Leadership and Influence

A commentary on how much leaders empower their followers

A February 12, 2020 Washington Post article titled, Trump’s rhetoric has changed the way hundreds of kids are bullied in classrooms, caught my attention. It reported:

2016 online survey of over 10,000 kindergarten through 12th-grade educators by the Southern Poverty Law Center found that more than 2,500 “described specific incidents of bigotry and harassment that can be directly traced to election rhetoric,” although the overwhelming majority never made the news. In 476 cases, offenders used the phrase “build the wall.” In 672, they mentioned deportation.

The news article sites examples such as:

Two kindergartners in Utah told a Latino boy that President Trump would send him back to Mexico, and teenagers in Maine sneered “Ban Muslims” at a classmate wearing a hijab. In Tennessee, a group of middle-schoolers linked arms, imitating the president’s proposed border wall as they refused to let nonwhite students pass. In Ohio, another group of middle-schoolers surrounded a mixed-race sixth-grader and, as she confided to her mother, told the girl: “This is Trump country.”

In 2017, the LGBTQ-rights organization Human Rights Campaign reported on a new survey of more than 50,000 young people ages 13-18 “revealing the deeply damaging fallout the November [2016] election had on youth across the United States.” The survey included respondents representing a diversity in gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity and religious background. Seventy percent of those surveyed reported witnessing bullying, hate messages or harassment during or since the November election. Of those who witnessed such behaviour, 79% said it occurred more frequently following the start of the campaign.

I wondered how much my country is affected by this constant rhetoric we hear from our news media. The late and former Canadian Prime Minster, Pierre Trudeau, once said about the United States, “Living next to you is in some ways like sleeping with an elephant. No matter how friendly and even-tempered is the beast, if I can call it that, one is affected by every twitch and grunt.” Canada is very much influenced by the United States, and not always in a good way.

CBC News did a series examining the impact of peer-on-peer violence on students and parents. Its October 29, 2019 article,  ‘I get nightmares’: How racial violence in high schools is taking a mental toll on students,  says:

In a first-of-its-kind survey commissioned by the CBC with 4,000 youths aged 14 to 21, more than half of young people that identified as visible minorities say they’ve been subjected to racist names or comments. One in eight said it happened more than five times. The survey also revealed that 41 per cent of boys reported being physically assaulted in high school, and 21 per cent have been threatened with a weapon — a significantly higher percentage than girls.

Although it was not stated, or even implied, I can only speculate that many of the racist bullies where inspired by rhetoric heard by political leaders in Canada, and especially the U.S. How can young impressionable minds not be influenced by the constant racist and xenophobic rhetoric coming from a person touted as the most powerful leader of the free world? Leaders empower and inspire people and the current resident of the White House is empowering children to bully. I am keenly aware after teaching for 35 years how much power my words had and how those words influenced my students. Teachers are leaders, and any leader empowers their followers.

Leaderonomics is a leadership development organization based in Malaysia that began with the purpose of transforming nations through leadership. Its article, Leadership Is Influence, defines influence “as the ability to move others into action.” It goes on to say, “Whenever we can change someone’s thought process and convince them to pursue a course of action, we have exercised influence, hence demonstrated leadership. The heart of strategic influencing is to gain willing cooperation instead of mere compliance.”

When I observe our world leaders, many of them use influence to gain compliance as opposed to cooperation. The recent Senate Impeachment hearings were more about complying with their political party as opposed to cooperating to determine if the U.S. president did indeed commit a crime.

An article titled, Influence and Leadership, says:

Leaders lead by mobilizing people around a compelling vision of the future, by inspiring them to follow in the leader’s footsteps…Leaders lead by modeling ways of thinking or acting…The best leaders are teachers, mentors, and role models–and they accomplish the vast majority of their work through influence, not authority.

Leaders should inspire us to be the best we can, yet I see many world leaders modelling selfish and bullying behaviours. What our world is sadly lacking is leaders who inspire people to create a better world. The Born This Way Foundation was created to build a future that supports the wellness of young people through an evidence-based approach that is fiercely kind, compassionate, accepting, and inclusive. I share their vision. I wish to do my part in creating a world that is kind, compassionate, accepting, and inclusive for everyone regardless of age.

