Search This Blog

CCE in brief

My photo
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 7 November 2014

Social Behaviour

If you've not seen this video yet, you really should.
But don't stop there.  Take the basic premise - observing behaviour in public spaces, looking for patterns - and apply it in your own day.  You'll be very, very surprised at what you see.
The Objectivists/libertarians out there like to say that there is no such thing as society, just rational actors transacting for personal gain.  The more freedom they have - from the state, from taxation, of speech, etc. - the more able they are to be rational.
It's a confabulated notion that works in the movies but not so much in real life.  In real-world scenarios, people aren't rational - they're rarely conscious of much of what they do.  Little glances, conversations about private topics held in public spaces, cutting in front of others because of a failure to recognize them/an impulsive need to get ahead, even at the inconvenience of others - the list goes on. 
Stigmatization plays a big part of this behaviour.  We look at the world in terms of what it means to us, and react accordingly.  You can tell a lot about people by what they fear, what they show interest in, what they ignore.  Does a certain character not notice a homeless person, while another might see them and react with discomfort, or disgust, or with empathy?
We make rapid-fire judgments because that's what we're genetically programmed to do.  We're animals, like any other, led by forces not consciously in our control.  Thought comes later, if at all.  This isn't a judgment - just an observation.
Just remember - you're not a species apart, whether you feel superior or inferior or completely disconnected from others.  We're all the same, all with variations on the same limitations.
When we're conscious of this - and when we consciously seek to build and exercise discipline - then we can start to gain control. 

Time to Wake

Ignorance isn't bliss.  The one-eyed kings don't rule the land of the blind - they're still trapped in The Cave.
Time to be conscious, society. 

Ghomeshi Comes to Queen's Park: Harassment, HR and Leading By Example

Premier Kathleen Wynne is a woman of unquestionable integrity.  She's a strong leader in every sense of the word - she's mission-focused, but understands the importance of morale.  She's empathic, a strong communicator and a natural facilitator.
Ask anyone who works (or has worked) with her - Premier Wynne creates strong workplace cultures that empower employees to do well and find fulfilment in their work.  The why behind this is easy - Wynne realizes people aren't office infrastructure; they're the architects for her and her party's success.
Such is not the case for all employers, at Queen's Park or otherwise.  All too often, staff are viewed as tools, not individuals.  Workplace culture is not seen as a consideration, any more than you might care about how much dust collects on your computer; you can always get another one.
This heavy-handed, boss-centred approach to HR has proven to have a negative impact on bottom lines, on productivity, on innovation; demoralized staff aren't scared into doing better work, they're instead focused on not messing up or redirecting blame. 
Which, of course, is a self-fulfilling prophecy; when tough bosses practice the mantra "we are smart, they are dumb" - they in reference to staff - talent isn't nurtured, it's suppressed.  Those who rise to the top may be good at what they do, but it's the ability to curry favour with the boss that determines career growth.
But is a business - especially when it's government - supposed to be structured in a way that places ultimate power in the hands of bosses who, often as not, don't know and don't care about professional HR practices or basic leadership skills?  Do we want workplace cultures where it's the ability to curry favour with bosses that determines success, especially in light of the emerging conversation around bosses that abuse their positions of power in relation to their staff?
What are the consequences of poor leadership and a lack of training for employees and employers on morale, productivity, innovation and that other emerging biggie, mental wellness?
So it's interesting to hear Premier Wynne discuss harassment and HR concerns within her party.
The Liberal Caucus Service Bureau (Leg-funded internal support organization for the Ontario Liberal Party) has a Policy for a Harassment/Violence-Free Workplace that is to be made available to all employers and staff and posted in prominent locations in each workspace.  This document is intended to serve as a framework to prevent the sorts of entitled boss behaviour that can happen in situations where accountabilities aren't clear, training isn't provided and power imbalance is prominent.
Some highlights from this policy:
Members of the Ontario Liberal Caucus (“Member(s)”) are committed to providing a work environment which is conducive to both positive morale and productivity - a work environment free of harassment and violence to both women and men.  Behaviour, comments, or display of materials that could reasonably be perceived to be offensive, humiliating or demeaning are not acceptable in the workplace. 
-- one would assume the whip that is, for historical reasons, displayed on the wall of the Whip's office is an exception to this "display of materials" rule.  In fact, the very notion of a Whip is contrary to the intention of this policy and empowered workforces in general, but the outdated conventions of our centuries-old model Westminster Parliamentary system is a whole other topic.
Members, as employers, have an important role to play in promoting awareness and setting standards.  Harassment, in any form, undermines an employee’s work performance and the goals of the office.  All concerns of harassment will be taken seriously and handled in a professional, impartial and confidential manner in accordance with the provisions set out in this Policy. 
-- In other words, it's the responsibility of Members to lead by example when it comes to a harassment-free and empowering work culture.  The corporate structure at Queen's Park is a somewhat unique one, where MPP staff are the employees of Members, paid by the Legislature, but are equally answerable to their political party, who has no legal authority over said staff, but again, politics isn't a "normal" working environment.
It might seem counter-intuitive to have those with the most power and freedom to exercise it be responsible for self-regulation and empowering of staff to question their authority, but there's an answer to that, too.
Under the Liberal policy, it's not the party's HR person (paid through the Legislature) that is responsible for addressing harassment issues, but the party Whip, who is another elected official and therefore a peer to Members..  As such, it's to the Whip (or designate), a party-determined role, who is responsible for ensuring MPPs and staff are familiar with the contents of the policy and administering it when issues of harassment arise:
1) Responsibilities of the Whip 
The Whip is responsible for informing the Members and employees of the Policy and its contents.  Where employees bring forward concerns of harassment against Members, the Whip will take immediate and appropriate action as follows: 

