21407 Jen Causey: The Delicate Balance

The fine line between progression and regression.

Article by 21407 Jen Causey

In September of 2017 I came across a news article about a dad in British Columbia who had been allowing his four kids from ages 7 through 11 to ride the public transit to school. He was reported to the Children’s Ministry, and it actually sparked new legislation. He is subsequently trying to fight a legal battle with the government. I made a note of it as it spawned a new idea for me to write about. Unfortunately, I never moved beyond the note. It had sat for over a year with a link to the article, and one sentence: there’s a fine line to be walked whereby in the name of individual rights or safety, we transition from progression to regression.

This idea percolated, but wasn’t yielding much results. I couldn’t connect my thoughts, nor articulate them in any coherent fashion. But I recently received an invitation from Bernard Letendre to review his article “Take No Prisoners.” He makes some very astute and relevant observations. His article gave my stagnant idea new life, though I did have to chew on it for a bit to figure out exactly what the connection was. I agree with his points, but what I kept wondering was whether technology was to blame, or is there more to it?

I suspect like any true middle of the road person, I take a great deal of pride in my ability to see things from multiple points of view, to see the good and the bad and that, I think, is ultimately what the crux of the issue is. Is that with the advancement of technology, in an increasingly connected world where the news is immediately at your fingertips, we are forced to contend with the bad that comes with that – that “news” is immediately available, whether reported by an accredited journalist or not. That with enough “likes” or “hits,” something can go viral, good or bad. Moreover, someone can leverage this to their own betterment; they can launch a successful information operations campaign, and the next thing you know, they are an expert in something, which brings me to my next point.

Several weeks ago I went out on a limb and I sent one of my articles to the editor of my alma mater’s weekly electronic news letter, the E-Veritas, for the Royal Military College of Canada. My articles have been a weekly feature since, and I’ve been getting a fair amount of feedback. A colonel reached out to me who wanted to chat, get to know me a little, find out a bit about how or why I started to write. I mentioned my article “Why I Read and Why I Write” where I explain a little bit about why I started to write and share my articles. I went a step further though and admitted something that makes me sound a little arrogant or maybe disrespectful on someone’s accomplishments, but I’ll share it anyway.

Scrolling through my news feed one day, I came across a video clip of Simon Sinek talking about millennials. I was definitely nodding my head to what he was saying, but while I was agreeing with it, it was equally striking me how there wasn’t anything in particular that seemed earth shattering. I didn’t feel like I was being gifted with some new found piece of knowledge. Not in the least. It all seemed common sense to me, but it seemed like he was blowing up facebook. I wondered who he was, and why are they talking to him? What’s his story? What is his background that brought him to that stage? And then I discovered that he’s essentially an author. Don’t get me wrong, he is a talented communicator, and he’s marketed himself brilliantly, but really, what makes him an expert? It wasn’t that I wanted to be Simon Sinek, but I did think that given my career path and experiences, my voice and opinion could have merit. I had something to offer, as much as these experts. While I obviously do not have the audience they have, I can lend my voice to the conversation with a perspective that is not a common one, and it deserves to be heard as much as theirs. For me it wasn’t about marketing myself for a second career, it was an outlet for professional discussion, debate and growth. But in the name of progression, in an increasingly competitive consumer driven economy, people looking to get ahead can not only market themselves, they can sometimes create a market where one did not exist.

We hear of NHL players saying that they didn’t play hockey year round. They put the skates away and played a different sport in the summer. Yet despite this, youth sport, of which hockey is a prime example, has become a massive industry with hockey camps, academies, and off-ice training facilities, not to mention the plethora of courses that all cost money and that volunteers and parents are required to take. Hockey Canada mandates that one parent or guardian of every kid who enrolls in hockey must take an online course called Respect in Sport for Parents. I think it now costs $15. There is not a thing that is presented in that online package that any reasonable person with an ounce of common sense doesn’t already know. And guess what else? If you’re an unreasonable crazy hockey parent, that $15 online course is not going to change that, but there are people making money off of this program, without a doubt. I am not saying there is no value in the course. It can never hurt to reinforce expectations of behaviour, and it empowers the organization to take action when those expectations have not been met. But could we achieve the same thing without the fee, if it were that important? Probably not. Progression has moved us further away from an altruistic society. People need to get ahead, they need employment. They need to find out where they can make a career, and that sometimes means turning something that wasn’t always about big business into big business.

