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Archive for the ‘Media’ Category

How I Would Deal With Celebrities Who Harass Women

The dominoes have started to fall, and they are now tumbling faster and faster. At this moment, we are living through what Malcolm Gladwell would call The Tipping Point.

Hollywood Sign

We are now all uncomfortably aware of this poorly-kept secret: women in the entertainment industry have been sexually harassed and assaulted by men in power, but rarely has anything been done about it. The tides started to turn in October 2014, when Bill Cosby was accused of multiple drug-facilitated sexual assaults. At first, we didn’t want to believe it – as Cliff Huxtable, Bill Cosby was America’s father during the 1980s. He liked Jello pudding and he didn’t swear during his comedy routines. What’s not to like? Then, as more and more women came forward, it became clear that our safe, comfortable reality was about to come crashing down. The number of accusers kept climbing until the total surpassed 50. This could not longer be a conspiracy or a collusion – we needed to adjust to a harsh, new reality.

What was a single tremor in 2014 turned into an earthquake during the summer and fall of 2017. One after another, major entertainment and political figures were being accused by multiple women of sexual assault and harassment: Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Louis C.K., James Toback, Ben Affleck, Jeffrey Tambor, Al Franken.

As I was beginning this blog post, Charlie Rose was accused by eight women of sexual harassment. He has since been suspended by CBS. As I write this now, Pixar animator John Lasseter has just taken a six-month leave of absence from the company after acknowledging “missteps” in his behaviour with Pixar employees.

People are understandably outraged, not only by the abhorrent behaviour but also by the jarring pervasiveness of it. There is a collective desire to punish these perpetrators, and I share that feeling with you. However, what concerns me is not how we feel, but how we’ve reacted, and the consistency of our knee-jerk reactions:

These punitive measures may make us a sense that justice is being served, but they’re simply short-term, feel-good reactions. In my opinion, there is a much better way to handle these situations, and it begins with examining what we, as a society, want. Yes, we want them to pay for their transgressions, but there is a broader goal: we want them to stop abusing their power or position, to respect others, and to behave like decent human beings. The path to this goal begins with a look back at our childhood.

Childhood Lessons

When I was a little kid, my brother and I usually got along, but not always. When we were fighting or being antagonistic toward each other, my mother would walk into the room and say “I want you two to play nicely together!”. In hindsight, she was very wise. Instead of removing one of us from the room, she deliberately kept us together so that we would learn how to get along with each other. She didn’t adjust our environment because we weren’t well-behaved; we had to change our behaviour and adapt to our environment. It was a form of social Darwinism, and it worked… for a little while. Over time, my brother and I did learn to play nicely together.

I believe this parenting principle can also apply to adults. Of the people in the above list, let’s use Kevin Spacey as an example. After his reprehensible behaviour was publicized, Netflix, understandably, wanted to distance itself from him, and they cut ties with him. I get that. I’m sure that they see him as a toxic person, a general liability to their brand, and perhaps even to their bottom line. However, this is still a Lady Macbeth-esque knee-jerk reaction. Naturally, without their lead actor, the future of his television series, House of Cards, is up in the air.

I believe that there is a better approach to this situation, using a variation of my mother’s conflict resolution technique.

© Creative Commons Attribution, labelled for non-commercial re-use.

As yourself this: Will removing Kevin Spacey from his studio environment make him a better person? Rather than simply fire him (and possibly cancel House of Cards), I’d like to propose the following scenario:

Kevin Spacey’s current contract is torn up, and renegotiated, with the following additional provisions:

  • His annual salary will remain the same, but he will now receive only 50% of it.
  • The other 50% will be divided as follows:
    • 25% of his annual salary will be divided evenly among the co-workers he molested
    • The other 25% will be divided evenly among the rest of the employees. Not just the on-camera talent, but everyone working on the show.
  • He will apologize, in person and individually, to every colleague he harassed or assaulted.
  • He will treat everyone working on the show with the utmost respect and courtesy, at all time, both on and off the set.
  • Those colleagues whom he molested who no longer want to work with him will still be entitled to their share of the 25% portion of his salary, even if they find work elsewhere.
  • If he behaves inappropriately again, then he will be fired immediately and his character will be written out of the show.

