The International Square Dance Magazine

Barry Clasper

Chairman’s Speech
The following is Part 1 of the Chairman’s Speech
at the 2015 CALLERLAB Convention.

Many years ago, when I was a young man and knew everything, I was working as the Head of Systems Software in a Department Of National Defense data center on a Canadian military base. In those days, the people who ministered to the arcane rituals surrounding large computer systems were regarded with awe as something between gurus and wizards. As Head of Systems Software, I was definitely “hot stuff”. The guy I reported to – not so much.

I reported to Superintendent Data Centre Borden, who ran the data center. That post was held by a superannuated service retread (in my estimation), who had no experience in data processing or running a data center. Of course, in those days, few people did; a fact which I conveniently overlooked in my youthful disdain. I watched him make a number of decisions I felt ill advised and certainly questionable from a technical point of view. I did not hold him in high regard.

One day he called me in to tell me he was going to be away on sick leave for an indefinite period and he wanted me to serve as Acting Superintendent during his absence. This came as a surprise, since I was certainly the most junior department head. Looking back I’m convinced he did it because he knew I had many lessons to learn.

I learned my first lesson very soon after taking my seat behind the big desk with the corner window. It was that the world looked quite different from the other side of that desk. Suddenly, many decisions I had considered misguided looked kind of wise, and not because I now had access to new information. No – somehow information I had seen before now looked different from the other side of the desk.

Similarly, becoming Chairman of the Board of Governors gives one a different perspective on many things. What I would like to do tonight is give you an impression of what things look like from “the other side of the desk.” Just as when I took over the data center, I wasn’t flooded with a lot of brand new information and I’m probably not going to tell you much you don’t already know, but maybe you might look at some of it a bit differently.

The first thing that really sunk in was the nature of the constraints we (CALLERLAB) operate under. The community, the entire social structure we lump under the rubric of “square dancing”, is undergoing a lot of pressure for change. CALLERLAB primarily deals with only one aspect of the community – callers. True, over the years we have earned a position of trust and leadership in the square dance community, but that is a position we must continue to earn every day. CALLERLAB is not a regulatory or governance body. Our only influence stems from the fact that the larger community generally regards us as mostly heading in the right direction and mostly doing useful things. We are not in a leadership position because we were appointed or elected to it and anointed with special powers. Our leadership position comes solely from the fact that people are willing to follow.

The next thing that became clear to me was that CALLERLAB is perhaps the only truly international square dance organization in the world. It is true that there are organizations in Europe and elsewhere that reach across national borders, but mostly to only a few adjacent or nearby countries. They specifically address themselves to a limited geography. CALLERLAB embraces members from anywhere in the world.

These two facts taken together create both challenges and opportunities for CALLERLAB. On the one hand, our effectiveness and influence depend on being able to generate consensus across a massively diverse community; a very difficult and laborious proposition. On the other hand when we succeed, that consensus is extremely powerful, indicating literally worldwide support for the decision.

As an example, I offer the recent discussion in the Advanced Committee regarding the call formerly named Half Breed Thru. In many quarters the term “Half Breed” is considered a racial epithet. In other circles, it is not regarded as a pejorative. Several times in the past those who felt the call name was insensitive raised the issue with the Advanced Committee, but the Committee developed no consensus to make a change.

When the most recent request for a change came in, however, the consensus had changed. The Committee engaged in a lengthy and spirited discussion. Many pro and con points were presented and debated, extensively. In the end, a vote was taken and the result was to change the name of the call. However, while the majority voted to change the name, there was a sizable minority who disagreed with that decision. That is not the interesting part.

The discussion around this issue was contentious enough that after the Committee vote became known, the Board of Governors had their own discussion. There was concern that the decision was ill-advised and might reflect badly on CALLERLAB. The BOG discussion and eventual decision was a virtual mirror of what had happened in the Advanced Committee. The same points and arguments were raised, and the same consensus emerged. After the decision became public, a number of discussion lists and forums took up the discussion. Again, the same points and arguments were raised, and again the same general consensus emerged. There was a sizable minority that disagreed with the decision, but the majority consensus was to change the name.

In the end, CALLERLAB had two separate formal discussions on the subject, which came to the same conclusion. That conclusion seems to have faithfully reflected the general consensus in the wider community. There are some who feel that CALLERLAB made a misstep in getting involved in this controversy. The minority view was strongly held and its proponents are still quite vocal. The CALLERLAB action to rename the call has given them a discrete focus for their displeasure.

However, while there is still some low-grade grumbling, for the most part people have accepted the decision as one reflecting the majority opinion. It was arrived at, and seen to be arrived at, through an open democratic process, which removes much of the wind from the sails of the dissenters. To me, this is a powerful indication that our structure and mechanisms are well positioned to both develop and convey a wider community consensus.

Let’s talk about democracy for a moment. Our community, not just the CALLERLAB organization, but the entire community, is a quintessential pure democracy. Our activity is neither more nor less than what we and all of us who participate in it say it is. It is the aggregate of all our collective decisions and actions.

Part Two of Barry Clasper’s Speech will appear next month in the CALLERLAB Viewpoints…Stay tuned!

Fun set to music!