Mohandas Gandhi once said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” Leaders can inspire us to do that. The Dalai Lama said, “I believe that individuals can make a difference in society. Since periods of change such as the present one come so rarely in human history, it is up to each of us to make the best use of our time to help create a happier world” John F. Kennedy said, “One person can make a difference, and everyone should try.” We can all do our part in creating a better world, and as I’ve said in some of my previous posts, there is a very simple solution to bullying, and that is following the Golden Rule, which says, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”  It’s a rule that is recorded in many world religions and philosophies (see Wikipedia).

These Statistics are Shocking!

A commentary on bullying statistics

EducationCorner.com has some disturbing statistics on what students today have to deal with. It reports:

90% of students in grades 4-8 report have been harassed or bullied.

28% of students in grades 6-12 experience bullying.

20% of students in grades 9-12 experience bullying. (stopbullying.gov)

Over 160,000 kids refuse to go to school each day for fear of being bullied. (Nation Education Association)

6% of students report having witnessed bullying in their school, and over 71% say bullying is a problem.

Over 10% of students who drop out of school do so due to being bullied repeatedly.

Nearly 75% of school shootings have been linked to harassment and bullying.

The Daily Mail article, Secret Service study… reports that

“most [75% according to statistics above] students who committed deadly school attacks over the past decade were badly bullied, had a history of disciplinary trouble and their behaviour concerned others but was never reported, according to a U.S. Secret Service study.”

Canadian Red Cross says

Over half of bullied children do not report being bullied to a teacher

71 % of teachers say they usually intervene with bullying problems, but only 25% of students say that teachers intervene.

Over 71% of  young people say bullying is a problem, and they are right. These statistics prove it. I find these statistics alarming, especially as a retired educator. I spent my entire career dealing with school bullies. I’ve always tried to address bullying problems when they arose—which was often. When I read that 71 % of teachers say they usually intervene with bullying problems, but only 25% of students say that teachers intervene, I am astounded. Is this a perception problem, or are many teachers all talk? Just because some teachers say they intervene, doesn’t mean they do, and what is that intervention? Is it a “tongue lashing,” some form of punitive action, or forcing the bully to apologize? I’ve tried all these methods and none of them curb bullying.

During much of my teaching years, I considered bullies to be “bad” kids who needed a good dose of discipline, which  meant punishing them punitively with detentions, expulsions, and even corporal punishment. Yes, corporal punishment was used when I first began teaching. Typically, the aim of punitive approaches is either to punish the offender or satisfy feelings of revenge. Now I look at the problem of bullying differently.

American author, Joel Osteen says,

“Keep in mind, hurting people often hurt other people as a result of their own pain. If somebody is rude and inconsiderate, you can almost be certain that they have some unresolved issues inside. They have some major problems, anger, resentment, or some heartache they are trying to cope with or overcome.”

 Joel Osteen is right! Bullies are really hurting people who take their pain out on others. As the adage says, “hurting people hurt people.” I am convinced that when we start addressing the hurts of people who bully, we will begin to heal the hearts of these bullies. One less hurting person is one less bully!

My book, “A Shattered New Start,” is written with this mindset and shows the human side of bullies. It is a story about a bully, Ryan, and his victim, Jonathan. Here is a teaser.

Why So Many Bully Leaders?

A commentary on bullying

I have talked to several people lately who are disillusioned with our government leaders and who question whether our democracy is working. I must agree, as I’ve said in other posts, I believe our democracy is broken. When corrupted leaders are elected, and governments refuse to listen to the people they govern, something is wrong with our democracy. In 1863, Abraham Lincoln delivered his Gettysburg Address in which he said, “Government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the Earth.”

What did Lincoln mean? Well, that is open to interpretation, but for me, “of the people” means voters elect fellow citizens to represent their views in office. “By the People” are those same voters having a say in what their government does or does not do. This means governments listen to the people who elected them. “For the People” is government taking care of every single citizen by way of human rights, education, disaster aid and providing adequate health care.  It also means maintaining infrastructure and protecting the environment for the betterment of the entire community. This is what a democracy should be. Governments listen to their citizens and make decisions based on what is best for all citizens, and not exclusively on their political ideology.

As I observe our world, I see so many leaders who make decisions to benefit themselves and their buddies without listening to the people who elected them and often at the determent of the people they represent. Watching this behaviour takes me back to my teaching days when I had to deal with school yard bullies. Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a bully as someone who treats someone in a cruel, insulting, threatening, or aggressive fashion, or as someone who forces someone to do something by coercion. So many of our government leaders are acting like school bullies. Here are a few examples, and there are many.