As you’ve probably guessed by now, the difference here is that his environment will not change; he will remain in it, learn to adapt to it, and learn to treat everyone around him with respect. This is actually a harsher punishment than simply taking away his show, because it makes Netflix the proverbial parent, who is saying “Listen, Spacey, you are not going to run away; we won’t allow it. You are going to stay here, and you are going to treat everyone with the utmost consideration.”

My proposal will give him the opportunity to start practising this less puerile behaviour, day after day, week after week, and month after month. He’ll still earn more than enough money to live, but the sudden reduction in pay will be a reminder that the pendulum still needs to swing the other way for a while before a balance can be restored. Over time, his new civilized comportment should become his new normal, just like it did for my brother and me. I, for one, have faith in Kevin Spacey; like a modern-day Ebenezer Scrooge, I don’t think he’s too old to turn over a new leaf. I think he can transform himself into a decent person, and that is, ultimately, our goal.

In fact, this scenario, with minor modifications, could also be adapted for Jeffrey Tambor and Charlie Rose.

Let’s not be reactionary and change the environment for celebrities who behave poorly. Keep them in the same environment, make sure they know that they’re being watched, and then hold them to a higher behavioural standard. They need to practice continual respectful interactions until it becomes second nature. My proposal gives them that opportunity.

As I turn on my television and continue to watch the proverbial dominoes fall, our collective responses seem dishearteningly similar. It’s tempting to step in when karma isn’t moving fast enough for us, but let’s not succumb to knee-jerk reactions. If we want to create a better society, we need to play the long game. What we see as just and immediate punishment is merely our attempt at changing the environment in response to their actions. Let’s take this opportunity to shape their behaviour and help them realize that they must adapt, and that the changes must come from within.

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The Hidden Life Lesson In The Shawshank Redemption

So oftentimes it happens that we live our lives in chains, and we never even know we have the key.” – The Eagles, Already Gone

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I thought that The Shawshank Redemption was an outstanding movie – not just for the story or the acting, but for the subtle, yet profound message that it delivered to the audience.

I wanted to discuss this allegory a little further, so I decided to take an informal poll among my friends. Most of them have seen The Shawshank Redemption – some multiple times – and all of them told me that they enjoyed it immensely. However, when I asked them what they got out of the movie, no one extracted the same life lesson that I did. However, I saw this as a good thing; I could now argue that The Shawshank Redemption is a work of art, since art affects different people in different ways.

shawshank-redemption

If you’ve never seen The Shawshank Redemption, then stop reading this blog post and watch it now. Get what you can from it and then come back. If you’ve already seen the film, then I’d like to encourage you to watch it one more time – but first allow me to tell you what I gained from it, after viewing it from (what else) The Bob Angle.

As I’m sure you recall, one of the characters, Brooks Hatlen, is released from prison after completing his sentence. Unfortunately, after being in prison for 50 years, he is unable to adjust to society again and eventually commits suicide by hanging himself.

Before his sentence Brooks was able to function fairly well in society… except, of course, for his inability to stay on the right side of the law. So what happened to his ability to cope? The answer is: Brooks’ universe shrank. While he was serving his sentence, his universe slowly started to contract, and eventually the prison walls functioned as the boundaries of his new existence. For all intents and purposes, there was nothing – or at least nothing attainable by Brooks – beyond those walls. Once his sentence was over and he was forcibly pushed past those boundaries and into the universe that we inhabit, life became too much for him to bear.

The lesson, as I see it, is this: The more boundaries there are in your life, the smaller your universe becomes. While you may be content living a circumscribed existence, you will not be able to see and enjoy all that life has to offer.

At this point, you may be thinking “I’m sorry, but this doesn’t apply to me. I’m not living inside a prison, real or self-imposed. I function well in society and there are no boundaries whatsoever in my life!

