Remembrance Day is More Important Now then Ever Before

A commentary on the importance of remembering the world wars of the past.

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November 11th Remembrance Day is once again upon us. In case you are not familiar with this holiday, it is a commemorative day observed in Commonwealth of Nations to remember the members of their armed forces who have died serving their country.  The observation of Remembrance Day in most countries is to remember the end of World War I, which ended on November 11 in 1918.

From: http://www.fborfw.com/stripcatalog/indexholidays.php?q=remembrance

I came across the above For Better or Worse comicWhy we wear a poppy—by Lynn Johnston released November 10, 2013, on social media. [In case you find the above version difficult to read, see For Better or Worse]. What is interesting about this comic is the child in the strip didn’t understand the point of the poppies and even voiced, “I’m not really sure what a war is.”  My take on this comic strip is Lynn Johnston is saying that ‘we remember, so we avoid repeating the mistake of world conflict again.’ Ironically, the first world war, or the Great War,—dubbed the war to end all wars—was thought to be a world conflict never to be repeated. Regrettably, a second world war broke out in 1939. It seems we humans are slow learners.

As I reflect on the state  of our world now, I wonder if we humans are about to make the same error once again.  The New York Times has an article, To Counter Russia, U.S. Signals Nuclear Arms Are Back in a Big Way, reporting  that Trump called on Congress to “modernize and rebuild our nuclear arsenal” in his State of the Union address in February of this year. Trump’s administration claims that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia has accelerated a dangerous game that the United States must match, even if the price tag soars above $1.2 trillion.  The Military Times says, “Since his first day in office, President Donald Trump has promised to “rebuild” the military by increasing the number of ships, aircraft and ground combat vehicles in the services’ inventory.” The Diplomat’s article, China’s 2018 Military Budget: New Numbers, Old Worries, reports that China announced that its defence expenditure in 2018 would be over 1.1 trillion yuan ($174.5 billion).  The Guardian reports,

“Vladimir Putin has announced that Russia has developed and is testing a new line of strategic nuclear-capable  weapons that would be able to outmanoeuvre US defences, in a possible signal of a new arms race between Moscow and the west.” It appears that an arms race involving China, Russia and the United States is presently happening. That is not to say other countries are not building their militaries as well.”

That is exactly what happened in both world wars. Between 1890 and 1913, the European powers began building up their military power. This included the countries of Britain, France, Germany, Russia, and Austria-Hungary. The reason for the military buildup was primarily nationalism in which each country wanted to be “better” than the others. In the period of time leading up to World War II, Adolf Hitler publicly announced in early 1935, that a secret rearmament had been going on since the late 1920s, breaking one of the terms—the disarmament clause—of the Treaty of Versailles. When I taught history classes, I taught that the causes of World War I were alliances, imperialism, militarism, and nationalism. The world seems to be practicing militarism once again.

I also taught that one of the key causes of World War II, was fascism. Some European countries were overtaken by dictators forming fascist governments. These included Italy ruled by the dictator Mussolini, Adolf Hitler with his takeover of Germany, and the Fascist government in Spain ruled by the dictator Franco. The legal definition of fascism is

“a political ideology that seeks to regenerate the social, economic, and cultural life of a country by basing it on a heightened sense of national belonging or ethnic identity. Fascism rejects liberal ideas such as freedom and individual rights, and opposes free elections, legislatures, and other elements of democracy. Fascism is strongly associated with right-wing fanaticism, racism, totalitarianism, and violence.”

In my assessment of today’s world, I alarmingly see signs of fascism on the rise. The Business Insider’s article, Nine European Countries Where Extreme Right-Wing Parties Are On The Rise, lists the rise of nine European right-wing parties, many of which have won elections and taken power. The Washington Post article, How fascist is Donald Trump? describes Trump as a semi-fascist. Even in Canada, provincial governments recently elected in Ontario and Quebec are considered right-wing.

Are we living in troubling times? Is militarism on the rise? It seems so. Is nationalism on the rise? Donald Trump has referred to himself as a nationalist. (see Washington Post).  Is fascism on the rise? In the nine European countries article I cited above, it says the Swedish Democrats’ slogan is “Keep Sweden Swedish,” who are mostly known for anti-immigrant nationalism.” That sounds like nationalism to me.

From: https://malenadugroup.wordpress.com/category/political-jokes/

The Washington Post article, U.S. military budget inches closer to $1 trillion mark, as concerns over federal deficit grow, says, “the U.S. Senate [in June] voted to give the military $716 billion for 2019, approving one of the biggest defence budgets in modern American history.” The U.S. spends the most on military spending out of all nations. Think of the kind of world that could be created if just a portion of that trillion dollars—that is 12 zeros—were used for establishing respect, honesty, integrity, kindness, compassion, peace and equality. American politician, George McGovern, once said, “I’m fed up to the ears with old men dreaming up wars for young men to die in.” Former first lady, Eleanor Roosevelt, once said, “Anyone who thinks must think of the next war as they would of suicide.” I concur wholeheartedly. War is suicide on a mass scale.

