When you pick up that hammer...
I should make it very clear up front that a hammer is a very important part of any tool box but it can’t be the only tool — and with that said, I shall continue.
“If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”
This phrase is affectionately called Maslow’s hammer and is attributed to 20th Century psychologist Abraham Maslow. It finds its way into conversations when action comes about through single mindedness, a lack of capability or a lack of imagination, and usually precedes results that are “less than optimal”.
Recent developments in Toronto have me thinking of good ol’ Maslow, and although will have me skirting around politics, cancel culture and the sins of our past, I wanted to highlight a hammer in action — illustrating how lots of noise will be made but in the end, there is little if any real progress to solving the problem.
Like almost everyone who lives in Toronto (and the surrounding suburbs) I did not know who Dundas Street was named after until recently. It turns out that this 25 kilometer stretch of road through the middle of Toronto (that has been around forever and a day) was named after a Scottish politician named Henry Dundas from the late 1700’s; who although an abolitionist, voted for a four year delay to abolish slavery in Britain — Henry Dundas never came to Canada and as I understand it, had nothing to do with the formation of Canada. Recently a petition was put forth to change the name of the street due to this link with slavery and city council just voted to change the name (I also understand there are a number of other streets being reviewed; some named after actual slave owners). They say the cost will be somewhere in the order of $6 M (which is most likely understated and does not include all the rippling costs that comes with a change of this magnitude). A naming committee will start in 2022 and work would probably start in 2023/2024 with disruption to follow and throughout all of this, the odd press release to explain what is happening (or maybe not).
I can’t help asking myself if this is really the only solution? So for fun, I went into my toolbox and pulled out a knife.
Why not identify a Canadian with the last name Dundas who represents what Canada stands for, and with big fanfare, re-commemorate Dundas Street on their behalf — plaques could be put at each major intersection in honour of the person and her accomplishments, as well as the values of our community. Reframe what Dundas Street stands for, keep it top of mind for anyone who uses it, and give it meaning. As I said, twelve months ago Dundas Street had no meaning to me other than just being a street.
My little exercise with a mental knife was a nice reminder that to be an effective problem solver you have to ask yourself, “Am I using the same old hammer to solve a problem?”
And more importantly, “Is it really working?”
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