This month, our provincial leaders, the government of the province of Alberta used closure—a process in parliamentary procedure aimed at bringing debate to a quick end—and passed Bill 22.  Without consulting with the owners of the various pension funds—teachers, nurses, public employees—this new law enabled the government to take over control of the pension funds.  This is no different than a school bully that takes another kid’s lunch money.  Our premier (provincial leader) and his government dishonourably took control of money that was not theirs to take. Over 30 000 teacher emails were sent to government members asking them to stop, but the government ignored what the teachers wanted and forced the bill through the parliamentary process in record time. No bill has ever been passed in that short of time.

Bill 22 also enabled our Premier to fire the Elections Commissioner who is investigating his party for what is called the Kamikaze Scandal; a scandal involving fraud, bribery, and more. Once again, I see a government leader bullying.  It is cruel and aggressive to fire someone unjustly. (see Global News:Bill 22)

Another premier, the premier of the province of Ontario, is accused of bullying as well. Teachers in Ontario are outraged at the unfair and unreasonable behaviour of their Premier and his government who are forcing professional educators to do something they object to. When force is used, then bullying is occurring. (see National Post)

The current leader of the free world—more accurately “bully of the free world”—uses Twitter and television to bully regularly. He has done this since becoming president. The Times headline; Trump accused of bullying witness in Ukraine impeachment hearing, reveals that the US president is “accused of witness intimidation in real time” regarding the impeachment House hearings. The Newsletter has an article titled, Donald Trump Is a Simple-Minded Bully. I could go on and on with examples of bully politicians, but I’m sure you get my point.

I hear of bullying in the workplace all the time. CBC’s  has an article entitled, Canadians bullied at work, which reports that an assistant professor of management at the University of Windsor’s Odette School of Business, who has spent years researching bullies in the workplace, says 40% of Canadians have experienced one or more acts of workplace bullying at least once a week.

This all got me wondering; Why do people bully? So many of these bullies claim to be people of faith or devout Christians, yet they bully. What happened to following the Golden Rule? There is an adage, “Hurt people, hurt people.” The only explanation I can come up with is bullies are hurt people who take their hurt out on others. The article 15 Ways Hurting People Hurt People lists the various ways hurting people pain others. So, I really have to wonder, are these bully politicians hurting people. I believe they are.

Many times I’ve witnessed bullying on a school playground, in a school hallway, or in a school classroom. Most often those students who bullied were hurting. Some felt rejected; rejected by their friends, or even rejected by their parents. Some were grieving, dealing with a broken friendship or even the death of someone. Many were in a great deal of emotional pain because they were feeling lonely. Some felt like failures, perhaps told by a parent, teacher or friend that they were. Some were feeling guilty about something they did or said. There are many types of hurts.

Click on book cover to order

This is one of the reasons I wrote my book, “A Shattered New Start,” a fictional book about bullying. I’ve seen so much bullying in my life, been the recipient of bullies on several occasions, and dealt with many in my career. Can bullies be reformed? For starters, healing their hurt can make a difference. It can be as simple as listening to a bully so they feel heard.

For more information on the book, click on the book website icon below or click:  Book Info

Screen Shot 2019-12-01 at 4.43.34 PM
Click here to go to book website

Bullies can be healed!

Remembrance Day, a Day to Yearn for Peace

A commentary on war and peace.

It amazes me how fast annual events come. Once again, November 11th Remembrance Day is upon us. It is the day of the year that marks the anniversary of the official ending of World War I, and in Canada Remembrance Day is a public holiday and federal statutory holiday with a notable exception of Nova Scotia, North West Territories, Ontario and Quebec. All Commonwealth Nations—an organization of 53 member states that were mostly territories of the former British Empire—observe this day as a day to remember the members of their armed forces who have died in the line of duty.

Since visiting Vimy Ridge and the Normandy Beaches in France four years ago, my wife and I have a much stronger appreciation for all soldiers and the sacrifice they made to maintain peace and freedom in our world. Visiting both WWI and WWII military cemeteries was a humbling experience to say the least. What shocked us the most was the age of many of the soldiers, some as young as 17 years old. We now attend the Remembrance Day ceremonies with much more gratitude and appreciation for all soldiers.

We Canadians, as well as all world citizens, must consider Remembrance Day an important day to observe. It is essential that we remember the soldiers who have lost their lives or put their lives on the line to protect the rights of its citizens.

