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. 

Lisa Tink is a courageous young professional from Alberta who blends diverse experience in research, policy and practice with a take no prisoners’ attitude.  Having worked in the provincial government, not-for-profit sector and with post-secondary institutions she is highly skilled and knowledgeable about all things recreation.  Lisa is passionate about bringing theory and policy to life and recognizes the value and role of relationships in doing so.

"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!"


Unknown said…
Lisa, you have warmed my heart, challenged my mind, and stirred my soul. Don't lose faith. For every administrator who treats those he (or she) serves as 'abstract clones', there is one who treasures the individuals and families that make up his (or her) community.
An old Latin phrase comes to mind: "Nolite Illegitima Carborundum". Loosely, it translates as "Don't Let the bastards grind you down".
Damien Traverse said…
Lisa and I have often joked about the parallels in our careers, from getting our start with Boys and Girls Clubs, to having a similar education from the U of A, starting at ARPA within 1 week of each other and working together in government. That being said, we did not share the same impetus that led to her writing this blog, but I overwhelmingly empathize and relate to everything stated. I can’t help but feel the concerns raised are not trapped in one moment, but are truly larger societal issues related to power and inequity. While I am sure this blog will mean many things to many people, I can’t help but feel the concepts of power, love and vulnerability knitted in the fabric of this writing. It hits me in a powerful way. There’s an awareness in this blog, that seems tied to a journey, and while critical thinking has been outright listed as a motivation for writing, I think this blog is really a manifestation of the development of Lisa’s critical consciousness. Furthermore, I feel this is a great commentary on critical consciousness in our society. While I love this aspect of blog, I think what I love most is how Lisa has graciously provided great advice on how we can all develop our own critical consciousness serving to benefit all of us, our sector and our society. This is an act of empathy and love for all regardless of place or power in society. Lisa, thanks for sharing.

As an aside if you’re unfamiliar with the concept of critical consciousness, I would highly recommend reading Paolo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed:
Sabrina Green said…
Yes, this is really very challenging for the mind. parking Heathrow
Maya Alexander said…
Yes you are right. do not let the people rule you.
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