Autonomy and the Flaw of Activism

I believe this one thing is the greatest fundamental driver of human behaviour. Every single person on the planet is either engaged in the intense pursuit of it, or in the unyielding defense of it. It’s theme is scattered throughout the documents that govern our politics, and in our greatest movie scripts. It is universally desired while almost as equally misunderstood.

It is our sense of autonomy. Or more commonly called freedom.

It is the essence of any great invention you’ve ever heard of. Facebook allowed us all the freedom to catch up with those old friends that otherwise we never would’ve heard from again. The VCR/DVD/Blu-ray gave us the freedom to have the movie experience without ever leaving our homes. The light bulb expanded our potential productive & leisure hours into the entire day. And the airplane gave us the freedom to go wherever we wanted on the entire planet.

It is always about freedom.

It’s why the world sprang into action when Trump got elected. There was/is this huge anxiety that many of the freedom’s we enjoy today are going to be taken away from us. And while the resulting overwhelming amount of activism has given me hope that the people can keep this government in check, it has also pointed out an enormous flaw within some of these movements.

There is this trending tactic of shaming people into becoming an activist for the cause that a particular person holds most dear. Like the BLM internet meme asking where all those Women’s March on Washington people were during their protests. Or when people who choose not to become politically active at all are told that their privilege is showing.

Being on the receiving end of shame definitely feels like an attack on who you are, and your sense of autonomy. The person shaming you is basically saying “Even though I truly have no idea about who you are, what you’ve been through, or what motivates you, you still have no right to behave this way.” If that doesn’t get your back up I don’t know what will.

However, please understand that this post is not a commentary on each movement as I am sure they are all just causes, but it takes all kinds of people to make this world go around. And to shame someone for not taking your approach to progress, requires the mistaken assumption that you, or anyone else for that matter, fully understands how progress happens.

There is merit in many approaches. I could form a human chain around the US embassy. Or I could simply make efforts to get along better with my neighbours and coworkers. Or maybe I could spend more time in meditation so I carry around less anxiety on daily basis. Everyone has their own way of impacting the world in a positive way that fits with who they are.

If you want to gain numbers for your particular cause you would have the greatest success by appealing to this sense of autonomy. To shame someone for not yet supporting your cause will definitely not encourage them to join you. You can never know why they aren’t down on the front lines protesting right beside you, but you can honour their right to do so. Because the front lines in the battle to protect our freedom are not down on the Washington mall, they are within our own minds.

Affirmative Action and the True Nature of Bias

Whenever the topic of affirmative action is brought up in conversation it is inevitable that both sides of the argument will get heated in the defense of their point of view:

“Why can’t we just hire the best person for the job?!”

“This is reverse discrimination!”

“We need to have gender parity in the work place!”

The policy of attempting to forcibly remove bias from a culture or company will always encounter its fair share of resistance. First of all, people do not want to admit that they have a bias. People enjoy thinking of themselves as a fair and level headed evaluator of the facts. To be guilty of bias is to be seen as a blind disregarder of reality in the pursuit of some underhanded hidden agenda.

The definition of bias from Merriam Webster’s online dictionary is as follows:

“an inclination of temperament or outlook; especially :  a personal and sometimes unreasoned judgment”

In modern vernacular ‘bias’ commonly refers to a particular point of view, and often is exclusively applied to what many would call “unreasoned judgment”. But in my own opinion, and even within the above definition, I see personal bias as a necessary ingredient in every single point of view. We all have a unique ‘inclination of temperament’, as Webster’s puts it, which has been shaped over many generations through two major factors: our genetics, and our environment.

I have often been accused of having an even temperament, and perhaps that indicates that I may be able to provide an unbiased opinion, but I would strongly protest that assertion should anyone ever make it. I have been shaped, just like everyone else, by the unique combination of my surroundings and the genetic code within me.

Simply the concept of bias points towards the false notion that there exists an ‘unbias’. That there is an average opinion, or a normal that we should strive for. To vilify bias is akin to saying that someone is too fat or thin, talks too much or too little, or is too lazy or work obsessed. These are all just qualities of being alive. These are the flavours of life. And so it is with our bias.

It’s difficult to even imagine what an unbiased opinion would look like. Without influence from one’s DNA or environment what is left to shape an individual’s thought’s on the world around them? A colourless painting could not be seen, and a flavourless dish could not be tasted. It is our bias that is undeniably and fundamentally part of our personal identity.

Unless you are an enlightened spiritual master that has transcended the idea of a personal self, you are equipped with a natural human bias. And unfortunately for us I think that any such guru would prefer to be meditating in the Himalayas rather than managing the hiring practices of some multinational corporation. This all leads to one undeniable conclusion:

“There is no such thing as an unbiased opinion!”

This is an incredibly important realization in the name of progress. Because no one gets to take the high road as the singular and ultimate source of truth. It levels the playing field. The best we can do is to realize that we ARE biased and to take the best objective look at the situation to locate that bias, and then take measures to fix it.

