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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.

Wednesday 3 December 2014

Moving Forward Together Means No Hands Left Behind

I find this offensive.

Canadians who most need mittens don't have the money to buy them.  Any party that is committed to helping those in need show it by putting their money where there mouth is.

When I first saw the headline, I assumed it was for a charitable giving program - donate and XX amount of money would go to mittens for those in need.

Boy, was I wrong.

The LPC has done a masterful job of cribbing from the CPC's fundraising book.  I worry about what it's cost them in terms of priorities.

“The Liberal Party of Canada is committed to keeping Canadians’ hands warm, and snug this winter.
“That’s why, for the next 2 days only, everyone who donates $100 (just $25 after your tax credit), or more, will receive a special thank you gift: me!
“Canadians are suffering enough under Conservative rule. There is no reason they should endure frostbite too.
“Don’t wait -- warm up now!”
(That’s just 75 cents after your tax credit!)


Donor name: Craig
Mittens fundraising drive status: PENDING
Will Craig’s hands be cold this winter: Yes. Brrrr!
(That’s just 75 cents after your tax credit!)
Canadians want a better government -- that’s what our movement is all about -- but we can’t deliver change without you, Craig.

How Politics Kills the Good Samaritan and...


Friends, we are facing a great threat.  The Other Guy will take away everything you hold dear.  There isn't much time; your dollars, votes and other passive, non-critically thinking forms of support will ensure that Infallible Leader can keep the barbarians at bay and ensure manna for everyone, or at least ensure everyone has enough tax breaks to buy manna. 
Except those who are lazy, but they don't count anyway.  Can't commit sociology on a time crunch.
Modern politics, you see, is an experiment in behvioural economics.  Everything about the process is designed to catalyze passive actions and convince you that only Smokey can put out forest fires.
Add to that the growing narrative of competiveness emerging as those with resources become less and less inclined to give or do anything that doesn't show an immediate ROI.  Sacrifice is so inefficient, after all. 
The best social program is to throw 'em in the deep end and maybe sell them a rope if they've got the cash.
Politics is increasingly about the Divine Right of leaders and their court; civil society is increasingly each man for himself.  That's the lay of the land.
Is there room in this picture for Good Samaritans, or Every Day Political Citizens?
More than room, there's a need.  Yes, the system is designed to test, discourage, demoralize, defund and even vilify them, but that says more about the system than the social need.
Because when a storm hits, the vertical ladder doesn't matter.  Money, title and tightly scripted messaging no longer hold sway.
Leadership does.
When an individual has time, they may do good.  When they place their hand on a religious text or are asked to speak about altruism, their actions will subtly change to reflect.  That's basic behavioural economics.
What inspires culture change, however, is even more subtle, yet powerful beyond measure.
Politics creates false tensions and seeks to convince people they are helpless.  When a crisis hits, though, leaders emerge to show people what they, and only they, are collectively capable of.

The Master doesn't talk, she acts. When her work is done, the people say, “Amazing: we did it, all by ourselves!” -Lao-tzu.

The Hero Sacrifice


What makes a hero?  A hero, by general definition, is one who does good deeds above and beyond the call of duty.  A soldier risking their life in war isn't a hero, as that's their duty; a soldier repeatedly placing themselves in the line of fire to rescue wounded comrades is.  A whistleblower does the same thing, albeit they face a different kind of risk.
What inspires a hero?  Heroes put others first.  They eat last.  They do whatever they can, even at personal sacrifice, so that others are safe and secure.  They give the shirt off their back, even if it leaves them in the cold.  Heroes are driven to sacrifice for the good of others.
Which is a bit like committing sociology.
We inhabit a laissez-faire capitalist system that rewards bluster, aggression and functionally-fixed determination to make the sale, get the win, close the deal.  We look down upon, even dehumanize those who aren't successful at playing this game. 
Scott Gilmore's recent (and much-criticized) article on why women need to hustle is a perfect example of this.  Women, he argues, don't succeed at politics because they're not aggressive or selfish enough.  That's a bad thing in politics - you need to be less about sociology and more about winning.
You can't have it all, he says.
No you can't.  And we have a system that rewards those who want what they want and are willing to get it, whatever the cost to others, including family.  After all, if you're wealthy enough you can just buy daycare.
Take a look at the current Conservative Government.  They don't believe in heroes; they believe in success, in people doing what they're paid for and in utter self-reliance.  Despite the number of self-proclaimed Christians in their Caucus, the concept of altruism and community don't seem to register with them in any manner beyond talking points.
So too the tough alphas on Wall Street - money buys them power and invincibility.  It's there for anyone to take, but as nobody does, they take it for themselves.
Is it no wonder that selfish politicians and greedy businessmen are often stereotyped as bad guys in popular fiction?
Yet the reverse is equally true.  For those fully engrained in the social model of laissez-faire capitalism, altruists are harmful to the greater good.  They prop up the weak, meaning the weak never learn to stand on their own two feet.  Plus, the rewards of success, even selfish excess, are earned.  If anyone has a problem with that, that's what law suits are for.
To the selfish, what we generally identify as a hero becomes the villain, a rabble-rouser upsetting the social order.  Especially because the aggressively successful people believe that selfish motivation is the only motivation, they read into the behavior of heroes and seek hidden agendas. 
Because nobody gives away something for nothing, right?
The aggressively selfish and the compulsively altruistic are outliers.  Most people just want to get by.  They want peace, order, etc.  As such they are willing to let a lot slide by, so long as they feel they're getting their relative due.  Part of this includes getting away with whatever bits of selfishness they think they can, in small ways; racing yellows, leaving coffee cups on store shelves, sneaking in to the subway without paying.
The rationalization for this is that if it really mattered, there's be immediate consequences for such actions, or their are people paid to deal with such actions, etc.
Which is why we can be uncomfortable when called on for misbehaviours, small or gross.  We look for ways to call those who challenge us hypocrites, so as to minimize the impact of their words and reinforce the status quo.
These consequences do not and cannot stop the heroes among us, nor will they be swayed by the possibility of being labeled the villain, the social disrupter.  It's a compulsion, altruism, that stems from a sense that the whole matters more and that worth is something contributed to, not internalized.
We have a culture that, from top to bottom, seeks to tear down heroes.  It's laissez-faire society at it's finest; for a hero to rise, they have to run and survive the gauntlet of social apathy that stands against them.
With one little caveat; secretly, we all long for heroes.  We just don't want to be them.  We imagine heroes to be super-human, even divine, able to take the weight of our responsibilities and our faults from us in passive fashion, so that we don't really need to make an effort ourselves.
Of course, there are no supermen out there to cure our diseases, punish our enemies in a way that doesn't invite retribution or absolve us of our sins. 
There is only us.
And so, unfortunately, our heroes tend to be viewed as villains, or novelties.  They do what they feel they must, and we do to them what we feel we must, so as to keep the deck chairs aligned, even if they stand on a burning platform.
Until, that is, they become something more.


