Artists May Have the Answer

A commentary on the wisdom of war.

Advertisements

I came across a rather unsettling headline on the CBC News website: North Korea warns of nuclear war at ‘any moment’. There really hasn’t been much concern about nuclear weapons since the former Soviet Union fell. Whenever the topic of the United States comes up, I hear concern in people’s voices over what is transpiring with the North Koran leader, Kim Jong Un and the current resident of the White House. There has been a war of words between the two of them, each calling one other names. Trump called the North Korean leader ‘Rocket Man’ and Kim Jong Un responded saying Trump was “a mentally deranged U.S. dotard”.  In other words, Jong Un is insinuating that Trump’s mental faculties are declining. One has to wonder if there is some truth in that.

Seriously, these two world leaders are acting just like children act in the school yard. As a retired teacher, I have personally witnessed much bullying on the school playground. Donald Trump has made threats such as; “North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States. They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen”. (see NYT) and Jong Un has uttered such things as; “If the American imperialists provoke us a bit, we will not hesitate to slap them with a pre-emptive nuclear strike. The United States must choose! It’s up to you whether the nation called the United States exists on this planet or not.” (see NYT). Watching these two world leaders act like school yard bullies is really reminiscent of the numerous supervision shifts I did as a teacher. You expect children to act this way but it is just sad when grown-ups behave this way especially if they are leaders of a country.

My wife and I attended a Chris De Burgh concert earlier this week. We haven’t been to a concert of his since the late 80s. My wife is an avid fan of Chris De Burgh and was long before I met her, and that was how I got to know his music. It was a fabulous concert and he can still put on a great show even though he just started touring after 30 years in the past few years. I was reminded of why I used to go to his concerts and listen to his records. The messages of his songs are so powerful and usually touch people at the soul level.

Why am I bringing up a Chris De Burgh concert? Well, it struck me, listening to Chris De Burgh sing his songs that his messages could teach these leaders a thing or two. Perhaps instead of looking to our politicians to solve conflicts, we should be looking to our artists. One of the songs that De Burgh sang at his concert was one he dedicated to the Canadian soldiers who liberated Vimy Ridge during WWI from the Axis powers, not without a high cost of lives. The song was Borderline. If you’ve never heard it, hear it is.

The song is about a soldier leaving to go to the front in WWI but the soldier is torn because he didn’t want to leave the love of his life, hence the lyrics; I hear my country call me, but I want to be with you. But the most powerful message of the song is the soldier questioning what he is about to partake in when he says; How men can see the wisdom in a war… Is there wisdom in a war? I can’t think of any. It was U.S. president, Franklin D. Roosevelt, who said, “War is young men dying and old men talking.”  That is so true! The reality is a leader can only take his or her country to war if the people that they oversee agree with them and follow. It was Adolf Hitler who said, “How fortunate for governments that the people they administer don’t think.”  The only wisdom related to war that I know of was by Niccolò Machiavelli, an Italian diplomat, politician, historian, philosopher and writer of the Renaissance period. In one of his writings, The Prince, he says “Wisdom consists of knowing how to distinguish the nature of trouble, and in choosing the lesser evil.” Perhaps it was said better in the movie, Pearl Harbor (2001), by Admiral Yamamoto (Mako) who said, “A brilliant man will find a way not to fight a war.”

Chris De Burgh has another song, one of my favorites, which unfortunately he didn’t sing. The song is called, Up Here in Heaven and it too has a very powerful message. In case you’ve haven’t heard it, here it is.

The song talks about visiting a military cemetery. Two years ago, my wife and I visited several military cemeteries while visiting the Normandy beaches and Vimy Ridge in France.  It was probably one of the most humbling and emotional experiences of our trip. The lyrics of Chris De Burgh’s song say:

What of the children caught in the war,
How can we tell them what it’s for,
When they cry, when they cry are voices heard anymore?

Are you listening, are you listening men of the war?
There is nothing, there is nothing worth dying for;

Up here in heaven, we stand together,
Both the enemy and the friend, ’till the end of time,
Up here in heaven, we are forever,
There is only one God up here, for all of the world.

Allied WWII military cemetery visited in Normandy, France.

His second song touches on the same theme. As the lyrics say; What of the children caught in the war, how can we tell them what it’s for. When they cry, when they cry are voices heard anymore? The characters in the song are questioning if war is justifiable, especially when it comes to the young men and women who are expected to fight it. It certainly isn’t the politicians who are battling it out. But the most powerful part of the song are the lyrics: Up here in heaven, we stand together, Both the enemy and the friend, ’till the end of time. Up here in heaven, we are forever, there is only one God up here, for all of the world. I believe when our souls arrive on the other side, heaven if you will, we will discover a God that sees no differences; that loves everyone equally. There are no enemies. Even though in our societies, God is referred to as Yahweh by the Jews, God by the Christians and Allah by the Muslims, as the lyrics say, there is only one God.

