I have been meaning to write this blog for months. And then, the USA Supreme Court comes along with a ruling and prompts me again. But first …
I’ve kept up with some former colleagues, still tracking the ideological course of my previous profession. They tell me the process for psychologists maintaining competence requires them to formulate SMART goals in their professional development plans and then document the attainment of those goals. By the way, SMART is an acronym for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound. Pursuing goals of this nature seems to be quite a trend these days. No let me re-think that. Trend? No, that’s not right. Pervasive.
And, because no one seems to question the wisdom of this, I will.
Just how smart is this SMART? Perhaps one’s goals can be both suitably SMART and at the same time, not very smart at all.
Consider a corporation that has the goal of maximizing shareholder profit. To do so, they realize that the exploitation of the environment, legal maneuvers to avoid taxation and, paying the lowest possible wages are key to making a great return to its shareholders. Yup, all of those strategies can be SMART-a-sized. But for the wellbeing of the planet and its citizenry, such an approach is not very smart at all.
Decades ago while working for a government mental health agency my performance was measured in terms of cases closed. My boss suggested that each year I go for 10% more. That goal was certainly SMART-able. But I noticed that within the agency most cases were closed because clients failed to show up for appointments. Of course, this could’ve been because the clients got better. However, there could have been other explanations for clients not coming back: for example, therapists could have been ineffectual so clients didn’t return because what they received wasn’t helping; or, perhaps agency policies focused more on the security and smooth functioning of the agency rather than the wellness of the clientele. SMART and not-very-smart was a distinct possibility.
Consider a pharmaceutical company marketing a drug that treats a particular symptom. Due to adverse effects, that drug might compromise quality of life, or even length of life for that matter, but still be oh-so-SMART at getting itself established as product for the company. For example, the drugs developed to reduce anxiety and control pain typically carry dependency risks which create their own problems for the user. The development and marketing of these drugs could be SMART but in terms of consumer health, and societal health as well, they really are not smart at all.
Back in its day the Indian Residential School system probably was pretty SMART in accomplishing colonialization goals. Now we are locating the bones of dead children in its fields. What about the use of coal to produce cheap energy? I’m sure that was really SMART too … of course, setting the forest fires and heat waves aside. How about building a nuclear power plant on an earthquake and tsunami prone coastline? I could go on, but I will let you as reader generate your own list.
The question is … if the focus is on SMART what other possible motivations for establishing priorities get lost? What do we lose when we only think in terms of the specific, measurable and time-bound? What lies out in the range of the General, Unmeasurable, Aspirational, Divergent and Ongoing? (Unfortunately, as an acronym GUADO just doesn’t have the panache of SMART!).
When we think only in terms of objectives and the objectifiable we can end up focusing away from the wise, the respectful, the compassionate, the sustainable. We end up valuing outcome over process, product over presence, near term over long. Numbers over people.
So back to that ruling of the US Supreme Court. It declared affirmative action unconstitutional. One of the justifications given for the decision was that the affirmative action policy didn’t accomplish the goal of its endeavour. Presumably, some SMART criteria was left unattained so the whole thing should be scrapped. Is justice really the achieving of particular social goals as formulated by the privileged and powerful?
But what about the GUADOs of affirmative action? Has it brought to greater consciousness and a broader understanding of American history? Has it lifted some people out of poverty through the realization of their talents and gifts? Has it stimulated divergent thought that challenges narrow views of what is justice and peace?
So now, as I am wont to do in this blog, I shift from the persona of a psychologist (and apparently a social commentator, too) to that of a writer and musician. Which brand of smart do I want to culture my creative intentions?
If I want to be SMART about writing fiction, there are some steps that I can take. I can buy the self-help books on how to write a successful novel in 15 days, take the workshops, do the schmoozing at literary galas, get active again on Twitter to broaden my network of contacts, research agents and editors interested in my funds. I could make a list of tasks, review it weekly or quarterly (yearly would be too long, I think).
Or I could observe what is beautiful around me, notice what is meaningful in relationships, find the quirkiness in human nature, be disciplined around taking that sober second, third and twentieth look at my work for readability and impact … hmmm, perhaps recognize that there is peace, presence and exuberance in my dog despite the fact that she can neither speak a single English word nor hum a jazz riff.
Those of you who know me or have read my blogs will know which direction fits for me. And you know this will be quite an on-going process, not likely wrapped up in the next year. But just maybe you’ll want to stay tuned in as I go.
Clickable links to previous blogs
June 2023 - Only half there
May 2023 - Who gets to write the story?
April 2023 - Intersubjectivity. Hunh?
March 2023 - A disturbing trend
February 2023 - About being in the middle
January 2023 - Can we have a little heart here please?
December 2022 - A story about story
November 2022 - Facing One's Fears
October 2022 - Transitional folk
September 2022 - Transitions
August 2022 —At the other end of life's journey
July 2022—The problem with what emerges.
June 2022 — So who am I doing this for anyway?
May 2022 - Wait for it ... wait ...
April 2022 — Someone called me a Nazi.
March 2022 — Shush! Don't tell anyone.
February 2022 — So does life imitate art? Well, maybe sometimes.
January 2022 — The two most powerful lines in the book.
December 2021 — About time and being human.
November 2021 — Not a tidy little murder mystery
October 2021 — Flow versus focus.
September 2021 -- It's beautiful because it tells the truth.