Are you sure? I’d like to propose to you that your universe is also shrinking. Not through any physical constraints such as the prison walls in the movie, but by barriers that you have unwittingly created yourself. Most of us have invisible boundaries in our lives, and we aren’t even aware of the limitations that they are imposing on us. Let me give you a few examples:

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The Transportation Universe

First of all, I must admit that I am also susceptible to these boundaries. Before I bought my first car, I used to take the bus everywhere, and began to know most of the bus routes in the city. Shortly after getting my car, I was driving to the grocery store and, without even thinking about it, I took the same route as the bus (which wasn’t the fastest or most direct way to get there). Midway through my journey I suddenly exclaimed out loud “What am I doing? Why am I driving on this street? I have a car now – I can drive on any street I like!

bus-route-map

Years of riding the bus had made me assume that the only way to get from Point A to Point B was by travelling along the bus routes. All of the other roads in the city were purged from my consciousness. My transportation universe had shrunk, and I hadn’t even noticed.

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The Employment Universe

internal-applicantsYears ago, I had a contract job working at a government ministry. One day, my manager confided to me that he wasn’t really happy in his job, but couldn’t identify another position within the ministry where he would be happy. So I helpfully suggested that he should consider extending his search to the private sector, which was where I was working previously. He had been working in the Ministry for so long that his employment universe was limited not only to the public sector, but to a single ministry within it. It never occurred to him to look beyond it.

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The Culinary Universe

When you go grocery shopping, how many items are on your list? Probably 20-30. During an average month, that list may vary and you might buy 40-50 different items. If you buy groceries fro your entire family, then you might buy 80 different items each month. How many items do you think an average-sized supermarket stocks? The answer I found online is: 50,000 different SKUs. You can choose from 50,000 different items, yet you buy only 50-80 different items each month, and likely the same ones month after month. Even if you bought 100 different items each month, that’s still only 0.2% of the store’s inventory. Think about that for a second – when you walk into a supermarket, you are deliberately ignoring 99.8% of the merchandise. Nobody is forcing you to do it. This, too, is your own self-imposed limitation.

supermarket-aisle

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The Digital Universe

If you’re a software developer and you want to spruce up your application, the best way to do this is to ask for suggestions from someone outside your company – preferably, someone who’s never used the software before. In my experience, the best and most innovative ideas come from new employees. This sounds counter-intuitive, but it actually makes perfect sense.

I’ve written software, and after a while, you become so intimately familiar with the code that it feels as though you’re actually living inside the application. Each screen is a different room. However, just like Brooks Hatlen, the software slowly begins to impose its own barriers. Over time, my ideas become less grandiose and are eventually limited to minor enhancements or bug fixes. I no longer consider radical changes or bold, new directions. The code has become my prison, yet I am blissfully unaware of it.

New employees (or new users) have no such boundaries, and aren’t afraid to ask “Why don’t we do it this way?” or “Wouldn’t this approach be more intuitive?“.

Back in 2006, Microsoft developers were considering making the Windows Vista startup sound mandatory. Predictably, users were not too enthused with this loss of control. However, Steve Ball, Microsoft’s Group Program Manager for Vista, was unrepentant. When asked why he was imposing his will on the users, he explained that the startup sound was actually “A spiritual side of the branding experience. A short, brief, positive confirmation that your machine is now conscious and ready to react. You can turn on your Vista machine, go eat some cereal, while your machine is cold booting and then this gentle sound will come out telling you that you can log in.

windows-vista-startup-screen

What Ball didn’t consider were the myriad real-world situations in which any sound is not desirable. For example, if you’re studying for an exam in your university library, the last thing you need is to have your train of thought broken by a Windows startup sound every time a student turns on their laptop. This is obvious to everyone, except the Windows Vista developers, since their universe has become constrained.

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The Twitterverse

Finally, there’s Twitter, which irks me because of its 140-character limit. Now, you’re probably thinking “Wait a minute – that’s Twitter’s limitation, not mine!” Actually it is our limitation because of our tacit acceptance of this limit. When we’re composing a tweet and we’re approaching 140 characters, we never think that there’s something wrong with the design of Twitter – we just assume that our thoughts need to be edited. In my opinion, there shouldn’t be a limit on the complexity of our thoughts and ideas. We shouldn’t have to force them to fit inside a ridiculously small container. Yet we do, and we don’t question it.