I hope the world wakes up to what is happening and isn’t stupid enough to make the same mistake a third time. What mistake am I talking about? Another world conflict! As a former social studies teacher, I see many of the pre-war signs. We the people have the final say. We can stop these extremist governments from being elected. We just need to exercise our democratic right, and vote for governments and leaders who promote respect, honesty, integrity, kindness, compassion, peace, and equality as opposed to anti-isms. These are Christian values which many of these extremist leaders claim to have.  The above For Better or Worse comic reminds us of this. Remembrance Day is a day to remember the horror of  past conflicts, and a reminder to never make that mistake again.  If future generations never know what war is, then this day has done what it is intended to do.

Should We Be Worried?

A commentary on the rise of bigotry

On October 27th, yet another mass shooting occurred in the United States at a Pittsburgh synagogue. A radicalized, American born citizen expressed his hatred of Jews during the rampage, telling police officers afterward that Jews were committing genocide and he wanted them all to die. Sadly, this disturbed individual shot and killed 11 Jewish worshipers during the Jewish Sabbath service. (see Pittsburgh synagogue)

anti-hateWhile watching CNN, I saw an interview with a Jewish Rabbi hours after the mass shooting happened. The words uttered by the Rabbi struck me. He said, “I worry that hatred is becoming mainstream.” These words struck me because he expressed what I’ve been feeling. It seems people feel empowered to express their hatred towards people, such as visible minorities, indigenous people, Jewish people, Muslim people, immigrants, LGBT people, transgender people, and the list goes on and on. This sense of permission to express hatred is not only happening in the U. S. but in my country as well. I began to recall all the things I’ve read or heard in the news this month.

Earlier this month, CBC News reported in an article entitled,  ‘Go back where Indians belong’: St. Albert mother frightened by racist letter from neighbour, that a  woman living in St. Albert, a city two hours from where I live, fears for her children’s safety so has decided to move out of her rented condo.

An anonymous letter, which her 12-year-old daughter found in the mailbox, complained about children riding a scooter on driveways and playing basketball and football on the street. Then the letter said, “We don’t like your kind around here.” The tone of the letter became threatening and focused on the family’s First Nations or indigenous background. The letter told the family to, “Move out or things will escalate. Would not want to see the kids getting hurt. This isn’t a reserve. Go back to the reserve where Indians belong.” The letter ended with, “Your friendly Phase II Neighbours.”

Now I find this entire worrisome incident ironic for two reasons. First, the letter is signed “Your friendly Neighbours.” I would hardly call a letter threatening a family as friendly. The author or authors of this letter is/are hypocrites to say the least. Secondly, it is ironic that these neighbours, presumably white Caucasians, are telling an indigenous family to go back where they belong—in their minds the reserve—when indigenous people have been living on this land that we call Canada for thousands of years before the white Europeans arrived. It was our ancestors who created reserves in  the first place to acquire land for the state. It seems to me that if anyone should be telling someone to go back to where they belong, it should be the indigenous people telling the Caucasians to go back where they belong. I would be willing to bet that the “friendly Neighbours” are ignorant of Canadian history.

Another CBC News titled, Indigenous man kicked out of McDonald’s after racist confrontation says he feels lucky to be alive, describes how an Indigenous man in June was kicked out of one of the city of Red Deer’s MacDonald’s restaurants  following a racist and profanity-laced encounter with another customer. Zach Running Coyote, an indigenous actor from a nearby town, says he decided to confront a man who used a racial slur. Coyote said he wanted the man to say it to his face when he heard the racist say, ‘What’s your f–king problem?’ The racist customer then turned to his girlfriend saying, ‘That, “insert expletive,” little Indian know-it-all should mind his own business.'” Leaving the restaurant’s parking lot, the bigot yelled that he was sick of Coyote’s people “mooching” off tax dollars and living on welfare, spewing more profanity as he sped away. Clearly, the xenophobic is ignorant of history. If you read my post entitled, Is First Contact with Indigenous People Necessary? or do some research on your own, you will learn most of the indigenous stereotypes are based on misconceptions. To stereotypically label all indigenous people as welfare recipients simply is untrue.

Also, in the province where I reside, a story came out this month about one of Alberta’s new political parties, the United Conservative Party (UCP), claiming it does not share the “hateful views” of Soldiers of Odin, a white supremist group, after three candidates, contending to run as a UCP candidate, posed for photos with members of the extremist hate group. (see Candidates unknowingly posed).

What I find ironic, is in another CBC report, UCP nomination candidate says he knew Soldiers of Odin were coming to party’s pub night, the candidate told reporters that, ‘People have a constitutional right to voice their opinions and I’m not going to deny them that.’ In other words, he knew all along who the Soldiers of Odin were. Is this new political party attracting racists? Do its policies allow extremists to feel comfortable in their party? I have a difficult time believing any political party encourages racist extremists to join them, but sometimes actions speak louder than words.

These are just three examples of intolerance in my province. There are many more, I assure you. If this is occurring in every province, then racism seems to be rampant in my country. Hate crimes are on the increase. The National Observer reported last year that police-reported hate crimes in Canada rose in 2016 for the third year in a row, and became much more violent, according to data from Statistics Canada. With all the rhetoric coming from the current resident of the American White House bombarding  the Canadian news, it doesn’t surprise me that hatred is becoming mainstream. Even some of our Canadian politicians are spouting that there should be less immigration. Maxime Bernier, a once outspoken Conservative MP who left the party and has since formed a new political party, criticized an immigration system that he said was attempting to “forcibly change the cultural character and social fabric of Canada.” (see Maxime Bernier’s rebellion) Are these politicians bigots or just ignorant? Whatever it is, I don’t want to live in a world that is divisive and exclusive.

