“The best laid plans of mice and men gang aft agley,” wrote Robbie Burns, meaning that we seriously intend to do some very good things but somehow or other these just don’t get done. It is a human reality almost everywhere we look, yet we tend to blame particular people for it. “Why don’t they ever do what they promised?” So we become angry, as many people are these days, especially at governments.
Just down the street from where I live are two short blocks of homes and businesses that are on land belonging to the Mi’kmaq native people, and a careful look at a good map of the Maritime provinces shows other such tiny reserves, many of them in remote areas with no easy way to get to them. “Racist governments did this,” I immediately concluded. But lately I have had reason to change that point of view, or least to see another side of this matter, and of similar problems elsewhere in our lives.
New information came to me from reading Stubborn Resistance, a book by Brian Cuthbertson that describes in detail how native people in New Brunswick were left with such small reserved lots here and there, and how they tried to hold on to it against white encroachment. But this is not just history because the same sort of process goes on every day, even in our own personal experience. You see, a very simplified version of the research Cuthbertson has done goes like this — British colonial leaders one after another showed good intention to be generous and fair in providing the natives with sufficient resources to hunt, trap, fish, build homes and villages, and well-laid plans were put in place for this time and again, but somehow much of it just never got done. There certainly was racism involved, or at least lack of appreciation for the native way of life, particularly among settlers who resisted and undercut the government’s plans. But there was another problem as well, one that we’re all familiar with.
Here is what happened. The colonial office in Britain decided on a policy for the fair treatment of the Indians, it appointed a new governor with instructions to see that the policy was followed, the governor then initiated a plan to survey thousand of hectares of good land for the natives so that incoming settlers would know where to stop and would have to vacate any land that they already occupied as squatters, and if any reserve land was later to be sold the profits were to go into a fund to help the sick and elderly among the native population. The wheels began turning on these intentions, the governor after a few short years returned to England, leaving the accomplishment of the plan to the next one. Nothing was put in place to make sure the surveys were completed, no squatters were ever removed, no fund was set up, some government officials even disregarded their orders entirely, and important records were often not kept or were readily lost. It was the kind of loose situation that not only failed to achieve the good plans but that also easily allowed a corrupt official or a violent settler to get his way to the detriment of the natives.
But let’s get away from the history. These things continue to happen with governments, with businesses, with various organizations in our world including hospitals, churches and charities. We might even mention our own intentions and New Year’s resolutions. So often the problem in getting good things accomplished is less in “evil opposition” than in mere lack of persistent follow-through and an absence of the kind of leadership that can chart a good course and stay to deliver it. That seems to be really hard. It’s much easier to shout harsh words that express frustration and anger, but this rarely changes anything for the better.
“Deliverology” is the new term being used for moving from good intentions to visible and measurable results. The current Canadian government is focusing on deliverology to not only promise and plan but also to make sure things actually get done in decent time. I suppose we’ll see if it works better than the usual politicking and bureaucratic confusion. But at least I think it would help if we and the media decided to ease up on the habit of hasty personal and political attacks. Often the way to get good things done, whether in government, in other organizations, or in our personal lives, is basically about putting effective legs onto a body of good plans and intentions.