I take issue with anyone who defiantly believes that we should just hire the best person for the job. I find that approach drastically overestimates a person’s ability to find said “best person”. Anyone who has spent anytime interviewing and hiring new employees would surely agree that is incredibly difficult to determine the best candidate for almost any position. Sure there are fundamental skills and experiences that are required to do any particular job, but once you move past those you get into the intangible qualities that really make a person a great fit. And this territory is highly susceptible to personal bias.

Just for a moment imagine a hypothetical company with a current workforce that is 90% men and 10% women. It is inevitable that the internal hiring processes designed within this organization would be catered highly favourably towards hiring more men. Instituting an affirmative action policy that forcibly injected more women into this company would eventually result in a hiring practice that was fairer to both genders.

It is true that a company may get there on its own without such a sharp change in policy but it would likely take a much longer period of time, and even then it is not guaranteed. People may want to say 90% men work there because it just happens to be work that men find more appealing than women.

That would be putting the cart before the horse.

It is very likely that the 90% group of men that are employed there helped to ensure that any evolution in how work was performed was highly suited for themselves. To be clear I don’t believe at all that this would be done in a devious manner, it is simply a result of the nature of their reality. We all know that there are a million ways to skin a cat, who’s to say that one is better than the other when we haven’t given every approach a fair shot? Everyone not only deserves the opportunity to be a part of the workforce, but also to shape how the work is done.

Image courtesy of Lightspring/Shutterstock.com

 

The Diminishing Population of Progressive Thinkers

Martin Luther King was one of the greatest orators of any generation. Armed with that ability, and combined with an uncompromising belief in his values, he created a powerful movement that defied extraordinary odds. But just decades later racism remains a powerful force in the US, and throughout the world. We celebrate the man. We quote him often. But why have we not heeded his words?

Or maybe we have not understood them.

I don’t see a lot of people using light to drive out the darkness. I absolutely see the hatred of sexist and racist ideas. But that just feels like we are trying to use hate to drive out hate. My Facebook feed is littered with people of different ideas and values attacking one another on the subject of the day. And how often have these discussions resulted in someone changing their minds. I can’t think of a single example.

So what’s the best case scenario? That you win the argument and your opponent shuts up and goes into hiding? Well, maybe they will. And maybe that doesn’t seem so bad to you right now, compared to the alternative. But just because you can’t see them does NOT mean they are gone.

One of my newest beliefs is that progress is an illusion unless it includes everybody. Because there is this effect that I call the ‘diminishing population of progressive thinkers’.

Let me try to illustrate the concept below. Consider the following progressive chain of beliefs (along with the date it was realized in Canada – source here):

  1. Belief that homosexuality should be legalized (1969)
  2. Belief that homosexuals should be able to immigrate to Canada (1978)
  3. Belief that homosexuals should be able to serve openly in the military (1992)
  4. Belief that “sexual orientation” should be added to the Canadian Human Rights Act (1996)
  5. Belief that same sex couples should have the right to marry (July 20, 2005)

It is my theory that the people who support a certain belief will always be a subset of the previous level. Anyone who supports belief #5, also supports belief 1,2, 3, and 4. But someone who supports belief #1 does not necessarily support 2,3, 4, and 5. The result is that at any point in time the most progressive beliefs hold the fewest supporters. This is what I call the diminishing population of progressive thinkers.

When a society is going through a fundamental change in values, eventually the most progressive thinking can create a backlash from the most entrenched traditionalists. It happens when the gap between the traditionalist and the progressive becomes too wide. It is at this point that the traditionalist will dig in their heels and, because they have much greater numbers, force a halt or reversal in progress.

What really stood out for me in reviewing the timeline above is how long the process took, as well as the amount of resistance encountered. When we are fighting for change we need to primarily focus on getting a vast majority of the population on board with the base values of our movement before we can legitimately move forward in an irreversible way.

Progress moves like pulling a 300 pound rock up a hill with a bungee cord. If you sprint up the hill as fast as you can you are going to get suddenly, and dramatically, pulled right back to where you started, or even worse. As an evolving society we need to find that moment of tension where the static friction is broken and that rock begins to move.

We must keep our hands on the pulse of our country and maintain an alert awareness of where we stand. We need to understand the roots of those old ideas that won’t let go so we can meet them where they are, without the demands of what they should be. Then you can move that damned rock up the hill so it never goes back.

So does this resurgence of racism in the west mean that Martin Luther King has failed in his mission? Or was he simply too far ahead of his time? In the name of efficient and effective progress we need to close that gap with the people who disagree with our values. Because if we isolate ourselves with the people who only agree with us, we end up with a society that can never evolve. Like it or not, where-ever we are going, we are going there together.

Was Donald Trump a Necessary Evil in the Name of Progress?

Can we all pretend for a moment that things just went slightly differently on Tuesday night?

Let’s say two results changed: First let’s imagine 60,000 Trump votes in Florida switched to Hillary, and second that she received 70,000 more votes in Pennsylvania. That gives her enough seats to win. If this was the case, and assuming the results were accepted and Trump conceded, life would soon continue on much as it was under Obama.

