Leanings toward heresy

Complex and Simple
By acknowledging that societal issues and solutions are complex, do we then believe complex solutions are the only options? Is it true that a complex issue cannot have a simple solution?

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Data
Data is neither good nor bad. It offers no explanation and on its own cannot provide a definitive sense of progress or under performance. We determine such judgement by holding pieces of data in comparison to one another. We are selective. We have to be, but what we select is also always about what we do not select.  I suggest that is what we do not select that is often the real culprit when it comes to spin.

Sometimes our love of data is not as strong as our love of data that affirms us.

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Understanding
Understanding is not agreement or disagreement. Mutual understanding about an issue or a condition or a model is not strategic alignment. We move too quickly toward strategy without understanding one another, which results in positional arguments based primarily on one’s interests, biases, experiences, and individual perspective pitted against another’s. I am not saying that taking positions is avoidable or even should be. I am wondering what position-based exchanges might look like if those holding opposing or conflicting positions actually did so from a foundation of understanding one another.

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Models
Models are not plans or prescriptions, far less recipes. They are organized ideas gathered into a structure that the modelers put forward based on research, evidence, best and emerging practice and their own ingenuity. They are not meant to be followed as much as they are offered to you as consideration. They are well articulated suggestions that are not intended to be followed in a rote manner.

All models are imperfect. Their genius is revealed in how you use them to build your purpose and the work necessary to fulfill intent. In other words, you are the genius of a model, unless of course you fall short of your expectations.

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I am angry about poverty

As long as poverty, injustice and gross inequality
persist in our world, none of us can truly rest.
– Nelson Mandela                        

I have been doing research for a keynote I am doing next month on the socio-economics of poverty.  I am speaking in Revelstoke, so I took a look at the welfare rates in British Columbia.

There, if you are a single person deemed employable your income support “benefit” is $605 per month and the government’s website indicates this has been the rate since 2007.

To be clear, that’s the total. It’s broken down into two segments: $375 for rent and $230 for food (and everything else). It’s not clear to me if a single employable person also gets a bus pass over and above that amount, but I am hedging my bets against it.

If you are single parent with two young children, the benefit is $660 for rent and $401.16 for everything else. That’s just over a grand for three people, which I found disconcerting to say the least, but you know what? That 16 cents made me angry.

I imagine there is a formula used to figure all of this out and that the powers that be didn’t want to round the number off. Perhaps they felt that a single parent and her two kids should get every penny coming of what can’t come close to supporting them. It felt like a slap in the face.

I won’t go through the motions here of comparing these benefits to the cost of housing and food, clothing, and household incidentals. We have done math like that for as long as I can remember and despite our analysis, people still are suffering from what I call “our ”economic indifference.”

The indifference has its excuses: Governments can’t afford paying any more. Poor people are lazy. She should have not gotten pregnant so young. It’s his fault; he’s an ex-con. Oh yeh, there’s the “drunk Indian” expecting “another hand-out” and they should have stayed in their own country. Why should I have to pay taxes so they can just lay about.

Yep, lay about on $605 per month.

We don’t want people to receive so much money, they just live off the taxpayer and don’t look for a job. Let’s give them far less than it costs to live.

Sure, that will motivate them.

I know. I am being sarcastic. Venting a bit as well.

I swear I could write an excellent, professional brief on how the welfare rates in British Columbia (and in every other province most likely) perpetuate poverty and despair. I could point out how many rules and hoops one has to navigate is not only unnecessary, but also demoralizing, inhumane. But not now. I will save that stuff for my speech.

Right now, I am just angry. Angry about poverty and its myriad systems, rules, and formulas. So angry that I don’t know what to do.

Do you ever feel that way?

Not just sad, but angry. Angry that poverty exists.

Perhaps this anger resides on the extreme end of my compassion for people. Perhaps it is that feeling one gets when a loved one is harmed by another.

I wrote this because I needed to accept this emotion, welcome it as one might an unwanted visitor, tentative but open to what may be possible.

I am angry about poverty and about our many “solutions” that are from what that word means.

I also wrote this because I have to believe you get angry, too.

And I wanted you to know: you are not alone.

 

Was that you I saw standing on the edge?

I was the Lumber Jack size of a man with his toes on the precipice just a stone’s throw away from you.  My toes were nearly hanging over, which meant my belly extended even further over the edge.

The other side – that place beyond the chasm where I wanted to be – wasn’t all that far away. I imagined if I backed up 20 yards and ran fast, I could make the leap with room to spare.

Were you thinking the same thing?

I tried not to look down or at the jagged rock face that would be my ruin if I missed my mark. I tried to keep my eye on where I wanted to be, on the prize so to speak. But truth be told, I stood there on the edge alternating my eyes between the perils below and the possibilities that waited for me “over there.”

We looked at each other a few times, quick glances as if each of us offered the other some solace, some sort of connection about the individual choices that we were facing. Would it help to stand side by side?  Could we help each other understand the risks and the rewards we might realize by leaping over the void?

Of course, we weren’t alone. Down the way from each of us were others standing on the edge as well.  Young and old, women and men, people of all colours. I think I saw a mother carrying her child and a man in a wheel chair.

There we were, all of us on the edge of who we were at that moment, wondering about the possibilities over there, our fears swirling beneath us, dark and dangerous.

That’s when I woke up.

It was the strangest dream.