Tuesday 2 December 2014

Capitalism Gone Wild: Cuddles For Higher

“It’s a department desperately in trouble . . . they’ve really got to change the culture of it,” said Stogran, who commanded ground troops in Afghanistan and later served as veterans ombudsman.

Weak public servants, clearly.  They're all less than human for their sociological needs.  All should be action-oriented and money-focused!

And yet.
 It's not a bad thing this - a woman has recognized a demand, crafted a solution and is selling it.  That's fundamentally how our economics is supposed to work.  Supply and demand.  Even those who view prostitution as criminal shouldn't have anything against cuddles.
Maybe, instead of offering tax cuts to service providers who need more care than that, hug vouchers could be a thing.

Mental Health: The challenge of the public service


Mental Health: The challenge of the public service

Bill Wilkerson
The government workplace is especially toxic. Public servants are off work due to diagnosable mental disorders at a rate 300% higher than the general workforce.– Bill Wilkerson, co-founder of the Global Business and Economic Roundtable on Addiction and Mental Health
How to avoid the “Domino effect”? Let the government workplace be where the solution to modern-day chronic job stress is found instead of serving as a uniquely productive source of that stress.
In this brain-based economy, the business case for mental health is fundamentally a challenge of asset management. The asset is the cognitive capacity, cerebral skill sets, emotional intelligence, resilience and mental health of managers and employees up and down the organizational chart.
"Mental disorders are by far the most important illness for people of working age," declares the London School of Economics. In Canada, among people at work, mental illnesses account for nearly half of all disability-related work absence. According to Bill Wilkerson, co-founder of the Global Business and Economic Round­table on Addiction and Mental Health, the Government of Canada’s workplace is especially toxic. Here are excerpts from his address to the delegates at the PIPSC AGM in 2012. Public servants are off work due to diagnosable mental disorders at a rate 300% higher than the general workforce; 48% of all disability claims in the federal workplace are due to depression.
Does the federal government have a psychologically healthy workplace? Here’s how to tell. Are management practices in the federal government protecting or jeopardizing 30 years of gains in physical health and safety against the incursion of a new era of "psycho-social risks"? These risks manifest themselves in chronic job stress, embedded frustration, and pervasive uncertainty on a large scale.
Other questions which reveal whether the government workplace is psychologically healthy include the following. Are organizational objectives and expectations well understood by employees? Are employees given the tools and some discretion over how they perform the work asked of them? Are employees encouraged to ’whistle blow’ on workplace practices that abuse emotional well-being and mental resilience, therby impeding output?
Can a culture of resilience replace cultures of angst and tension? Are commitments to fostering job fulfilment an evident part of the employment contract? Do corporate values put a premium on trust and fairness? Are employees encouraged and trained to understand their role and place in the big picture of the organization and its future? Do policies put work/life balance on the "to do" list of every executive, manager and employee?
At a time of severe economic uncertainty, the choices that employers make – even necessary choices – must be carried out in a manner that reflects human decency, nourishes human dignity, recognizes the purpose and value of work done, and protects all public employees against public stigmatization. This last point is acutely relevant to "civil servants" – as the public refers to these hard-working people.
Has the Government of Canada stigmatized its own employees? The answer must be yes.
This happens when job cuts are announced as "good" news for the country instead of painful adjustments to painful realities. The "cuts" are made in a tone and fashion that "plays to" negative, public stereotypes of "civil servants." Case in point: as a concept, "affected employee" letters can be an important tool to protect employees’ rights and to be clear about what’s happening.
But when "affected employee" letters are sent to very large numbers of employees when decisions about who stays and who goes are months away, this is a good idea gone bad – a healthy concept that has become diseased.
This approach to managing the "cuts" corrupts the integrity of the employment contract by putting all employees – those who stay and those who go – into untenable positions of gross uncertainty – one unto the other. This creates an arbitrary line between what the future means for some and not for others, while rendering uncertain who will be on what side of that line and imposing on all employees the extra demands of the condition we can call "Affected Letter Disease".
Stylised persons falling one on to the other to demonstrate the Domino effect
This syndrome attacks employees’ self worth, concern for their families, their need to know, their idea of fairness, their trust in the employer, and their appetite to do good work that makes a difference.