What about higher education? At one point in time a high school diploma was enough to gain entry into the work force. Then it became college or university, and now, the demand has grown even more. Think of how many new certifications have cropped up in the past 20 years or so, or if they are not new, consider the increased prevalence. It’s quite remarkable. I had a friend who has started a leadership consulting business on the heels of a 25+ year military career whereby he exercised leadership daily. He just posted this the other day, “Pleased to announce that I am officially certified with MBTI through Psychometrics Canada, EQi 2.0 through The Emotional Intelligence Training Company Inc., and Leadership Workstyles 360° and Management / Leadership Impact 360° with Human Synergistics.” I commend him for his drive, his thirst for knowledge, and his commitment towards achieving his goals. But, I also suspect that there is very little that is packaged into those qualifications that is novel to someone who has been exercising leadership effectively for 25 years. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that one stops learning as a leader, I’m just illustrating that someone or some organization has packaged this up and created a qualification and is now marketing it. In some cases, it is value added to society. In other cases, it isn’t necessarily value added to society. Sometimes, a false demand has been created to allow someone or something to fill the supply void. Is that progression? Or is it regression? Creating unnecessary need for things or services? Or do we just shrug our shoulders and take the good with the bad that come from a free economy?

What about one’s individual rights versus that of the collective good? I want equal opportunity and rights for all. But sometimes I get this sense that the pendulum has swung too far and that opportunity and rights get mistaken for entitlements, and it is turning us into a selfish society. There seems to be an increasing tendency for people to look at things relative to themselves; it is their “right” to do something, and in the hierarchy of things allowable, what is a right to them is more important than the rights of others, or more important than the possible consequences that affect more than just them. The spirit of compromise, and consideration of the greater good, seems to be becoming a little bit of a lost art. There seems to be an increased resistance to government interference on matters. What I cannot really ascertain is whether or not this is really something new, or is it something that was occurring all along, with the difference being that people did not have a venue to express their dissent? With technology, a more connected world, everyone has a voice. People can sound off on topics they know little of, blissfully ignorant of facts or other perspectives, and there is very little we can do to filter out that white noise. It just gets louder. Opinions get mistaken for facts. Ricky Gervais has said, “Just because you’re offended, doesn’t mean you are right.” I couldn’t agree more. Moreover, while everyone may hold an opinion, it does not follow that everyone’s opinion is equally valid. The fact that the masses have access to platforms to voice their opinions and views, no matter how ill informed they may be, is compounded by exactly what Bernard Letendre speaks to in his article. He says “Social media facilitates the emergence of tribes and at the same time, makes it easy to dehumanize others, both young and old. Social media also favours anonymity and some people become remarkably courageous with their identity comfortably hidden behind a pseudonym.”

My comment to Bernard’s article was that it is sadly ironic that the very platforms that were designed partially to enable a more connected world has made us even more disconnected. Reflecting on things a little more since reading it, I note that while it seems as a society we are becoming less amenable to interference in our daily lives by government, we invite it when we rage about things that perhaps do not warrant that kind of rage. A mountain can get made out of a molehill, and in response a new regulation or guideline is put in place, or something is banned. Exhibit A – anyone hear “Baby It’s Cold Outside” playing on the radio recently? Sometimes it is warranted, but I would submit that sometimes it is not. At what point does a reactive measure become bureaucratic and counterproductive? Many times in my career I have witnessed someone do something a little bit stupid or careless, and something breaks. A comment that often follows is, “See! This is why we can’t have nice things!” It’s a telling statement. It is often said in jest, but rooted in a fear of something being taken away for something relatively minor in nature. We can’t trust people to behave, to apply common sense, so we react. Common sense is not as common as we would like it to be, and there are consequences to that.

I don’t consider myself that old, but yet I find myself sometimes longing for the simpler days, the kind of world that I grew up in. I worry a great deal about what society my kids will have to navigate as adults. I long for reason to prevail, for the benefit of doubt to be given, for consideration of others to be a factor, for understanding or at least a willingness to be respectful of a diverging point of view. I tire of the knee jerk reactions calling for “change,” or “accountability” that are disproportionate to the actual incident itself. I find myself muttering “Why can’t we all just get along?” The world is a very different world today than even 15 years ago. We have made huge strides and improvements. But there is a flip side that needs to be examined and acknowledged as well. We should be cognizant that not all outcomes of advancement are positive. I would not want to see us keep striding blindly, without knowing where that foot is going to land. I worry that we could walk right off a cliff and end up in a less desirable position. I only hope that we have strong enough voices to cut through the white noise, people who can lead, and who can guide us across the tightrope we walk to keep us moving forward.

Previous Jen Causey Articles in e-Veritas: