When we first learned about what’s come to be known as the Toronto Van Attack, the we scrutinized each scrap of information as it became available. Initially, there was a lot of back-and forth about racism, immigrants, and accusations surrounding the ethnicity of the perpetrator. As his identity emerged, within hours of the attack, social media turned to narratives about autism and mental health. Next, we all commented on the bravery and sensitivity of the officer who subdued the attacker without bullets. At last, as the adrenaline began to wear off, we began to hear news stories that sucked the self-righteousness straight out of us. When names, faces, and stories emerged from beneath the orange tarps, we were reminded of the real human impact – empty desk chairs, shoes collected from the street that will not be worn again. A child whose mother will not be able to comfort him now that he needs her most. We are reminded of the extent to which we are creatures of empathy.
A week later, the conversations continue to swirl around, each one assuming, if not claiming, that theirs is the topic most relevant to this tragedy. I’ve learned more than I ever hoped to know about incels. I have read articles about the dangers of social media and the dark web. Search engine prompts are primed for the word Misogyny. Do we blame men? Is the problem really cultural norms around gender? We revisited the age-old question: Are some people just plain bad?
All of this talk, I think, comes down to a couple of basic questions. Under the mourning and the loss and the displays of Toronto Strong, there is a real sense of fear. Why did this happen? And how can we prevent it in the future? In parallel, we might be asking ourselves quietly, in whispers: Is it ok that I feel bad for this guy? Is it ok to not? Is it ok to place blame?
News outlets have reported that the attacker was socially isolated due to autism-related traits he displayed. It’s unclear whether or not he faced bullying, though a few of his former classmates have mentioned that people were not unfriendly towards him. He appears to have been integrated enough by the time he completed high school to make it in to a postsecondary institution, be accepted to the Canadian Armed Forces, and find employment at a college. He probably had a driver’s license.
The description above might possibly remind you of a person you know – someone who is either central to your life or who exists in your periphery. Like the people who knew the van driver in his ‘before’ days, you’d probably be shocked to hear that your own quiet, quirky guy or gal might be capable of such an extreme exercise.
At the same time, you know and I know that there’s a scared, sad psyche hiding behind this depravity, and that the ‘why’ of the attack can be traced to a teasing out and aggravation of a person’s biggest demons. Often, but not always, we know who the vulnerable are amongst us. Sometimes, that person is us. Daemon Fairless really summed it up when describing his ‘before’ persona in this National Post article
It took me a long, hard look inward to see that that desire to feel like a man — or rather that particular kind of man — was underwritten by a deep sense of vulnerability and inadequacy.
He goes on to say:
Guys often express a whole variety of disparate emotions as anger — sadness, despair, self-loathing, loneliness — without realizing that’s what they’re doing. We have a tendency to pile all of our emotions into one overloaded basket. Maybe it’s because it feels better — more empowering, more in control — to be pissed off at something than to be sad and lonely.
In his article, structured as a letter to the attacker but also addressing every sad, lonely soul on the brink of self- or outward destruction, he implies that our history, sad as it may be, and our emotional wellbeing or lack thereof does not let us off the hook. We are responsible for our actions. We need to take control of our feelings.
I agree with Fairless. The driver of the van who killed ten people and injured many more needs to be held to account. The rest of us, however, also need to engage in some self-reckoning. It’s not our job to feel smug or superior to the attacker, but we are obliged to take a lesson from his troubles. The fear that we feel today stems from a lack of control, but we all have a role to play when it comes to preventing the buildup to the ‘temper tantrum’ (Fairless’ words) that we witnessed eight days ago. My proposal: Education.
I know that it’s possible that no amount of education in social and emotional wellbeing would have prevented last Monday’s attack. But it might have. Perhaps it’s true that, through his childhood, the attacker was never bullied and never heard a harsh word from his mainstreamed peers. Despite this, he and every other student at that school and throughout the world would benefit—either directly, or by herd immunity – from an education that is specifically constructed to help them to find the goodness in themselves; to find self-acceptance and, by extension, to find grace. Along the way, they would be taught- not indirectly by absorption but by straight-up lesson planning- about compassion and acceptance.
