I have always hated the word mandatory. When someone declares an action mandatory, they are essentially declaring that they don’t trust the people around them to be willingly to participate. “Mandatory” is a negative word. “Mandatory” is disrespectful to the participants. I don’t think I’ve ever met a single person in my community who was thrilled to be treated as a child with their freedom of choice disregarded.

I do understand the need for people to work together to make something happen, however, I think that if someone wants me to participate in an action with them, it would be better if they took the time needed to explain their position and how they discerned that our acting together could benefit both of us. The benefit does need to be mutual – not necessarily equal – simply mutual. Also, that the benefit should not include “you get to keep your job”.

Explaining one’s position to a non-participating audience is not a discussion of ideas.  That’s one person basically talking to themselves – not wanting any interaction and not wanting any dissention. That’s a person who needs to use the word “mandatory” to get their way. That’s also a person who has come to believe that their views are superior to the views of others. There are many right paths to a solution and no one path suits all people. The world talks about inclusion and it’s important to remember that inclusion must extend itself in all directions – the directions we agree with and the direction we don’t agree with. The person demanding the participation needs to understand that there will always be a percentage of the group who will not agree with their position. This doesn’t make them the opposition or enemies; they are simply expressing a different set of priorities. If an action needs a certain percentage of participants to be successful, perhaps taking the time to develop that participation would lead to a happier outcome. Demanding 100% participation is not an inclusive policy that recognizes an individual’s right to choose.

When people bemoan the existence of mindless corporations ruling our society, the first thing I think of is that these corporations all share some common elements – and one of those is mandatory participation. Imagine what the world could be like if all organizations took the time to nurture intelligent participation – that leads to shared values and goals. It would be pretty awesome. Everyone wants to be valued. Everyone wants to know that their opinion matters. We just need to take the time and the mental attitude to make that happen.

For the record, I do go to mandatory events – but only to those that I share the ideals and values of the participants. I go because I believe in what we are doing, I go because I have the time and I go because I am curious. I do not go to mandatory events that I feel are frivolous or quite frankly – a waste of my time. I can’t begin to count how many mandatory staff meetings or mandatory company classes I’ve missed over the years. I was never fired for missing these events – although to tell the truth – for a few jobs – that was my intention….but that’s another story.

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