For me anyway, there is so much truth in these two songs. When the soldier in the song Borderline wonders; How men can see the wisdom in a war, the truth is, there is no wisdom in a war.  War is merely a school yard fight carried out in a big way. This is the message that needs to be sent to the bully politicians of the world. There is no wisdom in war! There is simply no way to justify war to those who are expected to fight it which is usually our young people. You might ask: What do we do when a bully leader threatens a sovereign state?  It was World War 1 veteran, the late Harry Patch, who once said:

“If I had my way I would lock all leaders in a room, and let them fight it out. Then there’d be no need, for lads like me, to go to war. Why should the government send me to a battlefield, to fight a man I never knew, whose language I couldn’t speak? All those lives, lost in a war, finished over a table. Now where’s the sense in all that? Give you leaders give them each a gun, and let them fight it out themselves”.

That is what needs to be done. Place the North Koran leader and the current resident of the White house into a room and let them ‘duke it out’. No more young soldiers need to die, or in the case of a nuclear holocaust, people of all ages all because two world leaders are behaving like school yard bullies.

Do Good Samaritans Exist?

A commentary about the goodness of people.

Helen Keller, an American author, political activist, and lecturer, once said, “Science may have found a cure for most evils; but it has found no remedy for the worst of them all – the apathy of human beings.”  The Free Dictionary defines apathy as a ‘lack of interest or concern or as indifference.  George Carlin, an American comedian poked fun at this quote when he said, “Scientists announced today that they have discovered a cure for apathy. However, they claim no one has shown the slightest interest in it.” Leo Buscaglia, an American motivational speaker and writer is quoted as saying, “I have a very strong feeling that the opposite of love is not hate –it’s apathy. It’s not giving a damn.”

So why am I bringing up the subject of apathy? I have to admit that sometimes I can be cynical. By that I mean I believed that people are motivated chiefly by selfish concerns. So where does that cynicism come from? I’ve determined that its from the news media. For example, here are two recent news headlines: Indian guru jailed 20 years for raping 2 followers and killer costs family $45K fighting estate. When you hear stories like these, you begin to believe  that people are selfish, uncaring and apathetic.

Of course, there are people in the world that are selfish, uncaring and apathetic, but are these people commonplace? The Guardian has an article called,  We’re not as selfish as we think we are. Here’s the proof says, “The media worships wealth and power, and sometimes launches furious attacks on people who behave altruistically.” Altruism is unselfish concern for the welfare of others.  So is this true? The article sites a study by the Common Cause Foundation which reveals two findings:

The first is that a large majority of the 1,000 people they surveyed – 74% – identifies more strongly with unselfish values than with selfish values. This means that they are more interested in helpfulness, honesty, forgiveness and justice than in money, fame, status and power. The second is that a similar majority – 78% – believes others to be more selfish than they really are.

I recently had a stark reminder that my belief that humanity tends to be selfish, uncaring and apathetic simply isn’t true.  A few weeks ago, my wife and I were on our way to a lake with our fifth wheel when we encountered four Good Samaritans. The Free Dictionary defines a Good Samaritan as ‘a compassionate person who unselfishly helps others, especially strangers.

In case you are not familiar with the Good Samaritan story, I’ll give you the Wikipedia summary version. It comes from the Christian biblical story found in the book of Luke, chapter 10, verses 25–37 where Jesus tells a parable which is a simple story with a moral or a story told to teach a lesson. This story is about a Jewish traveler who is stripped of clothing, beaten, and left half dead alongside the road. First a priest and then a Levite comes by, but both avoid the man. Finally, a Samaritan happens upon the traveler. What makes this story so powerful, is that in biblical times Samaritans and Jews  despised each other, but strangely it is the Samaritan who helps the injured man.

So, back to my story. About five minutes into our trek we encounter our first good Samaritan. A vehicle pulls alongside of us (we were on a four-lane highway) and using hand gestures signals us to pull over. Heeding his signals, we pull off to the side of the busy highway as did the Good Samaritan. Not knowing why he signalled us to pull over, we get out to talk to this man who thankfully told us that he saw rubber flying from our trailer. It turned out that we had blown a trailer tire. We were very grateful to this kind man who took time out of his drive to inform us of the unfortunate incident.

from winjana5thwheelers.com.au/

After taking in what happened, we notice another fifth wheel parked just ahead of us. A lady comes walking towards our truck and fifth wheel to talk to us. This is when we encounter our next three Good Samaritans. This wonderful lady tells us that they had just blown a tire on their RV and her husband and son had just finished changing it. She asked us if we would like them to change our tire since her husband was a retired trucker and had lots of experience, as well as the equipment to do so. She assured us that is was not a problem or an inposition for them. How could we refuse an offer like that, so we accepted their gracious offer. After the tire was changed, we both drove to a tire shop in the community where we came from. The young man even volunteered to carry our blown tire into the shop for us. Who says Good Samaritans don’t exist. We encountered four of them in a few minutes.

Curious, I searched to see how common Good Samaritans are. Global News has a page with links to several Good Samaritan stories. One the stories is about a Teen Hero, a story about a 13-year-old North Vancouver teen when he heard a woman screaming at a strip mall in July of this year. When he saw was a man carrying a bag and running away from an SUV with a smashed window, so the teen chased down the man and tackled him wrestling the bag out of his hands. This does not sound like someone who is selfish, uncaring and apathetic to me.

