A Growing Interest in Food and How Our Food Culture is Changing

People have always loved food. It’s tasty, it’s an enjoyable thing to share with friends and family, and of course, we simply need it to survive. However, in the past couple of decades, our love affair with food seems to have grown quite a bit. Gone are the days when meat and potatoes were considered a square meal, at least in many social circles. People are finally beginning to examine the effects diet has on health and well-being, and this change can’t happen quickly enough.

Some states are beginning to see a decline in obesity rates, but there is still plenty of work to do if we want a healthy, thriving society. People are also getting more interested in food in general. Not everyone is on a mission to get healthy. Some simply want to capitalize on a growing demand for chefs. Culinary schools are expanding to meet with rising enrollment numbers as people choose food-based careers or simply decide to educate themselves so they can prepare food at home.

1. A Healthier Lifestyle

Research from the Organic Trade Association found that Americans are buying more organic products than ever before. Concerns about health and the environment have led to more people choosing organic. The economy is all about supply and demand, so this rising call for more organic items has led to a number of new businesses, including Thrive Market, an online resource offering hundreds of organic and all-natural items at an affordable price.

Aside from the organic factor, there are other reasons Americans are becoming more interested in bettering their health through food. To put it simply, many people are growing sick and tired of being sick and tired. In recent years, alternative diets and lifestyles have begun rising in popularity, including veganism, paleo and gluten-free.

As buzz surrounding these diets grows, people find reasons to believe that they can empower themselves through an alternative lifestyle. In turn, this leads to more alternative products appearing on store shelves, which leads to a greater awareness and so on. Therefore, by making smart choices with the foods they buy, people are actually having a positive influence on society as a whole.

2. Food-based Media

Cooking shows have been around for decades, but in the past twenty years, they’ve really begun growing in popularity. From televised contests for home cooks to lavish competitions featuring some of America’s finest professional chefs, there’s no shortage of food-related entertainment to enjoy. Perhaps this factor has contributed to America’s growing foodie culture.

3. A Difficult Economy Means More People are Cooking at Home

As people struggle in a difficult economy, they are beginning to look for ways to save money. Therefore, cooking meals at home rather than eating out is becoming increasingly more popular. Research from Peapod and ORC International shows that 72 percent of Americans cook from home four or more nights each week, and more than a third made a resolution to cook more in 2017. It was also found that millennials were more than twice as likely to make this resolution than older folks. But, it’s no secret that millennials are struggling financially and eating out can be really expensive.

However, the world has changed since the baby boomers were young, and these changes are likely to stick around. Therefore, it can be assumed that cooking skills will be important for today’s young people as well as future generations to come.

If you’re developing an interest in food, you’re on the right track to a healthier life. Even if nutrition isn’t your main motivation, you’ll still have a deeper connection to what’s on your plate if you go through the process of cooking it yourself. That connection can make every meal a more mindful experience, which is precisely what the act of eating should be. You’ll also be able to track your caloric intake much easier if you’re aware of every ingredient, giving you a better chance of staying at a healthy weight.

6 Brilliant Tips to Add Value to Your Personality

When it comes to any social group, people usually have their respective roles like the popular one, the weird one, the funny one and the awkward one. It’s all because of the differences in behaviors, personalities and distinctive qualities that sets us apart. That also defines who we are, how we act in a social gathering and whom we connect and make friendships. But, it’s a fact that we want what we don’t have; whether it’s something tangible, a connection or an association or a personality trait that makes someone stand out in the crowd.

Here, in this article, I’m going to give 6 advice tips that can help to add value to your personality.

1. Know Who You’re & What You Want to Be

The first and the foremost step is to find out who you are and what you want to be. No one else knows us better than our own self. You have to list it down the qualities that you wish to change or what you’d like see as an improvement. It’s only “YOU” who can add or subtract those qualities to get the desired personality. ‘Desire to change yourself’ is the primary step and then comes the assessment.

2. Take Action to Make a Change

It’s the stage where we identify particular areas that needs improvement. Never make excuses and stay committed to take action. A lot of people fail at this stage as they don’t embrace chance and ready to take action.

For instance, if you really want to see change in your interpersonal connections, then the cycle starts as; spot someone or something you’re unhappy with, beat yourself up about it, just don’t think about not having what you want but do something, distract yourself from the negativity and move one.

3. Stop Comparing Yourself to Others

When it comes to the people in quest of self-improvement; they tend to focus on what they don’t have what they want to achieve. Never compare yourself to others as it will drag you down a dark path. Try to focus on the best parts of ‘YOU’. Every one of us different from other; every person has some unique characteristics. You just need to discover what you have to offer instead of comparing yourself to others.

4. Accept Your Personality Type

As a matter of fact, every personality type has its own strengths and weaknesses. For-example, introverts are good listeners, analytical, kind and self-sacrificing. On the other hand, extroverts are talkative, fun-loving, relationship-driven and engaging. So, it’s your personality that makes you who you’re in-person. Never try to become a person who you’re not, but instead try to enhance qualities you have to offer in friendships and relationships.

5. Empathize with Others

Extroverts have a lot of empathy. They are not just interested in themselves and how they see the world, but they want to know your option as well. They are open and love to share their opinions, but also want to hear from you. Such individuals are not selfish or self-centered (personality traits that often seen as faults). If you find such traits in your personality, start right from there.

6. Try to Add Positivity & Depth to Your Interactions

When it comes to likable people, they never take themselves too seriously. They know the world is a big place and everyone has his/her own views; their viewpoint on life isn’t be-all, end-all. So, take a deep breath, get ready, exhale the negativity, stress or anything that is bothering you. Tomorrow is another day and bad times shall pass too. Don’t take life too seriously and always start a new day with a positive energy.

Leading Change – What Are the Alternatives?

When it comes to leading change and creating social movements, particularly when it involves people on the margins of society, it’s easy to fall into the trap of assuming success means “widening” the mainstream to accept a new group of previously excluded citizens.

change2Reverence may be paid to new rituals and customs. Changes may be made to environments to make them more accessible or representative. Language may be scrutinised and modified to create a more welcoming lexicon. Laws may change to increase rights and entitlements.

In themselves, these acknowledgements are important and meaningful because they achieve their intent – to decrease exclusion and increase participation.

On a deeper level, however, these gestures can miss an important point: that the mainstream, the majority, gets to remain in its safe bubble of normality. Its only discomfort is to grin and bear the odd stranger or strange practice until they stop or become familiar.

Examples include using Maori words in the weather forecast only during Maori Language Week; building a ramp in a school but not talking about a competitive education culture that values individual success over teamwork; or legalising gay marriage without addressing heteronormative assumptions that prevent people discussing sexual and gender orientation in open, non-threatening ways.

What I would call “fringe leadership” is the commitment to doing things the other way around. It’s about bringing the mainstream to the marginalised minority with the intention of disrupting the dominant culture.

Imagine bringing mainstream students into a “special” education environment – what would that look like? Would special education meet mainstream learning needs? If not, what does that say about special education?

Imagine a commitment by the country to incrementally increase the use of Te Reo Maori language in public life? First integration with the weather forecast, then Government departments, schools, and other public places? How long would it take to have a bilingual population? How would bilingualism add to authentic biculturalism?

Imagine greeting any stranger you met by inquiring about their sexual preference without the threat of hostility? What would the first question about a new born baby be if it wasn’t, “Is it a girl or a boy?”

Fringe leadership challenges us to rethink inclusion and accessibility. It poses questions like:

  • “What are our true intentions behind including and encouraging more to participate?”
  • “What are people giving up?”
  • “What am I prepared to give up?”

Fundamentally, fringe leadership asks us to look around and ask, “What are the alternatives?”

Duffy Books in Homes Working Towards Literacy for Kids

2015-04-02 14.50.50-7

Recently, I spent an hour at Rosebank Primary School in Avondale, Auckland, speaking as a Duffy Books in Homes Role Model. It’s something I’ve done a couple of times each year since connecting with Linda Vagana, Duffy’s GM, when we both did the Leadership New Zealand programme in 2012. Duffy Books in Homes is a nonprofit created for the specific purpose of increasing literacy outcomes for elementary school children, and you can visit there website to learn more about their school book giveaway program.

It’s a tough but rewarding gig. Primary-aged kids pull no punches as an audience. I’m not the usual speaker they are used to and as I begin to speak, the giggles start.

I resist the urge to ask, “What are you laughing at?” To begin with anyway. Instead I ask all 500 to introduce themselves to me – their name, where they come from and a secret about them – all at once. The hall erupts with noise and laughter.

A few teachers look horrified that I’ve deliberately ruined the controlled quiet they’ve worked so hard to create for me (earlier a couple have asked if I’m used to speaking in front of large groups – “I’ve had a bit of practice,” I understate). I restore order and assure them I now feel like I’ve known them for years and that I won’t share their secrets. They get it.

kidsTime to talk about the elephant in the room. “So I heard a bit of laughing before,” I reflect. A few giggles return. “What was so funny?”

“You talk funny.”

“Oh you noticed. I’ve worked hard to develop a very unique way of speaking. Everyone recognises it’s me, even when I’m on the phone.”

The laughter changes, from the awkward recognition of difference to an unconscious realisation that the framing has changed. Somehow I’ve owned my difference and I’m no longer a victim – I’ve used it to my advantage.

“So what else is different about me?” There’s a pause, as if perhaps the second elephant has already become less noticeable. “Is it my shoes?” I prompt.

“No, you’re in a wheelchair.”

“Great you noticed that too! Why do you think I use a wheelchair?”

Various theories are tested – I have a sore/broken leg, I can’t walk, I walk funny, my legs don’t work.

“Maybe…but do you want to know the real reason?”

Anticipation. For the kids it’s curiosity; for the teachers it feels slightly anxious: “How’s he going to tackle this?”

“I’m just lazy.” Laughter and relief. “Why would I walk when I can just sit and move around?”

Contemplation.

“Look, you guys are all sitting on the floor because there aren’t enough chairs. Imagine if you all had wheelchairs?”

More contemplation.

“Who would like to have a wheelchair?”

500 hands fly into the air.