Having said that, I began to wonder why we don’t have days that honour those who work towards peace. Why not a national holiday devoted to the promotion of peace. To my surprise, such a day exists. Why have I never heard of it? The United Nations (UN) International Day of Peace, or Peace Day, is observed around the world each year on September 21st. The UN established this day in 1981 with a unanimous United Nations resolution, and “Peace Day provides a globally shared date for all humanity to commit to Peace above all differences and to contribute to building a Culture of Peace” according to the International day of Peace website.

A Culture of Peace News Network survey in 2019 found internet reports concerning more than 655 celebrations of the International Day of Peace from 103 countries around the world. These included 280 events occurring in all states of the United States and 6 provinces of Canada, 144 events in Europe, 54 in countries formerly part of the Soviet Union, 53 in Africa, and 53 in Latin America and the Caribbean. There were 50 events in Asia and the Pacific, and 21 from Arab and Middle Eastern countries.

Only 6 provinces in my country held events? When I checked, the province in which I live, Alberta, did nothing. Is peace not a goal for Albertans? Every country, every state, and every province should be holding events on Peace Day. Let’s be honest, our world is at one of it’s most divided times in history. The potential for another world conflict is once again high. The idea of a planet getting along peacefully, respecting the planet’s diverse cultures and peoples, and living in harmony is badly needed. Every country on this planet, and every citizen living on this planet, should be excited about a day for peace that would promote a more peaceful existence.

There are always those pessimists who say, “peace will never be possible.” With that attitude, they’re probably right, but perhaps a global day to celebrate peace could change the attitudes of pessimists.

New Internationalist is a leading independent media organization dedicated to socially conscious journalism. It has an article called, 10 steps to world peace, which outlines a plan; a plan that I believe has merit.

  1. Stamping out exclusion. When corrupt elites prevent a decent life for the majority of people, an injustice occurs.
  2. Bring true equality between women and men. The larger a country’s gender gap, the more likely it is to be involved in violent conflict, according to research.
  3. Share wealth fairly. According to a World Bank survey, 40 per cent of those who join rebel groups do so because of a lack of economic opportunities.
  4. Tackle climate change. Ecological stress from global warming is proven to worsen conflicts over natural resources.
  5. Control arms sales. Promotion of arms sales and heavy military spending heightens global tensions.
  6. Atonement for past aggression on the international stage. The conditions forced upon Germany by the Treaty of Versailles, WWI’s peace treaty, were severe and widespread and set the seeds for WWII. I would also suggest reconciliation for past aggression on indigenous peoples must also happen.
  7. Protect political space. Across the world public dissent must be defended from repressive tools such as unplanned administrative regulation, misuse of anti-terrorist measures, arbitrary arrest and imprisonment, torture and murder.
  8. Fix intergenerational relations. Much conflict can be understood as a youth revolt against established corrupt systems run by, largely, older men. Recent climate change activism led by Greta Thunberg is a example of this.
  9. Build an integrated peace movement. International Day of Peace could be a way to achieve this.
  10. Look within. Peace starts with you and me.

There is no question that some countries are more peaceful than others. In fact, according to Global Finance’s article, The Most Peaceful Countries In The World 2019, the

most peaceful nations also enjoy lower interest rates, a stronger currency and higher foreign investment—not to mention better political stability and stronger correlation with the individual level of perceived happiness.

According to the 2019 Global Peace Index compiled by the international think-tank Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP) covering 163 independent states and territories that are home to 99.7% of the world’s population, the most peaceful country in the world is Iceland, followed by New Zealand and Portugal. I’m happy to say that Canada was ranked 6 out of 163 countries. The USA was ranked 128th. To create a peaceful world, peace starts with individuals, then peaceful nations.

Mahatma Gandhi, leader of the nationalist movement against the British rule of India, once said, “Peace between countries must rest on the solid foundation of love between individuals.”  Unless humanity can reach a point where diversity is celebrated, respect is the norm, and love is the motivating factor, world peace cannot happen.

Really the answer to achieve world peace is very simple. Leaders of countries must live by the Golden Rule. This Rule is the principle of treating others as you want to be treated. The Golden Rule is found in most religions and cultures. In some religions, the Golden Rule is considered an ethic of reciprocity. This rule appears in the positive or negative:

  • Treat others as you would like others to treat you (positive)
  • Do not treat others in ways that you would not like to be treated (negative)
  • What you wish upon others, you wish upon yourself (empathetic)

This principle is found in the Christian scriptures in Luke 6:31 which says, “Treat others the same way you want them to treat you.” (New American Standard Bible). If all people followed this rule, peace would occur and there would no longer be a need for soldiers.