Emotional intelligence is a life skill. Its’ a way of thinking, and a way of coping when things feel rough. In this case, it might have saved the lives of many more. It might have prevented just one more person from self-identifying as a troll and seeking acceptance from other people who lack the skill to believe in their own self-worth.
A few years ago, I had a mentor ask me a question: What is it that you want most in life? My unthinking answer, word-association style, was Peace on Earth.
“Oookay,” said the coach. I don’t think he was expecting such an existential response, and neither was I, but now we were both stuck with it. He regrouped and went back into professional mode. “Let’s go with that. Working backwards from Peace on Earth, what are the steps that we’re going to take to get there?”
I’ll spare you the details of the rest of the session, or maybe I’ll give them to you and charge you the $250/hr that they cost me. However, you can probably see where I am going with this story.
Peace on earth starts with inner peace. Inner peace, though it sounds floaty and la-la, is rooted in self-confidence. It is a hard skill. We need to work at it. We need to impress it upon our kids and our communities. When we appreciate the importance of nurturing emotional intelligence, it informs all of our other conversations about social ills and the bad things that people are capable of. I really believe that the world will be a better place if we take responsibility for the wellbeing of one another.
I pray that, in the future, when we hear of cities coming together in strength, it will be out of a sense of joy and celebration.
I was recently forwarded a link to Twenty One Toys, whose featured product is called, straightforwardly, the Empathy Toy. I was intrigued. I checked out the company's site and dug around online to find out more.
On the surface, The Empathy Toy looks and sounds like something you might find in a preschool. In fact, the game was originally developed as a communication tool for children with vision impairments. Founder, Ilana Ben-Ari, didn't have the continued access to visually impaired people during the testing phase of product development so she did what any determined entrepreneur would do; she invited her friends over and blindfolded them.
If that was not enough to endear me to Ms. Ben-Ari, the closing line of one of her TEDx talks really resonated with me, and reminded me of why I'm here. She recounts a story about a professor who taught her class that if a product is to be sustainable, that idea must be implemented at the beginning of development. Ironically, this lesson was given over in the last weeks of a 4-year program in industrial design. Why, asked one of her classmates, hadn't this important notion been introduced in the very beginning of the program? Ms. Ben-Ari took the question to heart, and decided that it was important to always start at the beginning-- by teaching empathy to children.
I came to a similar conclusion -- that we need to start teaching empathy early on -- but I got there for a different reason. I was visiting a school once that was papered in magic-markered signs with not-so-subtle messages like 'Don't Bully!" and "Tell A Teacher!" There were drawings too: Poppy Red circles with slashes over stick figures who were flexing their muscles. There was also the ubiquitous 'kids of different colours hold hands around an Asparagus Green and Aquamarine earth.' Apparently, I'd walked into the throes Bully Prevention week, and the whole scene almost moved me to cry Cerulean Blue tears. It wasn't the adorable artwork or the plight of little victims that got to me. It was the redundancy of the whole affair.
Don't get me wrong, and don't think me coldhearted (though maybe I need to work on my sarcasm...). I understand that there are good intentions behind Bully Prevention Week. Bullying is bad. Prevention is good. To me, however, it seems that bully prevention is too little, too late. For one thing, bullies and victims are often interchangeable, and both are often afflicted by the same demons (on a simplistic level): low self esteem, lack of confidence, and also a history of victimhood. We need to target would-be-bullies long before they earn the title by actively teaching our little ones about social skills and communication, and by role modelling the expected behaviors. This intentional curriculum needs to be carried throughout all levels of education. In post-primary years, we need to set our individual bars higher with regards to the level of empathy we demonstrate to one another. In doing so, we will be developing the all-around emotional intelligence of our population, with the likely bonus of decreasing the frequency and intensity of cyclical victimhood and bullying. It's not a magic bullet, but it's a very good start. According to studies, increased social skills education can even prevent addictive behaviors in adulthood.