One thing I have learned from the many years of travel and experiencing numerous cultures, is that every human being, no matter what race or culture, just wants to live comfortably, enjoy life and live in peace and safety. The late Pierre Berton, a Canadian non-fiction author and journalist, 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.” I believe that to be true. Racism comes from ignorance. Racism is a learned attitude. Racism does not belong in my world or in my country. It needs to be met head-on and stamped out. Everyone, regardless of race, religion or sexual orientation have the right to live their lives with dignity. As stated in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, declared in 1948,

“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.”

The bottom line is a bigot is a bully. Bullies intimidate to get their way. There is no place for a bully in my world.

Is First Contact with Indigenous People Necessary?

A commentary on the ignorance of non-Indigenous people about Canada’s first residents

This month, CBC reported on a ‘Offensive’ online test about Indigenous Canadians.   This test was being used in an Outreach school, which is a school for students who don’t fit into a traditional school.  This school was using distance Learning materials which contained a multiple-choice test question which asked about the “positive effect” of residential schools. Students could choose from four possible answers such as “children were away from home” and “children became civilized.” A photo of the question was posted to social media by an offended student from the school, sparking swift apologies from the province’s education minister and school officials among condemnation from critics.

As the CBC article states, this question reflects views that are decades old; the very views highlighted by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada that calls for change. With all that has been learned about the Residential Schools in recent years, it amazes me that a question like this is still in use. Clearly there is much educating and healing to be done between Indigenous people and non-Indigenous people. As a social teacher who taught about Residential Schools, I assure you there was nothing positive about these schools. The only intent of these schools was cultural genocide. Or, as spoken by our first Prime Minister, Sir. John A MacDonald in 1887, “The great aim of our legislation has been to do away with the tribal system and assimilate the Indian people in all respects with the other inhabitants of the Dominion [of Canada] as speedily as they are fit to change.” There is nothing positive about destruction of another culture.

In another CBC news article titled, Radio ad claiming to debunk ‘myths’ of residential schools draws criticism, reported this month that a two-minute ad aired across multiple private radio stations in the province of Saskatchewan. It begins with a question: “are Canadians being told the whole truth about residential schools?” It continues, “We have been told that the residential school system deserves the blame for many of the dysfunctions in Indigenous society — abuse of alcohol and drugs, domestic violence and educational failures can all be blamed on the school system which did not finally end until the 1990s,” says the ad. This ad then goes on to debunk what it calls myths, such as the myth that residential schools robbed native kids of their childhood and the myth that the harm that was done to those attending residential schools has been passed on to today’s generation.

I was appalled to learn of this. It reminds me of the Holocaust deniers who deny the genocide of Jews occurred and who claim that Nazi Germany’s Final Solution was aimed only at deporting Jews, claiming the slaughtering of Jews is a myth. Now  we have residential school deniers who deny that residential schools were  harmful and that the problems of the Indigenous people are unrelated to these schools.

Earlier this month my wife and I watched a three-part series on APTN (The Aboriginal Peoples Television Network) called First Contact. If you missed it, I strongly encourage you to watch it when it is rebroadcast on October 8th. I have taught Social Studies for years and thought I knew all there was to know about Indigenous people. This program taught me things I never knew and challenged my stereotypes about Indigenous people.

First Contact takes six Canadians, all with strong opinions about Indigenous People, on a 28-day journey into Indigenous Canada. These were people from all across Canada and who describe Indigenous people as alcoholics, drug abusers, welfare cheats, lazy, and entitled. They claim Indigenous Canadians are angry at white people, always get free money and handouts, are a drain to the system, and they just want people to feel sorry for them as  they are victims. One participant, who lived by a reserve growing up, spoke of how she was told never to go on the reserve as it was dangerous and to never look  at an indigenous person.

These six individuals left their everyday lives behind and traveled to Winnipeg, Nunavut, Alberta, Northern Ontario, and the coast of BC to visit Indigenous communities. The idea was to challenge their perceptions and confront their opinions about Indigenous Canadians.

In Episode one, the participants begin their journey in Winnipeg, Manitoba. In Winnipeg they work alongside two community driven movements; the Bear Clan patrol which works to keep Winnipeg’s notorious North End streets safe, and Drag the Red which takes on the sobering task of helping to solve cases of missing and murdered Indigenous women by searching the river, and the riverbank, for remains or other evidence. Then the group traveled over 2,000 kilometres north to the remote Inuit community of Kimmirut where they discover how difficult life on the land is for the Inuit people.

In the second episode, the group of six arrive in Muskrat Dam, one of several fly-in reserves in Northern Ontario. Let’s face it, us non-Indigenous Canadians cannot understand why aboriginal people continue to live in remote places like Muskrat Dam. While there, the participants learn why relocating isn’t an option for them as families have lived there for generations. They will also learn tough lessons about educating youth in a remote fly-in community, the impact of the legacy of residential schools, and learn that clean drinking water is unavailable there, and is unavailable in 140 other reserves across the country. The next stop takes the travellers to Alberta. With a population of over 17,000, the Maskwacis reserve has a reputation for gangs, crime, and a high suicide rate.  In Maskwacis, the six attend their first Pow Wow and sweat lodge ceremony, causing some attitudes within the group to shift.