The rest of the time I talk about reading and achievement. I help give out books. The assembly ends with a rousing rendition of Frozen’s “Let It Go” and Duffy’s song – “Going to read it. Read about it. I’m a Duffy kid and so proud of it. You can do it. Nothing to it…”

The idea is for each class to file out of the hall in silence. That works for the first class leaving through the back door. The rest, however, leave via the front door, past me, and it’s high fives all round.

It strikes me as significant that, in the space of forty minutes, I transform from enigma to elementary in these kids’ agile brains. At first glance, I’m unusual, even a threat. A few reframes later, I’m still unique, but I’m safe and approachable.

The human ability to make meaning is miraculous. The challenge of meaning-making is to keep it constructive and useful. So often we do the opposite, particularly with children.

Luckily, it’s easy to change. Don’t miss an opportunity.

Resignations and Employment Relationships — I Quit?

I’ve been reflecting on the complex dynamics of employment relationships (ER) — let’s call them ERs because of the acronym’s somewhat appropriate onomatopoeia — and what it means when an employee resigns without giving notice.

i-quit-note-smallERs are tricky things, without a doubt. They are usually initially awkward, in that most ERs begin with a stranger needing to get to know others — at a more than leisurely pace — at least well enough to work toward common goals and outcomes.

An ER, unlike most relationships, is a legal relationship. It shares a latent litigiousness with two other common types of relationship: that between a client/customer and supplier; and, ironically, a marriage. Like the former but unlike the latter, an ER involves an exchange of money — although, well…no, let’s not go there.

Finally they are perilously unequal, though the inequality goes both ways, which many an employer may deny. Each party has what the other doesn’t — money on the one hand and skill, labour and attributes on the other.

ERs, if I may be as bold as to generalise, are an accident waiting to happen. They are deeply co-dependent, treacherously uncertain and whomever came up with the concept should be — or should have been — severely chastised and punished.

Having indulged myself in pragmatic scepticism, I should say I have been party to numerous (by a fair estimation, several dozen) ERs in my time. Albeit that I have only been in the so-thought less dominant role of employee three times, I have neither suffered nor, as far as I am aware inflicted, much if any ill effect.

By now, if you have read this far, you will have realised we are entering a veritable quagmire of complexity. As this is a blog post, not a thesis or doctorate, I should get to the point.

Why do employees quit and say see ya, I’m out of here right now — without working out the “legally” agreed notice time?

I’m not a lawyer, so I’m not offering a legal opinion. Nor am I, as I said, writing a thesis or doctorate, so I’m not citing research. Though I will allude to research I’ve read. If you want to verify it, Google is but a click away.

What I do offer is observation, experience and opinion: In short, the problem lies not with the E, but with the R.

We refer mostly to the E. We talk Employment, Employer and Employee. Seldom do we refer to the R: Relationship. But I’ve read about research that found that our overwhelming drive to work is social, not functional. So in any ER it’s the Relationship, not the Employment, that is crucial.

I also remember reading a blog post citing research findings that, when it came to job satisfaction, “acknowledgement” was what employees consider the most important. That’s another relationship-based need. In my experience, empathy, flexibility, appreciation, trustworthiness (competency, reliability and honesty), humour and well-boundaried but fun social interaction goes a long way to providing that acknowledgement.

When employees leave without giving notice, the ER has gone wrong. They need to leave quickly, I would proffer, because they have a strong discomfort with people or a particular person within the organisation, not the work they were employed to do. In my experience the discomfort usually builds over time, but can also be triggered quickly by a significant negative incident.

The lenses of leadership, diversity, complexity and change offer insight into how to minimise resignations without notice (RWNs) and enhance ERs and organisational culture. Capacity and clear intent in these four areas underlie the culture of any organisation.

Leadership

In my experience fair, transparent and generous leadership is crucial to maintaining healthy ERs. Not only from the top but also from throughout the organisation, leaders set the tone and guide the interaction between people and teams. When things go wrong and people leave, those in roles of leadership can only look to themselves, not to the resigning employee, and take responsibility for finding out where the cultural cracks are that caused the unresolvable conflict.

Leaders also need to be aware of the reciprocity of ERs, as I mentioned before. The attitude that “no one is irreplaceable” can very easily lead to an arrogance that values functions over people. A more useful attitude, which I keep in the front of my mind as an employer, is that people are, in fact, irreplaceable. It is jobs and their functions that are not irreplaceable. I have often applied flexibility to jobs because I place higher value on individuals than on a functional detail.

Diversity

I notice many organisations have a very narrow view of what diversity is. Usually it begins with acknowledging gender and ethnicity but, for the most part, stops there. Sexuality, age and religion may get a look in, but disability probably won’t, nor will more uncommon issues like transgenderism.

These issues and labels are not the true nature of diversity, as I’ve written about so many times before. They are mere categories that organisations choose either to represent or ignore. They may be the cause of conflict in ERs, but I think there are more subtle dynamics at play.

Differences in personal style, strengths, weaknesses, values and core beliefs are far more likely to create ER rifts, particularly if the organisational culture places more value on commonality than uniqueness. The unspoken “this is the way we do things around here” will soon marginalise anyone who doesn’t fit the cultural mould, eroding the ER.

