Snakes and Ladders: Reflecting on the need for careful and critical dialogue in the recreation sector
Today's blog is one written by a young professional in the Recreation Sector and expresses some of her very personal feelings & insights and some learnings. If you have reactions or thoughts you would like to share please use the Comment section.
"As a 31 year old, I regularly seek career advice. After only 11 years in the sector it is a way for me to learn from those who have done more, seen more, and know more. It is also a way for me to connect with individuals who share a passion for recreation, who have fought for change, and who have an amazing ability to challenge me to think, reflect, and do better.
Despite the invaluable insights I have received over my years in the sector, I recently received some unsolicited career advice that left me feeling frustrated, sad, angry, and, ultimately, deflated. This particular piece of advice came from someone in a position of power. As I listened to the words of advice being put forward, I became frustrated by the lack of care in the choice of words being used as well as the lack of understanding and respect for the privilege and responsibility inherent in such a position.
My frustration quickly turned to sadness as I realized the intellectual discipline of critical thinking is no longer an asset that is celebrated or valued. Being ‘critical’ has become synonymous with being ‘argumentative’, ‘bitchy’, or ‘difficult’, rather than being recognized as a set of universal intellectual values that transcend subject matter divisions, question assumptions, and provide reason, depth, breadth, fairness, consequences and alternative viewpoints. Nor is it viewed as something that challenges norms in an attempt to develop alternatives to generally accepted beliefs, values, and power structures.
I felt angry because as I sat there and dissected those words of advice it became apparent that so many individuals in positions of power have lost sight of the fact that people are impacted by every decision they make: people with lives, families, passions, ideas, values, and voices. People who, for the most part, want to see leaders succeed as much as the leaders themselves want to succeed.
By the time I got home I felt completely deflated. I was deflated because I have given everything: my time, my ideas, my passion, my friendship, my voice… my life… to recreation. Yet this has only been visible to a fraction of people.
Questioning how I could shake these feelings I decided to share what I have learned during my time working in research, policy, and practice and outline my own top 10 pieces of ‘advice’ for those who would like to engage with them.
1. Think critically, challenge assumptions, and strive for change. Remember that every one of us has the ability to influence political and social change by challenging norms and providing alternatives to generally accepted beliefs, values, and power structures. And, “if history shows us anything it’s that the world does yield change – surprising and sometimes radical change does happen” (Wesley, Zimmerman, Quinn Patton, 2006).
2. Read. Familiarize yourself with those who have influenced, examined, and shaped the destiny and minds of the leisure and recreation system across Canada. Read the 1987 Recreation Statement, read Dr. Tim Burton, read Ruben Nelson, read The Elora Prescription, read Ken Balmer, read the 2011 National Recreation Summit Proceedings and commissioned papers. Read anything and everything that will allow you to think critically, challenge assumptions, and strive for change!
3. Develop allies with those who possess similar values. Our values, principles, and standards of behaviour are a reflection of what we believe to be important in life and work. When surrounded by those who possess different values, principles, and standards of behaviour it can damage relationships, productivity, and job satisfaction. Choose your allies wisely.
4. Remember that leaders come in all ages, genders, and positions of power. Having a fancy title or supervising staff does not make you a leader. Leaders take risks, make sacrifices, and make decisions with the greater good in mind. They listen effectively, know their strengths and weaknesses, and have the ability to be self-reflective. Leaders can, and do, exist at every level of an organizational chart and are most definitely not determined by age or gender.
5. Embrace complexity. Social change is not the result of a framework, a policy, or a strategic plan. Social change is the result of people who are able to embrace the complexity and messiness of individual, organizational and institutional relationships; individuals who can turn words into actions for the benefit of the masses. Social change is not a simple task like baking a cake; it is not a complicated task like building a rocket ship; it is a messy, terrifying and exciting journey just like raising a child (Getting to Maybe, 2006).
6. Ask and invite questions. Asking questions and inviting questions are the simplest and most effective way of learning. Both are a sign of leadership, intelligence and strength - not a sign of uncertainty or weakness.
7. Exercise your integrity, your voice, and your backbone. Unethical things happen. Often you do not have the ability to prevent them from happening - but you can and should try. By exercising your integrity, your voice and your backbone you are demonstrating your values, priorities and beliefs. This can be a lonely and frustrating place but that is alright because sometimes you have to “stand up for what you believe in even if you are standing alone.”
8. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Asking for help makes you a stronger leader and is the key to solving complex problems. Those who ask for and openly receive support demonstrate an awareness of their strengths and weaknesses, their desire to grow professionally and personally, their confidence, and their concern for the greater good.
9. Be kind and honest. Remember that your individual acts of kindness and honesty will be remembered and reflected upon often.
10. Be yourself. There is only one you, embrace and celebrate who you are!"