Monday, June 27, 2011

Age Discrimination

Recent news articles presented the fact that the older unemployed are finding it harder to reenter the workforce.  In one television interview a man told the reporter that one company directly admitted to him that he had all the qualifications and experience and if he were 20 years younger, the job would be his.  This is not only illegal, but a distinct failure in the dimension of critical thinking.  It’s illogical and probably a disservice to the owners and customers of the company.

Consider that until recently it was not unusual for a company to have a turnover rate in the area of 20% - much higher in some cases, slightly lower in others depending on the work.  (I say until recently because at normal unemployment when workers are less scared of leaving, the companies must treat them well to retain them.  These days, I’m afraid, it seems to be different, but 20% is probably a reasonable long-term assumption.) 

At 20% turnover the company is losing it’s entire workforce, on average, every 5 years.  Even a person 55, who expects to retire at 62, would have a longer than average tenure.  In this economy I would be willing to bet on any 55 year-old staying until retirement with a company willing to hire him or her and being a loyal employee for those seven or more years.  Furthermore there are studies that show that older workers spend more time on the job, with fewer sick days, no loss due to maternity leave, fewer interruptions with calls from the daycare or school, etc.  Add in the mentoring potential, and arguments in favor of age discrimination become even weaker.  (Included are links to just a couple of articles supporting this position.)  The above company and many others exhibit behavior due to their unwritten policies that seem both irrational and not in their own best interests – a failure in the dimension of critical thinking.

Reflect on this:  how many other laws are in place, including all other aspects of illegal discrimination, that would be unnecessary if company executives made sound (critical thinking) decisions instead of letting their prejudices short-circuit their brains?  And how many tax dollars would be saved on their development and enforcement?

Friday, June 24, 2011

Critical Thinking - Basics

Critical thinking is the dimension for those who make rational decisions based on facts.  They demand evidence of claims and require that things make sense.  Critical thinkers look for some consistency in the information they are given.  Being open-minded means being open to change your mind when the evidence points in a new direction.  It does not mean accepting everything that you hear.

The other night a local news reporter presented a story on childhood obesity.  Just minutes later there was another story from the same reporter about how cuts in school budgets could reduce the number of school buses forcing more kids to walk to school.   I know it’s not usually proper for reporters to make offhand remarks or editorial comments on the news, but I wondered how many people made the connection.

It would be a shame if everyone, including the news people themselves, has been trained to view everything in isolation, as independent events, without questioning how they may be related?  This acceptance of inherent inconsistency or contradictions carries over from these seemingly insignificant examples to more problematic acceptance of advertising or political campaigns.  I am always alert to these contradictions, these little ironies.  It leads to questions, and questioning first is always safe than accepting ideas at face value.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Perspective and the Anthony Trial

Last Friday I saw on NBC news a short video of people fighting for a place in line to attend the Casey Anthony trial-turned-soap opera in Orlando.  Here is a clear-cut case of priorities gone crazy, behavior demonstrating a failure in the dimension of perspective. 

Perspective allows us to distinguish between what is important and what is not, but our real values are reflected in our behavior, not in what we tell our neighbors or ourselves.  When what we do or say and the decisions we make about spending time and money contradict what we claim to value or believe in, there can be serious consequences.

One of the first days this story was broadcast, I understood that the death, possibly the murder, of a 2-year-old was a tragic situation, but asked myself why, beyond that, should I care about a trial in Florida.  I have my own life to live.  That’s not the way the media saw it.  They saw an opportunity to exploit the tragedy with a continual stream of details to draw an audience.  Apparently they were right in their assessment as the public watched on TV and even raced for places in line at the courthouse.  If a friend asked these people what they valued enough in life to get into a fistfight over, they might include such things as personal honor, their faith, or safety of their family.  Would they also include satisfying their morbid curiosity about some family previously unknown to them?  Yet this is what their behavior tells us they really value.

If this were an isolated incident, it could be ignored, but examples of such behavior showing a lack of perspective are relatively common.  I remember throughout the years, news of similar fights over places in line to get toys at fast food restaurants and running shoes, and fights over who was first in line at the opening of a new donut shop. 