Complexity

Relationships are neither simple nor complicated — they are complex. They are never-endingly dynamic and uncertain. They need constant nurture and attention.

My observation is that few organisations put time and value on relationship maintenance, particularly amongst groups. Meetings are only about work (Employment) and seldom about the people working (Relationships).

The organisations I’ve worked with over the years with the best cultures and ERs build regular personal sharing into meeting times and value social interaction outside of work.

Change

They say the only constant is change, yet most believe it happens only when intended. “Let’s change this, that or the other system, structure or procedure,” they say, “and, what’s more, let’s manage the change.”

No offence to any change managers reading, but managing change is like instructing the wind to blow in a certain direction. It’s futile. Whether it is intentional or the organic result of the passage of time, change needs to be acknowledged, observed and negotiated.

Responses to intentional or organic change will vary from individual to individual and from team to team. These responses need to be valued and respected, particularly the response that differs from the majority. Careful communication is needed to work through fears, disagreements and misunderstandings.

Conclusion

I am not naïve enough to believe RWNs can be eliminated. There will always be circumstances in which employees will choose to resign and leave immediately.

However, I do think RWNs are an important indicator of the healthiness of ERs and organisational culture. Anyone in a leadership position who dismisses it as the fault of the employee does so at their own — and their organisation’s — peril.

Power, Prejudice, and Paradox

I’ve recently changed how I describe myself or, more accurately, my experience. I now talk about “my paradoxical experience as a queer, caucasian, cisgender man with unique function (disability).”

indecision-967718-mEven doing this is paradoxical, given I argued the point in 2012 at TEDxAuckland that we need to decay labels to reveal diversity. But I’m doing it to explain a phenomenon of power, privilege and paradox, rather than to label myself.

Power and privilege have long been part of the politics of diversity and discrimination. Recently I heard another diversity expert, Leslie Hawthorne, encourage those with privilege to raise awareness of it by, for example, not using the word “lame” to describe something that is bad or stupid, because you are implying that people who can’t walk are bad or stupid.

There has also been the story of Ijeoma Oluo, a woman of colour, who experienced an instant reduction in racial slurs when she changed her Twitter profile picture to one that made her look caucasian.

These examples seem to me to slightly simplify the understanding of power and privilege — change a word here, look a bit different there. I think there are more complex subtleties at work, like context, subjectivity and objectivity, that paint a broader, more complex picture of power and privilege.

So back to me — let’s deconstruct those labels (or decay them) in terms of power and privilege (I’ll use P&P to save keystrokes).

  • Queer — not heterosexual (but not obviously so) — P&P comparatively low
  • Caucasian — not of colour — P&P unquestionably high
  • Cisgender — not transgender — P&P unquestionably high
  • Man — not woman — P&P unquestionably high
  • Unique function (disabled) — not non-disabled — P&P unquestionably low

So the question becomes, where do I sit in terms of P&P? We could do simple maths: 3 high P&P, only 2 low, ergo I have +1 P&P.

More complex maths — let’s give more points to unquestionably (2) than comparatively (1): -1+2+2+2-2=+3 — so I have +3 P&P? Or do I have +6 P&P as well as -3 P&P?

Of course this is where the paradox and complexity comes in, as well as context, subjectivity and objectivity (and other things I haven’t thought of but probably will do later). Let’s do some more decaying…

Context: As I said at TEDxAuckland, but to reframe it slightly, if I’m in a room of cisgender, caucasian men, they will not see my +6 P&P. They will see and/or sense my -3 P&P, feel awkward, discount me and I will lack P&P.

If, however, I’m in a room of indigenous, transgender and/or queer disabled people, chances are my +6 P&P will become very noticeable and my -3 P&P won’t be enough to save me. There goes my P&P. Again.

Similarly, if I’m in a recognised leadership role or on stage talking about P&P to a TEDx audience, I’ll have more of it than if I’m a stranger in the street.

Subjectivity: This works two ways. 1. The more people know me (i.e. the more subjective their experience of me), the more relative P&P I will have. They’re looking past the labels and seeing me for who I really am. 2. The more P&P I feel I have in different contexts, and the more I am aware of the behaviours and language that are commonly understood in the situation, the less threatening my perceived lack or abundance of P&P is likely to be.

Objectivity: I’ll refer back to Leslie Hawthorne, who recounted a story of an orchestra, which lacked female members. On becoming aware of this, “blind” (I’m not sure if that’s offensive or not to people who can’t see) auditions were held, so that decision-makers couldn’t tell the gender of the auditioning person.

Within a few years, female members had increased several-fold. So, ensuring some objectivity around P&P can decrease its impact.

So, where are we? Well, if you’re anything like me you’re likely in some state of confusion and uncertainty which, I would hazard to say, is a very good state from which to tackle diversity, not to mention leadership, complexity and change. Our human need to be sure and certain and to know the answers are precisely what leads us astray in the world, a world which is nothing like what we would like it to be.

