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Is Ours The Right Way?
A bi-weekly column with timely, relevant and possibly irreverent insight into the BC technology industry.

Something Ventured:
September 13th, 2002


By Brent Holliday
Greenstone Venture Partners

 

"Teach your children well,
Their father's hell did slowly go by,
And feed them on your dreams
The one they picks, the one you'll know by" - Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young - Teach Your Children

{Pardon the obvious introspection and philosophical bent of this column. It's not your usual Something Ventured. It was that kind of week with the anniversary of September 11th. We'll get back to regularly scheduled technology stuff next time.}

The genesis of this column was that we were headed back to school and I had some thoughts about education. After seeing the carnage of last year over and over again for three straight days, I began thinking very seriously about our values and what we think we know to be true and virtuous. Since we base our education (i.e. the content of what we teach) on what we, as a society, have deemed to be "right", we always need to review our concept of "right". The reality is that what is "right" is always changing. The search for enlightenment is elusive and the education and experiences we all receive must be part of the feedback loop. Otherwise we will hold beliefs that are out-dated and our society will not adapt.

As scientists, marketers, CEOs, engineers or venture capitalists, we believe certain fundamentals to be true. For me, September 11th shook loose a few fundamentals. This stream of consciousness that follows is more of an essay about the struggle for what is "right" and how important that becomes to what we teach and what we know.

Step back for a minute and consider what we have been taught. When you are very young, you believe anything that a person of importance tells you (parent, teacher, coach, older brother). But by far, the most important teachers are your parents. On one side, the core values of respect, love, compassion and tolerance are passed on through this generational transfer. On the other side, we see that alcoholism, violence towards women, aggression and hate are also passed on. Technically, all of that is education. It's what we are taught. But is it right?

Where do we look for what is "right" other than from those who teach us directly? Religion is one place. History is another. Your own experiences can also teach people what is "right" and help shape public opinion.

Thomas Jefferson wrote one of the most amazing documents in history (The Declaration of Independence), in which he declared that "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness." He was a man well ahead of his time, given that he was signing into existence a new type of government and a new way to rule: democracy. In 1776, there were monarchies, dictators and oligarchies ruling nations of the world. A government of the people, for the people was unheard of. Why did he believe that it was "right" to have a democracy?

Thomas Jefferson wrote that all men were created equal and had about 100 African slaves at his plantation. Apparently, the slaves weren't viewed as "men" in Thomas Jefferson's time. Today, we view this as complete hypocrisy. But in his day, this most educated of men didn't see slavery as wrong. It took 80 years and the death of one hundred thousand men before the Emancipation Proclamation abolished slavery. Education of a nation as to the "wrongness" of slavery was slow and brutally painful. History says that slavery is wrong. What if the south had won the civil war? Think about what may have been seen as "right" if that had happened...

Most of man's history on Earth is a struggle for beliefs. A lot of people wonder, including me, why we can't learn from the past and try and avoid shedding blood in the struggle to define the prevailing "right" way to live. But Protestants and Catholics in Ireland and Jews and Palestinians in Israel show us that humans will always shed blood, no matter how educated. Beliefs that are too deeply rooted cause unsolvable stand-offs.

Take two separate people raised in completely different areas of our world today. One has a PhD from a top American school and gets to spread his/her views on CNN. The other has a PhD from a top Egyptian school and gets to spread his/her views on Al Jazeera. They have completely different views and values. One believes in the sanctity of human life, but drives an SUV to work and is 50 lbs overweight. The other believes in martyrdom for a cause and is living in a famine stricken dustbowl. Who is right? Both are scholars in their countries. Both believe that their education is better and that the other's knowledge is flawed. Both are in a fight for what is "right".

Take the CEO of Encana and put him in a room with David Suzuki and say, "Kyoto Protocol" and watch the fur fly. David is a very highly educated man. He trots out science to prove his point. The Encana CEO, also a highly educated man, says David's science is flawed and trots out more science that de-bunks the greenhouse gas theory as a myth. They get into a "my science is better than your science" debate. The sides further polarize based on their knowledge. Who is right? All of these educated people are coming up with completely opposite results and beliefs. In order to "win" their point of view, each side needs to get the media attention over to their camp. Scientific studies will be thrown about like leaves in a storm. The public will be confused and split on the issue. When will we be educated as to the "right" answer on Kyoto? Hopefully, there will be no bloodshed over this, but you never know.

In the modern world, control of mindshare is important in the evolution of what we are taught to be right. Wars for the "true" and "right" way are fought every day, in every home, in every debate. But in the days of mass media and the Internet, we are bombarded with (and getting a little cynical about) attempts to sway our opinion. A few among us fight the power and stand up for change away from the common beliefs. These few are "radical" and "crazy". Until they pick up some supporters and become a movement. Then, they can get an "agenda" and drive towards a new "right". Eventually, the majority comes around and picks the "right" way and the teachers and textbooks adopt it.

Here's the kicker, I think: What do you teach your children to be "right"? Because you and I can debate until the cows come home, but your kids will hang on your every word.

Thanks for bearing with me on this. I have formulated no clear thesis, but have been mulling over some of these bigger issues. As a Dad, I find it very important. I look forward to some thoughts from you, but rest assured, I'll get back to my tech talk next time.


What Do You Think? Talk Back To Brent Holliday

 



Something Ventured
is a bi-weekly column designed to supplement the T-Net British Columbia web site with some timely, relevant and possibly irreverent insight into the industry. I hope to share some of the perspective and trends that I see in my role as a VC. The column is always followed by feedback (if its positive or constructive. I'll keep the flames to myself, thanks).

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