I describe these current examples to persuade readers to begin looking for other examples, reinforcing the point that behavior is the source of many societal ills, large and small.  Perspective is about balance, about making good choices, and related to, among other things, many people’s inability to distinguish wants from needs with the resulting financial problems.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Getting Some Perspective

A few weeks ago “60 Minutes” advertised that they were investigating Lance Armstrong’s use of hormones and performance-enhancing drugs.  To me this is a perspective issue.  Lance Armstrong was a good role model for people battling cancer, but when you think about it, the only reason he is famous and got that publicity for his battle with cancer is that he rode a bicycle better than everyone else in the world.  Considering that “60 Minutes” makes editorial decisions based on attracting an audience, the producers must think that many Americans care whether or not Lance Armstrong cheated to become a better bicycle rider.

Think about all the time and money spent looking into this and other sports scandals – even a Congressional investigation in the case of Major League Baseball.  How are we spending our time?  Are we putting our money where our mouth is when it comes to living out the values we claim:  family, faith, health, and better opportunities for our children, etc.; or are we so passionate about baseball players and bike riders and golfers that news programs think they can raise ratings and politicians think will be re-elected if they make it one of their priorities?  These sports figures are merely entertainers and not really important to our daily lives or our long-term health and happiness - unless we let them become so.  Don’t we all have bigger fish to fry?  

Monday, June 13, 2011

Positive Behavior - Responsibility

Several weeks ago a tornado touched down in Joplin, MO.  It was the deadliest in 50 years (and we all know the details because there is nothing the media likes better than a good disaster with lots of pictures).  All the networks covered it for days presenting numerous interviews with residents.  What was remarkable (and admirable) was how few of these people talked or acted like victims.  Comments were consistently along the lines of, "We'll recover from this" and "We'll all work together" and "We're fighters and this won't get us down."  This shows the positive side of responsibility.  There were no calls for or complaints about government help.  Joplin residents were not looking for someone else to solve their problems.  Although they did nothing to deserve it, they were not sitting back feeling sorry for themselves.  Similar to those in Iowa after the floods and few years back, their take-charge attitude was an excellent example of positive behavior in the dimension of responsibility.

This highly responsibile behavior gives us hope and make us proud to be Americans.  See how patterns of responsible behavior across society could strengthen the country and put us in a a position to solve - or perhaps avoid in the first place - many of the problems we face today.  See how on a broader level behavior has consequences, both positivie and negative, not only in this key dimension, but in the others as well.

This is truly a different model, a different way of looking at America and the key to finding real answers.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Responsibility - expanded

To continue the discussion from last time about failures in parental responsibility linked to their children’s ability to develop discipline, I cite the recent news story featuring a group of health professionals pressuring McDonalds to stop offering toys in kid’s meals and to retire Ronald McDonald as “mascot.”  This group is saying in effect that most parents have lost control of their children and are not expected to get it back.  Don’t ask the parents to change their behavior, instead put pressure on the corporation to change their advertising practices.  It’s not the parents’ fault that kids are not eating properly.  Blame it on the clown and the toys in the happy meals!

What is most disturbing is that as a nation we have become so complacent to these well-meaning activities by interest groups and advocates that our choices (our freedoms) are being curtailed, not because of any real danger, but on the assumption that parents are not in control.  (Remember also the Microsoft ad that plays on this very theme.  Mom and Dad can’t get the kids to sit still for a family portrait so she turns to a PC application for help.)

How do we get advertisers and lawmakers to change their assumptions?  How do we drive solutions that don’t strip rights from everyone due to the failures of the rest?  We, as a society, must improve that behavior!  There are those of us who may want to give the kids a treat from time to time, but not every time they whine for one, and we will not be able to.  The rights of everyone are limited because the behavior of the rest leads the government or well-intentioned advocates to ban these options to everyone.  Again it’s clear that taking away choices is not the long-term answer to people not making responsible decisions.  The problem is behavioral and no government or pressure group solution will work, because they impose restrictions instead of recognizing and addressing the core problem.