My answer to Bully Prevention Week was the development of CareTrustLead. With my background in alternative education I developed a curriculum which teaches, as the name implies, how to care for ourselves and for others, and how to promote empathy to one another.
I think that the development of Empathy Toy represents how society is taking a step in the right direction. To play, participants are partnered up and -- you guessed it-- blindfolded. Each team is handed the same set of objects in different interlocking shapes. Ostensibly, the object is for each player to put the pieces together in the exact same configuration as their partner. However, what's more important than 'winning' is the process that the team goes through to get there. Each person needs to flex their cognitive empathy skills and try to communicate their position in a way that is clear and unambiguous. Patience and listening skills, as well as the ability to give and receive criticism are developed along the way.
Unsurprisingly, the Empathy Toy proved to be beneficial to populations other than kids and schools, just as CareTrustLead programming is incredibly valuable for workplace environments. In fact, there is a growing admission that emotional intelligence leads to a more productive workforce. Often, employees are used to focusing on the needs of their isolated department. However, when they are able to bolster their communication, develop a sense of comradeship and take perspective of their organization as a whole, improved designs are implemented at the beginning of the process -- just like the professor ordered.
It is encouraging to see that the need for widespread empathy education is being acknowledged by educators, bosses, and now, industrial designers such as Ilana Ben-Ari.
The more I read about empathy, the more I understand it to be not just a cure for so many social ills, but also a very strong form of prevention.
In fact, while perusing the International Society of Addiction Medicine's Textbook of Addiction Treatment: International Perspectives (Volume 1) recently, as I am wont to do (as I am wont to do so long as someone hands it to me open to the right page and says 'read this!'), I came across a chapter on prevention strategies which was originally published by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction in Portugal.
Under a section titled Universal Drug Prevention: Intervening with Populations, the authors call empathy a 'behavioral vaccine'. They cite research which shows that when social competencies (i.e. emotional literacy) are taught -- not merely offered, modeled or absorbed, but actively engaged with and practiced, there is a measurable avoidance or, in some cases, delay of substance use.
The social influence approach, they say, "has consistently been more effective than programs based on any other approach."
Social influence training targets a number of different skills including listening, crafting compliments, empathy, and communication. Personal skills such as goal setting, coping (resilience), and identifying feelings are also addressed. A third category, which involves assessing normative beliefs (what students believes other students' habits of consumption to be), has less evidence to back it up, but to me it sounds like a variation on the Pygmalian effect which asserts that people will live up to the expectations set out for them-- an effect which I've observed to hold true in a great many interpersonal relationships.
Although this article appeared in the context of addiction treatment, the implications might be taken a step further. If the teaching of emotional literacy can prevent a child from developing and addiction later in life, might it prevent a child from developing depression as well? What about a child who is prone to tendencies that are not compatible with social integration. How would social influence training and personal skills serve them as they encounter difficult choices or situations?
I think it's safe to say that a boost of self confidence coupled with a dose of empathy can only be beneficial, and that, like the models cited here from the ISAM Textbook, emotional literacy is something that should be taught intensively at all levels of education.
As an aside, I feel that it's significant that this article was published in Portugal. You may or may not know that Lisbon, Portugal's capital city, was nearly devastated by drug activity and related crime and disease at the end of the '90s. There was one degree of separation or less between almost every person in the population and a heroin addict, and hepatitis and AIDS were rampant. In 2001, Portugal took a drastic and precedent-setting step of decriminalizing drugs. No drug, from pot to crack cocaine would land you in jail. The basis for this change of procedure was an even more dramatic change in attitude, and one which we should all be grateful for, even if you consider this to be de rigueur today. Portugal decided to stop treating addiction as a crime, and instead began to treat it for what it really is; a mental health issue. Instead of incarceration, drug addicts were invited to rehabilitation and, wherever possible, reintegration into society. The result of this experiment has been reduction in crime and addiction, but also in the social and monetary costs associated with an ill population.