Imagine that you are an art gallery curator, and that your gallery has recently acquired an previously-unknown Old Master, discovered (sans frame) at a garage sale. When the painting arrives, you realize that it’s larger than you thought, and that the frame you selected for it is too small. What do you do? Buy a larger frame, or take a pair of scissors to the painting to ensure that it fits inside your container?

cropped-mona-lisa

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The Shawshank Redemption is a remarkable movie, because it illustrated (to me, anyway) that we are all, to varying degrees, living a circumscribed existence. These invisible boundaries have placed you inside a prison of your own construction, yet until this moment, you were probably blissfully unaware of it. Now, by making you aware of just a few of these constraints, you now have a choice: you can continue accepting or even ignoring these limitations, or you can identify and break down your boundaries, break out of your own personal Shawshank State Penitentiary, and start flourishing in your new, unbounded universe.

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We Can Repair Police Relations, If We All Work Together

So far, July 2016 has been a very difficult month in the United States for police forces and their perception by the general public. There is an ebb and flow in this relationship, but there is also a continual underlying tension. This month, unfortunately, things have really deteriorated:

  • On July 5th, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Alton Stirling was shot and killed by police as he sold CDs outside a store.
  • On July 6th, in Saint Paul, Minnesota, Philando Castile was killed by a police officer after a being pulled over for a broken tail light. His girlfriend live streamed the aftermath of the shooting on social media.
  • On July 7th, in Dallas, Texas, five police officers were killed by a sniper, as a form of retaliation for the police shootings during the previous two days.
  • The following day, in Ballwin, Missouri, a police office was shot in the neck while walking back to his cruiser after a routine traffic stop, leaving the police officer in critical condition.
  • July 17th: In this still-developing story in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, multiple police officers have been shot, and three are believed to have died.

Right now there are probably hundreds of other bloggers thinking and writing the same thing I am right now: these events are horrifying, and the violence needs to stop immediately. To most of us, this problem does seem insurmountable, and you may feel, as an individual, that there is nothing you can do about it. However, when I examine things from The Bob Angle, I see a solution. Yes, it is more than one person can accomplish, which is why we need to work together. If we can coordinate our efforts in this area, then restoring a healthy relationship with our police forces can be an attainable goal.

The way I see it, the media’s predominantly negative reporting of police work makes it difficult for us to see the big picture. Here is a breakdown of what’s typically happens following a police shooting:

  • The story gets local, and often nationwide media coverage. Millions of people now know what happened, and understandably, become outraged.
  • Many of these people will be affected by stimulus generalization: they not only become angry with the officer responsible for the shooting, but also with the entire police force and the police forces of other cities. Police officers everywhere are now viewed derisively and may even be the targets of scorn, anger and hate.
  • Some people may even feel compelled to retaliate against individuals who have nothing to do with the original incident.

In Dallas, Texas, five police officers who had absolutely nothing to do with the Baton Rouge or Minneapolis shootings were killed, because the shooter was seeking revenge for the incidents in Baton Rouge and Minneapolis. This is the devastating power of stimulus generalization; the fact that these five police officers were completely innocent didn’t deter, faze or perhaps even occur to the Dallas shooter.

Stimulus generation is a formidable force, but with a coordinated and focused effort, we can control it, and perhaps even make it work to our advantage. In my opinion, police relations are perpetually tense due largely to a prevalence of negative media coverage. The media reports unpleasant events for more often than uplifting stories. Incidents that keep us in perpetual fear seem to be the ones that are broadcast most widely. The “feel good” stories are usually left to the end of the newscast (if there’s time). As a result, we are getting a statistically skewed view of what’s happening in the world, and an especially distorted view of what our country’s police forces do every day.

