Dilly-dallying while traversing a known avalanche funnel is akin to a partial park ban on smoking as is no ban at all.
In hiking, switchbacks are trails with hairpin turns. In railroading, they’re a way to negotiate steep terrain without tunnels. But in communication – as sometimes in mountain climbing – zigzagging, doubling back, doublespeak, and reversing direction can be disastrous.
Try having a substantive debate – something that requires evidence of actual thought on a matter of some import – and the chance of negotiating the mountain of information with anything approaching a clear path to the summit will be soon and summarily buried beneath an avalanche of scorn, ridicule and obfuscation totally obliterating any path ahead.
But as bad as is name-calling – the sub-basement of Graham’s Hierarchy of Disagreement – which proves most stupefying, it is in fact rather dilly-dallying while traversing a known avalanche funnel that can be far worse for both undermining leadership and, even, proving fatal to those that follow.
Take smoking and gambling for example.
While you were expressing your unabashed love for your sweetheart this just-past Valentine’s Day, the editorial staff at the Tacoma News Tribune (TNT) was unsure where they stood in their relationship with tobacco.
As City of Lakewood leaders crisscross – some might say double cross – the slippery slope that separates them from their avowed goal of “quality of life” for all residents with specific reference to their parks even while determining whether to ban tobacco products within those parks, some councilmembers may take heart in the TNT’s semi-ambivalence in a posted avalanche zone.
“The News Tribune editorial board supported the statewide initiative to ban smoking in public places, including restaurants, bars and other enclosed establishments. It was a public health issue: Workers were exposed to hours of continuous cigarette smoke, endangering their health.
“A comprehensive indoor smoking ban made sense. We’re not so sure about one that prohibits smoking outdoors, except in places where people are concentrated — play areas, grandstands and picnic shelters, for instance.”
Not so sure?
“Consider the options” (compromises) suggests the TNT, as opposed to an outright ban.
Adults can light up here, but not near where the kids go down the slide over there.
Parking lots – yes; play areas – no.
Or do nothing at all and let the people by way of initiative do their elected representatives’ job.
Ironically, exactly five years ago this coming February 18 – the same date that this year the Lakewood City Council may, or may not, decide – or not – whether to ban smoking in parks, or perhaps not – City Attorney Heidi Wachter, in a letter to the mayor and city council, recommended a new timeline by which initiatives should proceed within the city.
In the event the council chooses this February 18 to do something other than what many of the jurisdictions surrounding Lakewood have done – ban tobacco products outright from parks, compiling a combined 20 years of enforcement history in doing so; or should Lakewood’s elected representatives not represent the strong majority on this issue – roughly more than 85 percent of the population is nonsmoking and favored a ban in a local poll; and should a successful initiative to ban smoking make the ballot but not, for some reason, meet the timeline, then a special election would cost taxpayers an estimated $100,000.
Also, ironically, it was Lakewood’s only initiative – so far – that garnered the TNT editorial board’s support when on October 17, 2008 the TNT opined that Lakewood should “get out of the gambling business.”
And why was that?
Then, the TNT argued that Lakewood should shut down the casinos despite the “almost immediate 7 percent hit from closure of four ‘enhanced card rooms.’”
Then, irrespective of “losing a projected $2.85 million in gambling tax revenue in 2009” alone, the TNT said Lakewood should cut its losses nonetheless.
Then, regardless that “11 police positions would be among the many cuts,” still – still – wrote the TNT editorial board back then the decision and the way ahead was quite clear: “the social costs of problem gambling – personal bankruptcy, broken families and crime,” attributable to the presence of convenience casinos, were not worth the amount of money received.
Given the risks, the TNT called it. Back then.
“Get out,” wrote the TNT.
Analogously, continuing to predatorily profit off “the poor and gullible” from the acknowledged vice of gambling is not unlike establishing a basecamp on a slope where – for all its serenity – it is nevertheless known to be infamously and without warning “transformed into a boiling cauldron.”
