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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.

Thursday, 24 April 2014

Social Emotional Resilience and the Psychology of Open Government

As any psychotherapist would say, the three leaders need to own up - and open up.

Under that shared spotlight, their political pathologies - and ideologies - will be on full display.  We'll see how they debate one another.

And how they interact with us as viewers and voters.  After all, we're also part of that group dynamic.

Sometimes, you can't but smile.

Martin Regg Cohn's article makes great points in and of itself, but there's something about it's framing that I particularly enjoy.

Dysfunctional government in need for group therapy to heal pathology/structural issues?

The notion of psychology - the study of the mind, i.e. mental health, being applied to social engagement in general and politics in particular?

And lastly, the whole idea of opening up, coming clean, being direct - and respecting each other and the public enough to maybe have an honest, rhetoric-free debate about the issues that faces us all?

How, pray tell, could such an ideal scenario be realized?

Funny you should ask, because there are people working on that right now.

You could be one of them.

To learn more about the emerging reality of mental health, resilience and productivity in the workplace, the changing (and improving) nature of communication and the massive potential of cross-sectoral, shared solution generation, stay tuned.

We've got something coming down the pipe that you're going to love.

Sins of the Father: Tribalism and the Armenian Genocide

He did this after being forced to visit to Ohrdruf, a labour camp not far beyond city limits.  This visit was demanded by one General Eisenhower, who at the time was Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Forces. 

It was Germany, 1945 - the end of World War II.  Ohrdruf was a sub-camp of Buchenwald, one of the Nazis' infamous Concentration Camps and the setting of the attempted genocide traditionally referred to as The Holocaust.

I know a bit about Buchenwald.  In fact, I was there but a week ago, celebrating the 69th Anniversary of the camp's liberation by Eisenhower's forces.  My grandfather, as you may know, spent time in Buchenwald as an inmate. 

While other Allied soldiers experienced the atrocities of Buchenwald in the immediate aftermath (due to a very wise decision by Eisenhower), my grandpa was one of 168 Allied Airmen who were there at the peak of the Camp's operation.

I've heard the faith-shattering stories from many, many survivors: the inhuman conditions of the camp, the dehumanizing treatment by the SS and Camp Kapos, the illness, starvation and being worked to death.  And always, the constant plume of smoke rising from the crematorium's chimney.

Buchenwald rests on the far side of a hill visible from Weimar, once the centre of German intellectualism.  The smoke from that chimney would have been visible to the naked eye of the people of Weimar.  It's hard to imagine the gunshots from the hill wouldn't have echoed as far of the town as well.

The people of towns like Weimar and Gotha would have known, or at least have had ample evidence to piece together what was happening just beyond their borders.  Yet they chose not to see, not to hear - they didn't want to be responsible.

But they were responsible.  In turning a blind eye and by their inaction, they chose to do nothing and evil triumphed. 

At least for a time. 

The war ended, atrocities came to light and consequences began to be felt.  The people of Weimar were made to visit Buchenwald and see what exactly they'd turned a blind eye to.  When they could no longer deny what had happened - when they were forced to look upon the horrors they had permitted to happen in their midst - they wept.

Times have changed in Germany; now, the City of Weimar has pledged to condemn and fight against such tyranny in the future.  It doesn't matter whether such matters are federal in nature.  Matters of jurisdiction don't matter any more - what's morally just does.

The same holds true of a new initiative in Spain seeking to create a community of municipalities that declare themselves anti-Fascist.  Municipalities are realizing that, while their federal counterparts get mired in the complexities of foreign affairs and strategic diplomacy, they are unfettered in their ability to stand up for what's right.

Today, when my grandfather and other Buchenwald survivors from across the globe return to Weimar, they are greeted as friends.  These survivors, in turn, view the people of Weimar as friends.  In fact, some of the best friends we have are young Germans who volunteer their time to support commemoration efforts because they feel exactly the same way we do; the Holocaust happened, it was horrible, and it's up to all of us to remember the past and prevent it from happening again.

One of the most important lessons my grandfather has taught me is that it is wrong to blame the child (or grandchild) for the sins of the father.  It's possible that one of my German friends is the grandchild of an SS guard who worked in Buchenwald - I don't care.  I know who they are, what they believe in, and that's what matters to me.

The Armenian Genocide was just that - a systematic and intentional attempt to eradicate an entire people.  It was immoral, wrong, inhuman and those who perpetrated the massacre of 1.5 million Armenians deserve to be remembered for all time for what they did.

But it happened in 1915, a very long time ago.  None of the Turkish politicians fighting against the Armenian Genocide being called what it is were alive when it happened.  They are not to blame for the sins of a past generation.

Look, I get their concerns.  People by and large are still tribal - we generalize people all the time and heap whole hosts of assumptions and lineages of the past.  Politics in particular is bad for this - Parties will take credit for the work done a century ago by people who had completely different perspectives than they did, while equally tarring opponents with the negative legacies of anyone who shared their brand once upon a time.