An even more heroic story, Mother of 5 loses both legs, describes an incident that happened in April of this year, when a mother of five from Florida had to have both of her legs amputated after helping a car crash victim. Dani Hagmann was driving home on a highway when she noticed another car on the road had lost control and crashed. She stopped, got out to assist the driver, called 911, and waited with the injured woman until first responders arrived. Wanting to keep the injured person comfortable, she went to get a blanket when another vehicle crashed and pinned Hagmann in-between the two cars. She certainly wasn’t selfish, uncaring and apathetic. There were many more stories on the site and there are other sites.

Now I’ve always known that the world was full of ‘good’ people, but sometimes we humans can get sucked into rhetoric and the sensationalized, ‘bad’ news stories reported by the media. I know I did. Don’t believe everything you see and hear in the news. It is misleading and can give you a false sensation that people are selfish, uncaring and apathetic. There truly are more ‘good’ people on this planet than there are ‘bad’ people. When I think about my life experience so far, I can think of countless acts of kindness shown to me and my family by random strangers. That is what I want to focus on and not what I hear on the news. You should too!

But Words Will Never Hurt Me

A commentary on bullying

I was really saddened by a video I saw on Facebook. The video was featuring a 14-year-old boy named Jack Higgins who auditioned on Britain’s Got Talent. It is about a boy who refused to give up on his dream of being a dancer and thankfully Jack was rewarded for his efforts.

In fact, watching that video made me somewhat emotional. I felt so much compassion and heartbreak for 14-year-old Jack Higgins. Why you might wonder? I felt bad for Jack because he was bullied on the school yard simply because he prefers ballet to football. This led some of his schoolmates to look down at him and even call him “gay”, saying that dancing was for girls. As a teacher for 35 years, I witnessed this kind of bullying many times. When I personally see the pain that bullying brings, it breaks my heart. If you haven’t seen the video, here it is.

Jack gives a truly magical performance when he auditioned for Britain’s Got Talent and as a result was showered with compliments, but Simon Cowell’s words were the most powerful. Simon told Jack: “You know the one thing bullies don’t like? They don’t like it when you do well. I can see how hard you’ve worked for this moment and I congratulate you, Jack!” I applaud Simon for those words.

Bullying is never okay. We as a society must never accept it when someone behaves badly towards others just because of how he or she may look or what that person does. All humans deserve to be treated with equality as well as love and respect.

I’ve always known that bullying is prevalent, but how prevalent is it? I did some research to find out. Before we do that, it is important to know what bullying is. Psychology Today defines it as a distinctive pattern of harming and humiliating others, specifically those who are in some way smaller, weaker, younger or in any way more vulnerable than the bully. The organization PromotePrevent (preventingbullying.promoteprevent.org) defines bullying as a repeated aggressive behavior where one person (or group of people) in a position of power deliberately intimidates, abuses, or coerces an individual with the intention to hurt that person physically or emotionally. So how prevalent is bullying?

The Canadian organization known as PREVNet does work based on four strategies: education, assessment, intervention and policy in order to stop bullying and victimization and to create environments where children feel safe. According to the article, Age Trends in the Prevalence of Bullying, these are some statistics:

  • Today, an estimated 200 million children and youth around the world are being victimized by their peers.
  • It is estimated that 10-15 % of children repeatedly bully others, and 10-15% of children are repeatedly bullied.

With the introduction of the Internet, came cyberbullying. When I was in school, a bully had to harass you in your face since a tormenter had no way to hide. Most bullies today are cowards as they hide behind their computers because they are too afraid to confront their victims face to face. Cyberbullying involves sending mean and sometimes threatening emails, tweets or text messages, spreading gossip, secrets or rumours about another person that will damage that person’s reputation and other such activities. The article, Electronic Bullying: Definition and Prevalence, reports:

  • Among youth who bully others electronically, 6% report frequent bullying, 6% report occasional bullying, and 17% report limited bullying within the previous year.
  • 55% of youth who are victimized report multiple electronic or cyber bullying incidents in the previous year.
  • About 50% of adolescents know someone who has been victimized online.
  • A majority of teachers (84%) report that they have been electronically bullied.

In terms of all types of bullying, Statistics Canada reports:

  • Canada has the 9th highest rate of bullying in the 13-years-olds category on a scale of 35 countries.
  • At least 1 in 3 adolescent students in Canada have reported being bullied recently.
  • 47% of Canadian parents report having a child victim of bullying.
  • The rate of discrimination experienced among students who identify as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans-identified, Two-Spirited, Queer or Questioning (LGBTQ) is three times higher than heterosexual youth.
  • Girls are more likely to be bullied on the Internet than boys,
  • The most common form of cyber-bullying involved receiving threatening or aggressive e-mails or instant messages, reported by 73% of victims.