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Above and Beyond the Call of Duty

To be fair, the media does report, from time to time, on the more positive examples of police work. Here are a few of those stories:

  • During the July 7th Dallas protest in which the five police officers were killed, a mother of four was shot in the leg. As she was attempting to shield one of her sons, she looked up and saw a police officer running over to shield both of them from the gunfire.
  • On January 15th, 2016, a Florida police officer was called for a noise complaint. Some kids were playing basketball too loudly in the street. However, instead of admonishing them, he decided to join them in a game. Afterwards, he promised to return and bring a special guest with him. That special guest turned out to be Shaquille O’Neal

Shaq

  • After responding to a trespassing call, two Barnesville, Georgia police officers discovered a homeless teenager who told them that he had ridden his brother’s bicycle for six hours in order to register for classes at Gordon State College. These two officers put him up in a hotel room (and paid for it themselves), and then set up a GoFundMe page in his name to help him get back on his feet again. In an example of how kindness feeds on itself; the owner of a local pizzeria hired the teenager and said that he would schedule the shifts around his college classes.
  • In Charlotte, North Carolina, officer Tim Purdy responded to a call about a suicidal teen with autism. He sat down with him, talked things out, and likely saved this young man’s life. Purdy later told a reporter “This is something that tens of thousands of law enforcement officers that are out there do every single day,” Purdy said in a video. “You just don’t hear about it.

Police Officer Consoling Teen

  • In La Plata, Maryland, an 81-year-old woman who has dementia was reported missing by her daughters. After a brief search, officer Morrison found her, and held her hand as he walked her back home, chatting with her on the way.

Police And Dementia

  • Each year, police forces in Toronto and the surrounding suburbs hold a “Cram a Cruiser” food drive to support local food banks. They set up a patrol car up just outside the entrance of participating supermarkets, and encourage shoppers to donate food, which is then placed inside the car. A couple of years ago, they were able to fill 50 cruisers full of food. This event is publicized, but only in the local community newspapers.

Cram A Cruiser 5

I agree completely with officer Tim Purdy’s comments; in fact, they reflect the central theme of this blog post. The good deeds performed daily by police officers all over the country vastly outnumber the bad things. Unfortunately, we don’t recognize this because media reporting is weighed heavily on the stories that sell the most newspapers or that generate the most page views – that is, the decidedly unpleasant ones. That’s why our perception of police forces is distorted.

After reading my brief descriptions of these good deeds, how do you feel about police officers right now? I’ll bet that your faith is being restored, and that you now have renewed hope for a brighter, more harmonious future. Listing just a few examples of officers who go above and beyond the call of duty to help others was my modest attempt to create a more statistically balanced reporting, but it still isn’t even close to representing all of the helpful things that police officers do for us every day.

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What We Can Do

Individually, we aren’t as powerful as media outlets, which is why we need to work together to create and promulgate a more accurate view of law enforcement across the country. First of all, we need to consider all of the little things that police officers do for the general public every day, and recognize that the vast majority of these acts receive no publicity at all. Secondly, if you’ve had a positive experience with a police officer, then tell your family, friends and colleagues about it. Tell the story repeatedly, and spread the positive message. This is how we can help give the rest of society a more statistically accurate view of police officers, and the good deeds they perform each day.

I’d like to get the ball rolling, by sharing a couple of stories of my own:

  • A number of years ago, one of my father’s friends was in Chicago, attending an educational conference. This was his first time visiting Chicago. After the conference, he had a bit of free time, so he decided that he would drive around and just explore the city, with no particular destination in mind. As he was driving along, he noticed the flashing lights of a police car behind him. He immediately pulled over, and was baffled because he wasn’t speeding or breaking any other laws (that he was aware of). The officer walked up to his car and demanded “What are doing here?”. This man told him about the conference, and mentioned that he was visiting from Canada. The police officer told him that he had wandered into a very bad neighbourhood and that he shouldn’t be here. He then said “I’m going to drive ahead of you. Follow right behind me, and I’ll take you out of here and to someplace safer“. And that’s just what he did.

My father told me that he’s heard similar stories from some of his friends in other cities – Atlanta and Miami – and added that helping people in this way appears to be quite common. This is the type of police story that is never reported by the media, but should be.