In a tribalized view of the world, a Turk is a Turk and an Armenian an Armenian - ne'er the twixt shall meet, each generation carries the weight of their tribal past.  By the same token, in a tribalized view of the world, there's us, who are real people, and them, who aren't.  

The Nazis didn't view Jews or Poles or Homosexuals as fellow human beings - they dehumanized them, which is why they were able to to treat them like animals.  The same held true for the Turks who killed Armenians, or the Americans who massacred First Nations, or any other ethnic conflict anywhere in the world.  

Tribalism perpetuates false divisions and dehumanizes anyone you can describe as not like you, which is a group that invariably grows larger the more you pursue a path of exlcusion.

But the world isn't tribalized any more, is it?  There are children out there of mixed Turkish, Armenian, Dutch and whatever else descent who don't view themselves as the embodiment of one lineage, but the progenitors of something new.

My children are a mutt-mix of European lineages, plus a couple strands of East Asian.  How do they self-identify?  As Canadian.

To me, that's the whole point of Canada - we're not a competing tribe.  We're not a monochrome people.  We are a confluence of every ethnicity, every ideology, every religion and every way of looking at the world.

By virtue of being a bit of everyone, we don't have the luxury of cherry-picking arguments or picking one side over another.  The very mix of our population forces (or at least, should force) us to look at the bigger picture, empathize, take the time to understand and focus on what we can learn from the past to improve the future.

This has been a trend this week which has carried through writings by Don Lenihan and Andrew Coyne; we must get passed entrenched ideologies, we must embrace this thing called responsibility. 

Today's young Germans are no more the perpetrators of the Holocaust than today's young Turks caused the Armenian genocide or young Canadians build the residential school system.  But we do have responsibility to learn from these sad chapters of history so that we don't repeat the mistakes of our forefathers.

Fortunately, this is starting to happen.  In fits and spurts, the people are recognizing that they aren't tied to one history, nor one brand; even in Turkey,Young Turks are pushing back against the official denial of the Armenian Genocide.

It's unfortunate that we have a rising tide of politicians taking the "not my problem" approach once favoured by the Mayor of Gotha.  It's not going to work out very well for them in the long run.

Fortunately, we have a growing mass of individuals stepping out of the dark cave of tribal identity and seeing the world for what it is - a complex dynamic environment that doesn't live in the past, but rather evolves rapidly into the future.

As always, it will be our governments shaming us either through "strategic" positioning in places like the Ukraine or "strategic" ignoring of crises such as that in Syria or the Sudan.

It takes an engaged people who recognize that not knowing isn't an option to speak truth to power and break the sway of tribalism.

One day, we will be the mothers and fathers whose actions will be discussed by our grandchildren.  Instead of focusing on what someone did in the past, maybe it's time we start thinking about what legacy we want to leave behind ourselves.

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Blood Economics, Social Conscious

Progressively Growing Beyond the Short Pants

This post on elected officials, accountability and social responsibility by Don Lenihan makes a great companion piece to Andrew Coyne's article on free speech and sociology-committing from yesterday.
Come again?
What's the connection between Parliamentarians speaking truth to power and everyone putting in the effort to understand each other?
Exactly.  We have a system that is increasingly slanted towards competition, which is not the same thing as debate.  When you're rushing to get ahead, you aren't interested in solving structural problems; you're only interested in getting what you can for yourself.
Parliament, for instance, has become steadily more competitive, with partisan tribalism usurping the democratic process.  Has it resulted in better solutions, greater civic engagement or even constructive dialogue?
Nope.  The reverse has happened; our democracy is actually atrophying as it is more and more neglected.  We're getting narrower solutions that serve smaller percentages of the population, leading to worsening outcomes and beyond that, more and more people tuning out of politics entirely.
Or worse - charting their own path outside our system without the checks and balances democracy provides.
We know what happens when too much power concentrates in one place, because we've seen it happen countless time before.  The inevitable result is the societal equivalent to an aneurysm that negatively impacts the whole system.
Which is the key word here - system.  Like gravity, it doesn't matter how much we choose to deny the reality that society is a system and we are all part of that system - it remains true nonetheless.  An objectivist view that denies there's any such thing as society theoretically fosters a competitive world where the strongest survive, but society isn't a food chain, it's an organism.  When parts of the system are neglected, the whole suffers.
You don't cure an illness by treating the symptoms any more than you solve lead poisoning without looking up the pipe to see where the lead is coming from.
It's not the boys in short pants that are the problem, nor is it the politicians or even the public.  People are people and, surprisingly enough, have a tendency to act like people.  We aren't rational super beings with an meta-conscious ability not to be impacted by biology and environmental factors - prick us and we bleed, wrong us and we'll seek justice.
But when a problem repeats itself, one-off justice won't be enough; we'll start looking for causes and solutions.  That's when competition starts to bleed into query and, eventually, comprehension.
Then, everything changes.
We're not quite at that point yet - but we're getting there.