Bullyiingfacts.info reports that in the United States in 2010,

  • 1 of every 7 students from kindergarten to Grade 12 has been a bully or has been bullied.
  • 61% of students who were interviewed stated that bullying can resort to students shooting other children.
  • More than 56% of students had already witnessed bullying that happened while they were in school.
  • 71% of students reported that bullying is an on-going problem.
  • 1 in every 20 students has seen a student carrying a gun while in school premises.
  • Each month, a shocking number of around 282,000 students are being victimized by bullying in the US.

These statistics are distressing to say the least, and they clearly indicate that bullying is a very serious problem. So, who is to blame? I hardly think it is fair to blame the children when many adults model bullying. Statistics Canada reports that 40% of Canadian workers experience bullying on a weekly basis.

from: http://www.panorama.com.al/

Even more disturbing to me is that some of our world leaders are bullies and model this to our youth. New York Times has a list of insults that U. S. President Trump made using Twitter since declaring his intention to run for president. Republican presidential candidate, Jeb Bush, said during the primaries that Russian President Vladimir Putin was a “bully” and the United States and its allies in Europe should be resolute in responding to Russian aggression (see Jeb Bush). Clearly, the Russian president is a bully when you consider what Putin has done to the Ukraine (see Ukrainian nationhood). Until adults stop bullying and sanctioning bullying, the cycle of bullying (actually a cycle of violence) will continue.

As long as our youth see adults harassing, they will continue to think that bullying is normal and acceptable. There is a well-known idiom that my friends and I used to spew at our tormentors growing up; “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.” Well, the truth is, words to do hurt and words can have a life-long effect on us. According to Psychology Today,

Ridicule, distain, humiliation, taunting, all cause injury, and when it is delivered in childhood from a child’s peers, verbal abuse causes more than emotional trauma. It inflicts lasting physical effects on brain structure.

The reality is, words (verbal abuse) hurt just as much, maybe more, than other forms of abuse.

John Powell, an English composer living in the U.S., is quoted as saying, “More than 90 percent of all the prisoners in our American prisons have been abused as children.” In light of the above quote from Psychology Today, I believe him.

The Pope, a TED Talk Celebrity

A commentary on the importance of community.

A few days ago, I went to the CBC news website to see if anything significant was happening in the world. This is something I do frequently. I was surprised to see an article called, Pope urges powerful to put people ahead of products in surprise TED Talk. My first reaction was, “the Pope gave a TED talk? How cool is that. When I read the article, and watched the talk, I was taken with his message as it made me think. Now I don’t always agree with the pope, but in regards to this talk, I think his message is one that the world needs to hear. It was a message about how influential people are failing to help those in need, and what the pope refers to as a “culture of waste”, a culture that puts products ahead of people. If you haven’t seen the talk, here it is.

The first thing that struck me in the Pope’s TED talk were his words:

People’s paths are riddled with suffering, as everything is centred around money, and things, instead of people. And often there is this habit, by people who call themselves “respectable,” of not taking care of the others, thus leaving behind thousands of human beings, or entire populations, on the side of the road. Fortunately, there are also those who are creating a new world by taking care of the other, even out of their own pockets. Mother Teresa actually said: “One cannot love, unless it is at their own expense.”

The pope is absolutely right. Our society is centred around money. Our society tends to put money and possessions before people. According to Wikipedia, a 2012 study for the years 2002–2008 found that about 25% of all senior citizens living in the United States declared bankruptcy due to medical expenses, and 43% were forced to mortgage or sell their primary residence. A 2004 Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)  report said: “With the exception of Mexico, Turkey, and the United States, all OECD countries had achieved universal or near-universal (at least 98.4% insured) coverage of their populations by 1990.” I will always be grateful that Canada has a universal health care system. Private, for profit health care is but one example where money and possessions are prioritized before people.

We are all familiar with those stories where people are treated as outcasts. The Syrian refugees would be one such group, but I would rather focus on the second part of the statement, that is, “creating a new world by taking care of the other.” One such example of this is Ontario’s basic income pilot project (see basic income). Basic income is when payments are provided to eligible families or individuals that ensures a minimum level of income. Ontario’s plan is to implement a pilot program. Supporters of the basic income say it could eliminate poverty and streamline government bureaucracies because a basic income would replace many other benefits, potentially including welfare, unemployment insurance, Old Age Security as well as others. Glasgow in the United Kingdom is considering such a project as well (see BBC). Sweden and Switzerland are also considering Basic Income programs (see Huffpost). The way I see it, basic income programs are merely a way of “taking care of the other”.

It’s interesting that research is indicating that “taking care of the other” is what happens in nature. Science Daily reports in their article, Species Take Care Of Each Other In Ecological Communities, that a University of Alberta study has determined that there are rules of existence in tropical rain forests. One species will not take up too much space so as to not squeeze out other species. Researchers say this is a way that ecological communities regulate themselves. Really, it is just “taking care of the other”.

Another message the pope had that caught my attention were his words,

Please, allow me to say it loud and clear: the more powerful you are, the more your actions will have an impact on people, the more responsible you are to act humbly. If you don’t, your power will ruin you, and you will ruin the other. There is a saying in Argentina: “Power is like drinking gin on an empty stomach.” You feel dizzy, you get drunk, you lose your balance, and you will end up hurting yourself and those around you, if you don’t connect your power with humility and tenderness. Through humility and concrete love, on the other hand, power – the highest, the strongest one – becomes a service, a force for good.

