When something is made to be mandatory, it says nothing good about the people who enacted the mandate and proves nothing of those who are subject to it. This, of course, based on the assumption that those required to attend or participate in the mandatory activity are of sound mind, mature character and acceptably aware of the situation and its consequences. You can discount children and teenagers (i.e. big children), so what you’re left with are adults (or young people who are considered adults in almost every other factor of their lives) being told that something is understood to be of great importance and value to them, yet they’re not trusted to understand this and make the choice for themselves. Obviously, given my own station, for the most part I’m talking about university and early adult life.
However, no specific experience stands out among the rest, because that’s how ingrained the idea of something being mandatory is in our society. When I was a don in the Residence Life Staff a few years ago, nearly every factor of the job was mandatory, including training that took place after the job had begun. Based on the timing, arguably this training wasn’t necessary to the job, but to its credit, by no means a waste of time either. Why not trust your own employees to see that and prioritize it as a experience they can’t afford to miss? The same in education, I was required to attend supplementary concerts that were varied and broadening artistic experiences in their own right. What’s more, students had already paid for them through their tuition, so to miss them would simply be a waste. Why not trust the students to weigh these factors and make the choice for themselves, outside of academic penalty based on their physical presence there?
These are just two examples and neither are meant to specifically criticize or single out either. The flawed logic behind mandatory yet valuable experiences is present in nearly any given area of professional and academic life.
To be clear, the argument isn’t whether the mandated concerts or training or whatever else was valuable, but whether making them mandatory was necessary in the first place. The argument is whether making them mandatory was little more than failing to trust those under the authority of those who made the decision. I can think of few better ways to subtly disrespect those under your authority than to make something mandatory for them.
An important note is that it removes any true agency from those subjected to the mandate. At a required event, can you really tell the difference from those who are present because they want to be and those who are present because they have to be? At that point, does it even matter anymore?
For the past few years I’ve encouraged the staff at The Brock Press to participate in the Grape Stomp event held by Community Outreach at Brock each year (see page 5 for more details). I truly believe it would be a valuable experience in terms of socializing and team building, not to mention that as the event has specific import to this University and its home city, it would only further our staff ’s connection with the local community. However, the last thing I would want to do is make anybody attend it; what could be more disingenuous than required friendship in a professional set- ting? Isn’t the nature of such an idea simply unsettling?
So, is there a truly acceptable circumstance for deeming something mandatory? Has there ever been something so necessary than the choice to participate absent? Despite the logical assumption that those subjected to the mandate would be able to understand its value and make the choice for themselves?