a) respond promptly to all enquiries regarding harassment concerns involving Members; 
b) advise the Member that a concern of harassment has been brought forward against him or her; 
c) provide assistance, clarification and guidance with respect to situations involving harassment; 
d) work with all parties involved to try to resolve the situation fairly, and in a manner that preserves the dignity of the parties concerned; 
e) resolve situations of harassment through dispute resolution methods, in a non-adversarial, rehabilitative manner, and take the necessary steps to achieve a resolution.  If the Whip determines that an investigation is necessary, the investigation will be handled promptly in an impartial and confidential manner with due respect for the rights of the parties concerned
One would assume there is an internal training session for all Members and new staff that makes the contents and intent of this policy clear so that there is no confusion about responsibilities and processes that lead to resolution.
Key to this process, as we are learning through #ghomeshi, are the great obstacles employees can face in bringing forward allegations of harassment.  In politics, Members are all-powerful; they are the elected voice of the people, after all.  If they answer to anyone, it's the Premier and designated party officials who, naturally, are tasked with winning elections, not fostering strong workplace cultures.  It's just the nature of the beast.
It can be career suicide to bring forward allegations against an abusive boss, whether the abuse is sexual harassment, aggressive behaviour, passive-aggressive behaviour, etc.  Much as we have seen through #ghomeshi, under circumstances like this staff will often "suck it up", complain about bad bosses with other staff and suffer silently with the consequences of poor leadership. 
Or, they will raise concerns and be marginalized or discover that they have "burned bridges" by trying to defend themselves, and end up unemployed and shut out. 
This sort of toxic environment can lead to accrued depression and anxiety, kill workplace morale and ultimately result in poor functionality, which leads to unhappy constituents, poor decisions made, etc.  There's a reason why occupational mental health is becoming a thing these days.
To avoid unjust consequences to what would essentially be whistleblowers, the Liberals have included a NO REPRISAL clause in their policy:
a) Employees who bring forward harassment concerns shall not be subjected to any form of reprisal. 
b) For the purposes fop this policy, retaliation against an individual i) for making a complaint under this policy (whether on behalf of oneself or another individual); or ii) for having participated or co-operated in any investigation under this policy; or iii) for having been associated with a person who has made a complaint under this policy or participated in these procedures, will be treated as harassment
So, there would be no tolerance for cultures of fear within the liberal family at Queen's Park.  No person of authority would ever say something like "He's never going to change, you're a malleable person, let's talk about how you can make this a less toxic work environment for you" to staff who bring forward concerns about abusive employers.
Staff would never be re-victimized for bringing forward concerns; that would go directly against the beliefs of the party and the content of their policy.  Moving forward together, after all, doesn't involve dumping those who raise valid concerns by the wayside, or publicly shaming them, etc.
As harassment without definitions is largely in the eye of the beholder, it helps to provide some clarification on what, exactly, constitutes harassment in this context.  Again, the Liberal's harassment policy provides a framework to help Members and staff alike, when they're trained on the contents of the policy, to know what to look for:
To assist in ensuring that our workplace is harassment-free, the following are examples of harassment.  Please note that this is not a complete list and that each situation will have to be considered individually. 