Emotional intelligence can prevent drug addiction. Empathy can help populations stay healthy. These two stories speak volumes about the necessity of social skills and empathy training.
Many of you will know what the title of this post is referring to before I even write a word about it.
My introduction to The Dress happened as I was on my way into the gym one morning at the end of February, 2015. The fuzzy image caught my eye because it was pressed in a Plexiglas frame usually reserved for maintenance announcements and schedule changes.
'Is this a joke?'
'No.' said the girl behind the counter. 'What colour is the dress?'
Clearly, the dress in the picture was blue and black. I didn't understand the question. Neither, apparently, did the girl behind the counter.
'It tells you something about your personality, depending on what colour you see.'
'So if I see it as blue and black, what does that tell you about me?'
Having failed to memorize the dress personality cheat sheet before work, the behind-the-counter girl retreated even further back-- to behind the computer screen-- and pretended to type something.
"Um, like, you're optimistic maybe?' she said in the direction of her keyboard, having lost interest in the conversation, or else having discovered something dark and threatening about me due to my interpretation of the photograph.
Standing in line at the coffee shop later that morning, I got to wondering about what might have happened if I'd told the girl I'd seen the dress as violet or burnt umber. I Googled 'what colour is the dress,' fairly confident that it would show up on at least the first page of hits. I was shocked, however, when I saw that it was actually a number-one news item across many different platforms and media outlets, from BBC to Perez Hilton. Also, there were only two colour options-- blue and black or cream and gold, and while some people swore it was one way, others were adamant that it was the other.
Despite the numerous and differing expert opinions that the articles quoted, it seemed there was nothing conclusive that could be said about your personality based solely on the way you saw the dress, which I thought to be kind of a shame. Can you imagine finally being able to say with some authority: 'There are only two kinds of people in the world...'
Maybe there really are only two kinds of people, in terms of visual perception... or is there a third or even fourth subset of people who see the dress -- and the world at large-- in an entirely different way? Pink and teal means you like to steal? Sage and khaki says you're wacky? Is there a chartreuse and bordeaux dress camp out there? Are they definitively well mannered? Do they all speak French? Maybe we should all be walking around with paint chips stapled to our lapels. It would save us so much of the time and energy we spend trying to figure people out. Summer Storm Grey and Cardinal ? Ugh. can I switch cubicles? I simply MUST work near people with Easter hues.
Still awaiting my turn to order coffee, I turned and showed my phone's screen to the person behind me in line. She studied the it and said she saw a white dress with gold trim. The barista had obviously been fielding the question all morning. 'Black and blue-- cool right?' she said as she handed me my drink.
In a fit of distraction today, more than two years after the story first broke, I tried Googling the dress again. It was blue and black. I tried opening the image on another site. Blue and black. I tried a third and... struck GOLD. The dress was unmistakably white with gold trim. I couldn't believe it. And then, all of a sudden, the dress turned blue and black again, right before my eyes! It was if a switch had been flipped, and there was no turning it back. I thought at first that it was a function of the website, meant to demonstrate the different colours that the dress could be -- but it wasn't. No amount of refreshing the page or looking at the dress on other sites turned it back to gold for me.
That is, no more sites turned it back for a while, but as I was closing my browser tabs one at a time, the white dress appeared once more. I tried looking away and looking back; still white and gold. I tried looking at it through my phone and-- black and blue! What had I done? I looked at part of the dress, I looked through each eye, I looked from near and from far, and I looked at in the shade and near a window. I imagined myself in a dark room and then in a brightly lit yard. No matter what I tried, I could not intentionally change my perception of the dress, and I could not figure out what factors influenced the colour that my brain would settle on.
