Young People Who Inspire Me (Part One)

A commentary on impressive young people.

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Often, my commentaries are about something negative happening in the world, and there are no shortage of those stories. The other day I was watching CTV News and they reported on 16-year-old Swedish climate activist, Greta Thunberg, arriving in New York City to attend a conference on global warming. A while back, I saw a video of this young lady’s speech to the U.N, and she inspired me then.

Now, I’ve spent a career working with young people, and I’ve taught many who inspired me to be a better person. I’ve also taught many who were troubled and not so inspiring. Today’s youth are often portrayed as “bad news” by much of the media and it seems to be the ‘bad ones’ who make the headlines. On August 28, CBC ran this headline; Verdict in October for youth accused of shooting German tourist west of Calgary. In July the country was consumed with this story: How 3 killings in B.C. turned into the cross-Canada pursuit of 2 teenagers. There are no shortage of stories about “bad youth.” It made me wonder about the “good youth?” It seems the youth who are making a difference in our world are seldom recognized, so this post is dedicated to the “youth who inspire me.” Allow me to introduce some of them.

First, I’ll start with 16-year-old Greta Thunberg from Sweden. I first heard about Greta when I saw a video of her U.N. speech when she was 15 years old. If you haven’t seen it, here it is.

This is Greta’s story according to Wikipedia. Thunberg says she first heard about climate change in 2011, when she was 8 years old, and could not understand why so little was being done about it. Three years later she became depressed and stopped talking.

In 2018, at the age of 15, Thunberg took time off school to demonstrate outside the Swedish parliament holding up a sign calling for bold climate action. Her “school strike for the climate” began attracting media attention and other students then engaged in similar protests in their own communities. Thunberg addressed the 2018 United Nations Climate Change Conference, and she has inspired student strikes that took place every week somewhere in the world. In 2019, there were at least two coordinated multi-city protests involving over one million students each. I can’t help but admire these students who are standing up for the planet. Why wouldn’t they, since they are the ones who will inherit the mess my, and previous generations, left for them.

This teen is a much needed “mover and a shaker” on an issue our political leaders are ‘dragging their feet’ on. Why is climate change being touted as ‘not a big deal’ by many political leaders? Because of money, because making changes affects the economy, and likely the biggest reason, to maintain the lifestyle of the wealthily. The United Nations has said that “climate change is the defining issue of our time and we are at a defining moment.” Thank God for Greta Thunberg because she is motivating our youth to speak out, and take action; Greta has given young people a voice. I applaud this young lady!

CBC News has a story, Climate activist Greta Thunberg lands in New York harbour after Atlantic voyage, The 16-year-old landed in New York after crossing the Atlantic Ocean on a zero-emissions sailboat to attend a conference on global warming. She is set to speak at the United Nations Climate Action Summit. The teenager refused to fly to New York to avoid a plane’s fossil-fuel emissions. This is a 16-year-old with integrity; a person who lives by what she preaches.

Global News reported a few days later that People’s Party of Canada Leader (a leader of a new political party in Canada) Maxime Bernier attempted to discredit Greta Thunberg by calling her “mentally unstable.” Mr. Bernier is one of those political leaders who thinks Climate Change is being exaggerated. Essentially, he is a Climate Change denier.

From CNN

CNN has a story entitled, A 7-year-old wants to build a wall to highlight kindness around the world. The article explains that when 7-year-old Áine Peterson saw images of child migrants being detained at the US-Mexico border, she had to speak out about injustices in the world. The article says, “While some politicians see a divisive wall as a solution to the immigration crisis, Áine, who calls herself ‘the Kind Crusader,’ envisions a wall to bring people together. All the art work she is asking for has to be revolved around kindness, like giving shelter to those in need.” Aine says in a video promoting her campaign, “I want to put together a kindness wall, with art from people all around the world.”

Now I have taught 7-year-olds, and in my experience, this is no ordinary 7-year-old. No 7-year-old that I have worked with has a sense of injustice like Aine does. This is one special kid who deserves to be listened to. She is one to watch and is one who will have an impact on this world.

Another impressive young lady is Malala Yousafzai. She is a Pakistani activist for female education and the youngest Nobel Prize laureate. She is known for her human rights advocacy, especially the education of women and children in her native Swat Valley in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in northwest Pakistan, where the local Taliban had at times banned girls from attending school.