In “A Short History of Stupid” by Helen Razer and Bernard Keane, Razer observes:

When you elevate lived experience to centrality in your socio- political critique and politics, you delegitimise the contribution to debate from other perspectives; if the traditional logical fallacy is appeal to authority, since the 1990s appeal to experience has come to rival it, creating a hierarchy of analysis with lived experience at the apex of authenticity. Moreover, as the phrase ‘check your privilege’ implies, it is not merely that a non- experience- based contribution to a discussion lacks legitimacy, the possession of other forms of experience creates an illegitimacy that is impossible to overcome: the scoring systems used to allocate ‘privilege points’ can be neatly flipped into a ‘how illegitimate is your opinion’ scale, depending on the colour of your skin, your sexual preference, your income and your gender. The result is a further fragmentation of public debate on issues, with fewer voices heard and greater unanimity among those voices given the imposition of dominant narratives even within sub- groups. The result is also a lesser willingness among generalists, and particularly media practitioners, to genuinely engage on policy issues arising from or including identity politics, for fear of being labelled racist/misogynist/homophobic/middle class/transgenderphobic/ableist/fattist/perpetrators of rape culture. They live in fear of fatally missing some critical nuance that would reveal them as inauthentic, or worse.

I agree. I don’t see myself (or anyone else) as absolutely either owning or lacking P&P — I don’t think it’s a useful paradigm. Sometimes we have, it sometimes we don’t. Sometimes we can influence it, sometimes we can’t. Sometimes we’re prepared, sometimes we’re not. Sorry kids, it’s messy out there.

And — hate to say it — it’s getting messier.

Teaching for Change

Why are you a teacher, and what is the point of doing the job you do? Teachers really need to think about those questions and hopefully reflect beyond the surface answers of wanting to “inspire” students. I doubt any of us really got into teaching to “fill gaps in the labour market” or decided that their true passion in life was watching students fill out multiple choice tests.

For most of us, I would say that at some level we decided to be a teacher to affect change in the lives of students and the communities in which we serve. We felt a connection to a profession in which we could work with children and youth to promote qualities that may have been lacking in the world as we saw it.

change-4-1imepycHowever, for any of us that have been teaching for any length of time. you have probably seen how the inequalities of our world have impacted our students and their ability to learn. Poverty, racism, sexism, ableism, colonialism and homophobia, amongst many more forms of oppression, infiltrate the walls of our schools and shape the real world experiences of our students.

Regardless if our students come from a place of privilege or oppression, these issues impact our classrooms and challenge us to confront them to ensure that the students we care for can overcome these issues as well as not perpetuate them as they move from youth to adults.

For teachers, it means that we cannot be ignorant to how these issues impact education and the lives of our students. Teaching is an inherently political act as the decisions we make from choosing to ignore these issues or confronting them demonstrates to our students the attitude we should have towards the major issues of our times.

If we want our students to have a chance of following their passions in life and to take on the major social and environmental issues of our time, we need to demonstrate a sense of courageous teaching that is not afraid to speak out against the issues that impact education and our students. Teachers must act in a way that promotes the ideals we strive for that would create a more democratic and equitable world for all.

That is why it is necessary that teachers eliminate the ideas of objectivity and neutrality from their practice. As one of the greatest educators of the 20th century, Paulo Freire said, “washing one’s hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless means to side with the powerful, not to be neutral”. As we see governments take on more austerity measures against education systems and demonize teachers in the media, it is essential that we assert ourselves as a profession that has the power to change society.

It is my hope that if you are a teacher reading this, you will join me in embracing a radical vision of what your teaching practice and the education system you work in could be. Teachers, in partnership with their union and other ally organizations, must understand the power we can have if we understand the principles of social justice and democracy. When you signed up to be a teacher, you also signed up to advocate for your students. I hope you’ll join me, and many other teachers, advocating for a more just and equitable world free from oppression for all people.

Until that day happens, teachers must engage in the long-term struggle for justice both in and outside of their classrooms. Social justice must be a centerpiece for why we teach and we must advocate for social justice as a framework for understanding teaching and education to our elected officials, unions and all others concerned with making the world a better place.

The Sport of Coming Out

Ian-Thorpe1

Australian swimmer Ian Thorpe is the latest in a long line of sports “stars” to come out as gay in an interview with celebrity interviewer Sir Michael Parkinson. It seems to be a sport in itself these days: to play professional sport and reveal that you’re gay. Perhaps a better sport might be to place bets on who will be next. David Beckham? Too good to be true.

But the real question — or the bigger conversation we’re not having — is about the “casual homophobia”, as Kath and Kimactor and out lesbian comedian Magda Szubanski puts it, in sport that stops people like Thorpe coming out — or never having to “go in” in the first place. In the Parkinson interview, he said keeping his sexuality secret was good for his career. He didn’t know if Australia wanted its champian to be gay. The lie was convenient and increased his maketability. He didn’t want to be gay.

It seems this “casual homophobia” is alive and well in more places in society than sport. I would say that there are many people — not just sportspeople — who keep their non-heterosexuality secret because it’s good for their career, they don’t know if their parents and friends want them to be gay, it’s more convenient and easy, socially, to be seen as straight — so no, they don’t want to be gay.

Which begs the question, how far have we come in liberal society, not to mention conservative pockets (religion, Russia etc), in the fight for human rights around sexuality, among other non-normative characteristics like gender (binary and non-binary), functional diversity, even race and ethnicity?