Bullying is Epidemic!

From CBC News

Earlier this month, I read a news article which I found quite disturbing, although this story not entirely surprising considering the current climate we live in. On October 7, a 14-year-old student, while his mother was with him, was fatally stabbed outside a Hamilton, Ontario, Canada High School. According to CBC News, four  teens were arrested; a 16-year-old male and a female, an 18-year-old male and a 14-year-old male, all charged with first-degree murder. Sadly, this is not the first teen killed by bullies, and then there is the problem of bullied teens committing suicide.

Global News says the family of the teen victim alleges that bullying was a persistent problem in the boy’s life and that the school never addressed the concerns. Canada News says, all five of those investigated are current or former students of the Hamilton high school. The victim’s mother claims the school and board knew about her son’s bullying, but little was done to stop it. “For a month, we’ve been trying to get this dealt with,” she said in tears. Both the school board and Hamilton police have confirmed they were notified of bullying incidents. Investigators were initially hesitant to comment on whether or not bullying and the attack were directly connected.

The Global News article, Experts say zero-tolerance policies aimed at stopping bullying aren’t working, quotes Carol Todd, an educator with a Vancouver-area school board, and whose 15-year-old daughter took her own life in response to violent bullying, said:

“We talk about bullying and we talk about how we can combat it, how can we end it. Are we doing enough to talk about the aspects of compassion, empathy, kindness and respect? Are we teaching our young people how to be respectful to other people and what to do?”

Ms. Todd is right. I’ve worked in the school system for 35 years, and I have never seen a curriculum that focuses on the aspects of compassion, empathy, kindness and respect. I taught Religious Studies in the Catholic School system, but even in the Religious Studies curriculum there was very little focus on those aspects, at least at the high school level. As Todd says,  curriculum focuses on preparing students for university and not on teaching young people about healthy human interaction.

Todd went on to say a common approach involves anti-bullying advocates making a one-time appearance in schools and delivering a lecture to students. She says, “In the school system, when you bring in an anti-bullying advocate now, kids are turning off their ears,” she said. “They’re tired of the conversation. We have to figure out different ways.” That has been my experience. Students listen to a speaker, then forget about it. I have observed little change in their attitudes or behaviour after a talk.

Debra Pepler, a psychology professor who’s done extensive research on aggression in children says,

“Schools are measured on how well they teach literacy and numeracy and science but … social emotional development should be included and it should start in…kindergarten.”

from http://www.dailymail.co.uk

She said the “zero tolerance” approach popular among many school boards involving punitive strategies do nothing to address the root causes of bullying and wind up reinforcing the kinds of behaviour they’re meant to eliminate.

I have to agree with Ms. Pepler. Every school I have taught in has had a “zero tolerance” policy regarding bullying, yet bullying was a big problem in every school I worked in. These policies are great, but virtually impossible to enforce. In my experience, bullying occurs subtly, occurring in locations teachers are rarely in—such as washrooms—or carried out discretely as to not be noticed by teachers. “Zero tolerance” policy is great, but it doesn’t work!

What is the answer then? In my opinion, there needs to be more focus on teaching students about healthy human interactions. Psych Central’s article, Bullying: A Problem That Starts and Ends at Home, says

Research shows that a harsh or negative parenting style is more likely to produce children who are bullies and victims of bullying than an emotionally warm environment with clear rules and supervision. Negative parenting includes obvious offenses like abuse and neglect, but also subtler forms of negative role modeling such as name-calling, threatening, manipulating and persistent teasing. Children learn from the way they’re treated, as well as the way their parents treat each other and the way their parents talk about other people.

Home is where empathy is learned or not learned, and school is where the lessons learned at home get played out. If relationships at home are based on fear and intimidation, children are more likely to use the same tactics with their peers. School bullies and victims are significantly more likely to report being physically hurt by a family member or witnessing violence at home than children who had not been bullied. Kids who are involved in bullying are also more likely to abuse drugs or alcohol and are at higher risk for depression and suicide.

Bullying is a learned behaviour, mostly learned at home, and therefore bullying can be unlearned. The ideal solution is to educate parents on bullying, but that is easier said than done. If empathy is not learned at home, then we as educators have a duty to teach it. The reality is, bullies are hurting people who need to be taught that taking their hurt out on other people is unacceptable.

