Book news and on the tick-box syndrome

By , 12 March 2010 6:54 pm

I found out today (courtesy of the remarkable  Google Alerts option which tells you when you have been cited on the web) that there is a brief podcast on the poetry of Shadow and Night by no less than Mark Goodyear, Senior Editor for and  (Gabcast! #11 – The Poetry of Shadow and Night — also available on iTunes)  That, and a couple of nice e-mails and blogs about people rereading my books for the third time, encourages me to persevere with the writing.

And now for something completely different. There have been a number of high profile cases recently in the UK of failures in teaching, policing health and social services. You know the sort of thing: some much harassed pupil commits suicide, the police overlook the fact that a mass murderer has been reported to them, a multitude of doctors fail to notice that someone is a chronic diabetic and scores of social workers overlook the fact that some child is being bullied to death by their parents. Shortage of time prevents me from citing tragic and gory details but there are many of these cases. Now there is something not just tragic, but fascinating (in the most worrying sense) about these. You see in every case we know that the organisation concerned must have been going through some apparently fairly rigid annual scrutiny. Again, you know the sort of thing: multipage forms either filled in by you or a supervisor which detail what you are doing, where you are doing it, how you are doing it. We call it ‘filling in the tick boxes’. Significantly, every time there is some sort of scandal or public outrage new tick boxes are added.  Now much of this is good and necessary; I have just had my annual ‘self assessment’ as a teacher and appear to have passed with flying colours.

And yet. The whole thing troubles me. It troubles me for several reasons, some fairly clear to me and some that I cannot quite put a finger on (but maybe you can). For a start it seems to encourage the wrong attitude to what we do. Real or imagined, the tick box list is ever before you and you measure yourself either by the criteria listed on it.  Yet to do this is to have freedom and creativity stifled; I suppose it might be possible to have a marriage which operated on a basis of Am I doing this? or Am I not doing this? But I’m not convinced that the marriage would last very long.

My second concern is that precisely because it is so selective and specific it hides the fact that appalling errors may take place. For instance I could easily select 30 places in Wales that would convince you it was the most idyllic place on the face of the earth. I would be overlooking potentially as large number of places which would convince you there were some very serious problems indeed. Under the guise of quality control ‘Tickboxing’ breeds security and therefore complacency. I tell my students of the alleged case of the statistician who drowned in a river whose average depth was less than a metre. Management by tick box can equally conceal massive holes within it.

Now you say, what is the relationship to Christianity? Well first of all we need to be sure in our work and our society we look beyond this tick-box mentality. There is more to a job and life generally than having done certain specifics. Secondly, this surely applies to the spiritual world. We can basically look over our life defining key spiritual parameters and then fill in those little boxes. Yet even with every box filled there can be a void beneath. If this sounds vaguely familiar to I suggest you that the whole process of tick-boxing in the spiritual world was exactly what was the problem with the Pharisees.

Have a great week.

One Response to “Book news and on the tick-box syndrome”

  1. Amanda says:

    Very excited about that podcast. Going to download it! I am so enthralled with The Lamb Among Stars yet again even tho I’ve read it over and over. So much to glean from it!

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