In the last episode, the group is taken to Calgary, to experience life on the streets, and then north, to an Edmonton prison to learn about life on the inside for Indigenous inmates. According to a Statistics Canada report, Indigenous people comprise about 5 per cent of Canada’s population but account for 27 per cent of the federal prison population in 2016–17. The final stop is in Ahousaht First Nation, on the west side of Vancouver Island. Historically, Ahousaht has suffered many issues, but in recent years, with strong leadership from within, the reserve has made many changes and turned the community around. Sadly, not all minds were changed. A rift began to occur in the group, ending with four of them challenging the two individuals from my home province who still held the same view of Indigenous Canadians as when they started.

One of the lines in the series that struck me was, “We are all treaty people.” Indian Treaties were agreements made between Europeans and Native Canadians used to secure alliances, and most often to acquire land from Native Canadians. None of us were present when these treaties were agreed upon. It was our ancestors who made these agreements. That is true for those of us who are descendants of European settlers as it is for Indigenous Canadians. These Treaties are still honoured today, so the statement, “We are all treaty people,” is true. Treaties do not just apply to Native Canadians.

The chief from Alberta’s biggest reserve, Maskwacis, said money for his people came from a fund. He said most non-aboriginal people don’t understand that the money they use to run their reserves comes from this fund and that the fund is a finite amount of money. I wondered what he meant by fund. The CBC article, How does native funding work? explains how funding from the federal government works. The article states,

“The federal government established each First Nation band as an autonomous entity and, therefore, provides separate program funding to each one…”

“The primary method to fund [Indigenous] services is through what’s called ‘contribution agreements.’ The agreements are renewed annually, although not always on time…that means ‘First Nations must often reallocate funds from elsewhere to continue meeting community service requirements.’ The article also says that “while the agreements state the services or actions to be provided, they do not always focus on service standards or results to be achieved…there’s no linking of funding levels to national standards for services such as in the equalization program for provinces.” The article says the growth rate of federal funding to First Nations has not been keeping pace with the growth rate in transfers to the provinces.

This must be what Maskwacis’ chief means by fund.  Each reserve receives a set amount of funding from the federal government to provide services for their band.  The truth is, Indigenous people do not get endless handouts from the government, as many Canadians think.

There is so much misinformation about Indigenous Canadians and stereotypic beliefs about aboriginal people . It is time that we as non-Indigenous Canadians learn the truth about residential schools and the effects of it instead of sitting comfortable in our ignorance and being arrogant with our judgemental point of views. The two individuals in the series from my home province illustrated this by their lack of openness to change their views.

How Times Have Changed

A reflection on the changing world

An outhouse like my parents used

Heraclitus, a Greek philosopher, is credited for saying, “The Only Thing That Is Constant Is Change.” Now that I have had a lot of life experience, I realize how true that is. I remember my parents talking about how much the world had changed in their lifetime. They talked about how they grew up with outhouses. That usually happened when us kids were complaining about something. We only had one washroom between seven of us, so it was likely when someone was hogging the bathroom. For those that don’t know, an outhouse was an outbuilding containing a toilet with no plumbing. Essentially it had a wooden platform with a hole in it so the human waste would fall into a hole in the ground. Mom and Dad both expressed how much they hated having to go to an outhouse, especially at night in the winter.

Bucket and dipper, like the one I remember using at my grandparents

My parents also talked about having to haul water in from the well to fill the bucket that they drank out of using a dipper—a ladle or scoop. I remember visiting my grandparents and drinking water from a dipper. My grandparents eventually got plumbing and running water installed. My parents also spoke of oil lamps used for lighting which was replaced by electric lights. What a major change those were. I can only imagine how excited that must have been for my grandparents.

My parents also talked about riding on horse and buggies and walking to their school—usually uphill both ways—to a one room, multi-grade school. Now kids are picked up with school busses and taken to schools with multiple rooms, one room per grade. My mom is still alive so she saw travel with horse and buggy to nowadays where automobiles, planes and trains are used.

I could go on and on. Even in my lifetime, I’ve witnessed a lot of change. I remember phone numbers of two digits. I remember having to get the phone operator to connect me to whomever I was calling. In those days, they were party lines, so your neighbours could listen in on your conversations. Then we had dial phones with 7 digits. I remember how frustrating that was to get to the 6 or 7th digit and your finger slips. That meant you had to start all over. Then there was touch tone. Now you just press a button and the phone dials the number for you.

A Gestetner like I once used
A Spirit Duplicator like I used to use

When I started teaching, we used Gestetners. These machines used a stencil, a thin sheet of wax-coated paper which when written or typed upon creating a broken line in the stencil. Ink was forced through the stencil by an ink roller to make copies. I remember my hands and sometimes clothes getting ink on them. It was a messy job. We also used Spirit Duplicators where a master, either created or purchased, containing an alcohol soluble dye-carbon which was transferred to the paper. The alcohol had a distinct smell which is why they were called spirit—the alcohol—machines. Before photocopies, that is how us teachers cranked out our handouts and worksheets. In the very early 1980s, our school got its first photocopiers. We were so excited as a staff. When I left teaching, I used computers with smartboards. Many assignments I sent out electronically and most assignments that students handed in were handed in via email. When I think about it, I’ve seen a lot of change.

