Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Tugging Threads

(I can't credit this photo because I don't know where I got it)
Have you ever tried to untangle a bunch of necklaces? I don’t mean one or two chains curled together like sweet, tarnished-silver lovers, all loose knots and no kink. I mean a big, hairy knot of chains, like someone took your jewellery box and just shook it and shook it in a crazy hair-flying, paint-mixing, booty-shaking frenzy. Up, down, sideways, crossways, other ways, rattling your precious pieces like the insides of a maraca to a heavy metal beat, rocking and rolling until those chains are good and blended. That kind of tangled.

Sometimes I imagine my little jewellery box is actually a magical vortex that sucks and swirls my chains like flotsam into a whirlpool black hole and spits them back out again, T&T (tarnished and tangled).  It's the only explanation I can muster, because I remember hanging them oh so carefully, polished and separated, on those tiny little hooks the last time I touched the box.

So, anyway, this was supposed to be a metaphor to say: I untangle stuff. That's something my mind likes - looking at that giant pile of interlock and seeing the specific loops to pull, the exact clasps to unclasp, to loosen the knot.

I've been applying this particular skill to my own society - Waterloo Region, Ontario, Canada. A few years ago I started looking at the systems we live in as though it's a tangled hair-ball of necklaces, chains wound upon chains. Now, I have some ideas about the knots to tug at - the ones, once freed, loosen so many others with no maddening, nail-breaking picking and tugging at all.

Specific things to do over the next 20 years:

Social Order:

Provide a set number of free counselling sessions per Canadian per year under OHIP.

Provide financial and facilitative support to local restorative justice efforts, neighbourhood associations and neighbourhood projects.

Transform most prisons into secure mental health and addiction treatment centres.

Provide adequate supportive and co-operative housing to demand.

Health Care:

Expand OHIP to replace the dental and prescription drug portion of the average health and dental plan provided by employers.

Expand the Community Health Centre model.

Provide personal support workers as prescribed by qualified medical specialists.


Provide all children with a nutritious breakfast and lunch at school.

Fund at-school before-and-after school care.

Gradually increase to a 1:5 ratio of adults to children in schools.

Reimburse post-secondary education tuition of trades, college and university grads, upon agreement to work at least two years in Canada in the eight years following graduation.

That's the list.

It takes time, but the direction is what matters. It takes finessing and finagling, consultation, experimentation - yes, it does! But pull on those threads however you can for 20. Then (but maybe only then), you'll be ready to implement a basic living standard to stabilize Canadians' incomes, subsuming all income assistance programs. It won't be as hard as you think, because when you pull on the threads I shared, you will loosen hundreds of others, and they will shake out with what feels like little effort or cost.

You think it's expensive? You should see what NOT doing these things is costing us. And then, try to imagine all the unimagined benefits that would cascade, exponentially, from the specific investments I mention. I'm not crazy, I know what people are like and how power works. But I also think a lot is possible if we think longer term than your average politician. I think about 200 years from now, and what's possible if we pull on even a few of those threads today. Even if we don't do it particularly well, just loosening them will cascade lower costs and greater prosperity in justice, health and continued economic competitiveness, while inspiring new activity in lower-stress community-based daily lives of people. Remember people's lives? The reason for the system? Government has forgotten.

These sound like policy ideas, for governments to do, but they are not just that. They are specific ideas to start discussing as if they were possible, instead of dismissing as impossible. Suspending disbelief to ask, "What if..." When we begin to believe in the possibility of something, we open pathways for possibility.

And that is the first thread to pull.