“With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility” This is a quote by Benjamin Parker (Uncle Ben) in the Marvel comic series “Spider-Man”.  Those in positions of power have a responsibility to do what is best for all the people they have influence over. Political leaders must, as Pope Francis says, be willing serve others as a force of good. It was Mahatma Gandhi who said,

“The day the power of love overrules the love of power, the world will know peace.” This is so true and this is really one of Pope Francis’ key messages in the TED talk. Or, to put it in the pope’s own words:

But the future is, most of all, in the hands of those people who recognize the other as a “you” and themselves as part of an “us.” We all need each other.

The blog called Tiny Buddha, gives six reasons for why we need one another in a post called The Power of Community,. They are:

  1. Collective wisdom. No one person ever has all of the answers. This makes sense since the more ideas there are, the more likely a solution to a problem can be found.
  2. Pushing our limits. When a person is alone, it’s easy to give up when things get tough. When you’re with others you’ll have people to motivate, and push you to do things you likely wouldn’t do otherwise.
  3. Support. On those days when you most want to give up or just can’t seem to move forward, you need to lean on your community for support to get you through.
  4. New ideas.  In a diverse world, there are many views. That is a good thing as it provides many approaches to a problem since everyone sees things differently.
  5. Motivation.  Sometimes all we need to do is look around our community to be inspired.
  6. Accountability.  When you’re accountable to others you are more likely to “step up to the plate” and accomplish something.

There is no doubt, in my view, that we need community; that we need one another simply because we cannot do it alone. The poet, John Donne, says it best when he said, “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent.” We need one another therefore we have a duty to take care of one another. There is an idiom that says, “I am not my brother’s keeper”, but I say we are our brother’s keeper. That is what Pope Francis is saying. If humanity is to survive, we must take care of one another. I would add we also need to take care of our home, the planet earth, as well because I know the pope would agree with that as well.

Is There a Cure for Racism? You Bet There is.

A commentary on racism

Obviously, I must be naiver than I thought because I truly thought that my generation was less racist than my parents and grandparent’s generations. I believed that racism was disappearing more and more with each generation. It seems I was wrong. The racism, at least in Canada, was hidden; below the surface so to speak.  Racism in Canada was intangible until all the rhetoric from south of the border starting filtering into Canada’s news media.

From cbc.ca

CBC recently published a news article called, Ottawa church fi
ghts racism. A Baptist church in Westboro, an area in the west end of Ottawa, Canada, is trying to use lawn signs to build community, and combat the negativity and racism being directed towards refugees in both Canada and the United States.  The First United Church printed 200 signs that read “No matter where you are from, we’re glad you’re our neighbour,” in the languages of English, French and Arabic. The idea for the signs was inspired from similar campaigns in the United States and southern Ontario.

It was felt that the signs were a way to make a public statement without being political. One church volunteer said, “Make it clear that we’re happy, that diversity is a positive thing, that having neighbours from all over the world and from diverse places is great and that we’re happy to get to know our neighbours and welcome everyone to the community.”

There seems to be a perception in Canada, and seemingly more so in the United States, that diversity is a bad thing; that immigration needs to be slowed or even stopped. Well the truth is, diversity makes for a better society and scientific studies prove that.

In the Scientific American article, How Diversity Makes Us Smarter, studies show that being around people who are different from us makes us humans more creative, more diligent and harder-working. One study involving “more than 350 students from three universities participated in the study. Group members were asked to discuss a prevailing social issue (either child labor practices or the death penalty) for 15 minutes. The researchers wrote dissenting opinions and had both black and white members deliver them to their groups. When a black person presented a dissenting perspective to a group of whites, the perspective was perceived as more novel and led to broader thinking and consideration of alternatives than when a white person introduced that same dissenting perspective. The lesson: when we hear dissent from someone who is different from us, it provokes more thought than when it comes from someone who looks like us”.

This is just one of the numerous studies stated in the article. The fact of the matter is, the article clearly shows how diversity improves creativity, increases innovation, and increases open-mindedness. In other words, society is healthier with diverse environments.

A debate has gone on for some time over whether people are inherently racist; whether infants are born racist. Personally, I think it is a ridiculous argument. If you’ve ever held a child under six months old, you would clearly see that babies love everyone. They just want to be loved by everyone.

A US News’ article, Babies Not Racist, reports on a University of Massachusetts—Amherst study. The study found white 9-month-old babies were worse than white 5-month-old babies at telling apart African-American adults. The news media had a “field day” suggesting that the study is evidence for inherited racism. Time reported the study with the headline, Your Baby Is a Racist, and the Telegraph with the headline, Babies show racial bias. As the US News article points out, all the babies in the study had “little to no previous experience with African-American or other black individuals.” In fact, at that age, babies can’t tell apart something they’re not used to seeing. At least four previous studies suggested that infants who aren’t familiar with other races have difficulty identifying differences in facial structures.