  • Back in the early 2000s, I visited a bar in Fort Lauderdale called The Elbo Room. At the time it stood out from other bars because it had three streaming webcams: one inside, one pointed toward their outdoor patio, and one on the roof aimed at the beach. At any time, I could go to their web site and see what was happening there at that exact moment (which was really cool during the early 2000s). About 3-4 years later, a major hurricane was approaching the south-east coast of Florida.

All businesses were closed and people were urged to stay indoors or even leave the area. I visited the Elbo Room’s web page to see if their roof-mounted web cam was still functioning, and perhaps get a glimpse of the weather and the waves. Surprisingly, the web cam was still functioning in the torrential rain, and although the image was distorted by creeping rivulets of water, I could still get a fairly decent view of the surroundings. This hurricane was a sight to behold. As George Costanza would say “The sea was angry that day, my friends“. The waves were crashing onto the beach, almost reaching the road, and the palm trees were bending in the gale-force winds. Despite the less-than-ideal view though the webcam lens, I saw the flashing lights of a police cruiser, right at the intersection of Los Olas and A1A. It was the only sign of humanity in this decidedly inhospitable environment.

As I watched this scene for the next 10-15 minutes, it occurred to me that this police officer was likely stationed there to keep an eye out for anyone who still hadn’t found shelter, or to make sure that no one got too close to the beach. I was impressed by his/her dedication. While just about everyone else in Fort Lauderdale was safe and sequestered inside their hurricane-shuttered homes, this police officer was watching out for others. This is another story that you won’t find in your local newspaper.

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Closing Thoughts

When we read and watch the daily news, we assume that we have an accurate and balanced view of things. However, our view of the world depends on what is reported to us. Fortunately, our skewed perception of police work can be corrected if we all work together, recognize all of the good work done each day by law enforcement officials everywhere, and share those stories. Only then will be have a more statistically accurate view of what’s really happening, and how much assistance we’re actually receiving from our men and women in blue.

Finally, I’d like to propose the following: the next time you see a police officer, say “Thank you for your service” (or something along those lines). We say this to our veterans who protected us during wartime, so why not express the same sentiment for the men and women who continue to protect us every day?

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The Royal Leadership Lesson

Last year, I decided to start watching a TV series called The Royals – a fictional drama, starring Elizabeth Hurley as the Queen, that re-imagines the British Royal family as a modern, edgy and dysfunctional bunch of characters, whose lives seem to be perpetually rife with scandal.

The series begins with the King mired in a deep and troubled contemplation. He was seriously considering abolishing the British monarchy, because the the rising discontent among the people. Many citizens (who were quite vocal in their protestations) felt that the institution was now completely irrelevant and was a financial drain on the taxpayer. In the second episode, the royal family is preparing to host a garden party at the palace, to which many heads of stare have been invited. Despite the festive surroundings, the King is not enjoying himself; this issue still weighs heavily on his mind.

Staff Kitchen

The camera then turns to the kitchen, where the King and a member of his staff, Prudence (whom he knows by name), are both placing tiny Union Jack flags on a tray of desserts which will be served to the garden party guests. As they decorate the food, he makes small talk by asking her about her life outside the palace walls, and trying to get to know a bit about her as a person. He also asked her what she thought of the monarchy itself, presumably a prelude to the question: does she think that should the monarchy be abolished? Although he requested a completely honest answer, Prudence replied (most prudently) “I am happy to be employed in your Majesty’s home”. While her response may not have been a “big picture” view that the King was hoping for, I can understand that job security and the continuation of her livelihood would be Prudence’s primary and immediate concern.

When I first saw this scene, my initial reaction was “Who wrote this script? This is the King of England, who has hundreds of full-time staff members all ready to do his bidding. Why would be spend his time in the staff kitchen, doing the work of a servant, when he surely has more important things to attend to?”.