My son is planning to backpack in Europe for several weeks this spring where he will spend some time with his “Irish” sister. My daughter is planning to visit her sister in the summer of 2019. These plans of travelling to Europe got me thinking about 21st century travel verses 20th century travel, comparing it to when I first backpacked in Europe in 1986, over 30 years ago.

When I backpacked in Europe, the only way to communicate with home was telephone. In those days, you bought a phone card which gave you so many minutes to call back to Canada. It was about a week after I left that I called home. I didn’t consider the time difference enough because my mom said it is 6 am in the morning when I called. She said she did not care, because she was so happy to hear my voice. My mother still remarks, even today, that for all she knew I was “dead in a ditch somewhere.”

Even when my wife and I backpacked in Europe in 1989, the only way to connect with home was phone. We each called our parents once and asked whichever parent we talked to, to call the other’s parents so that they would know we were fine. It seems archaic when you compare to nowadays.

In this 21st century, in my opinion, I think we are too connected with home. We can phone, text, WhatsApp, email, send a tweet, send an Instagram, Facetime or Skype, and numerous other modalities to connect with people back home. I must admit though, now that I have a daughter living in Ireland, I am very grateful to be able to see her face using Facetime or Skype. On the negative side, some people spend more time posting pictures of their trip, or connecting with people on social media, instead of enjoying a new culture. Like everything, there are pros and cons.

Navigating around a foreign country is another big change. In the 80s, we used maps and relied on kind foreigners to guide us. Maps were the only way we had available to find our way through cities. My wife and I had one of our worst arguments over which direction to get to the museum where the statue of David in Florence, Italy was. I humbly admit that it was I who couldn’t read a map properly. I sometimes have to wonder how I made my way through multiple countries and cities in Europe using maps when I travelled alone in 1986. My middle daughter often comments, “I don’t get how you navigated using just maps.”

My son, just the other day, was talking about travel phone plans and whether or not to get a SIM card in Europe as he depended on his phone for navigation. I must admit, an app that shows you where you are, what direction you are walking verses which direction you need to go is pretty handy. I likely would not have been lost as much had we had smartphones, apps and GPS back in the 80s.

In 1989, you didn’t book ahead of time for accommodations. There was no such thing as Vacation Rental by Owner (VRBOs) and Airbnbs. There were hotels and Bed & Breakfasts. In those days, you when you arrived in a foreign city, you went to the nearest information centre and they found you a room or hotel. Now the options are almost limitless—Airbnbs, VRBOs, Hostels, Couchsurfing, house sitting, homestays, Guesthouses, pet sitting, and who knows what else—and these are all arranged and booked months in advance using the Internet. This is the way my wife and I travelled the last two times we visited Europe.

Even travelling around a country or continent has changed drastically. In the 1980s, you could purchase a Eurorail pass which enabled you to travel in any participating European country by just showing the conductor your pass. I understand these passes are still available but they are not as handy or economically advantageous as they once were. Back then, you went to the train station, studied the schedule to determine when you needed to catch your train. Today, you can book a spot on the train—very advisable—as well as determine when your train arrives or leaves using an Internet site. Much easier these days. You can also purchase your tickets using the Internet instead of physically going to the train station.

You definitely have to be more prepared to travel nowadays. When I travelled Europe in 1986, I “flew by the seat of my pants.” In other words, I didn’t plan too much. I went to the train station, decided when and where I would go next, and when I arrived in a new destination, I  relied on the tourist information booths to find me a place to stay, which was usually a youth hostel. I would not advise anyone to do that today.

As I’ve already stated, Heraclitus is credited for saying, “The Only Thing That Is Constant Is Change.” Actually, I would say there are two things; taxes and change. I will admit, I don’t like change much especially when it is sprung on me. Having said that, we have no choice but to embrace changes as they happen because they’re going to happen, like it or not.

Could Travelling Abroad Make a Better World?

A Commentary on the benefits of traveling

Being in Europe was wonderful, not only because of its beauty, welcoming people, and its rich history, but because for one entire month my wife and I had a reprieve from hearing about American politics. Our Canadian news media reports constantly on American politics as well as our own. Now that we are back in Canada, we are once again barraged by the political troubles, attacks on allies, outrageous tweets and bizarre behavior of the current resident of the White House. Before leaving for Europe, Trump after the G7 meeting attacked our Prime Minister and country, and even after a month away, he continues to attack Canada. At first, I will admit, I watched the news because I was curious as to what inappropriate tweet Trump would send out that day or to see what unpresidental behavior he exhibited. Now, like most Canadians I’ve talked to, I’m just tired of hearing about Trump and American politics.

Because of Trump, Canadians are more and more developing a revulsion for Americans. Most people I’ve talked to since returning from Europe are expressing resentment towards Americans. I must admit, I was one of them. I, like most Canadians, was beginning to believe that American’s were a racist, self-centred, hostile people. Perhaps such American stereotypes (according to Wikipedia) as lack of intelligence, lack of cultural awareness, being racist and arrogant are true.