There is convincing proof that racism is learned. In Jane Elliot’s infamous “Blue eyes–Brown eyes” exercise, she clearly demonstrates how racism is learned. Ms. Elliot was a third-grade schoolteacher in the 1960s and 1970s. She decided to base the exercise on eye colour rather than skin colour in order to show the children what racial segregation would be like. If you are not familiar with the exercise, here is part of a documentary explaining her exercise.

The results from the exercise are startling. As a result of the exercise,  Jane Elliot declared,

 “You are not born racist. You are born into a racist society. And like anything else, if you can learn it, you can unlearn it. But some people choose not to unlearn it, because they’re afraid they’ll lose power if they share with other people. We are afraid of sharing power. That’s what it’s all about.”

The Atlantic’s article, New Evidence That Racism Isn’t ‘Natural’, reports on a 2013 paper in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, of four researchers who performed amygdala studies, previously done on adults but now was being done on children. The amygdala is mass of grey matter inside each cerebral hemisphere involved with the experiencing of emotions. The researchers found that the racial sensitivity of the amygdala doesn’t kick in until around age 14 and once it kicks in, it doesn’t kick in equally for everybody. The more racially diverse the peer group, the less strong the amygdala effect. At really high levels of diversity, the effect disappeared entirely. The authors of the study write that ”these findings suggest that neural biases to race are not innate and that race is a social construction, learned over time.”

Martin Luther King, Jr., an American civil rights leader in the 1960s said, “I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality… I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.” This is what I believe as well. Pierre Berton, a noted Canadian author of non-fiction, once said, “Racism is a refuge for the ignorant. It seeks to divide and to destroy. It is the enemy of freedom, and deserves to be met head-on and stamped out.” There is no doubt in my mind that racism is learned and evolves from fear and ignorance.

I’ll finish with another one of Jane Elliot’s quotes.

“White people’s number one freedom, in the United States of America, is the freedom to be totally ignorant of those who are other than white. We don’t have to learn about those who are other than white. And our number two freedom is the freedom to deny that we’re ignorant.”

The same holds true for Canadians. We too have the freedom to be totally ignorant of those who are other than white and we too have the freedom to deny that we’re ignorant. “Ignorance is bliss” they say. It is time to speak up against the stupidity of racism!

What happened to the Golden Rule?

the-golden-rule.gifGrowing up I was always reminded of the Golden Rule, both at school and by my parents. Being raised in a Christian community this rule was always emphasized. It wasn’t always stated as “treat others the way you wish to be treated” but often in other ways such as, “show respect to your elders” and “always respect your teachers.” I have always believed that if all people could bring themselves to live by this ethic, humankind would be in a much better place.

The Ethic of Reciprocity, or what is better known as the Golden Rule, simply states that we are to treat other people the same way we would wish to be treated. It can be worded in various forms. Wikipedia describes this rule in three forms:

  1. Positive or directive form: One should treat others as one would like others to treat oneself.
  2. Negative or prohibitive form: One should not treat others in ways that one would not like to be treated.
  3. Empathic or responsive form: What you wish upon others, you wish upon yourself.

No matter how the rule is stated, it boils down to the word respect. Merriam Webster dictionary defines respect as “a feeling of admiring someone or something that is good, valuable, important, etc” or 
as “a feeling or understanding that someone or something is important, serious, etc., and should be treated in an appropriate way.” So when a person shows respect for another then they treat that person the way they would wish to be treated.

What always astounded me about the Golden Rule is that all organized religions have this ethic.

  • In Christianity it is found in Matthew 7:12 (NRSV) of the Christian bible where it is written, ‘in everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.”
  • In the Buddhist tradition it is found in a collection of verses known as the Udanavarga. In chapter 5, verse 18 of the Udanavarga it says, Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.”
  • In Hinduism, it is found in their sacred scriptures Mahabharata 5:1517 where it is written, this is the sum of duty: do not do to others what would cause pain if done to you.
  • Judaism has it in two places, the Talmud and Book of Tobit. The first book of the Talmud is about Shabbat, the Jewish day of rest. In Shabbat 31a. It states, “What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow man. This is the law: all the rest is commentary.” In the Jewish scriptures, specifically the book of Tobit, it says, “And what you hate, do not do to any one.” (4:15)
  • In Islam, it can be found in a compilation of forty hadiths by Imam al-Nawawi, an influential Sunni hadith scholar. A hadith is one of various reports describing the words, actions, or habits of the Islamic prophet Muhammad. Number 13 of Imam Al-Nawawi’s Forty Hadiths, it says, “None of you [truly] believes until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself.”

The Golden Rule is such a simple thing and makes a lot of sense. It begs the question, why is it so important to live by the Golden Rule. The answer to that question has to do with the idiom, “What goes around comes around” or stated another way, “as you sow, so shall you reap”. These are simply reminding us that when people do bad things to other people, bad things will happen to them. This is what the expression, “you’ve made your bed, now lie in it,” refers to as well. An individual must accept the unpleasant results of something they have done. Really all of these expressions could be understood as karma, the law of cause and effect. Karma is a Sanskrit term that literally means “action” or “doing”. In the Buddhist tradition, karma refers to action driven by intention, which leads to future consequences. Good intent contributes to good karma and happiness in the future, while bad intent contribute to bad karma and suffering in the future.