STOP A BULLY  is a registered national charity in Canada, and has an anti-bullying program. Their website shows a study done by the University of British Columbia, based on 490 students (half female, half male) in Grades 8-10 in a British Columbia city in 1999, that reveals
64% of kids had been bullied at school, and that 64% of students considered bullying a normal part of school life. What I found particularly disturbing is that 61-80% said bullies are often popular and enjoy high status among their peers. I have personally seen this to be true. Regarding the ‘on-line’ world, 1 in 5 Canadian Teens have witnessed online Bullying, so it is clearly a huge problem in our world, and teen bullies typically become adult bullies. There is no shortage of bullies in governments and in our work environments. It is time to do something to address the bullying problem our world has.

Dan Pearce,  American author and blogger, says “People who love themselves, don’t hurt other people. The more we hate ourselves, the more we want others to suffer.” How true that is!

Young People Who Inspire Me (Part Two)

A commentary on social activism.

In my last post, Young People Who Inspire Me (Part One), I talked about Greta Thunberg, Áine Peterson, and Malala Yousafzai, three young people who inspire because they are making an impact in our world. I would like to continue with that same theme.

Greta Thunberg

First, an update on 16-year-old Greta Thunberg from Sweden. She is participating in the first ever Youth Climate Action Summit which brings youth climate campaigners together from more than 140 countries and territories to share their solutions to climate change on the global stage, and deliver a message to world leaders that we need to act now.

In her address to the UN Youth Climate Summit, she said, “Yesterday, millions of people across the globe marched and demanded real climate action, especially young people. We showed that we are united and that we, young people, are unstoppable.” (see Greta delivers message). Her phrase, “young people are unstoppable,” caught my attention and I hope she is right since it is the youth that have  the most to lose.

CBC’s article, Protest for Climate Action, reported that millions of youth were taking to the streets in roughly 150 countries around the world on September 20,  as part of a global strike demanding world leaders gathering at a UN climate summit to adopt urgent measures to avert an environmental catastrophe. This worldwide strike was inspired by Greta, and these were her words to the demonstrators in New York:

“Right now, we are the ones who are making a difference. If no one else will take action, then we will…We demand a safe future. Is that really too much to ask?”

I am excited about what is happening, as it gives me hope for change. I believe the world must change and UN Secretary-General António Guterres who spoke at the UN Youth Climate Summit said it best when he said,

“I have granddaughters. I want them to live in a livable planet. My generation has a huge responsibility. It is your generation that must hold us accountable to make sure we don’t betray the future of humankind.”

I don’t have grandchildren yet, but I want my children and future grandchildren “to live in a livable planet.” I’ve seen many science fiction movies that portrayed an uninhabitable world because we humans left the planet in ruins. The UN Secretary-General is right. The youth must hold my generation accountable. Let’s be honest; my, and previous generations, have exploited planet Earth for profits. American politician, Bernie Sanders, said, “What a disgrace that it takes a 16 year-old to tell world leaders what they won’t acknowledge.” He is right! So, I say, bravo, to Greta. I support your cause and wish you success.

Craig Kielburger, age 12

Craig Kielburger, a Canadian human rights activist and social entrepreneur, is another young person who inspires me. I used him as an example  of how one person can make a difference when I taught high school Social Studies. He is the co-founder, with his brother Marc Kielburger, of WE Charity, as well as WE Day.  In 2008, Kielburger was named a Member of the Order of Canada.

Craig Kielburger’s story starts in 1995, when at age 12 years old, he saw the headline, Battled child labour, boy, 12, murdered, in the Toronto Star newspaper. This was a story about a young Pakistani boy, a child labourer, turned child-rights activist who was killed for speaking out against the carpet industry. Kielburger did research on child labour and asked his grade seven teacher to speak to his classmates on the topic. Several students wanted to help, and the group of pre-teens started “Kids Can Free the Children” (later named WE Charity).

In December that same year, Kielburger travelled to Asia to see for himself the conditions of child labourers. While there, he learnt that then Canadian Prime Minister, Jean Chrétien, was travelling to India. He requested to meet with Mr. Chrétien, and was initially denied.  Kielburger was granted 15 minutes with Chretien, and he advocated for Canadian action on the issue of child labour, making headlines across Canada and internationally.  Kielburger attracted international media attention with features on 60 Minutes and the Oprah Winfrey Show.