A couple of weeks later, I thought about this scene again and realized that I was completely wrong. This was actually an teachable moment moment and a stellar example of leadership. Here’s why:

I’m a member of Toastmasters, and this organization promotes what’s known as a “servant leader philosophy”. That is, the higher one rises in an organization, the more s/he is required to serve others. As members become more experienced and gain new skills, they will be called upon to mentor newer members, assist in club contests, be guest speakers at other clubs, as well as serve as an executive at the Area, District or Division level. It’s a good philosophy that not only keeps us grounded, but ensures that our new skills are used for the benefit of all, and not just ourselves.

Years ago, when I worked in the financial district, there was a story going around the street that Matthew Barrett, who had recently been named as Chairman of the Bank of Montreal, called a meeting of the head office employees. After he introduced himself, he told the audience that everyone naturally assumes that the Chairman is the top job at the bank, but he disagrees. He then displayed a large image of an inverted corporate pyramid and explained that this is how he views himself in the corporate hierarchy – right at the bottom. His job is to serve the bank, its customers and its employees.

Inverted Corporate Pyramid

I also saw something on my Facebook wall that encapsulated everything. This diagram:

Boss vs Leader v2

I now realized that the King was actually displaying outstanding leadership skills:

  • He did not feel that any work was beneath him, and gladly volunteered to help out in the kitchen alongside his staff, performing what is certainly a menial task.
  • He set a good example through his actions, rather than just his words.
  • He made an effort to know his staff members by name.
  • He asked his staff about their personal lives and got to know them as people, rather than just servants.
  • He even appeared to be soliciting their advice on matters for which only the heads of state might be consulted – the abolition of the monarchy. I would imagine that such an inquiry from the King must be immensely flattering to someone working in the palace kitchen.

Above all, the King remained humble. He internalized the advice of Saint Augustine, who said “Do you wish to be great? Think first about the foundations of humility. The higher your structure is to be, the deeper must be its foundation“.

Although his character is fictionalized, he offers a real leadership lesson for all of us.

Cutting The Cable – Five Years Later

Coaxial CableBack in 2009, I was paying $55/month for cable television and felt that I wasn’t getting my money’s worth. As an experiment, I decided to have my cable disconnected for three months to see if I could exist without it, or if its absence and resulting stimulus deprivation would cast me into the throes of despair. Today, it’s still disconnected, and frankly, I don’t miss it at all. The adjustment to life without cable television was much easier than I thought it would be. Here’s how I’ve been managing since cutting this metaphorical umbilical cord:

Rabbit EarsThe first thing I did was locate my disused “rabbit ears” antenna and hook it up to my (CRT) television. Since my apartment is in a direct line of sight to the CN Tower, I was able to receive several local Toronto channels as well as a couple of stations across the lake in Buffalo, New York. This was pretty much the same experience I had growing up at home, yet it now felt (to quote The Love Boat theme song) “exciting and new” because now I no longer had to pay for these channels!

Casio EV-570After a few weeks, I began to think about how to manage my time more wisely. I decided to dig up my old three-inch portable television that receives over-the-air (OTA) signals. I placed it on my desk beside my computer monitor, and used it to watch the nightly news. It’s a surprisingly efficient arrangement – much better than sitting in the living room watching television – because I can do my work on the computer and listen to the news at the same time. If a news story sounds particularly interesting, then I’ll just turn my head slightly and glance at the portable TV.

In May 2011, I finally took the plunge and bought a flat-screen television. During the past several months, my 12-year-old CRT television was deteriorating quickly. It had a faulty voltage regulator and the screen image would compress and expand horizontally, according to the brightness level of the picture. It eventually became all but unwatchable, and repairs would have cost almost as much as a new television. My rabbit ears worked perfectly with the new flat-screen television, and I was even able to receive a couple of additional stations. Don’t let salesman tell you that you need to buy a special “digital” antenna for your new television set – it’s all a marketing ploy, and your regular antenna will work just as well.

August 31, 2011 marked the end of OTA analog television signals in Canada. My three-inch Casio portable television was now a paperweight. My main TV also stopped receiving analog channels, but all I needed to do was re-scan the channels again – the digital tuner automatically deleted the analog channel assignments and replaced them with their digital equivalents. Looking back, it was a good thing that I decided not to repair my old CRT. It didn’t have a digital tuner, and would have also become a paperweight on August 31.