The Star, a newspaper from Toronto, reported in June,

“A deep national revulsion [in Canada] toward President Donald Trump has sent Canadians’ opinions of the United States plummeting to a level of antipathy never before seen in 35 years…A major Pew Research survey…found that just 43 per cent of Canadians hold a favourable view of the U.S…

That is a steep decline since…the final year of Democrat Barack Obama’s presidency, when Pew found 65 per cent of Canadians favourably disposed to the U.S. And it is lower than even the low point of the unpopular presidency of Republican George W. Bush, when 55 per cent of Canadians were favourable.”

It appears Canadians are developing a distaste for Americans. I was one of them until my European trip. Why would going to Europe change that, you ask? While we were in Ireland, we met some wonderful Americans.

Giant’s Causeway, N. Ireland

While in Ireland, besides spending time with our daughter, we took an eleven-day tour of the country. On that tour with us were three American couples. One couple was from Philadelphia, one from New Jersey and another couple from North Carolina. The first words out of the wonderful man from Philadelphia was, “we are not discussing American politics.” That won us over. During the entire 11 days, little to no discussion was had about Trump and his politics. My wife and I were especially drawn to the couple from Philadelphia as they were so sweet and personable, and the fact that they were both almost 80 “blew our minds.” They did not look or act that age. The other two couples were equally as friendly and in fact, the lady from New Jersey purposely kept her eye out for gluten free food once she discovered I was celiac. Her husband even bought me an Irish whiskey taste experience. Our time with our six American friends was wonderful, and it confirmed for me that not all Americans are racist, self-absorbed or hostile.

We often ran into Americans travelling in Ireland. One evening while staying in an Irish town, we met a couple from the U.S. in a whiskey bar. I don’t recall which state they were from. They were very friendly and we ended up talking to them for a long time. Once again, Trump did not enter the conversation. It was almost as if Americans were too embarrassed to talk about their president.

On another occasion, while exiting the place where we had dinner, a couple asked us if the food in the establishment was good. During our discussion, like we do whenever we travel abroad, we asked them where they were from. They told us they were from New York. Like all the other Americans we encountered, we found them pleasant and easy to talk to.

While taking a bus tour out of Dublin, I sat beside a fellow from Florida. We struck up a conversation and he told me he was visiting Ireland because his ancestors were from there.  As the day progressed, he ended up having lunch with us. The only thing political that he mentioned was that their country’s health care system was a mess. I couldn’t refute what he had said since the U. S. is one of the only developed countries in the world that doesn’t offer universal health care to its citizens.

Now I had to wonder why the Americans we met were so friendly and happy.  None that we met seemed racist or hostile, or self-absorbed or arrogant for that matter. I pondered this for a while and the only logical conclusion I can entertain is that the Americans we were encountering in Europe are travellers who have experienced other cultures and hence are not as racist or self-absorbed or arrogant since they have seen how other people in other parts of the world live. I’ve always believed that people who travel and experience other cultures are much more open minded and tolerant. People who only know their own “little world” and who have never experienced another culture are narrow minded, intolerant and tend to stereotype races in my experience.  I’ve met some here in Canada.

Edinburgh, Scotland

Ironically, while my wife, daughter and I were in Edinburgh, Scotland, while having a cappuccino in a coffee shop waiting for my daughter and wife to return, I met two lovely American ladies. In conversation, I learned they were mother and daughter from South Carolina—assuming my memory is correct. The mother of the pair was a travel agent who was with a group in Europe. We both discussed how much we loved Ireland and Scotland. Although we didn’t talk politics, I did mention that I believed the world would be a better place if more people travelled and experienced other cultures. She immediately got excited and said, “that is how I feel.” She agreed too many people in the U.S. are naïve about other cultures.

The article titled, Off The Grid: Why Americans Don’t Travel Abroad, supports my thinking. This article says, there is a popular belief in the United States that Americans are the second most well-traveled people after Finns. However, the article disproves that belief as it says,

“…only 36 percent of Americans hold a valid passport, according to the State Department, compared to 60 percent of passport-holding Canadians and 75 percent for Brits and Aussies. That means almost 70 percent of us [Americans] are unqualified for international travel. And in actuality, only one in five Americans travels abroad with regularity, according to a recent survey.”

It all makes sense to me now. The Americans we met are worldly and consequently tolerant and non-racist, unlike those who have never left their country. Of the three couples we toured with, all have travelled abroad—obviously, they were in Ireland with us—and all of them had been to Canada. One of the couples even lived and worked in Canada for six years.

Ideas for Leaders, is a website that analyzes research says, travelling abroad builds trust and tolerance. It goes on to say,

“The idea that travel can be important for personal development and ‘growth’ is well established. Spending time overseas can ‘broaden the mind’ — not only by increasing knowledge but also by reducing xenophobia [racism]. The maximum benefits, however, might depend on breadth as well as depth of experience. Recent empirical research finds a causal link between the ability to trust and accept others and exposure to a diverse range of ‘out groups’.”

Perhaps the typical American stereotypes like lacking cultural awareness, being racist [xenophobic] and having arrogance exist because they are true. The statistic that only 36% of Americans have passports could explain this. Those 36% likely are the friendly, open-minded Americans we encountered. The other 64% are the xenophobic, self-absorbed, hostile Americans because of their ignorance of other cultures. Now, I am not naïve enough to believe that every single person in the 64% are this way, but I would be willing to bet that the majority are.