Here is her story according to Wikipedia. In early 2009, when she was 11, Malala wrote a blog detailing her life during the Taliban occupation of Swat Valley in Pakistan. She rose in prominence, giving interviews in print and on television. On October 9, 2012, after taking an exam, Malala Yousafzai and two other girls were shot by a Taliban gunman in an assassination attempt in retaliation for her activism. The 15-year-old was hit in the head with a bullet and remained unconscious in critical condition. The attempt on her life sparked an international outpouring of support for her.

Following her recovery, Malala became a prominent activist for the right to education, especially for girls. She founded the Malala Fund, a non-profit organization. She was the co-recipient of the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize, and then aged 17, the youngest-ever Nobel Prize laureate. In 2017, she was awarded honorary Canadian citizenship and became the youngest person to address the Canadian House of Commons of Canada.

This young lady is making a difference in this world. She comes from a part of the world where females were, and maybe still are, denied a basic human right of education. Article 26, of the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights, it says; “Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages.” Malala is fighting for a basic human right. Sadly, we still live in world where the sexes are not equal and basic human rights are denied to some people. Those of the female gender are not treated equally to males. As Plato once allegedly said, “If women are expected to do the same work as men, we must teach them the same things.”

I applaud this young lady for her work to achieve equality between the genders. As Ban Ki-moon, the eighth Secretary-General of the United Nations, said, “Achieving gender equality requires the engagement of women and men, girls and boys. It is everyone’s responsibility.” Malala deserves to be recognized for her important work.

These are three young people who I admire for their bravery and passion. I will introduce others in my next post.

The Lungs of the Earth are in Trouble

A commentary on the state of our planet

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

Amazon Rain Forest

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

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

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

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

Amazon on fire

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is Wrong With Being Wrong?

A commentary on our culture’s obsession with being right.

Numerous posts come across my Facebook feed, and for the most part, I typically ignore them, but this week a post caught my attention. It contained the following meme:

It’s true. People do get offended if you say, or even imply, they might be wrong. I’ve experienced it. I have to admit that even I have had times in my life when it was important for me to be right. I can think of many times when I was offended when told I was wrong. It got me thinking about the question: Why are people so obsessed with being right? Why are people so afraid to admit they’re wrong? An email, which I get regularly from Neal Donald Walsch, arrived in my inbox, and ironically it was about that topic. It read:

I believe God wants you to know that being “right” has nothing to do with it.

The idea that you call “right” is the idea that someone else calls “wrong.” The solution that you call “perfect” is the solution that another calls “unworkable.” The position that you feel is unassailable is the very position that others assail.

What will solve all of this? Not attack, that’s for sure.  And not defence, either. So what is left? Simple human love. The kind of love that says, “It doesn’t matter who is right or wrong. It only matters that you are not hurt.  And that we both can benefit. All true benefits are mutual.”

Wow! Those are some wise words, but it didn’t answer the question: Why is it so imperative to be right? I did some research, and in a Psychology Today article titled, Why Is It So Important to Be Right?  it said,

…this fixation is more likely wed to highly competitive cultures than traditionally oriented, cooperative societies. In the latter, issues of right and wrong don’t equivalently inform one’s sense of self or identity. The ego may be shaped by other influences, such as being honored, respected, or altruistic. In first-world cultures, the drive to be right advances one in the competitive race. In the desire to get ahead, this is utilized as a core value.

That explains it.  That answers the question. We live in a highly competitive world and being right (or being the best or being number one) is highly valued.   Our parents, our schools, and even our governments encourage us to be competitive; to be the best. If we’re not the best, then we are failures. Cooperation is encouraged by our religions, but even our religions are competing with one another to draw in believers. Cooperation is NOT highly valued in our culture. Our need to be right is ingrained in us from the moment we are born, because of the culture we live in.

In an another article titled, Why It’s Better to be Human Than to Be Right, it says the consequences of having to be right are:

  1. We oversimplify reality, as not everything can be divided into right or wrong.
  2. No matter how smart or logical we are, our mind plays a role in filtering our experience.
  3. We fear being wrong. We believe if we are wrong there’s something wrong with us.
  4. The decree to be always rights adds huge stress. Our brain is under constant pressure either justifying our thoughts or hiding our flaws.
  5. We stop listening to others. The belief of ‘being always right’ assumes that everyone else is wrong. When we own the truth, we stop trying to understand other people’s points of view.
  6. Resistance to being wrong paralyzes our understanding.
From: sheofferedthemchrist.wordpress.com

The above listed costs to needing to be right make a lot of sense. We do oversimplify reality, because let’s face it, our puny brains will never fully understand reality. Quantum Physics is proving that. We do fear being wrong, because we do think there is something wrong with us if we admit we’re wrong. Let’s be honest, being right adds enormous stress to our lives. Our brain must work overtime to justify our positions, or maybe we really are hiding our defects. Having to be right does paralyze our understanding. There is little doubt in my mind that obsessing about being right is damaging.

