#YouStink Movement – Lebanon 2015

Last month, I attended a fundraiser party for Lebanon’s Donner Sang Compter blood donation NGO at WhiteBeirut. Half way through the night, the DJ was playing to a full house.

On the outside, it looked like yet another party from Lebanon’s famous nightlife scene. But in reality, it was much more than that. For an organisation to be able to gather 600+ people on a Monday night, it must have been something more than just the entertainment; at least not for me. At least not for the part of the attending youth that believes in change, and in the people who are eagerly driving it in Lebanon with every opportunity around the corner.

Donner Sang Compter // 2015

On Positive Tickets.

The logic goes that when a system is in a decay mode, just like our Lebanese political apparatus’, there is a well-established approach to cracking down on its dysfunctional pillars: request new and harsher laws, set stronger sentencing, or initiate zero-tolerance initiatives. In other words, do more of what we already do—only more brutally. An example on this in Lebanon? The incident of George alRif and a whole country calling for the execution of Tarek Yatim. Beyond whether this was right or wrong, here are some thoughts that may be more relevant.

For decades, Canada’s Richmond Police Department followed these long-held practices of policing systems everywhere and experienced the typical results: recidivism rates at 65% and soaring youth crime. That is, until an innovative, new chief police officer, Ward Clapham, came in and challenged the way work is traditionally done. Why, he asked, do all of our policing efforts have to be so reactive, so negative, and so after the fact? What if, instead of just focusing on catching criminals—and serving up ever harsher punishments—after they committed the crime, the police devoted significant resources and effort to eliminating criminal behavior before it happens?

Out of these questions came the idea of Positive Tickets. In 2002, Richmond Police Department, instead of focusing on catching young people committing crimes, started catching youth doing something good—something as simple as throwing litter away in a bin rather than on the ground, wearing a helmet while riding their bike, or getting to school on time—and instead of fining them like the regular police ticket, it would reward them with tickets for a free entry to the movies or to an event at a local youth center. It turned out Richmond’s unconventional effort to re-imagine policing work went amazingly well. It took some time, but they invested in the approach as a long-term strategy, and after a decade (heard that? a decade.) the Positive Tickets system had reduced recidivism from 60% to 8%.

The same steps were followed by author Greg Mckeown and his wife Anna when they were concerned with how much television time had crept into their family. While they first tried to apply the regular parenting system with their kids, they kept trying to turn the TV off  to limit their “screen time”. But as you can imagine, they were met with friction.  The children would complain and the parents had to constantly act like a police for the situation, until they decided to introduce a token system. The children were given 10 tokens at the beginning of the week. These could each be traded in for either thirty minutes of screen time or fifty cents at the end of the week, adding up to $ 5 or five hours of screen time a week. If a child read a book for thirty minutes, he or she would earn an additional token, which could also be traded in for screen time or for money. The results were incredible: screen time went down 90 percent, reading went up by the same amount, and the overall effort they had to put into policing the system went way down. Once a small amount of initial effort was invested to set up the system, it worked without friction.

“We had to pull out of our reactive mode of waiting for youth to commit a crime before we intervened. We needed more proactive initiative and less reactive intervention – in other words, to prepare instead of repair.“- Ward Clapham.

Lebanon, Lebanon…

Ward’s department quickly figured that in a system with big challenges and little hope, forcing a big win doesn’t help.

Like the man who wanted to build a big dollhouse to his daughter in two days; and as soon as he realized how challenging it was to build that house in two days, he abandoned the project.

And in Lebanon, we are stuck in the exact same situation.

Our major problem is the fact that we are forcing a big win onto a largely challenging system.

We want to eliminate sectarianism overnight; we want to fix our education system, overnight; we want women to stop being racist about their domestic workers, overnight; we want to get people to stop electing a dysfunctional political class, overnight; In short, we want a world-class country, overnight. We have been trying to push this big win for over 30 years.  And for over 30 years, we have failed.

Because catch-22 is that building a world-class country relies first and foremost on changing people’s culture, but culture doesn’t change overnight.

Fixing the roads, implementing smoking ban policies, and having a decent transportation system are all policies of a world-class country but they will only work when we have instilled an understanding in the nation of why they matter, a culture where people think of the public transportation system as a way to save the environment and not a mess with their egos and socio-economic ranks, a culture where people understand that the smoking ban is a public health initiative that has globally reduced smoking levels and improved people lives and not just an enforcement by the government on them to pay more money; a culture that ridicules itself when the situation requires a selfless approach for winning, a culture that understands that skin color is a genetic difference and only a genetic difference; and a culture that treats its pets like living organisms who breathe, and feel, and love; just like us.

It will take time to get there. Therefore, with our all-or-none perfectionist approach to winning, we are merely losing. By feeling disappointed at the slow progress, and constantly complaining that our country has no hope, we are washing away all the small and wonderful things that the good Lebanese citizens are trying to achieve every day.

Lebanon doesn’t lack heroes. We have seen what its martyrs did over the course of history, but If we also ever know anything about Lebanon, it is that it is not ready for an act of heroism that will revolutionize the country in an overnight coup d’état. Our internal balance is like that of a bus on the edge of a mountain cliff. It is so delicate that any imbalance can send it down the cliff in a crazy speed and crash it into pieces. And we have fortunately kind of accepted this reality and been living in an internal unstated treaty that we are not supposed to create any internal abrupt revolution, and send our country down that cliff.