Based on this and my last blog, ask yourself where the cause and solution to the “childhood obesity epidemic” really lie.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Individual Responsibility

 Remember, the purpose of this blog is to present examples of widespread failings in the five key behavioral dimensions first, to explain how to recognize and classify behaviors and second, to persuade the public that the answers to our current crises and the general perception that the country is headed in the wrong direction can be traced to these core behavioral issues rather than government solutions and the attendant divisive debate.

Here is another example.  My sister works with an after school program for elementary school students and offered to share several of her experiences with the students and parents.  The parent-paid program provides supervision, games and projects for the children at school between the time classes end and the time the parents can get off work to pick them up.

A recent situation involved a third grade girl whose father came to pick her up.  She told her father she wasn’t ready to go.  He said OK and left to return half an hour later.  My sister asked him who was running the house and he answered (seriously) that apparently his daughter was.  My sister told me that she had warned both parents since their daughter was in kindergarten of the danger of letting her have her way all the time.  (This is a fine example of an everyday failure in the dimension of responsibility.)  Imagine the challenge they are setting for their daughter and everyone who associates with her for the rest of her life – her teachers, her future employer, her spouse, her own children will be expected to constantly please and amuse her, acquiescing to her every wish.  By not exercising their responsibility as parents today, taking the easy, non-confrontational way out, they are setting her up for failure as she moves into the real world where everyone cannot and will not tolerate such behavior.  She also develops patterns of behavior weak in the dimension of discipline, which can lead to other problems.  (I’ll bet many readers know of similar family situations.)

This link between responsibility and discipline shows up over and over.  Next time I’ll show how these seemingly isolated incidents have social implications.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Introductory Example

As a simple example of how problematic behaviors in these dimensions permeate society, consider recent, popular radio and television ads that appeal to people who are over their heads in debt (or owe money to the IRS).  Companies promise to intervene on their behalf to reduce debt by, as one puts it, “up to 50% or more.”  Another will let you in on the secret credit card companies don’t want you to know.  Ads don’t continue to run unless they show results, so what does this simple ad tell us about Americans?

It starts with people who are weak in the dimension of discipline.  They have spent more money than they had because they were unwilling to put off buying, to delay gratification.  Continued spending has left them seriously in debt.  Furthermore, the same cultural assumptions that got them into trouble encourage them to look for a quick fix, an easy answer.  This is a discipline-related failure.

That easy answer comes from companies who persuade them that it isn’t their fault.  Some secret information has been withheld from them.  It lets them off the hook from taking responsibility for their actions and paying in full what they legally owe.

Not enough of the remaining population understands the nature of the economic process.  It is not the credit card companies or banks or IRS who are ultimately paying when accounts are settled for pennies on the dollar.  They account for such contingencies in their pricing structure.  It is the rest of us who share the burden through higher interest rates and fees to cover the costs when these companies negotiate away the debts of others.

Finally, those words “up to 50% or more” are totally meaningless.  It may sound impressive, but critical thinkers know that up to 50% includes everything from zero to one half.  “Or more” covers the rest.  By vaguely referring to all possibilities, they specify nothing.

Such ads are indicative of serious problems in the US, the core problems.  They appeal to a lack of discipline and responsibility.  At the same time, the rest of us accept or ignore, rather than resent them, showing a broad lack of understanding of the economic process.  They go even further to insult our intelligence by their presentation.  Worst of all, they don’t solve the problem.  The borrowers still have problems with discipline and responsibility.  Odds are they will regress into the same financial position within a few years.  The remainder of the population has been charged indirectly to support only a temporary bailout.

This example may seem trivial, but it clearly shows the existence of problematic behaviors that help create and perpetuate many of our big crises.  What happens when you apply an understanding of the economic process to high gasoline prices; when you apply critical thinking to gun control?   What happens when you apply responsibility to the abortion debate, discipline to the obesity epidemic, or perspective to social security issues or when you use a combination of dimensions to investigate health insurance, energy policy or immigration?  It becomes clear that most other problems stem from consistent failures in these critical dimensions.