Saturday, January 16, 2010

Reactionary Behavior

Title: Reactionary Behavior vs Proactive Behavior

Written by: Conrade Yap
Date: 16 Jan 2009

I traveled to Washington DC this week. Getting there is already quite an experience. The security, inconvenience and a little fear (and frustration) among ticketed passengers as well as security staff, takes the joy out of air travel. After being searched, frisked, my belongings scanned and examined, it is a big relief to pass all the security checkpoints at airports. It is not a nice feeling for anyone, to be a suspect unless proven otherwise. The defacto wisdom in clearing security is this: Bring less stuff. The less stuff we carry along, the fewer things need to be scanned. Vancouver airport is particularly stringent; with wait times extending to an additional hour or more on top of the normal security checks. Maybe, the Olympics next month has something to do with it.

Addressing Symptoms or Source?
I empathize with the guards. Just one security lapse, on NorthWest Flight 253 late last year, causes ALL other personnel to be impacted. The numbers themselves are not fair. Even those who have been maintaining their vigilance were ‘punished’ for this one incident. I call such methods a result of ‘reactionary behavior.’ It is like stuffing pegs into holes. Each time one gap is discovered, it will be plugged. Security nowadays has become more reactive, (responding to threats) rather than proactively building relationship through friendship (reducing threats). In other words, reactionary behavior addresses the symptoms more than it actually addresses the source. It employs methods to counter each action with an equal or more powerful opposite reaction. I suppose such methods have led to flaring bad tempers among the passengers. Some even hurled verbal insults. Otherwise, the security people would not have put up a sign that tells passengers not to abuse the security staff. It is not a nice job TSA (US Transport Security Administration) has on their hands.

Reactionary Behavior in Security
One big flaw in security is its reactionary manner of conduct. When the shoe bomber was foiled, nearly all passengers have to remove their shoes to be scanned. When liquids were found to be part of the explosive used by the terrorist, all liquids suddenly get banned from carry on baggage. When it was discovered that the latest terrorist used the restrooms less than an hour before his bombing attempt, the rules were tightened to ban all passengers from getting out of their seats, especially one hour before touchdown. Ridiculously, this included using the restrooms.

Although this latter rule has been recently relaxed, it is incredulous that this cat-and-mouse game is succeeding in making the terrorists the smart-smiling guys, and everyone else like scared-stiff ridicules. The mood is terrible. Nobody trusts anyone anymore. My feel is that, as long as we address only the symptoms, we can potentially see an already stressed security system even more strained. People who used to see traveling as fun, now sees more fear. Reactionary behavior sets the ground for more, not less, reactions waiting to happen. How can we address reactionary behaviors? I think proactive building of relationships must form a major part of the solution.

Reactionary Relationships
Reactionary behavior is not only seen in security measures, but in relationships as well. Sometimes, we jump into frantic rescue mode when a relationship sours. Couples seek marriage counseling. Bosses convene emergency meetings with unhappy staff members. Even Church leaders start to pay more attention to unmet needs when people start leaving their church. My questions are:

  • Why do many people play catchup all the time? 
  • Why must they wait until a problem occur before they do something?
  • Why don't husbands pay more attention to their wives during regular hours?
  • Why don't wives understand their husbands under normal conditions?
  • Why don't people believe the famous saying: "Prevention is better than cure?"

Frequently, the moment the problem happens, looking for cures is not only expensive, it is very difficult to recover. Even the best cures address the symptoms rather than the source. For example, if a wife feels neglected by the husband, can a sudden 24 hour attention change that? What happens after the 24 hours? Usually, we can see such behavior of neglect as a form of taking people for granted. In fact, taking one another for granted, especially our loved ones, is a major reason why relationships decline over time. There must be a better way. There is a better way. Preventative is better than curative.

Preventative Behavior
In the short term, current security measures is like a form of curative to alleviate the fears and stem the dangers of terrorist attacks. However, this alone cannot sustain the safety and peace of the world beyond. The events of September 11, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and increasing unease due to terrorism clearly demonstrate that peace cannot be forged on the basis of a tit-for-tat strategy. One way forward is to learn from others. Rather than simply throwing handouts to the poorer societies of the world, why not cultivate in them an ability to help themselves? Why not begin with ourselves, our neighbourhoods or the communities we belong to? Why not actively make friends rather than concentrating on stopping enemies? Why not build communities of friends rather than enclaves of different social groups, and not treat others like outcasts?

Happiness Tied to Community Goodwill
In the West, especially in the technology world, the word ‘ubuntu’ is commonly associated with the popular world of Linux, a computer operating system. Instead of the pricey Windows or Mac OS X, Ubuntu is free for people to download and use on their computers. This word originates from South Africa, which translates as: “We are people through other people.” It implies a huge emphasis on living as communities rather than as individuals. Jean Rebick, a Canadian political activist, draws insights about Ubuntu from a Bolivian perspective. She writes about the deepest held values of the Bolivian indigenous people as being, “I cannot be happy unless everyone in my community has what they need.”

The individual’s happiness is completely tied to the community’s well-being. We can find this idea in all cultures, from ancient Greece to modern South Africa.” (Jean Rebick, Transforming Power, ON: Penguin Canada, 2009, p68)
One cannot be truly happy until everyone in our community has what they need. What exactly do they need? Let me suggest that the nature of relationships is like a paradox. One’s happiness is tied to the happiness of the community one lives in. Conversely, the health of a community is tied to the personal well-being of individuals living in it. The way to personal happiness is not grabbing things for ourselves, but in giving of ourselves for the benefit of others. It is easy to give away things, hard to give away ourselves to the point of humility. Sometimes, we can even be ridiculed. I remember the time when I decide to give up on my promising career. Some colleagues say I am foolish, even crazy. Others share that they wish they had the guts to do the same. After five years, I find myself richly blessed. I have learned to see how God works through community. I can testify to you, that for whatever career prospects I have lost, it has been more than compensated for, through the friends I have gained. True friends stick with us through thick and thin. I learn community trumps the personal. Community thrives among people willing to care and to share. Community injects a special meaning to life that no self-help seminars or manuals can give.

We cannot be happy until everyone in our community has their needs met. This goes against conventional understanding of one’s ‘right’ to pursue happiness in life. With this, there is a lot of wisdom to be gleaned from St Francis of Assisi’s prayer, written in 1226. I believe this is better than reactionary behavior which often goes to address symptoms. This prayer is a form of proactive behavior that addresses the source. It cultivates the ability of all to make peace. This is our calling, not simply as Christians, but as a human people.

Thought: Who are the people in your house and your neighbourhood? Your church? Your social group? Your office? Have you taken them for granted? Have you only gone to them when YOU have a need? Why not have coffee with them, even when you do not have a need. Why not simply enjoy them as friends?

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace;
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love;
for it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life. Amen.


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