Our country does not need a sacrifice of lives, but a sacrifice of time.

Whoever wants to save Lebanon should know that they will have to spend their lifetime doing the little meaningful things that will only manifest two generations down the road, and not today; they should be willing to live in the Lebanon they hate, in order for their grand kids to live in the Lebanon they want.

And long term-strategy is not a business for everyone. That is why many of us left. Our lifetimes are limited  and many of us looked for acute, short-term solutions for our happiness. We want to spend them happy in a place that is rather fixed, than live unhappy in a place that we could possibly fix. We were not willing to afford that kind of life time investment. Because this kind of investment has its own people, the selfless leaders, a pool that I believe is very, very abundant in Lebanon.

But for these leaders to be willing to sacrifice their lifetime they must have one minimal element of progress; hope. Hope is the only element which if we lose, we lose all motivation to move forward in life. And people in Lebanon have been losing a lot of it lately.

Hence, Lebanon’s main problem is not the evil people who control it. It’s the people who do nothing to change it, and do equally nothing to acknowledge the efforts of those who are trying.

So if hope is the only thing change seekers ever look for why can’t we give it to them?
Why can’t we wake up every morning and post one cheering hope on our Facebook walls, why can’t we instead of tearing our political situation apart go watch a local band and put our money where we can create hope and push real change? Why can’t we be part of the solution instead of posting something as silly on our social media as *Tousbi7ouna 3ala watan*.

Why The #YouStink Campaign Matters.

In short, what ensued out of the #YouStink campaign on the floor may not technically be THE ultimate and systematic solution for Lebanon, particularly because people started pushing for a big win, instead of being laser focused on the common waste management issue. It still has ahead of it the reality discussed above.

Nevertheless, we should all be behind the peaceful campaign of #YouStink for the vibe of hope it puts in us; the hope that we are surrounded by heroes who did not give up on their country, and probably never will. Heroes like Imad Bazzi, Lucien Bourjeili, Assaad Thebian, and the 20,000+ Lebanese who adopted their movement.

Most importantly, #YouStink is a great reminder for our current corrupt governing ‘c-suite’ that there is a nation aware of its rights, no matter what, and that they are accountable to it, sooner or later.

Only Positive Tickets Moving Forward.

Ward Clapham’s department had a choice. They could have resigned to a system that makes it harder to do what is good; but instead, they focused their energy to set up a system that makes execution of good easy; and it worked.

We can all create systems like this both at home and at work. The key is to start small, encourage progress, and celebrate small wins. 

The 60 and 70$ tickets that people purchased for Donner Sang Compter (DSC) night were more than party tickets. It was the way of each attendant to confer to DSC (and its likes in the country) a voice of assertion, begging them to do more of the good they are doing. It was a positive ticket that said, keep doing good and we will keep supporting you.

Amid all our political and civic problems, my eyes can only see the colorful picture that a courageous rank of humans in Lebanon is relentlessly trying to paint. And for all that and more, I say:

  • A positive ticket to fellow blogger Najib from BlogBaladi who stays up till 2am to ensure his blog is delivering Lebanon’s news the way the youth likes it, short concise, crowd-sourced, and away from the bureaucratic media outlets,
  • 10 Positive tickets to the people of #LiveLoveLebanon campaign who have tremendously shaped our feel about Lebanon and its geographical and natural assets,
  • a 100 positive tickets to Yazan Halwani and the Paint-Up team who volunteer their time to color the streets of Lebanon,
  • A 1,000 positive tickets to my friend Yorgui and all the Donner Sang Compter team who are working every day on challenging the status-quo of a corrupt bureaucratic system of blood donation in Lebanon, despite all the options they had to leave,
  • 10,000 positive tickets to all the entrepreneurs in Lebanon who are betting their time, energy, and money to relentlessly set up scalable projects for the community of Lebanon despite the sometimes devouring burden of the lack of the right infrastructure,
  • A 100,000 positive tickets to environmentalists Like Ziad Abi Chaker, who after returning from the US has been trying to resolve the waste management issue in Lebanon  in the most eco-friendly ways,
  • and, a million positive tickets to your parents and mine, who, despite their increasing age, work harder each day not just to live in Lebanon but to constantly remind us not to give up on their land, to attract us to come back, and never give up on the hope that one day the Lebanon they dreamed of will be the country that we can actively contribute to create.

I say it with fear yet hope: It is a time of no return for us to either flash our positive tickets to the people of this nation who deserve them, pushing things forward slowly but surely, or forever close the chapter on a country we love.

Don’t let the bad guys demotivate you; and ‘never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.’ 

Keep an eye on them, and put your hand in their hands.

It’s our only hope, and probably, our last chance.


Related Stories: 

Prince Albert police giving tickets for doing good– CBC News.

Positive tickets: a new way to police– The Guardian.

Canada: Police force hands out ‘positive tickets’– BBC News.

Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less– NYT Bestseller, by Greg Mckeown.

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