- Jokes causing embarrassment or offence, told or carried out after the joker has been advised that they are embarrassing or offensive or that they are by nature clearly embarrassing or offensive
Example: Telling sexually explicit jokes or suggestive stories may be offensive to some and not to others.  They can have the effect of making someone feel uncomfortable and interfere with their ability to participate in work-related group activities. 
- The display of offensive material
Example: Posters placed on the office bulletin board depicting members of a particular racial minority group in a derogatory manner.  Even though an employee belonging to that racial minority group complains, the Manager says there is nothing he/she can do 
- Verbal and physical abuse or threats
Example: a supervisor constantly asks a subordinate out and is continually rebuffed.  The supervisor subsequently begins to criticize the subordinate’s work in front of co-workers and eventually threatens to fire the employee. 
- Degrading or derogatory remarks
Example: A developmentally disabled employee is called names such as “dummy” by co-workers.  
Not an exhaustive list, but a helpful starting point and again this policy, which is to be provided to all MPPs and staff and posted in prominent locations, gives some guidance on what constitutes harassment and where to go for furtuer clarification in less-clear circumstances.
I would assume that party HR is fully aware of this process and actively re-directs concerns raised to the party Whip/Whip's designate, who will be fully trained on how to mediate with empathy and an eye towards resolution for all parties.
Hopefully, they will borrow from the approach recently taken by federal Liberal leader Justin Trudeau:
Kathleen Wynne is the best kind of leader - one who recognizes that the people she leads are the architects of her vision, not infrastructure for her success.  She is a skilled facilitator who genuinely cares about people and their well-being.  She understands the importance of morale, empowering workplace culture and respecting the dignity of the people on the front lines.
A big part of why people don't trust politicians and feel their policy decisions aren't in the public's interest is because of our perception of internal political culture as corrupt, self-serving, feudal in nature.  Abuse of the public purse, abuse of position and abuse of human resources go hand-in-hand.
As #ghomeshi is forcing us to discuss such uncomfortable matters publicly, we're admitting publicly that this isn't something unique to politics - in all sectors, labour is done in a top-down, hierarchical way that empowers the aggressive, cunning and sales-oriented folk who also tend to be the ones most likely to abuse power in aggressive, cunning and team-harassing ways.
I think it would be great for the Liberals to provide a bit of inside-the-sausage Open Government of labour for the public on how they conduct their internal HR practices, especially as it comes to harassment/sensitivity training for MPPs and staff. 
It would set the right tone in a proactive fashion, provide some best-practices for others to learn from and make it clear that unlike some other employers out there, they have nothing to hide.
'Cause if there's one thing Premier Wynne excels at, it's leading by example.  We desperately need more of that kind of example right now.

Thursday 6 November 2014

Spartan Del Mastro

I couldn't resist.  I know, I'm a bad man.

Jedem das Seine vs Do Unto Others

Del Mastro never thought ahead.  He never thought laterally.  His confidence was supreme - or was that his obliviousness?  He lived by the rule of laissez-faire; put yourself first and do what it takes to get yourself ahead.  Del Mastro was the PM's attack dog, not a bad lot to find one in life.  He took that bone and ran with it, assuming all else was justified because of his success.
And yet his actions have caught up with him, as they seem to be doing for many these days.
Lots of people our Prime Minister put entrusted with unsavoury responsibilities have come in to a bad light of late.  One wonders if he has any second thoughts about his judgment as a result.  I wouldn't be holding my breathe.
Harper, like Del Mastro, believes the notion of "to each his own" which, often as not, morphs into an abdication of responsibility and an emperor's cloak of righteousness.
When you deny society and frame the world as individuals in competition or, at best, transaction, it all comes down to what you can get.  This process dehumanizes others and makes all kinds of behaviours you wouldn't want to be on the receiving of permissible.
We die alone though, don't we?
Of course, we don't live alone - we live together.  We have no choice but to live together, which means a little bit of give has to do with the take.  In all the most effective organizations, there is a culture of collaboration, of giving back and belonging to with the cheerleader-in-chief being the leader.
Bosses see themselves as the top of the pyramid; leaders recognize their role as Atlas, lifting others up.  Even those who might not be on their "side" - because leaders don't recognize sides and aren't focused on wins.  They are visionaries, guides, conduits - that's what all leaders are.
Just something to think about.