There is, I think, a lesson to be taken from The Dress: The importance of humility. In team work, leadership, and society at large, humility is a trait that enables us to mentally reconcile disparate opinions and experiences. The fact that The Dress is perceived completely differently by different people, and the fact that this experiment is easily replicated, makes it evident that one person's truth can be really, legitimately, and completely divergent from that of another. We don't always have to agree with one another-- in fact, always agreeing might be impossible. However, when we're feeling arrogant, it's helpful to remember that two people can be looking at the exact same thing, and that both can perceive it in completely different ways. While their argument may seem inconceivable to us, it's helpful to consider that our version of events might appear equally impossible to them. Once humility is achieved, it's much easier for common goals to be attained.
While there is no pharmaceutical product today which is marketed specifically as a morality enhancing drug, the reality of it is not too far away.
Empathy. Self control. Increased trust. Even a diminishing of subconscious racial bias. These are some of the known side effects of medications that millions of people take for depression, Parkinsons, and other mental health issues and diseases.
The CBC did a segment on this so-called morality pill and it's potential implications. There are so many questions that arise-- the first of which, for me, is 'whose morals?' Also, would being more 'moral' -- however you define it-- ultimately be good for every individual?
I guess there is some irony, or at least a seeming contradiction, when I say that I don't necessarily endorse the chemical enhancement of empathy, trust, and even self-control. Even the curtailing of subconscious bias (though racial bias, is a different beast altogether whether subconscious or overt) may not be a step forward in every case. I have met may people who struggle with the burden of being overly empathetic. Consider that, from birth, we teach our kids to trust some people to the implied exclusion of everyone else. Even bias, to some degree, is something we cultivate in order to protect ourselves. Escalating our natural or learned tendencies in any of these areas could actually prove harmful.
If we drop the canopy name of 'morality' and focus on the individual traits that are affected, we need to ask if there is, ultimately, some benefit to being self-centered. In fact the very basis of one of our three pillars: Care, is that empathy starts at home. We need to have a stable but not over-inflated sense of self so that we can meaningfully and safely engage with other people. Empathy, trust, bias, leadership-- these are all aspects of ourselves that we should continuously be fine-tuning and readjusting.
Of course, I would not throw out the baby with the bath water. Certain people who deal with ADHD, anxiety, and depression rely on medication to add function to their lives, and I believe that we are blessed to have these options available to us. However, I would hope that a morality pill, if the idea ever comes to fruition, would be administered with as least as much care as any other psychiatric drug.
The availability of such a pill can spawn a library full of fantasy novel scenarios. What do you think the effects of a morality pill might be? What questions would it raise?
I would love to hear your opinion. Please leave your thoughts in the comments section!
I remember the first time I saw the anomalous punctuation at the end of a sentence.
I knew it wasn't a typo because my friend had used the same aberration multiple times throughout her letter.
"Turn it sideways and look at it!" she prompted me over the course of our e-mail conversation. Remember those? Remember e-mail, that archaic messaging service we use today solely for the delivery of resumes and communicating with our accountants and help desks? Emojis are THAT old.
Craning my neck, I finally figured it out. A little happy face. How cute. How original. How unique to my cute and original friend.
Several years later the happy faces were everywhere, and they had all sorts of different things to say. For one thing, they weren't all happy. The parentheses, we quickly learned, could be flipped either way. :( Many of them winked. ;) Some kissed. :-x Most of them did not have noses, though my friend has hung onto hers until this day in her e-mail signature.