Maybe, just maybe, the U.S. would be a better place and would not have elected a president who exhibits xenophobic tendencies, is self-absorbed, and hostile—certainly is towards America’s allies—had more Americans held passports and travelled aboard, experiencing new cultures and learning that there is so much more to the world than just America.

I will say that my numerous encounters with Americans in Europe has confirmed for me that not all Americans are stereotypical. Thank God for that.

It is the Irish Way

Trinity College Library

Now that I am back home and recovered from the jet lag, I am finally able to write another blog post. If you’ve read my previous blog, you know that I’ve been gone for the last month visiting Ireland. My wife and I went to Ireland to visit our daughter who is presently living in Dublin attending Trinity College. I will forever be grateful that we had the opportunity to spend quality time with our daughter and still experience Ireland. Let me share some of our Irish experiences.

Rebekah Crane, author of the book The Upside of Falling Down, wrote, “If you’re going to be lost, there’s no friendlier place to get lost in than Ireland.” She is right. Ireland is a fantastic country. I’ve never felt more welcome in a country than I have in Ireland. The Irish people are wonderful.

C.E. Murphy, an American writer of fantasy novels and short stories, wrote in her book, Urban Shaman,

“In Ireland, you go to someone’s house, and she asks you if you want a cup of tea. You say no, thank you, you’re really just fine. She asks if you’re sure. You say of course you’re sure, really, you don’t need a thing. Except they pronounce it ting. You don’t need a ting. Well, she says then, I was going to get myself some anyway, so it would be no trouble. Ah, you say, well, if you were going to get yourself some, I wouldn’t mind a spot of tea, at that, so long as it’s no trouble and I can give you a hand in the kitchen. Then you go through the whole thing all over again until you both end up in the kitchen drinking tea and chatting.

In America, someone asks you if you want a cup of tea, you say no, and then you don’t get any damned tea.  I liked the Irish way better.”

Even though her book is fiction, she captures the Irish way precisely. While walking back to our daughter’s flat (apartment) one day, we stopped for a break and sat down on the steps in front of someone’s flat. Moments later, after sitting down, the door to the flat swings open and a man with his bicycle comes out. He looked down on us and we, being Canadians, immediately apologized for being in his way. His response was so Irish. He said, “No, you’re grand. I’d invite you in for tea but there is somewhere I have to be. So sorry.” The thing is, he was totally sincere.

The Irish are genuinely kind and welcoming people. We stayed a few nights in the dorm room at Trinity College, the college our daughter is attending. The day we arrived, there was a concert occurring at the college so several entrances were blocked. We walked around, for what seemed like hours, attempting to find the location where we were to register. By this point we were exhausted. We finally found the registry office and registered, only to find out we had to walk to the other end of the campus to the dormitory. Standing outside, looking lost, a young Irish lad comes out, looks at us and asks, “What’s up?” We told him our story and his response, “I’ll drive you.” That is what he did. We were grateful for his Irish kindness.

Irish bog area

While chatting with the owner of a whiskey bar in one of the Irish towns we were in, we got talking about how readily available gluten free (gf) food is in Ireland. When I told her I was celiac, she said she was also and preceded to tell me that Ireland has one of the highest rates of celiac disease in the world.  She then grabs some gf crackers from a box and hands them to me. She said they are a good gf snack. That was such an Irish thing to do.

Now it just so happens that I celebrated a birthday while on an 11-day tour of Ireland. Our tour guide, Henry, surprised me with a birthday cake (not gf unfortunately), but it’s the thought that counts. All of us on the tour decided to meet after dinner and have a piece of cake. The hotel staff we were staying at graciously agreed to store the cake and have plates and cutlery ready when we requested it. Not only did the staff provide those items, they also served us tea at no cost. Once again, only in Ireland.

Vagabond tour bus

Lastly, I want to share with you our tour with Henry. Henry was a guide with Vagabond Adventure Tours of Ireland, a company that does small group guided adventure tours ranging in length from 7 to 12 days as well as private tailor-made tours. To say the tour was grand—the Irish use this word a lot—is an understatement. Henry went out of his way to please our group of eight. He knew when to be at an Irish tourist destination before the big bus tours arrived and took us on narrow roads to places the big buses were unable to go. He stopped at a bog to explain how the Irish, still to this day, harvest peat for fuel. He took us to lesser known ancient stone circles and other ancient sites that other tourists would not see on a big bus tour. He was an exceptional guide as he was knowledgeable, funny and always willing to please.

Irish Countryside

Travis Fimmel, an Australian actor and former model, once said about the Irish landscape, “The landscape in Ireland is just – I’ve never been in such a beautiful place with the lakes and ocean and everything.” He is right. Ireland is a breathtakingly beautiful country full of history dating back 5000 years. Many of the ancient sites we saw were older than the Egyptian pyramids.

Irish West Coast view

One of the Irish blessings is, “May the Irish hills caress you, may her lakes and rivers bless you, may the luck of the Irish enfold you, may the blessings of Saint Patrick behold you.”  The Irish hills really do touch you and her lakes and rivers are enchanting. I totally understand the blessing now.