The Death of the Just Society

Canada must be a Just Society.
  - Pierre Elliot Trudeau

Jian Ghomeshi has hired the best legal defense he can get. 
Marie Henein is worth every considerable penny she gets paid - she delivers wins for her clients.  She does this partly by eviscerating her clients' victims.  She plays mind-games, she knows what triggers to pull and what buttons to push to break or establish perspective frames in the minds of her audiences.  Truth, after all, is in the eye of the beholder.
She does this in good conscience, because hey, it's not personal - it's just business.  She's just making a living, right? 
The sort of "fairness" folk like Henein are able to deliver is inaccessible to most Canadians.  Our prisons are filled with people who've committed less heinous crimes than those Ghomeshi is accused of. There are plenty of people in the justice system for crimes the likes of which more than a couple politicians have committed in the public sphere and gotten away with.
Equally, there are plenty of victims out there who know that to seek justice is more likely to lead to revictimization than closure. 
Such is the pervasiveness of laissez-faire capitalism - justice is not a law of social gravity, it's a commodity to be bought and sold.  If you've got the coin for it, at least.
What we have taken to calling justice is, in truth, anything but.  Justice has become what we can get away with or what we can bully/con/charm/buy our way out of.
So much for the Just Society.
You can't have freedoms without responsibility - so what we need is a Responsible Society.  But such is not our culture at present. 
With the preponderance of free social engagement tools, however, there's a not-so-subtle shift happening - a social murmuration is starting to emerge.  Leaders with foresight are seeing where this shift leads and are, in fits and spurts, getting ahead of the curve.
You can't have responsibility without mindfulness, without knowing context both spatial and temporal.
Just something to be conscious of.

Ghomeshi: In Laissez-Faire Capitalism, Fairness is a Commodity

... and here's the post I was going to do yesterday.
First off - I know Michael Bryant and consider him to be a decent, honourable fellow.  As anyone who's served as AG, he's got enemies.  Plus, the way the death of Darcy Allan Sheppard became a story of cars vs bikes and elites vs the poor didn't do him any favours.

So far as I know, Michael is still paying down the massive legal and PR costs he incurred as a result of that tragedy.  He got the best support, but it cost him dearly. 

I imagine Jian Ghomeshi has more cash to throw around in his defense - hiring wickedly smart legal beagles that are comfortable representing predators probably isn't that much of a challenge for him.
By all accounts, Marie Henein is tough, ruthless, effective.  It's why she gets the big bucks - it's why public people in trouble seek her out.

She plays mind games.  She puts victims on the defense, finds and exploits their weaknesses, reduces them to quivering masses.  She puts the right doubts in the mind of her target audiences, nudging them to doubt the victim.

It's what she's paid big bucks to do and she's good at it - it just happens that what she's good at isn't very nice.

In fact, the argument could be made that in cases like this, a strong offense as defense kind of looks a lot like re-victimization.  Does the fear of facing this scare off other victims from coming forward?  Does knowing they can't afford competitive legal talent, and face social evisceration hold them back?

We already know that Ghomeshi victims, even ones with their own success and wealth to back them, have been reticent to come forward against the Ghomeshi behemoth, and for good reason.  In our world, it's reputation that matters - chinks in that reputation can rapidly and irrevocably destroy careers.  On top of this, it's embarrassing, humiliating - sexual assault victims have suffered injuries that may not heal, and certainly aren't helped when salt is rubbed in the wound.
The way these narratives get built, though, is about ensuring the powerful get fair trials and treatment.  The assumption in this is that perhaps the court of public opinion has already made it's judgment and therefore justice for the defendant is at risk. 
Which, when you think about it, is mind-blowing.  It's spin of the highest degree.  If even a fraction of the allegations against Ghomeshi are found in a court of law to be true, then he has been rather unfair to a whole host of people for decades, aided and abetted by enabling employers and peers.  Where does justice for his victims come in to play?
Think more broadly about politicians who get off on DUIs, on committing HR fraud, etc.  Think about how many people of means get off or get better treatment because of a socially accepted but unwritten rule that they "matter" more in a socio-economic context. 
A few years ago, I was hit by a negligent driver doing a left turn at an intersection while I was crossing the street with the walk sign.  I ended up in hospital; my left side constantly aches and as I get older, my risk of arthritis and other related ailments will only increase.  The guy who hit me broke the law, lied to the police - and they recognized this - and yet got away without any punishment whatsoever.  If anything, he feels less responsible for his actions, because he knows what he can get away with.  And he happens to be a lawyer.
How often do stories like this play out, day after day?
And yet the conversation is about ensuring "fairness" for the people of means. 
What of those accused of crimes who aren't wealthy, or don't have powerful friends?  There are people who have committed a fraction of the crimes Ghomeshi has been accused of who've spent more time in the justice system than it seems likely he will, because he's got the tough lawyer in his corner.  There are people in the justice system who've committed no crimes at all, or crimes for which they cannot be cognitively held responsible.
There was no fair trial nor equitable treatment for them.
Denise Balkissoon is right to call us all out on this crap - this notion of watersheds and culture change and equitable justice finally coming to the fore.  Ultimately, the story here isn't one of justice, of chickens coming home to roost - it's about our fractured culture.
Democracy is all rights and freedoms, isn't it?  We want to be consequence free.  And yet, we want crimes to be punished to create the image of fairness - so long as we're not implicated.  We're all about free market capitalism, which means that justice is just another commodity that can be bought and sold.  Purchasing power and boldness matter; equity is just a word.
There are always consequences.  It just happens they tend to get downloaded to those with the least power, or diffused by those with the money to outsource them.
That's the way the world works; it's nothing personal.  It's just business.
Which is why social justice matters.  Until responsibility enters the equation, we do not have an equitable society.  And none of us are free.