Boxee BoxDuring the summer of 2011, after doing an abundance of research, I bought a Boxee Box streaming media player. It’s similar to an Apple TV, but in my opinion is far superior. All the the Apple TV seems to do is encourage you to buy content from iTunes – which is a wonderful business model for Apple, but not quite as endearing for the consumer. The Boxee provides an abundance of content for free, and allows you to set up and stream content (wirelessly) from your own media server. Once the Boxee Box was installed, I created a rudimentary media server on my PC and added my DVD collection to it. Boxee indexed everything, and then added cover art and episode summaries. Now I could watch any DVD I owned without having to get up from my chair.

The Boxee interface also has a television section of its own, with 200 different TV series to choose from. The 5-6 most recent shows in each series are available for on-demand viewing. These do contain commercials, but there aren’t as many of them as there are on broadcast television – typically one 30-second commercial per break. Boxee also has a movie database, but the offerings are less than impressive – I hadn’t heard of any of the films, and there didn’t seem to be that many in English.

However, there was one promising section called “Apps” – these are specialized video channels on a variety of subjects. There are a handful that require a paid subscription, but the vast majority of them are free. There is also a section with movie trailers. I’m very happy with this set-up – there are no monthly fees, and your own content is integrated seamlessly. I can watch TED Talks, YouTube videos and dozens of other offerings. It’s also recognized as an AirPlay device so you can use it to stream photos, videos or music from your iPhone or iPad to the television.

Public libraries are a surprisingly good source for DVDs. They don’t have recent movies, and their TV series selection is not as extensive as I’d like, but they do have a lot of interesting items in their collection that aren’t generally shown on television: classic movies, fitness workout videos, travel guides, PBS and CBC documentaries, and dozens of programs on a broad range of subjects: lampshade making, gardening, nutrition and restoring antiques. I visit mine whenever I’m in a serendipitous mood.

Netflix LogoI was planning to subscribe to Netflix as soon as I became bored with my current video offerings. Five years later, this still hasn’t happened. I now have so much content at my disposal – YouTube channels, Internet-only programs, movie trailers, Boxee’s apps and television shows, library DVDs, and my half dozen over-the-air television channels – that Netflix is not necessary.

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Observations and Conclusions

  • Once my cable was disconnected, my media consumption changed from a “push” model (one in which the stations push content to the consumer, according to their broadcast schedule), to a “pull” model (where I select the programs I want to watch, according to my own schedule). In my opinion, the pull model is clearly superior. I can watch what I want, when I want, and I no longer have to wait until a certain day of the week to watch a specific show. If I get behind on a series, I know that the last 5-6 episodes are available from the Boxee Box, so I can catch up whenever I like. Of course, you could do this with a TiVo, but that would mean remembering to set the machine to record each program, and hoping that its hard drive doesn’t fill up.
  • I now receive TV and movie recommendations from my friends and from IMDB, instead of television spots promoting other programs. These two sources will let me know what’s worth watching and what is a total waste of time.
  • My monthly fees have dropped to zero. While there was an initial outlay for the Boxee Box ($189), its content is free, and so are the over-the-air stations. In fact, the Boxee paid for itself within four months.
  • OTA broadcast television offers a superior picture over cable, because the signal isn’t compressed. In what is certainly a delicious irony, most people are paying money to cable companies in order to receive an inferior television signal!
  • I no longer waste time channel surfing just to see if something interesting is on. My television watching is now deliberate. I turn on the television only when there is something specific that I want to see. This is actually quite a time-saver – how many hours have you spent languishing in from of the television set, watching it without a clear goal in mind?

In conclusion, disconnecting my cable was one of the better decisions I’ve made, because it’s allowed me to discover the utility of the “push” paradigm as well as entirely new ways of consuming media. Spend a few minutes and add up what you’ve spent on cable television during the past twelve months, and ask yourself what you’ve gained from that expenditure. Step out of your comfort zone and try this three-month experiment, like I did, and then decide whether you can live without it. I’ll bet that you can!

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