The Worst Argument for Anything Ever
I haven’t written a post in a while. There are a lot of reasons, one being that I am attempting to allow time to cool off after frustrating situations to collect my thoughts and adequately express myself and my ideas. What I’ve realized though is that by the time I have given myself enough distance from the last frustrating event, I inevitably run into another. So realizing this, I figured it was time to kill a bunch of birds with one post. On this blog, I have shared with people stories from my past, concepts, things I believe in, and the trials and tribulations of trying to build up a company and a community. Today, I am going to take down one of the most significant hurdles to a business’ and a community’s development; the belief and adherence to “THE WAY THINGS HAVE ALWAYS BEEN DONE.”
If my why can be summed up as fighting for change and progress so that cycles can be broken and people, communities can be empowered, then the belief in doing things the way they have always been done, is precisely the opposite of what I believe. And those that hold this perspective, are fundamentally opposed to my beliefs, in short nothing infuriates me more and there is no opinion/person I have less patience for than those who recite this mantra.
In today’s rant, I’m going to dive into two scenarios I’ve encountered. They are not meant to be earth-shattering, and that’s the point. This idea or default setting of “It’s the way we’ve always done it.” is so pervasive it seeps into every aspect of our society and cripples us. In these examples, I hope to show that this attitude not only blocks any chance for growth or improvement but it can also simultaneously hasten your decline. Enjoy!
Belledune, The Village Gym / Powerclub
There is a Gym that for the last 20 years, has operated within the village of Belledune. It has had the blessing of having some outstanding volunteers to manage it over the years. The unique thing about this gym is that legally it didn’t exist until this spring.
It might not make sense, but it was never formally a Village operation or under the ownership of an incorporated entity until this spring. This lack of defined ownership left it in a murky legal and insurance situation; it’s also the reason that there have not been many enhancements to the equipment over the years. In 2016 the lead volunteer had asked about the insurance concerns around the gym as well as funding to enhance the gym both in equipment and service. This request is significant because until this point it had never been investigated. In around two decades and a bunch of iterations and location swaps, not one person in the village asked whether or not the gym was insured. If your brain hasn’t exploded yet due to a common sense avalanche hitting you, let me explain further.
The volunteers running the organization were doing so out of the kindness of their hearts and their own passions for fitness. They assumed that they were providing this service to the village and since the village occasionally paid for some dumbells and treadmill parts along with providing a location rent-free, that the village was indeed the owners of the facility. As a result of this ownership, it was also assumed that the village was the liable party for any insurance concerns. Our insurance providers would say, that this assumption, although never explicitly spelled out in any insurance documents, (there is no mention of any gym, weight room, fitness centre, etc.) would have been the case had something happened to trigger a claim or lawsuit. This scenario was further complicated by the fact that the volunteers collected membership fees. So who knows what could have happened.
As you can imagine, this couldn’t stand. I for my part on council suggested that we formalize the scenario that we already had in place. By formally accepting responsibility for the Gym and protecting the managers of the gym as the valued volunteers that they have always been. The argument from the mayor and members of council was, and here it comes,
THE GYM HAS OPERATED WITHOUT ISSUE FOR 20 YEARS, WHY CHANGE ANYTHING. – A Village Councillor (paraphrased)
Well, you can imagine my reaction to this. It was passionate and sudden. The person who said this I believe to be a good friend and person, but it’s just so damn easy to fall into this trap, and this small issue in a small town is a perfect example. For whatever reasons 3 of 5 councilors and the mayor adopted this mentality, then later in that same meeting decided to cut down an 80-year maple as it was at risk of falling in a public space (I mention it for the irony).
The Current Situation: Failure to Adapt
All of this brings us to November 1, 2017, when after finding out that there is no (I mean ZERO coverage on the gym) we had to direct the organizers to lock the doors.
Earlier in the spring, parties with positions contrary to my stance, convinced the volunteers that the only way to keep running their gym was to incorporate and take over ownership formally. With the ownership of the gym officially taken over by the volunteers and their newly formed Non-Profit Organization, the village succeeded in ridding itself of the liability it unwittingly carried for nearly two decades. The only problem, they never bothered to make sure they helped the new NPO get their insurance.
