is great, but we should all aspire to a far less lofty (and far more achievable) goal -- respect and its offspring, civility. "All you need is respect, la la la la la." (Not nearly as catchy is it? Well, guess that's why The Beatles are the songwriters and we're the therapists.)