Monday, May 27, 2024 #55

 Newness, from both the group and the newby's pespective, and the business of ‘entering’ and ‘being welcomed’ny new group, in any period in history, is a process fraught with apprehension, anxiety, fear and a cu intltural meme that advocates for, argues for, defends and almost insists upon a deeply embedded mantra: “GO SLOW.”

Is this a sequel to the child’s parentally-inspired, parentally inculcated, and societally reinforced, ‘don’t talk to strangers’?

Or is this mantra another of the carry-overs from the adolescent caution when young men and young women begin to find each other, develop flirtations with each other, and then begin to date?

Is this mantra a hard-wired program, deeply embedded in the feminine psyche, verbalizing, and “cognetizing” a safe perception of how best to be accepted, welcomed, viewed, and integrated into any new situation?

Is it the “politically correct” embodiment of a Canadian heritage, as a middle power attempting to find and take its place alongside superpowers, both geographic (e.g. the U.S.A. and natural (e.g. the wild forest, the wild oceans, and the wild ‘future’?

GO SLOW by its very intonations, evokes safety, security, an approach that, for example, in traffic signs, especially around school zones, hospital zones, construction zones, and fire or storm scenes. The mantra has innumerable appropriate, even essential applications. And, in each of those appropriate situations, it earns the kind of respect that seems to come with its very oral deployment.

At the other end of the spectrum, for example, in the Emergency Department, the Delivery Room, the Operating Room, perhaps in the court room, depending on the occasion, the protocol and the expectations and direction of the presiding judge. Similarly, if and when a law enforcement officer enter the scene of a robbery, an act of reported violence, a prospective suicide, or even if a neighbour hears a cry from next-door, all of the training, memory and establishment of the cognitive and emotional imprint, “GO SLOW” has to give way to the immediate situation, the needs of those in distress, and the need of the care-giver to assess, discern, and to act in the most appropriate, supportive and healthy manner, when they have any specific training or experience for the moment. And the “list” of ‘how to think, prioritize and execute ‘next moves’ that has comprised the training, is, in effect, supposed to ‘take over’ and provide a ‘safe,’ and ‘professional’ and effective intervention into the melee. Protocols, in the face of emergencies, have the expressed purpose of detaching the professional interventionist from the turbulence of the moment.

Respect for funeral processions, too, warrants a mind-set, as well as actions that embody, respect, reverence, and humility and honour for the deceased.

There is an unconscious, conventional consensus that ‘go slow’ brings a degree of respect, reverence and predictability into each situation, almost like ‘elevator music’ piped into elevators, and high-end retail outlets, as a means of ‘calming’ the anxiety of potential victims of an accident in the elevator, and of opening the wallets of those elegant clients.

In academic situations, there are academic presidents who have developed a culture of the appearance of ‘moderation’ and ‘thoughtful,’ ‘reflective,’ and studied policy considerations, in the hope and belief that those working that environment will ‘follow’ that example, as the most appropriate and professional model of managing the enterprise. From an educational perspective, both teacher and student are physically, intellectually and emotionally conscious that in process of learning a new concept, or especially a new skill, there is the conjoined commitment to ‘take it step-by-step’ so that the eventual learning becomes embedded, seeded and then nurtured in repetition, application and more repetition and applications.

Clearly, the mantra, ‘Go Slow,’ has multiple, useful, professional, political and even social applications, implications and relevance. Speeding vehicles, impatient drivers, restless students, angry customers, impulsive decision-makers and unpredictable incongruent words or actions by especially fully mature, responsible adults are not merely dangerous, they are untrustworthy, as a general rule.

Time, applied with patience, as a levelling notion has brought with it the human ‘compliance’ with, tolerance of and advocacy for a ‘way of being in the world’ that has many benefits.

Integrated into the mantra, go slow, is the also-embedded program of planning, pre-planning, surveillance, standing back, testing and testing and testing for anyone and for any group in the intersection of a new person, a new idea, or a new action. One life-long resident of a modest-sized Ontario city explained, calmly, methodically, and even respectfully, that the process of actually opening an open-air downtown artificial ice-pad for public skating was thirty years after the initial proposal was aired by city council.

In a conversation with a realtor in a small Ontario town, about a search for a respected, local prospective leader for a new ‘seniors centre,’ without offering any name, because he would have to think carefully about the question, he urgently volunteered, “It doesn’t matter who is selected as the ‘chair,’ in this town, whatever we do we must ‘go slow’ in the way we do it. That is just the way things are done here!”

And while there is no inherent evil either intended or implied in the ‘go slow’ mantra, like all templates, it has to be viewed from the shared lens of what the situation requires. A polar perspective that ‘assigns’ one of two extremes, ‘instant intervention’ to a crisis, and ‘go slow’ to all other processes, obviates the essential process of discernment, reflection and community and team building that includes the matter of ‘timing’ as an integral, relevant and operational ingredient in all conversations. And that ‘timing’ question is not relegated to an exclusive affordability quotient.

‘Go slow” is a publicly acknowledged, accepted, and even revered ‘arrow’ in the quiver of political leaders who, because of their radar of ‘hot-button’ issues, have become highly sensitized to the potential public push-back not only if they make a move that is not publicly affirmed. Reconnoitering, public opinion polls, focus groups, town halls, have taken on a priority and role in the political arena that has subverted both critical thought and disciplined and collegial decision-making in the public interest, even by apparent political rivals. While acknowledging the ‘pro-active’ core of leadership, at least rhetorically, the truly operational mantra of most political operatives is ‘reactive’ simply because the hostility of virtually all public reactions is so heated, visceral, venomous, and even dangerous as to ‘straight-jacket’ even the most visionary of public figures.