Like many dreams, this one lingered for a while as I went about my business and then dissipated over the next few days. I had forgotten all about it until I started writing this piece. I remember thinking, “that dream could be a great introduction to a book.”

As an activist, writer, musician, father, and partner, I have stood on the edge of who I am many times. Sometimes I leapt over the darkness below and carried on with my journey on the other side until, as you likely anticipated, I ended up on another ledge, facing another chasm separating me from possibility.

Other times, I turned around and walked away, either not ready for what I might find “over there,” or just too damn afraid to risk the fall. As well, there were times when I realized that the possibilities of where I was were still unrealized and that leaping from one cliff to another would have smacked more of escape than exploration.

In all of these cases, one thing was certain and constant, namely that there was no certainty I could rely on. Staying put may have offered me comfort and safety, but if I am honest there was no certainty that my current location would serve me best. And the possibilities offered across the way – or perceived to be offered – were only that, possibilities. Nothing guaranteed was waiting for me.

This uncertainty was simultaneously unnerving and exciting. It seemed like every choice facing me was terrifying and yet I felt rich with choice.

While the dream was mine, the experiences it painted are, I suggest, part and parcel to our humanity, our human condition.

In the context of my work to end poverty or within the frame of being a creative person (writer, musician, artist), I am constantly faced with choices and few, if any, offer me a predictable outcome.

Reflecting on the dream, I see it as a story about change and its many risks and possibilities. The dream sparked my thinking about my own resistance to taking chances and my all too frequent desire to just let what is be good enough. I am comfortable with good enough, with my routines of living. I know what to expect or at least think I do. My guess is you get what I am trying to say here. There is often something heartwarming about the status quo.

There are many, many people testing new waters, crafting ideas, launching innovative actions. I am blessed to know so many incredible leaders and thinkers, risk-takers and catalysts, and passion-makers and boat-rockers. But even the best explorers get lost, prefer calm waters, and hesitate.

I have said more than once: transformative ideas require (and deserve) transformative practice. They must weave together if we have any hope of our ideas coming to fruition. To create unique, beautiful music goes beyond the composition. Creativity, passion, and experience are put to practice (technique) and what we hear is all of that, not just the notes the pianist is playing. In other words, often, if not all the time, new music requires new technique in order to act on the possibilities of our creativity.

And for a pianist to create new music, does she not have to redefine who she is as a pianist, if not a human being?

Think of the risks jazz musicians take when they sit together and jam. For such interplay to work well, each of the players has to trust their skills and techniques while being open to possibilities that unfold during their session together. Even the best musicians experience times when the magic doesn’t happen. Even the best player can miss a note or go sideways while the others head off in a common direction.

The risk goes beyond embarrassment for missing a note. Mistakes and misses are also about the person making them and the more innovative we try to be, the more likely we will fail along the way. How do we incorporate a value of failing within our identities? How can we find sustenance from one another when our quest for the new and better way to do things, tumbles us to the ground.

Our desire to act on what is possible relies on all we have learned while at the same time challenges us to move beyond what we know to what might be. It is hard enough to do this by yourself; it is so much more difficult to do this together.

One of the fundamental tenets of my practice as a leader, teacher, and innovator is this: big change is a group activity requiring that we help one another overcome our fears, our personal or professional shortcomings, and our collective tendency to gravitate toward what is comfortable and easy.

We need our edges and our chasms. Without them we are limited in where we can go and what we can discover. But I suggest we should not stand on the edge by ourselves. We have a much better chance of leaping forward if we do it together.

 

 

Acceptance

We can’t do it when we are young.
We know too little.
We have not tasted enough truth.

Eventually we can taste everything:
the sweet, the bitter, everything in between.
One day, Wisdom appears at our door.

Small and unsure at first,
it speaks nonetheless, each word
finding courage from the last.

One day we walk around a corner
and there it is waiting for use:
that space so deep inside

where our nature resides, that
which never changes, the constant “I.”
It is not the “self” but that which holds it close.

If you could taste it, it would
taste like candy we know
we should not eat

but we do
because of we didn’t
we could not be.

 

Trickle-Down Community Engagement

Cross posted at www.vibrantcommunities.ca

I waspreparing for the community engagement learning event Tamarack was doing in Ottawa last month called Community Engagement: The Next Generation. One of the workshops I wanted to do was on engagement of marginalized populations, in particular those living in poverty. My exploration of this topic led me to some provocative writing by Vu Le, who is a writer, speaker, and executive director of Rainier Valley Corps, a capacity building organization with a focus on leveling the playing field for people of colour as well as small, grass roots organizations.

I was particularly drawn to a piece he wrote on his blog about “Trickle-Down Community Engagement,” and his writing became the catalyst for one of the workshops I am doing, aptly called “Avoiding Trickle-Down Community Engagement of the Marginalized.”

With minor paraphrasing here is what Vu Le wrote:

Trickle-Down Community Engagement is when professionals bypass the people who are most affected by issues and instead engage and fund large organizations and systems to tackle these issues, and hope that miraculously the people most affected will help out in the effort, usually for free and on our timelines, within our rules of engagement and end up grateful for our largesse.

aace4It’s hard-hitting criticism but also too often the truth. I encourage you to read his postings on the topic. I did some thinking on the topic and I asked myself what causes trickle-down community engagement; why does it happen? I reflected on my own varied experiences of engaging people who are poor, homeless, and further marginalized by an illness or disability, lack of education, or by racism. Here are some of the reasons I came up with: Continue reading