Wednesday 5 November 2014

Roosting Rabbits and Political HR

In hindsight, it'll be pretty easy to identify how these chickens came home to roost.  As  this story goes further and further down the rabbit hole we'll shake our head in confabulated shock at the fact that instead of focusing on poisoned people, we could have been taking lead out of the pipe. how political HR processes became a matter of contention and how that ties in to the broader challenges of our democratic deficit, open government, all the rest of it.  The common thread will remain the same.
In hindsight, there will be a couple of folk who will say to themselves, "man - all this stress and career-damage I'm facing now could have been prevented if I'd made a choice to be on the right side of the future instead of trying to defend the status quo."
Because they won't be able to feign surprise that this was coming. 
Of course, it's not too late yet.  As is the case with all conversions processes, you've got right up until it's too late to change your ways.

Isn't that always the truth?

SM Murmurations: There Are No Strings

Remember that time a guy with a gun stormed Parliament Hill and put holes in the walls?  That seems so long ago. 
As the story emerges, we've learned that Michael Zehaf Bibeau had a host of mental health-related problems.  In fact, he recognized himself as a threat and tried to get help.  The system isn't designed for such, and he fell through the cracks - and then he put holes in the walls of Parliament.
Before Canadians had proper time to assess and understand what had happened and what, if anything, has changed, #ghomeshi happened. 
As this story emerges, we're learning of a charming, successful man who has been known to some as a predator for decades.  Each passing year has seen new victims added to Ghomeshi's list as some looked away, others issued discrete warnings to friends and poor victims were shackled with the wounds of their abuse and the recognition, rarely spoken, that the system isn't designed to support victims, but to protect the powerful.
Now, there are stories of harassment on Parliament Hill.  The story has begun with sexual assault and unheard of repercussions being issued by a political party.  It's beginning to creep into HR, training and workplace culture.  It won't end there. 
And people in positions of power - and with it, responsibility - are starting to pay serious attention, and to act.
Why?  What's happened here?
Abuse of the rules by the rulers is a tale as old as time.  They don't call them backrooms for nothing; we're told that politics is like sausage (you don't want to know what goes into it but will eat it anyway) for a reason.
Politics is all about controlling the narrative, which means controlling what people hear, and see, and ideally, think.  You'd be surprised (but not really) how many political operatives think of people as puppets, tangled in strings.  Whosoever has the gold, or scepter, etc.  Winner gets the spoils, losers wear the consequences.
There's also this thing, however, called "getting ahead of the narrative" - another form of control, really, but one that's not about putting out fires so much as stamping out sparks.
Ghomeshi's Facebook post was an attempt to get ahead of the narrative he knew would emerge - one that was poorly planned and executed for the basic reason that Ghomeshi felt he wasn't really touchable.  Ghomeshi (or his advisers, based on only the information he provided them) figured his brand loyalty was strong enough to drown out any accusations.  It also seems Ghomeshi didn't realize how inappropriate his actions were.  He's been proved wrong on that one.
Given how many political people see what they do as "just business" - ie, a field that has no place where nothing is personal and loyalties are calculations - it's likely, if cynical, that Team Trudeau's play is strategic.  They've looked at the trend lines, assessed the risks and decided that the approach outlined by Trudeau above puts them on the right side of history.
So they're planning ahead. 
But this is completely backwards to how politics operates.  To oust two candidates at once says "culture problem" within the party; to throw some of your Members, the people parties rely on to win seats sends all the wrong signals about your priorities.  If the aggressive, tough-talking and election-winning Members of your team think their party doesn't have their back for moral transgressions, then why should they tow the party line?  That's part of the unwritten contract, isn't it?