I was fascinated by these things we'd come to call 'smileys' and what they meant for us as communicators. I wrote a paper for one of my classes (I was completing my Masters in Education at the time) arguing that they were the prophetic equivalent of Orwell's Newspeak, meant to limit our freedom of thought by limiting vocabulary-- one of the things that makes our life rich. As a writer-at-heart, I take language quite seriously and appreciate the nuances that just the write word or phrase can add to a text. I know that a picture is worth a thousand words, but THESE pictures? By virtue of their ubiquity alone (well there's a contradiction in terms!), they were, figuratively, the literal equivalent of junk food or pop music... both of which I love... but still, they were cheap! They cheapened the language! Not worth more than one word, at most.
I can't say that I totally disagree with my past self. The emoji now illustrated, animated, and celebrated has become almost a necessity in order to reinforce the true intentions behind your words. As opposed to letting your words speak for themselves, which is what they were brought up to do. They have become, in many ways, a substitute for punctuation. In some circumstances, I think they are even a necessity. How many times have you added a smiley face at the end of an otherwise difficult statement-- just to soften the blow? "I'm sorry, I can't lend u those headphones... I need them tonite :) "
You've said sorry, you have no obligation to lend your headphones, and you've provided a very legitimate excuse, replete with modern day abbreviations. Shouldn't that be enough? Are you so concerned that your reader will be insulted that you must offer a typographical teddy bear to soften the blow?
I said above that I can't totally disagree with my past self, but on the other hand, you may have noticed on, say, the home page of this website, that I am not impervious to emojis. Have I succumbed? Caved to popular opinion? Riding the wave of fad?
Well, yes, yes and yes, to some degree. Language is a fluid institution. Maybe to some degree it's noble to try and resist what I (like so many grownups before me!) view as the degradation of language yet th're is only so far thee can wend without being hath left behind.
Kids these days!
Seriously, though, however much I may feel like emojis are stifling our imaginations and literary prowess, they can also be viewed as a really useful tool. Let us not forget, after all, that emojis represent faces. These faces represent feelings. Feelings-- our own and other people's-- are the reason that we need empathy. Also, emojis are extremely simplified pictorial versions of faces feeling things. Happy, sad, grumpy, thoughtful, poopy. However, if you try, as a group to come up with a single word to describe any one of those images, you will probably come up with a number of different answers.
There is a concept in web design called WYSIWYG (pronounced whizzy-wig). It stands for What You See Is What You Get. It means that, like in Microsoft Word, you can see what your finished product will look like, as opposed to seeing it through characters, code and commands, like a computer programmer would.
In fact, WYSIWYG is not a 'concept', because we're not talking philosophy here, we're talking computer science. WYSIWYG is type of user interface, which is an even better way to understand why emojis can be such a useful starting point in teaching empathy.
In the real world, what you see is not what you get. Some people are really good at putting on a happy face 😁when underneath they feel grumpy 😖. Some people look grumpy all the time when, in fact, they are quite content. 😌 When teaching empathy, we first attempt to asses our own feelings in the moment, which is harder than it may seem. We learn when to relate to the face that people choose to present and when it's appropriate to try and go deeper.
As for softening the blow; Yes.
Yes. Softening the blow using an emoji, or a few extra heartfelt worlds if thou art living in the past is a large part of what empathy means. We don't always have be patronizing or condescending to one another or assume that the recipient of our communications is a lily-livered, jelly kneed individual. However, it is valuable to know how and when to add some sugar, or whatever spice is necessary, as we navigate the people around us.
This lesson-- the idea of softening the blow, of adding some padding to my communications--- both face-to-face and through media, is one that I learned very gradually over the course of my life. I am not mean, but I am pretty tough by nature, and it took some difficult experiences to learn that not everyone has the same constitution as me.
As educators, parents, managers, and other people in positions of leadership, it's important to make sure that people in our care are given instruction and guidance towards becoming a more emphatic society.
I guess that if you are going to argue in favour of emojis, I only have one response at this point:
If 't be true thee can't did beat those folk, joineth those folk!
Incidentally, while researching this post a bit, I learned that the vertical - style, mostly two or three character emojis are considered 'western.' Eastern emojis are horizontal, like this: (・_・), and there are other social and cultural groups who've developed their own emoji chatter. Kind of like sign language, I guess.