Employee representatives can challenge this particular approach to managing the "cuts" as inappropriate and unsound for the promotion, protection and maintenance of "mental health in the workplace" of federal public servants.
"Affected Letter Disease" has the earmarks of an insidious kind of pressure that can eat away long-term at the morale and good health of federal employees on a larger scale. In that light, "Affected Letter Disease" is arguably a public health risk to the workplace of the government and to the employees labouring there. Certainly, at a time of great pain for many, it is a cruel and unusual form of management.
The federal government spends hundreds of billions of dollars a year on public health, medical research, health care services, employee health benefits and disability insurance and then proceeds to contradict that investment by running a workplace where nearly half of all employees off work due to illness or injury are disabled by depression.
The Mental Health Commission has brought forward standards for psychologically healthy workplaces. The federal government paid for this, and for the Commission itself. The Public Health Agency has informed Canadians that the rise of chronic disorders is public health issue number one in Canada. The federal government paid for this research and, of course, for the Agency over all.
One way or another, federal monies have been used to help Canadians become more informed about the advent of non-infectious and chronic conditions as a defining health question of the 21st century.
So, on one level, the federal government seems to understand there is a mental health crisis facing this country. On the other hand – very close to home – it is blind to its complicity – as an employer – in generating the kinds of health risks that contribute to the crisis in the first place. Chronic job stress is a bona fide workplace health hazard today, no more so than in the federal workplace and other public sector workplaces.
In the federal public workplace, we see garish evidence of pervasive uncertainty, employee isolation, injurious human interaction and bloodless bureaucratic rigidity. In this light, the management and stewardship of public administration in this country is sliding from being something we were proud of to something we should be afraid of because it is claiming the well-being of people employed there. Through the slow grind of layered, anti-common sense, and bloodless administrative evolution of federal workplace practices, we now see a psychopathic bureaucracy in charge – not a bureaucracy of psychopaths – but a runaway "system" of handling human affairs in a less than humanizing way. This round of "e-cuts" is being handled in a manner that contradicts the ethical standards many senior public servants in Canada actively represent.
In the federal workplace, managers must learn to motivate, not disintegrate the cognitive capacities of employees, and learn how to exercise fairness and common sense when carrying out the very difficult decisions of expensive job cuts. By any measure, lay-offs should be conducted with a clear regard for human dignity, decency, and the right to know. Dragging this process out in this way is bad for both those who lose their jobs and those who remain behind. It could be different.
George Bernard Shaw once memorably wrote that some see the world as it is, and ask "why?" Let’s see the world as it might be and ask "why not?" Let’s follow the great man’s lead.
Can we not see in the future, a federal workplace – a public sector workplace – that is psychologically healthy and psychologically safe?
The Government of Canada – the country’s largest employer – should be the first in line to pilot the new national standards for psychologically healthy workplaces introduced in January 2013 by the Mental Health Commission of Canada.
Let the federal workplace – and public sector workplaces everywhere – demonstrate "leadership by example" in building a new and durable model for psychological health and safety. Let the government workplace be where the solution is found to modern-day chronic job stress instead of serving as a uniquely productive source of that stress.

The Cultural Divide

- Kathryn Borel
- Scott Gilmore
The problem, according to one: we have a permissive culture that enables successful people who do bad things, so long as they don't get caught in a way that can't be buried.  The people in positions of power need to be open, accountable, introspective and empathetic.
The problem, according to the other: the people who aren't being represented by the institution are part of the problem, because they aren't stepping up.  It's all on them to mount whatever obstacles in front of them ('cause hey, we all have 'em) and get ahead in the same way as those who are successful do.  Accountability?  That's called results.  The only focus you should have is success.  Empathy is too much like trying to have it all.
I'm intentionally not positioning this as a female vs male thing, though that's an easy generalization to make.  You could use this same frame for any marginalized community.
I also don't want this to be seen as a left vs right thing, because that doesn't cover it either.  Politics is a blood sport and the way success is achieved, regardless of party, is through the same practices.
It all leads to the same place. 
Our society is fractured, because we deny it exists.  Our relationships are frayed, because we tell ourselves they don't matter.  Our future is at risk, because we're focused on the now.  None of it is sustainable.