Friday, 15 July 2011

The Art of Hot Potato

Some days I feel like I'm living two lives. In one I am an aspiring chick lit writer and in the other I am an aspiring health policy analyst. I think a lot of people have this split. There's the teacher who'd like to be a professional golfer. The lawyer who likes to rock out on his guitars. Cross-dressers. And so on.

The following is an attempt to synthesize my two lives by connecting this fun, frothy and flexible non-blog to the boring, rigorous policy school I will be attending in the fall.

There are handful of things in life that bring out my competitive side. You could not say I was a competitive person - no. I am strictly competitive with only this small number things that hold a chance of me winning at them.

For example, I am a terrible skater. It's just not something I took to as a child. My mother would have to sit on the bleachers and watch as I, at 5 years, opted to walk around the rink while the other 5 yr olds skated ahead (walking in skates is more challenging, actually). I didn't have the natural ability to put me up there, shredding, battling with the top 5 aged 5. So I simply decided that skating was not worth my time. If you like to skate, go for it. I hope you excel. I have other (better) things to focus on.

One of these small number of activities is the game Catch Phrase.

It was a party favourite in my Thunder Bay life. If you've never played, it goes like this. You have an electronic timer that gives you a word or catchphrase. You then have to describe that word/catchphrase to your team (without saying the word, of course). When your team guesses correctly you pass it to the next person on the opposite team. The goal is to not be holding the timer when it goes off. If you are holding it (because your team didn't guess fast enough or because you sucked at describing the word/phrase) the other team gets a point.

So it's like hot potato for adults.

Once the timer gave me the word 'shazaam'. 
"A 1970's expletive," I said, trying to remain calm, trying not to curse the timer for giving me such a ridiculous word.
"SHAZAAM!" cried my dear friend and teammate Sarah. Complete with the required intonation.

Point us. It was a moment in Catch Phrase history. Dear Sarah and I, we play to win. See?

Last Friday I was invited to a party with Musician Boyfriend's co-workers. Someone brought Catch Phrase. I was elated. I had my game face on. It had been MONTHS since I'd had a chance at winning at something.
We played girls vs. boys.
My team lost.
"I feel like I let you down," said one of the women, in earnest.
"No no, it's just a game," I say, forcing a smile. Do not act like a sore loser in front of MB's office. Do not embarrass him. "No big deal," I shrug.
I think you get my point.

Mulling over this crushing loss in the days following eventually shifted to mulling over something perhaps more productive.

The art of hot potato. The passing of responsibility from one person to the next.

We've all done it. We find out that our brother-in-law's wife is having an affair. We don't tell the brother-in-law ourselves, we tell our partner to tell their brother. (Or not. It's up to them. That's the art of hot potato). An assignment comes up in a meeting that bores us to tears - throw it to the new girl. Hot potato. Don't feeling like deciding on Friday night's plans for the group? Morris is better at it anyway. Hot potato.

Yesterday, this reflection on an age-old social practice collided with a great website a former professor posted: The Candian Index of Well-Being. I downloaded the article "Ideas for Positive Change" (who doesn't like positive change?) and got to reading the suggestions held within.

I always appreciate these kinds of suggestions and ideas in reports. These "actions for government leaders" (as the paper begins.) There are solutions to the world's problems, it seems. Look, right there! Answers! Answers! Low-hanging fruit!

So why isn't anyone doing anything about it?

Oh, lots of reasons. Money. Capitalists. Puffy white guys.

But there's something more to it than that, I now argue.

Maybe our civil service, our political leaders and decision-makers, are stuck in a game of eternal hot potato. 

Like your Wednesday morning meeting that goes around in circles until everyone leaves with nothing, no one is willing to action these marvelous (and obvious) solutions.

I imagine that for some of these civil servants (the higher-ups responsible for decisions, most predominantly Mr. Stephen Harper) going to work everyday is something like the feeling of going to that brother-in-law's 25th wedding anniversary party.

In a system filled with policy advisors and analysts, where are the policy actionists? Is it a committee struck? Are they responsible? So they will meet once a week and then....wait. Stop right there.  We covered this. Meetings are like goddamn vegetable ovens, for christ sakes. Hot potatoes galore.

But I don't just point fingers at this group, no. I'd say it also applies to the voters. The people who elect (some of) this group into our system. For example, the suburbanites who voted in Rob Ford as Toronto's mayor. The ones who hot potato'ed their responsibility for protecting the environment, the arts and the gays and oh, helping one of Canada's major cities set an example on the world stage, in favour of paying (slightly) lower taxes.

I hope that boring, rigorous policy school will have a rebuttal to this attempt at synthesizing my two lives. I hope that by Christmas I am eating my words. It's not just a game of hot potato. Everyone is willing to own up to responsibilities and make real change. Not just punching in and tinkering around a bit 'til you've earned enough to get to the Barbados for Christmas. All the world's problems really can be blamed on a) the system and b) the puffy white male capitalists.

To sum up, hot potato is something that we're all guilty of. I've even told you a story that illustrates how stupendously adept I am at it. 

But I put forward that there is a time and a place for the art of hot potato. Children's birthday parties, for example. My friends Danielle and Jay's basement. Certain social or work situations (read - harmless, or the ones where the responsibility really shouldn't be yours)

Hot potato has no place in the working lives of our country's decision-makers or in the people who vote for them.

(You can quote me on that. It's a bit Trudeau-esque, no?)

1 comment:

lizzabele said...

friggin' brilliant.