In terms of artistic impression, here are some of my faves
//0‑0\\ John Lennon
（ ´_⊃｀） stereotypical American
>°))))彡 a fish
5:‑) Elvis Presley :)
I've always been intrigued by difference, and the things unite or divide people. While I was completing my Masters degree in Education I became fascinated by how behavioral differences, and specifically in resistant behaviors.
You know the type of behaviour I mean. In almost every group of children or teens, and sometimes in older groups as well, there is one who, it seems, takes pains to stand out-- and not usually in a positive way. They call out, distract, disrupt and generally make it hard for a facilitator to conduct whatever activities they have prepared. Often, the behavior would continue, even though it was blatantly self-destructive. The disruptive is self-destructive and, even if the participant has the best intentions or would truly like to stop, they appear to be almost incapable of doing so.
As I gained experience in different types of teaching environments from the formal, classroom bound to alternative, outdoor focused, I observed that environment had a lot to do with behaviour, especially when it came to kids whose actions could have (and in many cases did) fall under a diagnosis of ADHD, ODD and CD
I read an article recently about Lorne Michaels, who's been called (by his own staff, and live at the Emmeys,no less) the "World's Best Boss."
Here's a quote from the interview that I think encapsulates the bold direction that leaders sometimes need to take in order to get the best out of their team:
Creative people respond better when they feel they’ve been heard and had a chance to see how the thing they believed in actually performed.
Here, Lorne is responding to a question about what to do when the team disagrees about what's good. The reason I love this approach is that it relieves the leader of the pressure of ultimate decision-making, and allows the cream to rise to the top. It allows the leader also to demonstrate his faith in the individual members of the team and absolves him (or her! But in this case Lorne is a 'him') of having to be the one to criticize.
Yes, sometimes leadership requires some tough calls, but when the occasion allows for an obvious decision to be made for you, why resort to high-and-mightiness? If the audience doesn't laugh at a joke, you can't argue that it was funny.
Taking advantage of self-determining moments such as these allows for a more balanced and human-centric approach to leadership, which I believe -- and which SNL cast members also believe-- is the very best kind.
Remember the Borg? Here's a Wikipedia summary to jog your memory:
The Borg are a collection of species that have been turned into cybernetic organisms functioning as drones in a hive mind called "the Collective" or "the Hive".
It's an intriguing concept if you don't know that, on Star Trek, the Borg are one of the most notorious groups of bad guys. Otherwise -- cybernetic organisms? Cool! Functioning as drones? We love drones! Hives? Bees live there! Bees pollinate our plants! And aren't we all supposed to act collectively...?
Here's the problem with the Borg. In their quest for perfection, and their goal of absorbing the beneficial traits of all species, they morph into a mass with a single brain. The species they defeat and assimilate lose all individual identity.
"We are the Borg. Your biological and technological distinctiveness will be added to our own. Resistance is futile."
I know, the Borg is a fictional species (or collection thereof), but there are still lessons we can learn and comparisons we can draw from this very popular storyline.
Even if you buy into the first two thirds of the Borg tagline-- which lonely, disenfranchised people might find attractive, and is a tool used in extremist agendas -- the last part of their very catchy catchphrase should have everybody running in the opposite direction. Resistance is futile? If at first it seems like, by being absorbed into the Borg you're joining some kind of winning team, just know that no functional team can entirely resist resistance-- because it's questioning, reexamination, and deconstructing ideas that allows us to put them back together in creative and effective ways.
The Borg is strong, but they never won against the Enterprise because a team composed of freethinking individuals is inherently stronger.
Ultimately, the Borg's gain is the individual's loss. Except for within the confines of the hive, there is no more ambition, no more growth, no more exploration and creativity. There is just a never-ending quest for perfection.
Now don't get me started on the problems of perfectionism...