Not as far as we’d like to think, I’d suggest.

Australian Human Rights Commissioner Tim Wilson was in NZ recently and, according to the NZ Initiative, “argued that human rights are supposed to be sacrosanct principles, and criticised the expansion of human rights from their classical liberal origins.” Freedom, Wilson believes, is “the fundamental human right.” Anything more are social aspirations, which “come at the cost of freedom. While they may be worthy goals, they should not automatically be given equal status to the classical human rights.”

I agree with the Commissioner and have been saying a similar thing, to half-deaf ears it often feels like, in my work on labeling and diversity. The more grounds we add to the list for which we can be accused of unlawfully discriminating upon, the more we highlight difference. The more we highlight difference, the more scrutiny it attracts. The more scrutiny, the more at risk we become of being excluded by others’ prejudice. The more at risk we are, the less fredom we have.

Gay rights did nothing for Ian Thorpe — in fact I would almost say it did him a diservice. I’m not saying that gay rights are wrong or bad or shouldn’t have happened, nor that they haven’t improved the lives of some people. But, as Tim Wilson points out, gay rights come at the cost of the freedom to not have our sexuality put under scrutiny.

I was telling a friend a few days ago that, when I was seventeen, some thirty years ago, on the cusp of homosexual law reform but a decade and a half before gay human rights legislation was passed, I wore a badge at school saying, “How dare you assume I’m heterosexual”. Not out then, when people asked whether I was meaning I wasn’t straight, I clarified that the point of the messagee was the emphasis on “assume.” Now, whether I had automatic immunity from homophobic slurs due to my unique function, I’m not sure, but I’m also unsure I’d feel as comfortable wearing that badge as a student at school now.

Why not? Because the scrutiny of sexuality would put me at risk of other students’ prejudice. I’ve heard stories that it’s harder to be queer at schools today than it was decades ago, simply because kids are more aware. Such is the shadow of liberation; such is the cost to freedom.

I titled this post “The sport of coming out.” Perhaps it could be more aptly titled “The cost of coming out,” or even “The sport of catching someone coming out.”

How far have we really come?

 

What If Attitudes Don’t Really Matter In Creating Change?

Attitude is everything, they say. What if I said, I don’t think so? Consider this, as long as it remains inside my head, my attitude means nothing. It’s only when I speak it, or act on it, that it begins to matter. Let’s say I hate orange. Until I start insulting people for wearing orange, destroying orange things that aren’t mine or, if I’m influential enough, I stop people from wearing orange or making orange things, no one knows I hate orange.

An orangeEven if I love orange, no one knows until I start favouring those wearing orange, smashing others’ stuff that isn’t orange, and insisting everything has to be orange. A lot of time and energy goes into changing attitudes, believe me, I’ve done it for a living.

What happens when we look beyond the attitude to its outward manifestation such as written or spoken language, actions, and behaviours? What if we recognise that it’s what we say and do that matters, not what we actually think?

A new question then arises: What governs the connection between attitudes, words and behaviours? Based on books I’ve read and a workshop I did in 2013*, I suggest three things impact attitudes:

  • Information
  • Experience
  • Values

For the sake of simplicity, let’s keep with the orange example.

Information

If I am given some information about orange, like it’s scientifically proven to make people like me more, I may change my attitude about it. Or I may still dislike it, but think twice about banning orange t-shirts. This example depends on my ego, which we’ll touch on more soon.

Experience

If I go to an orange-themed party and have a wicked time, I may give orange the benefit of the doubt, whether or not I change my mind about it. If the party was lame though, I’ll probably blame orange over my poor social skills.

Values

By far the most impacting influence on whether I speak or act on my attitude about orange are my values. Values are like meta-attitudes that pervade all aspects of my worldview. If an attitude is a roof, my values are the sky.

If my values are negative and anti-social — individualistic, ego-centric, self-gratifying etc — I’ll more likely respond to my anti-orange attitude in ways that serve me rather than the common good. I’ll slag off your orange t-shirt and ban anything orange, just because it suits me.

If, however, my values are humanitarian — generous, collective, harm-preventing etc — I’ll think twice about commenting on your orange t-shirt. Sure, I may not like it but it’s not hurting me, but putting you down may hurt you. Perhaps I’ll ask you if you’ve ever considered wearing green. I’ll let orange have its place and avoid looking at it unless I absolutely have to.

Real life examples

A couple of real-life examples may help to test the validity of this consideration — which, by the way, I am just considering, by writing about it. I may end up disagreeing with myself

Gay marriage legalisation

Some would argue that the legalisation of gay marriage has been helped by a change in attitude about sexual orientation. It may have, but I think two values made more of an impact than attitude. The first value was “equality”, the lack of which became more and more obvious as the issue was pushed politically. The second value was that of “legalised monogamy”. Together, equality and a right to legal monogamy were the values that helped gay marriage become law, not a change of attitude towards people’s sexuality.