Remember, this young man was 12 years old when he was inspired to act against injustice. I have taught many 12 year-olds, and don’t recall any of them being that aware of injustice in the world.

Time Magazine’s article, The School Shooting Generation Has Had Enough, tells the story of the Never again MSD movement. The days after the Parkland shooting—On February 14, 2018, a gunman opened fire with a AR-15 style semi-automatic rifle at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, killing 17 people and injuring 17 others—Parkland kids publicly called out the NRA’s influence on national politics, and shamed the leaders they considered responsible for the nation’s slack gun laws.

Cameron Kasky in centre

The Never Again MSD group was co-formed by Cameron Kasky and his high school friends in the first four days after the shooting.  After a vigil, Kasky invited Wind and Whitney (the other cofounders) to his house, and they came up with the name “Never Again.” The next three days after the shooting, the group gained over 35,000 followers on Facebook. The group organized a nationwide protest on March 24, 2018, where nearly a million kids across the country left class for the National School Walkout to protest the school-shooting epidemic.

The Never Again group has lost the attention of the media and is no longer making headlines. Since the groups inception, many attempts to discredit the Never Again movement have been attempted in the form of verbal attacks and misinformation by right-wing Republican leaders. Wikipedia provides specifics.

Many have spoken out about school shootings. Here are some of the most noteworthy in my opinion. Richard Patrick, an American musician, singer and songwriter, said:

“We live in a crazy time. Every other week, there’s a school shooting. There’s always some nutty thing and I’ve always wanted to kind of understand the crazy.”

Florence Yared, a Parkland school shooting survivor, spoke in Tallahassee, Florida. This was where five people were shot and wounded at the University Village Shopping Center. She passionately said:

“The right to bear arms … does not and never will overpower the individual’s right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness…We cannot protect our guns before we protect our children.”

Brandon Wolf, Pulse nightclub shooting survivor, also spoke in Tallahassee. He said:

“After first graders were gunned down at Sandy Hook, what did you do? Not a damn thing. After 49 people, including my two brothers, were murdered at Pulse, what did you do? Not a damn thing. You plugged your ears and turned your eyes and hoped that we would stop talking. Now we’re here again. 17 people are dead. 14 of them are children. And what did you do yesterday when given the chance to do something about it? Not a damn thing.”

According to Wikipedia, there have been 28 school shootings in 2019, and that doesn’t include the many that have been thwarted. The young people behind the Never Again MSD movement have just cause.

Young people—high school aged when they started—are leading the way for change and speaking out against injustice. Why? Because they have Didaskaleinophobia, the fear of school or fear of going to school. An American High School student, Jillian French, said, “We shouldn’t have to be scared (when we leave for school) that we are not going back home.” Like Greta Thunberg, high school aged youth have to tell leaders in the U.S. what they won’t acknowledge.

I applaud these young people, support their cause, and wish them success! Thank God for youth! They just might save the world.

The Lungs of the Earth are in Trouble

A commentary on the state of our planet

For the past week or so, I’ve seen several posts and news reports about the Amazon Forest burning. This is terrible, and  if you’re not alarmed, you should be. Why? According to National Geographic’s Amazon Facts, the Amazon Forest is often referred to as ‘the lungs of the Earth’ because of its rich vegetation that takes carbon dioxide (CO2) out of the air, and releases oxygen back in it. More than 20% of the world’s oxygen is produced by the Amazon, and some articles say up to 30%.

Amazon Rain Forest

Here are some facts about the Amazon, according to National Geographic. The Amazon is the world’s largest tropical rainforest, covering over 5.5 million square kilometres. It is so big, that the UK and Ireland would fit into it 17 times! It has an incredibly rich ecosystem – there are around 40,000 plant species, 1,300 bird species, 3,000 types of fish, 430 mammals and 2.5 million different insects. The Amazon is home to a whole host of fascinating – and deadly – creatures, including electric eels, flesh eating piranhas, poison dart frogs, jaguars, and some seriously venomous snakes.

Since the beginning of 2019, Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE) has reported 72,843 fires in the country, with more than half of these being seen in the Amazon region. This means more than one-and-a-half soccer fields of Amazon rainforest is being destroyed every minute of every day. An 80% increase in deforestation has occurred so far this year compared to last year, according to the institute. That is alarming to say the least.