America would have quickly reverted back to pretending that the racist and sexist portion of their population was a distant minority. And they would have got back to pretending that an economy that’s rebounding nationally is obviously good for everyone regionally. And this ‘Trump supporting’ part of population would once again feel ignored, and retreat back into those communities where they are surrounded by people who believe what they believe.

America could then comfortably go back into denial about who they really are. Yes, there are plenty of wonderful qualities about Americans. They have this wonderful spirit of entrepreneurship, of sticking up for those that can’t stick up for themselves, and strong beliefs in freedom and opportunity. But like all of us, they have a dark side. And you can never conquer your darkest demons until you are forced to admit they exist.

Getting back to reality, with those painful results from Tuesday night America can’t hide from it anymore. They are like an alcoholic who finally has to admit they have a problem. But the truly wonderful thing about recognizing your problem is that this is a place of redemption. And it is the only place where real progress happens. You would never make great strides towards that future utopia absent of racism and sexism until you stop fooling yourself into believing they’re not there. Yes these are dark times, but this is rock bottom and the only way left is up.

Unfortunately the prototypical American approach for expediting change seems to be confrontation and brute force. They send troubled kids off to boot camp, yell at each other on talk shows, or troll the comments on social media. But this will NEVER work for values. Ultimately, this just pushes people into hiding until they see an opportunity to emerge again, likely with opinions more entrenched and extreme than ever.

American politics is also incredibly divisive. This is because of extremely long campaigns, an adversarial two party system, and relentless 24/7 news coverage. But in spite of all of these forces pushing the two sides apart, now more than ever we need a reason to come together.

Because I believe our potential for progress is directly reflected in the strength of our desire to find common ground. To get to that place where we are talking about values we need a starting point. And I believe we can all agree on a fundamental need for the following: Peace and Prosperity. Because during wartime people vote about peace, in peacetime people vote about prosperity, but in peaceful & prosperous times people vote about values.

Donald campaigned on, amongst other things, achieving prosperity in Middle America. Hillary’s camp retorted with talk about his values. But if you are concerned about getting food on the table you don’t give two shits about values. Just like if you are at war and a bomb might fall on your house, you don’t give two shits about jobs.

If you create a world where people are confident that there will always be a roof over their head, and food for their family, then and only then will everyone be willing to have open discussions on their values.

This is achieved in basically two ways. Social programs or job creation. If Donald can successfully create more well-paying jobs in Middle America then we should all rejoice because that brings us closer to that place where we can finally have meaningful discussion about values. The country then becomes an environment in which the root causes of sexism and racism can begin to be addressed in ways that will truly affect change.

Lets not kid ourselves either. The change from wartime to peacetime can be quick, repairing a broken economy and creating job can take years, but changing peoples core values takes generations and we must be patient.

In the meantime Americans must be more vigilant than ever in defending those core values. Because, as of January 20th, 2017, they won’t be represented in the Oval office. It will truly be a difficult time to be a Muslim, Black, Hispanic, or even a Woman in the US right now and they need us not only by their side, but standing on the front lines.

Four Basic Areas of Need

I think I have a slight addiction to constantly looking at the same problem from different perspectives….

The general approach I have been taking up to this point is basically this:

  • Find out what I am best at
  • Use it to say or do something important
  • Turn that into a career
  • Become incredibly successful!

Easy right?

In my latest iteration of trying to figure out what I should do I decided to abandon the constraint of immense success and get right down to the very basic needs of my life. What is the simplest perspective I could take for determining my requirements for happiness?

In doing so I came up with the follow four basic areas of need and a description of what each entails. They are, in order of importance:

  1. Health of the family unit – Relationship with my wife and children, with our extended families, having sound parenting tactics & strategies, having regular activities, and being a family that eats well
  2. Being a good provider – Have a functioning home where repairs are done promptly, keeping our cars well maintained, doing my job well, and having a balanced budget
  3. Having an outlet for Self-Expression – Having a creative outlet like blogging or video editing, and dressing nicely or in a way that is more reflective of who I am.
  4. Having fun along the way – Going to movies, building a home theater, taking full advantage of living in Ottawa/Manotick, planning more date nights, building and cultivating friendships.

After coming up with this list I wondered ‘If each of these four items were functioning at a high level, how would I feel?’ The answer was that I would be pretty damn happy!

I don’t need this immense success I thought I desired. I don’t need to change the world. I don’t need massive accolades or financial success. I really just want a simple life where these basic needs are met.

I think that when there is a feeling of helplessness in any one of these categories you begin to overcompensate in the others. Having a young family can certainly exacerbate such a feeling.

Having kids definitely was a shock to the system. All the free time I had for simply having fun went ‘Poof’! Much of the extra money we had for unplanned house repairs is now spoken for. And the level of stress in our home went way up with a dramatic decrease in sleep quality, not to mention the constant attention required during daylight hours.

The way I reacted was to hone in on that ‘Self Expression’ aspect and try to make it solve all of my problems. If I could do something that would lead to extreme success, then I could leverage those results to fix everything else, right???

But upon reflection I don’t really want that at all. I am very optimistic about looking specifically at those four aspects and making sure I am always doing something that is helping me improve in each one. It seems so much more achievable, and that in itself is all the motivation I need.