Workers with disabilities losing their jobs because of KFC’s restructuring policy

It’s easy — and perhaps slightly simplistic — to argue that Kentucky Fried Chicken have suddenly developed a bad attitude towards disability. Were that so, they would have never employed disabled people. The driver behind this policy change is values, not attitude. The KFC policy for all staff to be capable of all duties is based on a value, after which they’ve named the policy — “all star level” staffing. KFC are acting on a value that all employees need to be equally capable of all tasks. This will impact on more than just disabled employees.

So what?

The danger of turning to attitude as the cause of unfair behaviour misses the deeper values-based motivation behind what we say and do. It also allows people to legitimately dismiss a conversation about change, based on a possibly very true defense that you are incorrect about their attitude about something.

Next time you think you’ve uncovered a bad attitude that needs changing, you may want to consider instead a deeper discussion — one about values and how they influence what is said and done.

* The book that influenced my thinking is Influencer: The New Science of Leading Change. The workshop was run by Altris Ltd.

Is the Wonder of Diversity Getting Lost in the Fear of Being Wrong?

In my twenties, I used to run disability awareness workshops mainly for people working in disability services. I had an assumption and an agenda — they were wrong and I was there to show them and tell them how to be right.

Over the years, I’ve met people who had been in those workshops. They’ve told me they’d never forgotten the workshop and how scared of me they were.

Young male looks scaredI often reflect on this and while I find slight mirth in the thought that I was that scary, I realise that it wasn’t the best way to approach my mission. In fact, I had a startling “ah-hah” moment, which made me change what I did and how I did it forever.

I realised that the groups I worked with sat there feeling judged and admonished by me. Then, left feeling that they’d done their penance and went back to doing the same old things. I also realised that, of course, I couldn’t change other people. They needed to want to change.

Loosing the sense of responsibility to change people was a huge relief. But losing the arrogant assumption that I was right was even more powerful because I needed to admit to myself that I was wrong.

I see this dynamic — you’re doing something wrong and I’m here to show you the right way — a lot in the area of diversity. Whether it’s gender, culture, religion, sexuality, age or disability, diversity awareness seems to often be about creating guilt for thinking saying and/or doing the wrong thing. Once you’ve realised you’re wrong, you get the right pill. Then you have no excuse to get it wrong again.

So you leave with fear of doing, saying, or thinking the wrong thing, because you’ve been wrong-proofed. Of course, you do get it wrong again, even though you know the right thing, so what does that make you? A stupid bigot? An insensitive moron? An unconscious oppressor?

Well no, actually. It makes you human. In Kathryn Shultz’s TEDTalk, “On being wrong”, she says:

“1,200 years before Descartes said his famous thing about ‘I think therefore I am,’ this guy, St. Augustine, sat down and wrote ‘Fallor ergo sum’ — ‘I err therefore I am.’ Augustine understood that our capacity to screw up, it’s not some kind of embarrassing defect in the human system, something we can eradicate or overcome. It’s totally fundamental to who we are.”

Now, when I work with people about understanding diversity, I ask why we don’t do diversity very well. After a bit of discussion, the words “scared” or “fear” inevitably come up. “What are we scared of?” I ask. Usually people say, “difference”, “not knowing what to do”, or “feeling uncomfortable”.

What I pose to them is that we’re scared of being wrong. We’re either scared of being wrong about the other person (embarrassment), but more often, I suggest, we’re scared about being wrong about us. Accepting somebody’s reality, belief systems, or customs causes us to question our own reality. If we concede that somebody else’s world is as legitimate as ours, we may need to question whether our own is as right as we’ve been led to believe.

To truly explore and embrace the wonder of human diversity, it has little to do with finding answers about other people. What it requires of all of us is the willingness to realise we’ve been wrong about ourselves … and to be ok with that.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QleRgTBMX88[/youtube]

Why Wait for a New Year for a New You

New Year
New Year

One of the most difficult challenges a person can encounter is change.  As each new year approaches people make many promises with the hope of making their lives better.  Whether this is career related, family related, or self related.  “This year I will go for that job I have been wanting”, or “This year I will not get angry when my brother visits and takes over the television”, or how about this one for size “This year I will take better care of myself”.   Now, let’s look at what happens.

A month or so into the new year those promises seem to disintegrate.  Is there something wrong with the promise?  Are you incapable of keeping promises?  Is the promise unattainable?  The answer to these questions is no.  It’s not the promise that prevents us, rather it’s the change that needs to occur within us that interferes with our desire to keep our promise. As helping professionals, don’t we strive to empower individuals to change maladaptive behaviors?  Don’t we support individuals in viewing events from a different perspective? Don’t we rely on the stages of recovery and the changes that move a person from one stage to the next?  Change is the obstacle.  The promise is the goal.  Now, we need to move through the cycle in order to change the very things that are preventing us from fulfilling those promises.

In order to take better care of yourself, you need to look at what behaviors you are engaging in now that prevents you from taking care of yourself. Change is hard and intimidating. Change ushers in the unknown, but change is possible.  This year as you reflect on the ways you took care of yourself, there are questions you may want to ask.  Do I take the time to enjoy social activities?  Do I take the opportunity to treat myself to at least one thing for myself each day?  Do I care enough about myself to allow myself to do nothing if I feel like it?  Why are these questions important when seeking how to take care of yourself?  Firstly, if you don’t take care of yourself who will?  Secondly, if you don’t look at ways to take care of yourself, how can you teach others to take care of themselves?

