What Policy-Makers Can Learn From the Grand Master of the Jedi Order

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Leadership Wednesday, July 08, 2015 View Count = 3994

What Policy-Makers Can Learn From the Grand Master of the Jedi Order


Anger, fear, aggression…easily they flow, quick to join you in a fight. To build something that matters, world and life changing, you need to have patience.

—Yoda, paraphrased from Star Wars Episode V

Aside from this being a way to capture the reader’s attention (which, admittedly, it is), policy-makers can learn a lesson or two from the Grand Master of the Jedi Order. Looking past Yoda’s mysterious history, seemingly unnatural long life and suspicious ability to win sequential democratic elections, Star Wars fans appreciate how Yoda teaches young Jedi to control their emotional response, look past the obvious and be patient. This leads to better outcomes and a stronger appreciation of one’s efforts. To keep the allusion going, doing so ensures the peace, order and harmony of the galaxy.

When tackling policy challenges, be they wicked or friendly-everyday issues, policy-makers need to avoid a “knee-jerk” reaction that is devoid of evidence and thoughtfulness. Easier said than done in a 24-hour news cycle, looking past the obvious and appreciating the big picture can provide a stronger and more accurate understanding of why an issue is an issue.

Here’s where things get tricky. Navigating through the asteroids involves re-examining the structural undertones--or the ideological and institutional infrastructure--underlying Canada’s policies. Theoretically, this means assessing federal-provincial relations and jurisdiction, peoples’ wants and needs as well as democratic processes. Practically, this involves asking questions like, What does the status quo assume about the role of the state, and is this legitimate?, What behavioural responses are expected from individuals, and why? and How did historical context shape previous policy decisions, and is this still relevant? Asking these questions may not only allow for a holistic evaluation of current policy challenges, but can further yield recommendations that address an issue’s root cause.

In other words, policy-makers need to control their emotional response and look past the obvious. Critically thinking about the ideological or institutional origins that perpetuate a particular problem steers away from superficial, Band-Aid solutions and heads toward responses that are more appropriate, relevant and (arguably) legitimate.

Patience is a gift of the virtuous. More accurately, patience is a virtue of the past. The 24-hour news cycle does not promote critical thinking which is unsustainable, unhealthy and mentally exhausting. Both stakeholders and the public need to recognize that solutions to today’s policy challenges are more than a click away (sometimes, they can be in a galaxy far, far away).

That said, it doesn’t follow that the ever-enthralling game of thumb-twiddling is a viable option. Rather, it is essential that stakeholders and Canadians appreciate the time required to identify an issue, decide on a course of action and later implement a given initiative. Rome wasn’t built in a day and Canada’s Confederation is a 150-year work-in-progress. Similarly, it is unrealistic to expect that any meaningful policy action be completed in the time it takes to order a double-double.

Jedi Council_RotS

Addressing Canada’s contemporary policy challenges requires critically addressing the ideological and institutional underpinnings of Canada’s political structure. In particular, this involves questioning how government is organized, the methods used to relate to stakeholders and the extent to which citizens are engaged in the policy process. Better understanding the rationale underlying why government does what it does, when it does can not only provide a holistic evaluation of an issue at hand, but can further lead to policy solutions that are appropriate, relevant and legitimate.

Moreover, this process may foster a genuine appreciation of the historical, present and future context within which government operates. Only then can policy-makers provide meaningful analysis and thoughtful recommendations on whether there is a need for government action and, if so, how the issue should be tackled.

A stellar example: the Protecting Canadians from Online Crime Act, 2014, that aims to combat cyberbullying. Introduced in response to the deaths of several Canadian teens who were tormented online, the Act mandates jail time for those who post or distribute an “intimate image” of people without their consent. Irrespective of whether tackling cyberbullying is within the government’s purview, the Act has been criticized for failing to understand the actions of cyberbullies, being out-of-touch with how young people communicate and disregarding the needs of cyberbullying victims. All the while, Protecting Canadians from Online Crime enhances police powers and increases citizen surveillance. Here, taking the time to recognize the activities of cyberbullying, appreciate youthful jargon and address victims’ concerns could have led to more appropriate, relevant and legitimate government action.

Time is of the essence. In light of the upcoming federal election, challenging Canada’s ideological and institutional infrastructure are issues that should be placed at the forefront of the political debate.

Today's guest post comes from Erica Lavecchia, a Policy Analyst at the Institute for Competitiveness & Prosperity, a research organization that deepens the public’s understanding of Ontario’s economic progress. Erica holds a Master’s degree in public policy from the University of Toronto has extensive work experience in the Ontario Public Service. When she’s not thinking about government transformation, Erica enjoys reading, learning and daydreaming.

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