Thursday, August 15, 2013

When Disclosure Becomes a Problem

I know of a businessman with a very difficult problem.

He is sitting on a dream business deal that will serve him well and which is, in fact, one that he and his family needs desperately.

Despite the possibility that it is a deal “made in heaven”, there is one problem.

In order for him to consummate the deal, he needs to disclose personal and professional details that he has been keeping secret for a long time. The difficulty is that the details will frighten the people who rely on him and they are an embarrassment to him from the perspective of his peers.  That’s what he thinks and his perspective is his reality.

If he could only get past what he thinks others will think of him in the short term, executing the deal will free him of all his problems in the long term.  But he can’t get past what he expects will happen to him in the short term and so he remains paralyzed … needing to do something and being afraid to do something at the same time.

Meanwhile on a global level

I wonder if senior politicians, especially in the G8 / G20, are caught in the same difficult position.

Think of the following challenges in the world that they deal with on a daily basis:

  • population growth and the Earth’s ability (or inability) to sustain our ever-increasing population
  • global climate change, regardless of the cause
  • the shell game (some would say Ponzi scheme) that is the modern global economics engine
  • the ever-increasing difficulties we face with easily obtained fresh, clean water
  • the challenge with running out of “clean” oil as we are forced to rely more on oil sands-type oil or difficult, controversial extraction techniques such as fracking or SAGD
  • growing concerns about technological singularity, the notion that at some point, technology will gain enough self-awareness that it may determine that we are no longer needed or wanted
  • ever-increasing concern about the threat from terrorists and how our efforts are often one step behind theirs instead of the other way around
  • growing concerns about the safety of our food supply, whether it is the debate over GMO, food additives, preservation techniques, impact on the soil, etc.
  • the difficulty of finding the balance between personal privacy and national security
  • the threat that exists from our nuclear weapons stockpile, not only from a nation wilfully using such weapons but the threat of accidental detonation or a hacker compromising or launching them
  • other concerns, including natural events (of terrestrial or off-terrestrial origin) or other concerns that specific government / military groups monitor but don’t speak about publicly.

What do the experts say?

For every “expert” who claims that these are not real challenges or are challenges that have already been solved, there is another “expert” who claims that there is no evidence that any such solutions have been found.

And the political leaders stand in the middle, facing the dilemma of having to choose between leading their nation, attempting to solve problems that are not easily solvable (if at all) versus being reduced to being a public relations officer, peddling “the good news” that all is well in the world, now and forever.

I am, of course, ignoring the politicians who are merely in it for their own benefit. They are human, after all. :-)

The businessman I referred to earlier will influence a few people with his dilemma, whether the influence comes from continued paralysis or execution.  A small number of people will pay the price or benefit as a result of his choices, no matter which way he goes.

The same is not true for politicians.

Seeing it from their perspective, is it better to leave the masses “fat, dumb and happy” as the expression goes, leaving “stuff” for the masses to figure out later when it hits them in the face or should we panic millions of people now without having a solution in-hand?

I don’t know what the right answer is.

It is true that we can’t fix something unless we bring it out into the open and with that thought in mind, it is easy to be critical of those who hold secrets.

It is, however, also true that sometimes things are a lot uglier when they are brought out into the light and we then wish we had never exposed them at all.

Either way, cognitive dissonance cannot be cured nor does it go away by merely ignoring the pain one feels when difficult choices need to be made.

Ignorance can be bliss or it can be fatal

Successfully overcoming our challenges depends on how late we wait before addressing them and how creative and unified we can be when we need to be.

As long as we don’t wait too long.

In service and servanthood,


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