Baby steps, don't you know.

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Free Speech, Social Resilience

Positive Psychology, as a brand, still hasn't caught on yet - it sounds too airy-fairy, to pop-science. 

Self-regulation and social-emotional literacy, however, are terms that are steadily gaining traction.

In a nutshell, the purpose of such practices is this - to develop a certain amount of self-consciousness, understanding how and why certain external stimuli, like words said in your direction impact you the way you do.

Behavioural Economics seeks to do the same thing, but from a macro level.  So does industrial psychology.  

The goal is no longer to weed out the weak through tough competition; it's to support strength and resilience through education, relationship development and space/work organization.  Which is what design thinking is all about.

Does this trend make you anxious?  Does it feel like someone's slipping something into your water, trying to wrest your individuality away from you?  

I'm sorry to hear that and understand how discomforting that feeling must be.  If it makes you feel any better, that's a problem your grandkids won't have to deal with.


Think Before You Speak: ONW and the #onpoli NDP

Wow.  Just wow.

The article in question is a piece by Susanna Kelley that suggests the Ontario NDP have come to the conclusion it is no longer in their strategic partisan interests to prop up the governing Liberal Party.  It mentions specific rationale and references an email sent by the NDP to their local riding associations.  

It's pretty specific stuff that isn't too hard to fact-check.  Fact-checking, of course, is one of those things that journalists do.  Their integrity and relationship with their readers kinda depends on them being right.

So when Gilles Bisson suggests that the substance of Susanna's article is a complete fabrication, it's kind of a big deal.  

He is questioning her integrity and reliability - essentially, telling her audience that she has no competence to do the job she is paid to do.

And has done, for years.  Successfully.  Since before the NDP team bought their first copy of The War Room.

Full disclosure - I know Sue and consider her a friend.  I, like many in and around Ontario politics respect her a great deal.  She's been in this business for a lot longer than the NDP's current communication staff and has earned her reputation as an honest, dedicated journalist.

I have no doubt that the truth will out on this; emails will surface, other journalists will corroborate Sue's story and in a worst-case scenario for the NDP, someone in their camp is going to have to backtrack on Bisson's comments.

That's all a given.  What's more interesting to me is why on earth the NDP would have issued such a blistering response so quickly without having talked to Susanna herself first.

This hints at a trend in politics that communications folk should be paying attention to.

Whether it's Rob Ford lying about his crack use or any number of denials at the federal and provincial levels about who ordered who to do what, the truth keeps coming out.  

Invariably, someone in authority ends up with egg on their face and the public's disenfranchisement with politics as a whole grows.

Yet it doesn't matter how many other people get rolled over by their own spin - the communications whizzes in the backrooms of politics keep figuring they're too smart to get caught or everyone else is to dumb to catch them in the act.

I think this in no small part has to do with the fact that politics as a whole has morphed into an industry that's almost strictly about sales (instead of debate).  Whether it's talking points in Legislatures, fundraising letters to Party members or attack ads online, political messaging goes one way only, from the inside out.

The trend has increasingly been to hit fast, hit hard, never waver in your message and never give your opponent time to breathe.

We know what the problem with this model is; it's been widely recognized as one of the structural failings hobbling our society and economy, resulting in poorly-conceived policy decisions.

When your only tool is a hammer, you tend to view every problem as a nail.  War Room politics has essentially turned every critic, even friendly ones, into enemies to be hammered.  

It may be effective for countering foes in the short-term, but in the long-term the result is lost relationships, lost respect and as such, less opportunity to gain the meaningful insight that only comes through a healthy debate of the issues.

So here's a bit of age-old wisdom for partisan communicators - think before you speak.  Listen and consider before you react.  

And for God's sake, don't be afraid to talk with (not just at) the person challenging you.  They may have a point you haven't considered, and you might have one they overlooked.  Either way, you'll learn valuable lessons that could help you avoid such conflicts in the future.  You don't get that when you operate strictly in a vacuum chamber.

Oh - and you might just save yourself some embarrassment down the road.  After all, if you find yourself in the position of having to deny something that's true, maybe you shouldn't be doing it in the first place.

Monday, 21 April 2014

A Chretien Quote for the Ages

That line resonates with me on so many levels.  What I like the most, I think, is the idea of Kinsella asking for permission to do the right thing, but for an adversary - and his boss putting the common good above all else.

It could have been a golden opportunity to inflict all kinds of brand-damage on an opponent.  In today's political climate, it almost certainly would have been.

But that's not what leadership is about.  Leaders are never willing to put a short-term win ahead of the long-term sustainability of the whole.

There's a lesson in here for any aspiring political leaders out there.

That's what leadership is all about.