So again - what's changed?  Why has it become strategically smart to sensitivity and benefit of the doubt for the weak before enabling your alpha team?
In two words: social media.
The reason #ghomeshi blew up as quickly as it did is because it "went viral."  It became the cool thing to talk about and, as is the case with social media, to pontificate about.  First, everyone knew about Ghomeshi - that was the way to stay at the top of the chat curve. 
Then, the story evolved into the extent and extremity of his behaviour, including his defiant and desceptive attempt to spin the facts in his favour.  A couple brave women stepped forward, paving the way for more to do the same.  People started to talk, and "I knew about Ghomeshi" shifted to "I didn't know that about Ghomeshi." 
Next up was #beenrapedneverreported:
Again, a floodgate opened and the thing to do if you wanted to be part of the conversation was talk about the culture and how messed up it is.  This was a helpful narrative for many who had publicly backed Ghomeshi before the worst allegations came to light, as it gave people permission to say "see, it wasn't must me - it's the culture, stupid!"
It was almost inevitable that these realities - the viral, contribution-encouraging nature of social media and the fact that Ghomeshi is far from a one-off - would creep into politics, shaking that world more than a man with a gun ever could.
The man with the gun was an external threat - the threat being faced here is one of the self.
There are far more than two MPs who have acted inappropriately.  It should therefore come as no surprise that many staff have behaved inappropriately - or, to be more accurate, behaved in ways considered inappropriate by broader society.
Again, it won't stop here - the story needs to evolve, and people's need to be meaningful parts of the story will shape that movement.  We've already heard HR discussed - poor HR practices, poor training, young staff with lots of power but no training, etc.  This will pile on to what we already know about boys-in-short-pants culture; we may even start to see correlations.
Members will be put under the gun by staff; Parties will be put under the gun by Members, staff and the media.  Attempts to pass the buck to Parliaments who are responsible for paying staff won't work, because, as we already know, partisan staff don't answer to the people who pay their bills any more than elected officials answer to their constituents.
And as a weary populace increasingly eyes partisan politics and closed-door backroom cultures as the culprits behind our failing democracy (which is easier to hitch on to than "the public has abdicated its civic responsibilities by fundamentally not caring about maneuvers in Parliament"), parties must realize they can't spin their way past this one.
There's an additional thread about virtuous schemers, the clay layer and bureaucracy culture change, but we'll save that post for later.
If you can't bury the problem or punt it until after the next election where, theoretically, a win will absolve you of all crimes, you have no choice but to become part of the solution.  That means taking responsibility, acting decisively, but also being sensitive and empathizing with those who speak of, not for, the masses.
Which brings us back to #ottawashooter.  Much like #ghomeshi, the Ottawa shooting could have been prevented.  It was a laissez-faire culture which assumes there's no such thing as social responsibility and that the public has a short-term memory that created these problems. 
What Team Trudeau has done is take on social responsibility and plant seeds that will pay off later, both defensively and offensively but, as a consequence, for broader audiences as well.
Altruism is selfishness that plans ahead.  Empathy helps map the present and shade in the future.  When you see what consequences lie ahead, you can course-correct now to address them, rather than be stuck in an endless cycle of reactiveness.
When our back is to the future, consequences pull our strings.  It's when we turn and light the way forward that we become free.