So why is the rainforest burning? According to the CNN article, Here’s what we know about the fires in the Amazon rainforest, farmers and cattle ranchers have long used fire to clear land and make it ready for use, so they are likely behind the unusually large number fires burning in the Amazon today. This year’s fires fit with an established seasonal agricultural pattern, said CNN meteorologist Haley Brink. “It’s the best time to burn because the vegetation is dry. Farmers wait for the dry season and they start burning and clearing the areas so that their cattle can graze. And that’s what we’re suspecting is going on …”

Mongabay,  a nonprofit environmental science and conservation news platform, agrees saying 65-70% of the deforestation in the Amazon is caused by cattle ranching, 25-30 by agriculture, and 2-3% by logging.

Amazon on fire

UNILAD, a youth platform for breaking news, in its article, Brazil’s President Is Actively Trying To Destroy Amazon, claims Bolsonaro, Brazil’s controversial far-right president, appears to be sabotaging a conservation effort aiming to conserve 265 million square kilometers of the Amazon forest. Brazil’s president is not the only president putting our planet in jeopardy. National Geographic has a running list of how Trump, the current resident of the US White House, is harming the planet, all designed to increase corporate profit.

So I must ask: Is leaving a planet that is inhabitable for our children and grandchildren a priority, or is making money? Saving our planet, which is in crisis, should be the priority. Back in October of 2018, the New York Post ran a headline, Terrifying climate change warning: 12 years until we’re doomed. The headline speaks for itself. The United Nations says,

Climate Change is the defining issue of our time and we are at a defining moment. From shifting weather patterns that threaten food production, to rising sea levels that increase the risk of catastrophic flooding, the impacts of climate change are global in scope and unprecedented in scale. Without drastic action today, adapting to these impacts in the future will be more difficult and costly.

How does Climate Change relate to the Amazon Forest? The answer relates to Greenhouse Gases of which CO2 is one of the biggest ones. As the forest burns, it releases CO2 into the air, contributing to global warming. As more and more of the forest is destroyed, less and less of the CO2 is removed from our atmosphere since trees trap CO2 and release O2. Remember, as I mentioned earlier, more than 20%-maybe 30%-of the world’s oxygen is produced by the Amazon. If the Amazon Forest disappears, we will have 20% to 30% less O2 for us to breathe. That is frightening, folks!

The way I see it, the world’s biggest forest—the Amazon Forest—is being deforested so more meat can be provided for the planet since 65-70% of the deforestation in the Amazon is caused by cattle ranching. A growing trend toward veganism and vegetarianism is happening, in part because of this issue. Food Revolution Network, a site committed to healthy, ethical, and sustainable food for all reports

Veganism was a top search trend in Canada in 2017. And the preliminary draft of Canada’s new Food Guide, released in 2017 by the Canadian government, favors plant-based foods

There’s been a 600% increase in people identifying as vegans in the U.S in the last three years.According to a report by research firm GlobalData, only 1% of U.S. consumers claimed to be vegan in 2014. And in 2017, that number rose to 6%.

Am I advocating that everyone should become vegans or vegetarians? No, but we certainly can decrease our meat consumption to help the planet. My wife and I have made that choice, not only to save the planet, but also for health reasons. In the September 2019 Reader’s Digest magazine is an article entitled, Foods: “Good or Bad” Too Simplistic, describes a Harvard lead analysis of 36 trials where red-meat was replaced with plant-based proteins to study the effects of meat verses plant-based diets.  Their conclusion was that cardiovascular risk factors changed more favourably with those on a plant-based diet. It seems there is increased evidence that diets high in meat—especially red meat—are not healthy. There are lots of books and documentaries on this topic, so don’t take my word for it; do your own research.

Perhaps it is time for us in North America to decrease our meat consumption for the sake our planet and maybe for our health as well. According to World Atlas’ article, Top Meat Consuming Countries In The World,  the United States is the second largest consumer of meat on the planet consuming 200.6 pounds of meat per person per year. Australia is number one at 205 pounds per person annually. Canada is in ninth place on the list of high meat-consuming countries.

We can stick our head in the sand and pretend everything is fine, or we can do something. To save our planet, there are a few things you can do. You can demand that protecting the planet is priority over profit. Demand our governments leave a planet that is inhabitable for our children and grandchildren. We can also decrease our consumption of meat. And lastly, learn about the issues. Learn about Climate Change, deforestation, and other issues that planet Earth faces. Our grandchildren are counting on it, and our planet depends on it.