The Elephant in the Room Chronicles

What you Want is Seldom What you Need

In Uncategorized on April 26, 2019 at 1:57 pm

For just shy of fort years as a management consultant I have had to carefully dance with almost all my clients.  It was careful because I could not let them know we were dancing.  And we were dancing because seldom what the client wanted, the services they wanted me to provide, was what they needed.  To establish a helpful working relationship I certainly could not begin with sharing this practice wisdom.  So I always began with validating the existence of a problem and then worked toward an agreement to define the presenting problem by using observable and measurable indicators.  This was my strategy to make sure that we start at the beginning, not someplace down the road.  This starting at the beginning is another way of saying before getting busy with solutions let’s properly define the problem first.

It is incredible what can be accomplished when a problem is properly (operationally) defined.

Seth Godin in his most recent publication; This is Marketing, uses the analogy of a lock.  The lock being the problem and the key, the solution to opening it.

This clever analogy can readily be applied to the pervasive ever growing global problem of using and abusing intoxicating substances.  This is the lock that needs the right key to open.

Unfortunately, to date our efforts to understand the lock’s innards, to make the right key, has not produced very stellar results.

Even worse, all kinds of efforts have gone into designingand manufacturing keys and then selling them as capable of opening the lock.  None of the keys have opened the lock, however, judging by the escalating demand for illicit intoxicating substances and the escalating expenditure to cut off the supply sources of it.

So, to be sure, we can design and make all sorts of keys.  Perhaps by sheer luck one just might open that enigmatic lock.  What are the chances of this happening and are we willing to wait for something that probably won’t happen for a long time, if ever?

To heed Godin’s sage advice, a better strategy would be to spend energy and resources on examining, analyzing or otherwise understanding the lock and then designing and manufacturing the key that will finally open it.


Part of the required understanding of the lock must include acknowledging that there are many forces at work which do not want the lock to be opened.  Keeping it closed serves many purposes not the least of which are the various key manufacturers and providers.

Instead of singularly focusing on reactive measures, keys, keys and more keys, our wants, surely we would be better served by pursing knowledge about what we need.  Once we get there we can then finally design the right key that will open the way to prevention and sustainable remediation of what already is in place.  After all we are incredible problem solvers once we understand what needs to be solved.

My forthcoming trilogy, the first of which is now available on Amazon  (TWO: One Destined to Addiction the Other to be Free) is intended to both provide knowledge/understanding of the lock and based on this understanding how to design and manufacture the key with which the finally open it. 


Climate Change, Plastic Garbage in our Oceans, Rampant Opioid Deaths and Involuntary Migrations All Symptoms of a Great Problem

In Uncategorized on January 19, 2019 at 8:35 am

Problems reveal themselves through symptoms and often the symptoms can pose a great danger.  For example, a child can die of a high fever so the first response must be to bring it down.  The second response is to ask what caused the fever and then address that usually employing different strategies.


For a very good reason, the point of this treatise, we are voyeuristically obsessed with symptoms.  We want to know and see the gore and horror of it all.  We slow down to see the body and the mangled steel every time we pass an accident.  We want to see and the media gives us what we want and what we want always concerns what is and seldom how it came to be.


In general there seems to be two classes of symptoms.  The first class lends itself to some kind of technological solution and the second to a social one.  Climate change, the plastic garbage pollution of our oceans and previously beautiful shores are the first class of symptoms.  We watch in horror the magnitude of their impact on our precious planet.  With the same intensity we root for the idea of corralling and scooping up the floating garbage and hope there are enough trucks to haul it off our shores.  Similarly, we eagerly await the technology that will suck excess carbon out of our atmosphere and at the very least stop the conditions responsible for the turbulent weather conditions we are experiencing.


Involuntary migration of 258 million people, according to a 2017 census, and the exponentially escalating opioiddeaths across the world are the second class of symptoms.  At least no one has yet offered a technological solution.  So far we are tinkering with social solutions such as safe injection sites, harm reduction strategies and the opening of borders to absorb those who did not want to but were forced to leave their home land.  Treatment, whatever that means, for addicts also is often advocated and for the involuntary migrants the more insightful want to stop meddling in the affairs of other countries.  


Since we are exceptionally good at solving a problem, once identified, as so aptly and at pain staking length, described by Steven Perkin in Enlightenment Now, our efforts to address symptoms are having and will continue to have various degrees of success.  As with the child’s fever, however, sooner than later we must ask what caused the symptom in the first place.  If we do not this anological fever will continue to return and eventually kill the child or in this context most if not all of us.


To identify what caused either class of symptoms requires asking questions about ourselves.