Tuesday 4 November 2014

Gomeshi Culture, III: Broke Back Culture

We're hearing so much of this right now.  The Ghomeshi case has cracked the lid on the Pandora's Box of our laissez-faire culture of selfish complicity.  Everyone knew about Ghomeshi and did nothing.  Except those who warned their friends, which did something - protect a few, perhaps - but left the lead in the pipe to contaminate others.
But many of those who could and perhaps wanted to do something knew all too well that their efforts would face serious personal repercussions without any change to the culture that enabled wrongs to be committed.
Since this story broke, I've heard countless conversations - among friends, on the subway, on Twitter and of course, through posts like this - that while perhaps an extreme case, Jian Ghomeshi is not unique.  There are many, many people in positions of power who abuse their power and fuel their egos.  There are many, many victims who have been told "this is just the way things are" and "it's a dog eat dog world."
Like Dorian Grey, the predators, narcissists and egomaniacs put others down to make themselves feel more powerful.  Like parasite, they suck the energy and vitality of others and channel it into closing deals, wowing audiences or picking and winning fights.  It has always been thus, right?
And yet I keep coming back to two stories - that of Ludwig Topf and Adalbert Lallier.
Topft was a businessman who found great success by working the existent culture to his advantage.  He created superior products tailored to his clients needs and built the kind of connectivity that ensured him contracts.
It just happens that his clients were the SS and his product were ovens for Concentration Camps.
Everyone knew about Ghomeshi, or about some other person who abused power for personal gain.  Everyone looked away because they didn't want to get involved, or because they gained personally from the successes of that individual, or because they feared consequences, or because they simply didn't care.
I have no interest in blame.  We're all to blame.  We all have a litany of active or passive sins, as many as we have rationales for why we committed them.  I am often kept awake at night thinking of the wrongs I have committed or allowed to happen.  I'm also haunted by the significant repercussions I have faced in trying to redress structural wrongs.
Blaming isn't the answer.  Trying to wall ourselves off isn't the answer, because doing so implies the problem lies without, like seas of troubles lapping at our shores.
There are no shores, no silos, no us vs them.  There is only us. 
We are the progenitors of the problem - only we can present the solution.
It's been a long journey - and it's still going - but I've begun to see that concept of original sin which manifests itself in different ways through different cultures is a sociological metaphor for selfish, limbic behaviour.  Ignorance, reactive instinct, a tendency to aim for the quick win or the low-hanging fruit - that's where we start.  This is Plato's Cave, the Matrix of our own cognitive limitations.
Laissez-faire capitalism, the whole notion of "I want to be consequence free" and "live in the moment" are confabulated justifications for an abdication of social responsibility, for the need to plan ahead. 
Political Parties that burn bridges in the long run as they focus increasingly on the next election or at most the one after that are examples.  People who blow their leaves or shovel their snow onto the street, causing problems for everyone else are an example.  Collapsed buildings in Bangladesh, poverty, crime, people like Jian Ghomeshi and his victims are an example.
The solution has always, always been the same - the recognition of a whole that is more than the sum of its parts, the acceptance of our role as part of something greater.  Religion is, ultimately, about community.  Society, Parties, trade organizations, etc. are all about community.  When we see ourselves as part of a community, we feel individually empowered, individually loved and willingly support each other. 
This isn't a bad thing - it's a good thing.  Civilization is the product of collaboration - one idea builds on another, neighbours build houses together and share the fruits of their labour, problems are tackled with a "how might we?" attitude.
We have outgrown the social models that once held us together.  Urban centres aren't one community, but a collective of communities that may or may not feel any responsibility or connectivity to each other.  That's certainly the case in Toronto, as fractured an urban environment as any.  The global village is the same - we are so far removed from the wars that are byproducts of choices we make or choose not to make.  The people at the very top are so alienated from those at the bottom, they simply cannot understand why poor people don't just work harder.
Within this confused mass, we are lost.  Ghomeshi has catalyzed his own downfall, as have so many big names in recent years.  How many powerful people view happiness as a substance to be consumed?  How many people in the middle practice "fake it 'til you make it" in perpetuity, unsure of what the destination looks like?  How many souls feel completely alone, afraid and unsure of how to connect - and when they do, they are often targeted by predators seeking to take advantage of them?
The ultimate battle we face is one of biological evolution - culling the weak and constantly rewarding the most adaptable - against social evolution, the tool we have developed to gain control of our own destiny.
Social evolution is a product of consciousness; the recognition that we are not alone, of empathy, of a desire to add to rather than simply take away.
This is the challenge we face, the one being touched, elephant-like, in so many different ways.  It's equity, it's power abuse, it's crime and poverty, corruption, mental health, transit, work design, communication.
Consciousness is a terrible privilege, an expulsion from the simplicity of being.  It's is the responsibility to be more, to share the light with others. 
You are special.  That's your responsibility. 
Accepting this burden is the only way to be free.
It's the only way forward.

Monday 3 November 2014

Catalyst for Conscious Society?

We don't want productive conversations.  At best, we're Socratic - we want to pick at each other with the hope of chipping away some already-formed perfect solution.  At worst, we're focused on individual wins, on low-hanging fruit, on taking what we want when we want it.
Think about it for a second - we have lost of advice for what we label as underperformers or victims; for the people at the top, it's either accolades or attacks. 
We generally suck at the conversation thing, which makes sense - communication remains the greatest human challenge.
It's one that involves empathy, patience, a willingness to empower and invite.  To communicate is to be open, transparent, vulnerable.
To communicate is to create something new.
Predators have no patience or interest in communication - for them, communication is messaging, relationships are transactional and existant spoils are what go to the victor.
Any act of creation is an act of love, be it a child, an idea or a society.
Things to think about.