Indeed, “proactivity” or the very notion of ‘taking and showing initiative’ in any situation, not highly and intensely governed by competition, very often in a zero-sum equation, is too often considered haughty, presumptuous, arrogant, invasive, off-putting, inappropriate and even offensive. Of course, ‘how’ one demonstrates ‘proactivity’ in any specific situation also depends on the culture and ethos of the group in which the ‘proactivity’ is being offered. Gradients of enthusiasm, especially from rookies, newbies, new neighbours, new recruits, and particularly for any notions of ‘change,’  depending on the perceptions, receptivity and confidence of the group, however, are often measured in and filtered through the sieve of ‘go slow’…as a precautionary protection that groups and their leaders often adopt for the perceived and avowed long-term sustainability of the group. Naturally, (sarcastically) if there is a process within group for ‘filtering,’ and ‘assessing,’ and welcoming any proposals, that process itself is invariably kept ‘secret’ among the group in order to ‘protect the group’ from unwanted persons or their ideas. So, it is evident that ‘go slow’ can be, even unconsciously, embodied in a kind of undeclared process for ‘listening’  and for ‘mentoring’ and for ‘integrating' and ‘welcoming’ the new ‘stranger’ into the weave and culture of the group.

If we do not want ‘outsiders’ to know who we are, and how we ‘do things’ as a deeply revered premise on which we operate, both as individuals and then as groups, then that is how we will behave. And for the individual to ‘risk’ a suggestion, or especially a proposal, or even to ask a probing question, from the perch of a newby, is invariably regarded as ‘presumptuous’ and ‘haughty,’ ‘arrogant,’ and for some, repulsive, more for the presumption than for any ‘value’ or relevance of the idea.

And there are numerous, seemingly innocuous and almost imperceptible ways to erect and to establish a protective ‘wall’ around the insiders, to protect them (and the group) from the intrusion of the ‘outsiders’. Warning that the stereotype of the former professional credentials of the rookie ‘are not welcome here’ seems innocent enough, until one realizes that such a defensive statement says more about the fear ingrained in that warning of the speaker than necessarily of the group. And yet, because both the rookie and the speaker will forever remain anonymous, whether the group actually concurs with the warning or not, will never really be addressed or even raised.

Personal attitudes, personal perceptions, and personal belief systems are all embodied in the words, and the behaviour, ever the raised eye-brows of those who ‘wonder where you have been’ if some interruption in attendance has resulted from private concerns, prompts their ‘anxiety’ that as a newcomer, you are not reliable, dependable, predictable and thereby trustworthy.

And, in the midst of all of these hypothetical meanderings about ‘go slow’ and about how new comers are or are not integrated into a new town, a new family, a new occupation, a new corporation or a new athletic team, there is the question of integrating both the skills and the attitudes and the insights of the new recruit into the established ‘culture’ of the situation. In athletics, especially, or even in the arts, where the talent and skill of the rookie can be evident fairly quickly, the ‘stamp’ of acceptance and approval can be and usually is applied soon after the rookie’s arrival. Similarly, in a professional situation, the credentials and the ‘performance’ of the new recruit are observable for all to witness, and to celebrate and welcome.

It is in those more abstract, amorphous, and often unstructured or unconsidered or even incomplete processes and methods of how any group perceives, plans for, and executes a long-range plan for welcoming new people into their melieu, the process very often amounts to a ‘welcoming’ greeting, an approach even adopted by Walmart, to greet customers on their arrival.

Mentors, for example, like ‘god-parents’ for many newly baptized or dedicated children, are too often merely titles of ‘good intentions’ without the granularity of an actual disciplined, convenanted and acknowledged hand of guidance, support and leadership. It is not only at the ‘top’ of any hierarchical organization where leadership is both needed and needed to be acknowledged. Leaders, like Bridget from the last post in this space, are also leading by their entry into and their embrace of the highly needed and often absent process of ‘orientation’ as an integral part of ‘welcoming’.

Hand-outs, and citizenship tests, and ‘go slow’ mantras and even the basic ‘getting to know the name’ of the newcomer, are so minimal; and yet, too often, as in paying lip-service to those ‘soft-skills’ in many of our organizations, they are regarded as inconsequential,  unimportant, and thereby irrelevant. “The strong and confident and self-possessed individual does not want to be supervised and monitored” might be the unspoken and unwritten rationale for the ‘go slow,’ ‘hands-off,’ approach of many groups. On the other hand, there might be another unacknowledged, unofficial and unspoken, unwritten group expectation that, among the members, there will be a few individuals who are curious, interested and ‘pro-active’ who might fill thee gaps of any ideas, questions or suggestions that might be emerging from the mind and heart of the rookie.

The intersection of an individual “new” to any group or situation, especially one that disavows rules, regulations and acknowledged needs, both of their own members and of others entering, is a moment of  intersection about which we have too often deferred to happenstance. Nevertheless, relationships, the sine qua non of all healthy effective and thriving groups, begin at the beginning.

And, if we were as attentive to new ‘beginnings’ among adults as we are to new births of babies, there would be less disintegration, segregation, separation, alienation and confusion and certainly more welcome, a benefit not only for the rookie but also for the group.


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