Such is the notorious “Sickle” route on 26,545-foot Annapurna – “part of the most exclusive of all mountain groups” the Himalayas. The “Sickle” is appropriately named for even as with the smooth or serrated blade that when swung can clear a swath of everything within its path, so at 18,500 feet to reach Camp 2 (of 5) a half-mile-wide chute – down which avalanches roar at random, terrifyingly descending into the funnel and then over and down obliterating every vestige of life – must be crossed, and re-crossed, and crossed again ferrying forty-pound packs that only a sprint, if you’re lucky enough to be near the edge, presents any hope should the horrific sound of the ultimate in mountain terrors be heard.
At times it seems “the whole mountain has given way.”
Enjoying the view from the middle of the monster would be ludicrous. Even stopping the very few minutes it would take to attach crampons is to be too late.
Get out. Now.
In recounting the story of the expedition leader, Michael Useem in his book “The Leadership Moment” writes that Arlene Blum “carried responsibility for all those who would cross.”
Not switchback but cross. Not hang out but get through. Emphasis upon reaching the other side.
Quickly. Make haste even.
Clearly, leaders bear more than the physical burdens of day-to-day decisions on their back. The people who follow in traversing each crevasse or crisis are their responsibility as well.
Accordingly, with regards gambling anyway, the TNT back then concluded, “get Lakewood out of the business of taking money from vulnerable people.”
But that was then and this is now.
Now, mystifyingly, it appears the TNT has made camp in the middle given, with regards smoking, it is “not so sure.”
Not so sure?
When CBS recently reported that “CVS Caremark, the nation’s second-largest pharmacy chain, had announced it will stop selling tobacco products at its more than 7,600 drugstores,” the common reaction was the expected, ‘Are you kidding? Are you sure?’
No, CVS wasn’t kidding. Yes, CVS was sure they knew what they were doing. In fact the company was $2 billion sure – the amount they understood their decision would cost them in lost revenue.
Notwithstanding the bottom line, providing health care was CVS Cavemark’s top priority.
“The company said, ‘The sale of tobacco products is inconsistent with our purpose — helping people on their path to better health.’”
“A smart move” – away from the danger zone – wrote the editorial board of The Washington Post.
“As the chain seeks closer ties with hospital groups and doctor practices, said Dr. Troyen A. Brennan, chief medical officer for CVS, ‘one of the first questions they ask us is: Well, if you’re going to be part of the health-care system, how can you continue to sell tobacco products?’” To which the good doctor replied, “There’s really no good answer to that at all.”
“How true, and how honest to say so,” declared the Post’s editorial.
“Symbolically,” concluded the Post, “CVS has taken a big step. The effort to curb smoking began with small text-only pack warnings and moved on to indoor smoking bans, restrictions on advertising and promotion, media campaigns and tax increases. Now, a major retail chain is standing up to be counted — declaring ‘CVS quits for good’ — and that is a bright spot in a long, unfinished struggle to end habits that are proven to kill.”
“Habits proven to kill.”
Standing up, not standing still with regards “habits proven to kill.” Then taking the next step, and moving on and up.
Likewise when Merck and Company in 1987 – another of Useem’s accounts of what constitutes leadership in addition to that of Blum’s Annapurna – went ahead with the development of a drug to cure river blindness for which “85 million people were at risk in thirty-five developing countries, 20 million people afflicted worldwide, a third of a million completely blind,” sometimes cutting “life expectancy by a third or more,” Merck, one of the nation’s leading pharmaceutical firms, proceeded knowing full well those who needed the drug couldn’t afford it – an outlay of $200 million.
And in so doing they declared the drug would be free.
Were they sure? One-fifth of a billion dollars – and counting – sure.
Like CVS so Merck: “We are in the business of preserving and improving human life. All of our actions must be measured by our success in achieving this goal.”
What business is the City of Lakewood in?
“Improving the quality of life” is what they say.
What they mean remains to be seen.