There are differences in all individuals.  As nurturers, we respect this and appreciate the diversity of all, but a common theme we all share regardless of race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, regional location, occupation is the need to engage in self-care.  What better way to help others transform than to practice it ourselves. Helping others can be challenging which may require holding a lot on our plates.  Imagine the old vaudeville performer who ran from stick to stick, turning and balancing the plates on top less they would come cascading down and break. Does this sound familiar to you?  If it does, than you will understand that the new year not only offers you the challenge of taking care of yourself, but presents the opportunity to help others learn how to take care of themselves as well.

Before change can occur, even before we can move through the stages of change, we must make a promise to change.  If we are to be agents of change, than we ourselves need to experience all there is to feel about the change process.  When we can do that, we not only model it for others, but truly believe that change is possible. Why wait for a new year, let’s start now!

Leaving Room For Change: Beyond Evidence Based Practice

Those of us in the social work profession have spent at least 4 years at university studying the intricacies of human behaviours, and thousands of hours analysing a myriad of models and theories that claim to provide the “solution” to people problems. Every model taught has undergone rigorous testing by suitably qualified professionals in order to prove validity, and to claim its stake in the world of “best practice” or “evidence based practice”.

We exit university feeling well equipped with an abundance of knowledge and an ability to adapt what we have learnt to any given client situation. Ethically, we’re bound to continue our professional development and keep ourselves up to date on the latest findings that add to, question or replace the strategies we were taught, and have started to use with our client groups.

prescriptiveHeading into the “real world”, we soon realize that the organisation (or its funding body) will regulate which models we will use with our particular client group. This may feel “prescriptive” for a while, but soon we’ll either be convinced, or told, that this is the latest and most effective evidence based method of intervention for your particular client group.  We may sprinkle in a portion of our own personality, and if particularly brave, insert a couple of our own ideas throughout the intervention process.  How and when this sort of “insertion of the worker’s own interpretation” occurs does not appear to be of much (if any) concern in overall evaluations.

The assertive among us may even go so far as to suggest CHANGE to some of the old “tried and true” strategies. But we’ll soon realize that we need a team of researchers and multitudes of clients willing to be guinea pigs, to provide that much-needed “evidence”. Time consuming. Probably cost prohibitive.  We’re probably already overworked and underpaid.  Perhaps it’s best to just stick to the existing  prescription.  After all, the “experts” have stated that all the research points to evidence that this works. Furthermore, organisational managers who have a management perspective (as opposed to a client perspective) start to adapt these models as “evidence”  to show they are following procedures which have a “proven” methodology. Models have measurements to gauge outcomes, and outcomes justify organisational spending.

Here comes the irony. Interestingly, we encourage our clients to embrace change. As social workers, we are often called “change agents”.  How then, can we justify a profession that is becoming “prescriptive” by the very nature of insistence on “evidence based practice”?

Now before I am bombarded by those proponents of evidence based practice who only read part way through a document – I urge you to read on.

changeBy no means am I inferring we do away with tried and tested models of intervention. Nor would the removal of “evidence” of effective practice achieve anything bar chaos. What I am suggesting is that “prescription intervention” has an inherent risk of the helping professional becoming complacent in his/her  practice. Take that complacency to its limits and we may well end up with workers who  place expectations on client responses. After all, if there is a generic “correct” model of intervention, then there must a generic “correct” client response.  Yet nothing could be further from the truth – we all know that client responses are as diverse as client circumstances.

So wherein lies the balance? The balance lies in perspective. It’s about how we view a particular model. The key is this – models are not meant to be prescriptive, they are a guide.  We value individual differences, so leave room in your practice to adapt, to be innovative, to be flexible according to your particular client needs and circumstances. Look beyond the prescription. Best practice is about best outcomes for clients.

Most of all, focus less on the need to be rigidly mindful on a model and start to use creativity, flexibility, authenticity, innovation and adaptability to ensure that any model of intervention remains relevant to client needs.  And if you think perhaps you’ve fallen into the trap of complacency, consider the need for some time out to regain that sense of wonder, intrigue and sense of justice you once had in your early practice years. Why? It is important for social workers to retain the ability to function effectively as a “change agent”.

Let’s just look at those words again – creativity, flexibility, authenticity, innovation, adaptability. A little outside your comfort zone? Not quite sure where these things fit into social work?   Let me remind you of Einstein’s quote “the definition of insanity is repeating the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”.  If you are not creative, flexible, innovative, authentic and adaptable in your own practice, then how can you empower your clients to make change?  If you adopt one particular “modus operandi” in your practice, relying solely on what has been presented to you as “evidence based practice”, then where will new ideas come from?  If you view one particular model as the generic answer to your client group’s issues, how will innovative new practices ever evolve?

It isn’t simply a case of sitting in the status quo of a current model and insisting on its merits because it has “proven results”, or because the company that pays your salary insists that you utilize a particular method. If you see a need for change, then speak out. Act on it. Find others in the helping professions and discuss their experiences.  After all, isn’t that what we encourage our clients to do?

Exit mobile version