Empowering Women in Gomeshi Culture

On the surface, the substance of this article sounds good.  Some of the most amazing leader are women - we definitely want them to be successful.  And yes, the facts Rhonda Abrams brings up all have merit.
But there's more to the picture than this, isn't there?
Young women of colour with physical disabilities from marginalized communities can be as massively successful as a white male born to a rich, powerful family from a wealthy neighbourhood - in theory.  In reality, though, the challenges faced are much greater.
That's before you add in a culture of stigma, blaming, socio-economic factors, etc.  It's simplistic to simply tell Lazarus to get up and walk; we're not Jesus.
Yet that's what we do, isn't it?  We encourage people to throw off their shackles, and be free, when the reality is that those "shackles" aren't bonds, they are part of our developed cognitive selves and the cultural ecosystems we inhabit.
Plus, there are predators out there, looking to isolate and bring low.  Women are more likely to be targets; society is more likely to be a silent accomplice in abuse. 
And all this before we get to a sticking point which always stands out to me - how many successful people leave wakes of human detritus behind them?  Cause problems that others are forced to clean up?  Take without consideration of return?
For true leaders, money and power aren't the end game.  They are conduits to a goal.  Leaders never want to lose sight of what matters and put themselves first.  There's something parental about this instinct, but not strictly maternal - good dads are equally willing to make personal sacrifices for the well being of their kids and families.

There are no easy answers in this, no clear paths forward, no singular right and wrong.  The only thing that's definitive is that change is needed.

I'm glad we're having conversations about this.  It's time.


The Cusp of Prophecy

I am, I have been reliably informed, a "Sagittarius-Capricorn Cusp."  I'm not a believer in astrology - there are a whole host of factors that influence personality, ranging from genetics to experiential.  If season, gravitational pull, whatever else comes in conjunction with a specific time of the year plays a role in defining personality, it's one factor out of many.
So when a friend sent me this link and said "this is totally you" I had, to say the least, reservations.  Having said that, there are unquestionably some points below I can recognize as traits of mine. 

What do you think?

Those born on the Sagittarius-Capricorn Cusp will help shape the future. They have an innate talent for sensing the way things should go and bringing them to fruition. They begin preparing themselves
 early for what life may bring. Their motto is "Always be prepared." Not the most patient person on the block, they certainly appreciate those who agree with their plans. If they don't find the cooperation they need, they will forge on ahead on their own with no problem.

Sagittarius-Capricorn understands the power in silence. They have the ability to utilize this to help their cause. Unless they exercise caution, they may find themselves alienating those they work or live with.

Sagittarius-Capricorn needs to temper their intensity. This will allow them to control their moods rather than letting their moods control them. They need to focus on building and maintaining social relationships. If they are not careful, they will close themselves off.

Sagittarius-Capricorn is practical and optimistic. They are outgoing, and can be very friendly. Responsible and reliable, they are good to have at your side in a pinch. They like things to work in traditional ways. They have a great sense of humor. They like one-on-one competitions. They are devoted to their partners, and great fun to be around. They like to explore new things, and want to experience as many things as they can. Hard working, they are not easily deterred from their goals.

The Cusp of Prophecy is known to be trustworthy, self-reliant, loyal, ambitious, charming, practical, economical, shrewd, fun, responsible, warm, funny, optimistic, romantic, playful, and enthusiastic. They can also be blunt, impulsive, vain, aggressive and quick-tempered.
Individuals born on the Sagittarius-Capricorn cusp are inspired teachers, and they are very fond of children. They take astute observations, and make excellent critics, being just and fair. While they don't fall in love easily, once they do they are faithful to the end. They give their best and expect the best in return. Methodical and efficient, they complete every task to the best of their ability. They like to travel and have an affinity to language.

Sagittarius-Capricorn is a great thinker, and sometimes is gifted with prophecy to some degree. When these two signs work together in harmony, they have an unparalleled ability to create successful ideas and bring them to fruition. They have the determination to overcome whatever frustrations or obstacles as may arise along the way. If you really want to succeed, hitch your wagon to a Sagittarius/Capricorn Cusp to help you achieve your goal.


Your Patreonage is Welcome!

I keep being told that I should be making more money to write, as I write well and write often.

You'll get no argument from me - thing is, there's this little caveat of people who pay for writing only wanting you to write for them.  When you produce as much content as I do, the theory goes, why would anyone focus on one column on one forum when they can come here and get all they want (and more) for free?

I like to write, I'd like to make money writing, I can't do that unless I write less. 

Unless - you, dear reader, are interested in supporting me and what I do right here.

I have created a Patreon page for that specific purpose.  If you like what I do and enjoy popping by here either for a daily dose or in search of an obscure reference, your support would be appreciated.

It's a brave new world of engagement and civic patronage, isn't it?