An unknown author penned “Leprechauns, castles, good luck and laughter. Lullabies, dreams and love ever after. Poems and songs with pipes and drums. A thousand welcomes when anyone comes… That’s the Irish for you!” I am taken with Ireland. I miss her already.  No wonder my daughter chose Ireland as the place to get her Masters. I get it now.

Love You Forever

Europe, here we come!

I been thinking a lot about Robert Munsch’s book, Love You Forever. Robert Munsch is an author who was born in the U.S. but moved to Canada, so as far as Canadians are concerned, he is a fellow Canadian. One of his best-known books, Love You Forever, was published in 1986. It is a book that we used to read to our children. It’s a wonderful story about a mother’s—could just as easily be a father’s—love for their child. So why am I thinking about this book now? It’s because we are off to see our daughter in Ireland for the next four weeks which is why you likely won’t hear from me for a short while. My wife and I are so excited about seeing our baby girl.

The following is how Munsch’s story begins:

A mother held her new baby and very slowly rocked him back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. And while she held him, she sang:

I’ll love you forever,
I’ll like you for always,
As long as I’m living
my baby you’ll be.

My wife and I have three wonderful children. Our eldest is a school teacher. Our second born is getting her masters in Dublin, Ireland and our youngest, our son, is an environmental scientist. We haven’t seen our “Irish” daughter since Christmas. The thought of spending time with our baby girl reminds me of the book, Love You Forever.

Later in the book it reads:

That teenager grew. He grew and he grew and he grew. He grew until he was a grown-up man. He left home and got a house across town. But sometimes on dark nights the mother got into her car and drove across town.  If all the lights in her son’s house were out, she opened his bedroom window, crawled across the floor, and looked up over the side of his bed. If that great big man was really asleep she picked him up and rocked him back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. And while she rocked him she sang:

I’ll love you forever,
I’ll like you for always,
As long as I’m living
my baby you’ll be.

Now in our case, all three of our children are grown up and none of them live across town. Our eldest, the teacher, lives two hours away, our middle child is overseas, and our son lives four hours away.  So, needless to say, we don’t sneak over to our children’s homes and sing to them, as tempting as that may be. But we do spend time with them whenever we can.

erseasonallyear.files.wordpress.com/2018/07/will.jpg”> From: newindianexpress.com

[/caption]James E. Faust, an American religious leader, lawyer, and politician, once said, “The depth of the love of parents for their children cannot be measured. It is like no other relationship. It exceeds concern for life itself. The love of a parent for a child is continuous and transcends heartbreak and disappointment.”  This is so true.  The love for my children cannot be quantitatively measured.

Henry Ward Beecher, an American Protestant Clergyman in the 1800s, once said, “We never know the love of a parent till we become parents ourselves.”  How true that is! It wasn’t until after my first child was born that I really truly appreciated my parent’s love for me. When I reflect on all the sacrifices they made for me and my siblings, I understand a parent’s love now. My dad always took time away from busy schedule at his business to teach us some new skill, such as welding. My mom comforted us through many illnesses and injuries, and always dropped what she was doing to do so.

Nicholas Sparks, an American author, once asked, “What it’s like to be a parent: It’s one of the hardest things you’ll ever do but in exchange it teaches you the meaning of unconditional love.”   This is another truth!

When I was teaching, I encountered parents who expected their children to get honours (80% or higher) in all their courses or they would be disappointed. That is not love. That is approval.

What is love? Love needs to be unconditional to be real love. It is a love that doesn’t have to be earned. It is a love doesn’t have to be proven. When someone unconditionally loves you, they love you for who you are, no matter what you do or how you behave.

My wife and I have always just accepted our children for who they are, even though that was very difficult at times. Our middle child is a free spirit or loves adventure. That is why she is studying in Europe and travelling to various European countries when she is able. If we had not chosen to love her unconditionally, then we would have likely discouraged her from going overseas, and she likely would not have gone because of our communication to her that we disapproved. Instead, we supported her emotionally, financially and spiritually, and because of that we a jetting off to Ireland in a few hours.

The way I see it, loving your children unconditionally has its perks. Because one of our daughters is in Ireland, now we have an excuse—as if we need one—to visit Europe. Because we loved our son unconditionally, he doesn’t hesitate to give a helping hand when we ask him and likes to spend time with us. Because we loved our eldest daughter unconditionally, she graciously has a place for us to stay whenever we are in her city and comes to visit us regularly.

files.wordpress.com/2018/07/image.jpg”> From: http://lhyme.com

[/caption]I’m super excited about spending time with our daughter, but I’m also excited about spending time in Ireland.  Ireland is a glorious place with beautiful landscape, a rich history and wonderful culture. The people of Ireland have a reputation of being very hospitable and friendly, much like Canadians do. One thing that truly sets the culture in Ireland aside from other countries, is the pubs. While it is widely recognized that Ireland has a bit of a problem with the over-consumption of alcohol, pubs are quite different in Ireland when compared with North America. In North America, a pub–more commonly known as a bar– is simply a place to drink. In Ireland, however, it is a meeting place. I look forward to meeting people in the Irish pubs and enjoying a cold beer. I’m sure I’ll have some stories to blog about when I return to Canada.

I’ll sign off with an Irish drinking toast

May your glass be ever full.
May the roof over your head be always strong.
And may you be in heaven half an hour before the devil knows you’re dead.