The village operated under the assumption that everything was fine. This misdiagnosis of the situation was due in large part, to never once looking into the requirements of insurance that applies to the operation of gyms. Meaning that the village was completely unaware of the requirements for having the equipment (weights, benches, machines, etc.) inspected, controlled access, supervision among many more regulations. Had we ever once bothered to get the gym adequately covered we would have known that the volunteers were at legal risk.
The volunteers continued to do a great job of fixing and taking away anything that was broken and unsafe, an uphill battle when you do not have the reliable funds to replace and repair. There was also homemade equipment in the gym; I am not joking about that last part.
This brings us back to this week. The village is making an investment in a new village hall, reclaiming the Belledune School that was shuttered due to an exodus of young people, a very progressive move that I am still surprised I got through. I believed that we were finally doing the right thing and protecting our volunteers and ensuring that we would not only set up the gym to grow and expand but finally make significant efforts to offer health and wellness services to our people.
Fear as a Weapon and a Shield
It shouldn’t surprise me at this point, but again I have been proven wrong. Instead of the straightforward process of the village taking over the legal and financial responsibilities of the Gym, and allowing the volunteers to continue on as they have always been, a committee of volunteers who manage and maintain the facility, there is a push to leave them out to dry once more.
Within 24 hours of deciding that we should shut down the gym temporarily, to get the insurance issues settled and to protect our volunteers and the village. A self-serving path was proposed to have the Volunteers sign a lease that would remove the liability from the village and in the words of a proponent of this plan,
“Allow the gym to open back up while they waited until they got insurance.”
Next time you get pulled over, tell the cop you don’t have insurance but you’re planning on getting it, see how that works out.
But capitalizing on the fear of some that they will lose control of the gym and the concerns of others that somehow, the village playing the role we should have always played in its operation, is just a bridge too far, it seems that this is preferred route. None of these fears are warranted; however, as with most decisions based on perceived fears, you can’t convince someone of a position counter to theirs when they have already accepted the worst case scenario as a predetermined destination.
An Institution of Higher Learning: Training For the Future, If the Future is 1972
Disclaimer: I do run a company that has tried to get projects off the ground with several institutions, so there is a financial consideration for me. But as I have said before and will say again, “I don’t care who they hire to do it, they just need to do it!”
In early 2015 I met with an institution in Saint John, a six-hour drive from Belledune. My father (a power engineer by trade) and I, presented the type of operator training we have developed and could develop for them. Even going so far as to suggest a hybrid model that could be explored to increase the number of students that this institution could take in through the course of a year and as a result graduate.
A quick digression. Hybrid models are courses that are delivered with part of the course online and the other taking place in class, on the job or in a lab. They are taking off like wildfire in more progressive jurisdictions. They allow for people to continue to work, support their families, it makes securing childcare easier, reduces the amount of time or leave they need to take off of work.
Doing the Same Thing Over and Over Again and Expecting Different Results
I was befuddled, every attempt to move in this direction, whether it was direct, or through side project was quickly met with opposition that stopped it/us in our tracks. That is not to say we didn’t have some champions working with us. Unfortunately, they just didn’t have the sway to buck the trend.
So I am back down at a meeting in Saint John, and I’m there with a colleague. My father, whom I think had intimidated some of the more vocal “behind the scenes critics” at our first meeting was not able to make this one. So, this time at what I thought was going to be a “how can we work together meeting?” I get blindsided with an all-out assault on online learning in general. As is my nature I eventually reached a tipping point where I had to respond in kind, I can’t remember what I said, but it seemed to remove the final layer of veneer from this individual’s argument.
I am not teaching kids to work out west or anywhere else, I am teaching them to work across the road, (a prominent NB establishment) that’s how I’ve always done it and it’s the best way for success in this trade. And your online courses can’t do that. – (obviously paraphrased it was almost 3 years ago, but darn close)
I was dumbfounded, this was the first, but it would not be the last time, that I would encounter such a limited scope of the world and its opportunities. This instructor was admitting, boasting even, that the only path for a high demand trade was to work in the same place that people in Saint John with that skill set had gone to for decades. Beyond that, there was no value in teaching them about any other applications for their skills.