We need to ask:  what is about us that satisfying our unbridled greed for more trumps concerns for our environment and the right to sovereignty of other nations?  What is it about us that we cannot comprehend that thereare broad and long term consequences to what we do today, indeed this instance?  This includes ignoring the reality that addicts who invariably become addicted are the products of environments to which they were exposed as children.  And, what is it about us that we rather satisfy our ghoulish voyeuristic penchant for seeing what is rather than wonder how it came to be in the first place?


The answer to each question is the same.  Our cognitive developmental perspective (how we think) is stuck.  It is obstructed from achieving its innate potential by our own deliberate but most often inadvertent need to maintain the status quo.  Because of how we think we behave badly, like teen aged self centered adolescents.  We pollute the environment, meddle in the affairs of others and intergenerationally perpetuate and exacerbate family dysfunctionalities.  Developmentally obstructed we cannot behave otherwise and we certainly cannot comprehend that there are broad an long term consequences to what we do today.


No one like to hear that their, and those near and dear to them, cognitive developmental perspective is stuck.  Nor do they want to hear that as a result they behave badly.  We must, however, all hear this if we are ever going to do more than just put out the symptomatic fires caused by our obstructed cognitive developmental perspective.


Once we accept the existence of this underlying problem,responsible for causing the symptoms likely to destroy our world as we know it, we can apply our excellent problem solving skills to fixing it.  In the spirit of the upcoming new year perhaps we can add this focus to our agenda.

Synagogue Attack: Tribalism at its Worst

In Uncategorized on January 7, 2019 at 5:09 pm

Theory has it supported by thousands of years of experience, that a time of crisis is a time of great opportunity and danger.  Sadly, most times the danger is realized.  The danger takes the form of intensifying our fear and our seeking of refuge or safety.  The fear also compromises our individual and collective potential to think critically about the root cause of escalating instances of crisis.  I am compelled once again to have a go at providing an explanation and based on that a way out of this human malaise where we have been stuck since the beginning of our time.  Specifically, the impetus for trying again comes from two events, the call to cancel the debate between Steven Bannon, a former Trump advisor and conservative commentator David Frum and the Synagogue massacre last week.

First and foremost, the resolution of all problems requires an objective quantifiable definition of it.  We kind of get close to it but then fail to connect the dots.  We get close to defining the problems of racism, bigotry, misogamy, anti-Semitism, genocide, populism, political ideology, religious denominational beliefs and the like as cognitively based tribalism, a perspective which can be reliably measured.  It is that for certain but what is the relevance of calling it so is the question we fail to ask.

The relevance is that tribalism is an unavoidable cognitive developmental stage perspective in an invariant hierarchical sequence of actualizing our potential.  Simply put, it is the stage perspective of teenagers as they try to figure out who they are by exploring what they want to value, believe and do.  During this critically important time they align themselves with ‘like minded’ individuals who become their reference group (tribe).  There is safety and comfort from this affiliation, being told what to believe,value and do, until they acquire the courage to think for themselves and move on.  The courage usually comes from actively creating new, better meaning about what they experience because past beliefs have been disturbingly challenged.  Debates, especially the disturbing comes, are ideal for promoting cognitive development.  The last thing we should be doing therefore, is to cancel them, especially if they are disturbingly controversial.  

There was a time when I accepted a protracted reference group perspectives, especially religious ones at the time of death, as valuable and comforting to the bereaved.  I also accepted that being a member of a pro-social tribe served a positive purpose and this justified their existence.  Unfortunately all this comes at a price I am no longer willing to pay.

The price we all pay is that we allow ourselves to be cognitive developmentally stuck and behave accordingly.  The murder of worshipers at the synagogue in Pittsburgh is the most recent example of the horrors that can be rationalized from a tribal or reference group perspective.  Throughout the ages there are innumerable examples against which the developmentally actualized have railed, alas to no avail.

The message of most, if not all prophets, have been and continue to be, that we have the innate potential to create a world far better than the one in which we live, only to have their message institutionalized into tribal perspectives.  The late John Lennon captured their hope in Imagine as did the Reverend Martin Luther King in I Have a Dream.

To finally realize the opportunity from our self inflicted one crisis after another, at the risk of sounding preachy, it’s time to fully embrace debates and let our minds do their job of creating new and better meaning from the cognitive conflict created by them.  Its time to carefully listen, analyse, and test other perspectives no matter how disturbing we may find them.  Its time to break self or reference group imposed rules about what we read, listen to or learn about.  Instead of fearing cognitive conflict we need to seek and engage with it.  Because without it we will continue to be stuck, hating, fighting and killing each other just because of the tribe to which the other belongs.

The benefits of getting unstuck have already been all too well described so all that is required to get started is to just Imagine and Have a Dream.


Alexander T. Polgar, Ph.D., R.S.W.

Forensic social worker who lives & writes in Hamilton