I know that people generally mean well when they develop a policy to deal with on-going problems of one sort or another. I trust that they have good intentions. But sometimes it seems to me that all policies should have addenda that say, “Unless common sense dictates otherwise!”

I may have first noticed this kind of phenomenon when I worked in a place where management deemed that the only copier in the building had to be near the managers (upstairs) rather than near the workers (downstairs). As a worker whose primary function was related to information sharing, I found myself going up and down stairs quite a bit. It was no big deal for me. Just do it! That’s all. It was a shrug.

One day, a safety-conscious person from upstairs noticed that people were getting their copies then reading those copies as they descended the stairs. Surely this was a safety hazard, even though no accidents had occurred. A sign was posted on the wall at the top of the stairs, “Do not read copied material while descending stairs!” Suddenly, a rash of accidents began occurring on the stairs. Why? Because people were reading the sign cautioning them not to read their copies, they were looking at the wall and missing their first step down the stairs!

Common sense folks! Common sense should be allowed to over-rule policy.

Recently in London there was a kerfuffle about policy and common sense. More than just policy, it was law that said TV recordings of council meetings had to be accessible to all, including the hearing impaired. Hence, recordings of council meetings had to be captioned to meet the law. No arrangement had been made to have the meetings captioned so in order to comply with the law, bureaucrats decided not to release any recordings of council meetings! Again it was hearts right, but heads wrong. Following that same logic, I suppose that no one should ever shout, “Fire” when one is apparent because the warning might not be heeded by the hearing impaired. Common sense should over-rule policy.

In a similar example of policy-following run amok, some guardian of “privacy” at our local school board recognized that students’ names and ex-students’ names could be seen in trophy display cases and on awards plaques in every school. Did the board have parental permission on file to display those names publically? No. Down they all came! No more, “Alan Peabody won first place in 1947 in all Ontario for Shot-put.” Alan Peabody could not be celebrated because the board had no record of any permission having been granted by Alan nor his parents to display his name. Hoo-hoo! Isn’t Alan a lot safer and happier now? Haven’t we all been protected in some way by this enlightened policy and having paid big money to those who came up with the idea in the first place? Nuh-uh. Just let common sense prevail and all will be as well as it might be.

True story: A father of a cognitively-challenged boy took him to a college for a skills and aptitudes test and a follow-up counselling session. 90 minutes was allotted for the procedure. But mature son is embarrassed to have been brought there by dad and he would prefer not to be seen with dad. Dad shows him to the office inside a labyrinthine building and shows son where to find him afterwards.

Ninety minutes pass and no son shows. It is cold and windy outside and the boy lives across town. The boy has no money for a bus, but he is used to walking long distances. The boy also often forgets how he got anyplace. He might have finished his appointment long ago then started walking for home, under-dressed for the frigid weather conditions. His well-being is clearly at risk. But maybe he’s still in the office.  Dad doesn’t know.

Dad goes to the office, identifies himself to the receptionist and explains the pressing circumstance to her. Then he says, “All I need to know is has my son finished his appointment and left or is he still in that office with the closed door?”

Receptionist cannot use common sense and tell dad his son is still there because policy over-rules common sense. “I can’t tell you anything about his presence or absence, sir,” she says with respect. Dad counters her with, “But my son’s well-being is at risk. It doesn’t have to be at risk, and time is of the essence!” She replies, “Sorry, sir! I’m not at liberty to tell you anything.”

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Okay. So the boy’s privacy was protected. Meanwhile he may be trying to cope with how bloody cold it is out on the street and he has many, many miles to walk. Jeez, why didn’t he bundle up warmly? Dad doesn’t know what to do because he doesn’t have the information with which to make an informed decision. Should he just wait and let the boy freeze on the streets? Should dad leave his rendezvous spot moments before his son comes out of the office to find that his dad is not there? POLICY!

Policy be damned! Use flippin’ common sense! Using common sense should become the people’s rebellion. And many people are feeling more than just a titch rebellious right now. Common sense, common cause, common good. Let’s have each other’s backs in this policy overabundant milieu.

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