The Huffington Post article on Karma puts it this way:

“Everything we say and do determines what’s going to happen to us in the future. Whether we act honestly, dishonestly, help or hurt others, it all gets recorded and manifests as a karmic reaction either in this life or a future life…There is no exact formula that is provided for how and when karmic reactions will appear in our lives, but one can be sure they will appear in some form or other. One may be able to get away with a crime they committed, or avoid paying taxes, but according to karma, no one gets away with anything for long.”

What I find even more thought provoking is that science supports this idea of “cause and effect”.  Science, specifically Quantum Physics, is providing evidence that the mind can affect matter. There is a theory known as quantum entanglement. According to Space.com, the theory states when changing one particle it changes the other even if they are on opposite sides of the galaxy, 100,000 light-years apart. In other words, they behave like one object even though they are physically apart. Einstein called this idea “spooky action at a distance”.

Quantum Entanglement: What It Is And Why It’s Relevant says,

“Quantum entanglement means that every action, thought, feeling and emotion is connected and can affect the whole in one manner or another. We are all made up of atoms, photons and electrons. We are all in a constant state of vibration. Our emotions, feelings, hearts and minds have the ability to affect what frequency our molecular structure vibrates at. Quantum entanglement is observed at a physical level, meaning what we do to one particle at one location, happens for another particle at the a different location.”

So even science reinforces the idea that every single thing that a person does, thinks, etc. has an affect. Now I know from experience that when I said something hurtful to a student or to a family member there was an effect. The impact was typically in the form of parental wrath or an angry family member.

9-11We’ve all felt the impact of the actions of an individual or group of people. There are many examples of this in history, such as the terrorist attacks in Paris in 2015. The affect of this event has made many people fearful and afraid to travel. We still feel the effects of the 9/11 attack in New York City as flight travel is much more cumbersome with all the extra security. Terrorism initiated by ISIL or ISIS caused much of world community to participate in a bombing campaign, bombing areas where the terrorists were located. What goes around comes around.

It’s fair to say that one person can impact the world. We just need to look at the legacies of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Junior to see this. Mahatma Gandhi once said, “In a gentle way, you can shake the world.”

So remember every action you take, every word you say to someone, or even every action you don’t take has an impact on your community, on your planet or maybe even the universe. It seems to me that in this time of Islamophobia, fear of terrorists, and anti-immigration, the Golden Rule is very much needed. Perhaps people (no names mentioned) who spout anti-Muslim, anti-immigration, and racist rhetoric ought to remember, “What goes around comes around”.

Ignorance, Fear, Hate. What about Love?

A commentary on the effects of fear on society.

maxresdefault
From Fox News

CNN.com reports in their article, ‘Make America White Again’: Hate speech and crimes post-election, that there has been a stark increase in hate crimes against minorities. The article says, while Trump has been accused of fostering xenophobia (fear of people from other countries) and Islamophobia (fear of Muslims), some people have used his words as justification to carry out hateful crimes. Since Trump’s election there have been incidents of racist or anti-Semitic, pro-Trump graffiti along with threats or attacks against Muslims. Graffiti such as, ‘Trump,’ ‘Whites only,’ and ‘White America’ have shown up in high schools. Graffiti written on a wall in Durham, North Carolina said, “Black lives don’t matter and neither does your votes.” In the state of NY ‘Make America White Again’ was written in a softball dugout. This is just a sampling of the post-election happenings. CTV News reports a story that occurred at Royal Oak Middle School the day after Trump won the election where students chanted “build the wall”  in the school cafeteria, a reference to President-elect Donald Trump’s call for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. That’s not even mentioning the numerous anti-Trump protests that have occurred since election day.

rtx1gzco (1)What has Trump unleashed in America? One could argue that what Trump has unleashed is hatred. Hatred of non-whites. Hatred of immigrants. Hatred of Hispanics. Hatred towards African-Americans. The list goes on. Dictionary.com defines hate as “to dislike intensely or passionately; to feel extreme aversion for or extreme hostility toward; to detest. Graffiti such as, “Make America White Again” seems to suggest there is a hatred of non-whites.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, an American lecturer, poet, and essayist says, “Fear always springs from ignorance.”  Cyril Connolly, a literary critic and writer says, “Hate is the consequence of fear; we fear something before we hate it; a child who fears noises becomes a man who hates noise”. So, one could surmise that ignorance breeds fear. Fear breeds hate. Hate perpetrates harassment and violence. This is likely what is happening in the United States. Donald Trump has tapped into the fears of Americans (fear of Muslims, fear of immigrants, fear of terrorism) and used that fear to propel himself to the office of the presidency.  Now America is witnessing the consequences of that in the form of hate crimes. One might ask, where does the fear come from? The answer to that question, according to Ralph Waldo Emerson is ignorance. Are Americans really that ignorant?