I live in Northern New Brunswick, a place plagued by a depleting skilled workforce. Give it ten more years, most if not all of the tradespeople who helped push the economy in the 70’s 80’s and early 90’s will be retired or deceased. With a smaller and less skilled population to replace them. It doesn’t make sense to me that any institution that knows the demographics of their territory would not take any approach to increasing access for the development of these skills. It still causes me great pain every time I hear news about an unskilled workforce or the enrollment rates plummeting, I just shake my head and say “Access, the issue here is access.”
With tuition covered for students in the middle to low-income brackets, there would be next to no barriers if they would just adopt a hybrid delivery model.
All of this being said, I have still not given up on these institutions, I am always willing and ready to work with them in any capacity to help empower the people and businesses in our province so that they can succeed. I think it just boils down to fear. And to understand the reason that people stick to the old ways of doing things, even when they know it’s killing them, you have to know what they are more afraid of, change or decline.
Change is a Hurricane,
I’m 30 years old, I can’t grow a decent beard, but I am getting older. The median age of Belledune is well into the 50’s. Our one remaining school, designed for 400+ students, has 91. The region has one of the highest unemployment rates in the country, and we are also among the highest in adult illiteracy rates. Many of these statistics apply right across the province, but the north is in particularly bad shape.
With all these factors in mind, and knowing that you do not get into these situations overnight, people should be terrified of maintaining the status quo, it’s led us to the edge of a cliff. So, what stops people from taking action? To answer this question I think we need to have a conversation about fear, risk, and change.
For my part, I am afraid that my home will continue to decline to the point that no matter how much I try to remain optimistic, I will not be able to see a future for my family and myself here.
For others, I believe that decline doesn’t scare them nearly as much as change. For the gentleman at the institution mentioned above, he was afraid to redefine his measurement of success, as long as his grads walked into the open spots in the same company he was happy. For the Village of Belledune, I believe the root fear is accepting that by not standing up for progressive change, even if it was unpopular, we have failed the community, and it is now too late to change without accepting significant risk. As a result, the prevailing sentiment becomes to play defense, protect the status quo.
This statement is not an indictment of staff or volunteers but the elected officials both present and past, of which I am one.
I see it in the thin justifications or arguments made by councils both present and past, and politicians at all levels, that if we just do what we did in the past, we might be able to recapture some former glory. Or put in more general terms “Let’s do what we’ve always done, and it will all work out like it did before?” The two major issues (among many others) with this way of thinking are, A) Hindsight is not always 20/20, we see an idealized version of events in times of perceived happiness and B) Those strategies and ideas worked in a world that no longer exists. Change happens whether you want it to or not.
Change is a hurricane, you either accept that it’s coming and prepare for it, or it knocks your house down.
I realize that I have done a great deal of preaching in this post, but this is what I truly believe. When you opt to support processes, ideas and policies that have proven time and again to fail, you are choosing your immediate comfort over the future of those to come. Maybe it’s my age, but I am not content to be the last generation to call Belledune home, and even those older than me should not be content to do so either. Change isn’t easy. If it were, every community would be in great shape and have Ph.D.’s living in every other house. The people, communities, and institutions that thrive embrace the challenges that come with change and realize that it is the price you have to pay for longevity and a better future.
It’s supposed to be hard, if it wasn’t hard everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great! – A League of Their Own
What the World Needs Now…
One cannot live in fear of change because change is upon them whether they fear it or not. Every day our world is not the same one that it was the day before. In business the market you are in is always in a state of change, whether it’s technology, a new competitor or other external forces, you have to be ready to change or decline. For institutions, you have to understand the needs of the market you were designed to serve, they may present challenges that you’d rather not absorb, but that is the nature of the beast.
And finally communities. Our world is always changing, the actions we take today should not be measured by their impact on us today, but for the impact, they will have in the future.
Of course, change is scary, and the longer you put it off, the more risk and pain come with the inevitable decision to change, especially once it is forced upon you. And trust me, we are rapidly approaching that point.
“Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear.” ~Ambrose Redmoon