Steffani Cameron is a journalist who was born and raised in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Feeling trapped by the monotony of life, Ms. Cameron sold her belongings for the chance to work remotely while travelling the world for five years. In the first 13 months, she flew 50,000 kilometres and explored 10 countries. After the Trump victory, she wrote an article titled, Why we need to travel more than ever. In her article she says,

In America, today, fewer than 40% of the populace has a passport, and even fewer put it to use. Beyond that, education is crumbling. Secondary education is for the wealthy…Talk to anyone who has traveled the world at length and they’ll often tell you the biggest lesson they learn is how much we have in common rather than what we don’t. But in places like America, where so few people travel outside the borders, they’re more likely to believe what they’re told about “us” and “them”. When they are told who’s a bad guy, that it’s anyone with a different culture, different colour skin, then they’ll latch onto that story, because they’re unexposed to diversity and it’s an alien enemy they can process…When media talks about “Muslim extremism,” it’s easy to convince an under-educated, under-traveled public that it means all Muslims are extreme. They may not know any, so how can they decide differently?

I would encourage you to read her article. I think what Ms. Cameron says is ‘bang on”. I personally can attest to what she says as I have travelled a far bit. I’ve been to Europe three times visiting numerous European countries. I’ve been to the Balkans, Cuba, and Mexico. I’ve also visited various American states. One thing I’ve discovered during my travels is that there are wonderful people everywhere. In my post, Where are all the Good People? and Let the Adventures Begin, I wrote about some of the wonderful people I encountered while travelling.

Here are some experiences I had on our most recent trip to Europe just over a year ago. My wife and I were driving in France from Bayeux to Lievin and on the way, we stopped in the French village of Aumale. While walking around we discovered a market.  Meandering about the market we came across a table with croissants on it so my wife, salivating for one, asked if she could have one.  The lady at the table spoke no English but still understood what my wife had asked, so she responded with “Oui”.  Then the lady points to the coffee urn and says something in French looking at me.  Realizing that she was offering me coffee I excitedly said, “Oui” as I cherish my coffee. This pleasant, welcoming French lady then proceeds to pour my wife a juice.  The people of Aumale were most gracious and hospitable to us, the strangers in town. These wonderful villagers welcomed us with open arms.

ct-photos-eiffel-tower-in-the-french-flag-s-co-006Just before arriving in the wonderful village of Aumale, we were stopped at an intersection. Drivers around us were pointing at our vehicle so we immediately panicked presuming that we had done something illegal or that something was wrong with our vehicle.  Then one man gets out of his car, comes running up to our vehicle and says something in French while pointing down at the car door.  My wife who was driving at the time rolls down the window and to her horror discovers that her coat was hanging out the car door. This kind man had made the effort to alert us to our carelessness.  There are wonderful, caring people everywhere.

Sadly, this fear is spilling over into Canada. Mohsin Zaman of Edmonton, Alberta wrote a post on Facebook where he describes an incident that he personally experienced. He explains that a white male shouted at him, “You’re done, you brown hippie! Trump is going to send your ass home! Don’t matter if you’re in Canada. You just wait!”  I thought that this fear and hate would remain south of the border but I guess that was too much to hope for. It seems that ignorance is prevalent in Canada as well.

Global News reports that residents in the Toronto’s east-end found “ultra right wing” posters that urged white people “tired of political correctness” and “questioning when immigration will stop” to join an online movement. The signs had a headline that reads “Hey, WHITE PERSON” and asked, “wondering why only white countries have to become ‘multicultural’?” Sadly, Canada is not immune to Donald Trump’s rhetoric.

The late John Lennon once said,

“There are two basic motivating forces: fear and love. When we are afraid, we pull back from life. When we are in love, we open to all that life has to offer with passion, excitement, and acceptance. We need to learn to love ourselves first, in all our glory and our imperfections. If we cannot love ourselves, we cannot fully open to our ability to love others or our potential to create. Evolution and all hopes for a better world rest in the fearlessness and open-hearted vision of people who embrace life.”

bryant-mcgill-fear-love-choiceHis wife, Yoko Ono, once said, “The opposite of love is fear, not hate”. The Christian scriptures in 1 John 4:18  it says, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.” Perhaps America needs to learn to love itself with all its diversity of people and its diversity of views.  It seems Canada may need to do the same. We Canadians need to remember the words of former Prime Minister (PM) of Canada and father of our present PM, the late Pierre Trudeau who said.

We must now establish the basic principles, the basic values and beliefs which hold us together as Canadians so that beyond our regional loyalties there is a way of life and a system of values which make us proud of the country that has given us such freedom and such immeasurable joy.

Pierre Trudeau’s vision was one of embracing our diversity. When a country (or person) fully accepts, embraces and loves who they are then people like Donald Trump have no power. What the United States needs is to learn is to love, not fear! Love casts out fear. Love is inclusive. It celebrates diversity. PLEASE don’t get “sucked into” Donald Trump’s toxic xenophobic and Islamophobic rhetoric. There is way more goodness and love in the world than what our American cousins, and apparently some Canadians think. Just check out some of the news on Good News Network and Good News website if you don’t believe me.