Psychology Today’s article, What’s Wrong With Being Right, says

Yet neither the positive nor negative perceptions that we hold represent an absolutely accurate reflection of reality. They are, rather, interpretations of ourselves, other people, and our world produced and shaped by our mental software. The difference between what is and what I think is can be an incredibly difficult distinction to make, because our thoughts can be extremely convincing when we are trying to discern the truth.

Practicing open-mindedness and reflection is enormously valuable in our close relationships [or any relationship for that matter]. It can be very difficult for those of us who have long been so attached to being right. It’s freeing, but humbling.

Realistically, our brain can never know all the facts, or understand the information we receive, because of our programming. A Christian would interpret information through Christian beliefs and values, whereas a Buddhist would interpret information through Buddhist thinking. A conservative would interpret information through conservative beliefs and values, whereas a liberal would interpret information through liberal beliefs and values. Our thoughts—or ego—convinces us that we are right and the opposing viewpoint is wrong. This doesn’t mean one is wrong and one is right. They’re just two different point of views, but as long as the need to be right exists, cooperation and consensus building cannot occur.

Perhaps American poet, author and teacher, Stephen Levine, said it best when he said, “Our addiction to always being right is a great block to the truth. It keeps us from the kind of openness that comes from confidence in our natural wisdom.”

So how do we move beyond the need to be right? Neal Donald Walsch says, “Simple human love.” Mother Teresa said, “Let us always meet each other with a smile, for the smile is the beginning of love.” I think Gautama Buddha, or The Buddha, said it best when he said, “Sometimes it’s better to be kind than to be right. We do not need an intelligent mind that speaks, but a patient heart that listens.” 

My favourite answer is a quote by Paula Heller Garland, a lecturer at University of North Texas. She says, “Often after arguing about differing opinions, I hear people say, “let’s agree to disagree.” I look forward to a time, so open-minded I’ll hear people say, “I’m right and you can be, too” That is what I’m working towards.

Is Democracy Broken?

A commentary on the present state of the world’s democracies.

A few weeks ago, we visited friends in a nearby city. During one of our discussions, this friend mentioned that he is disillusioned with democracy (not his exact words). I asked him why and he questioned the type of leaders that were being elected; leaders who were racist, narcissistic, misogynistic, anti-immigration, and who support white supremacy. This got me thinking. I began to wonder if democracy is broken.

When I visited China last November, our tour guide said something that made me question democracy. Our guide said the democratic world accomplishes little as governments are always squabbling. He further explained, whenever a democratic country elects a new political party, the previous party’s policies are reversed, thus little progress is made. I elaborated on this in my post on China (see China post). This begs the question: Are our democracies working efficiently? Is there something wrong with the way democracy is presently practiced?

Presently, there is increasing popularity in electing extremist right-wing politicians. According to Reference, neoconservatism is considered to be one of the more extreme right-wing ideologies. It takes a firm stance against anti-authority media and aligns itself with religious conservatives. Religious conservatives have specific positions on certain political issues such as abortion, homosexuality, creationism, science education, treatment of prisoners, immigration, and many other issues. Typically, conservative Christians favour anti-abortion laws, oppose gay marriage,  and many have a hardline against illegal immigration (see Intelligence Report).

Extremist right-wing politicians also tend to be nationalistic. In high school social studies—one of the courses I taught for many years—nationalism is defined as the belief that nations will benefit from acting independently rather than collectively, emphasizing national rather than international goals. Nationalist leaders are gaining momentum in Europe (see BBC). American president Donald Trump calls himself a nationalist. (See HuffPost). There are many extremist right-wing nationalistic politicians being elected. Why is this so? Does this mean democracy is failing us?

When our politicians act more like school aged children with their bullying behaviours and temper tantrums when they don’t get their way, I believe democracy is broken. When it becomes acceptable to vote for politicians who spout rhetoric that is divisive and “unchristian,” democracy is failing us.  When it becomes acceptable for the US president to use profanity, such as the “F” bomb (listen to Trump), we are electing a breed of politicians of the lowest kind.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faced criminal investigations for fraud and bribery. A google search shows numerous US politicians under investigation. The US president is under investigation for obstruction of justice as well as other crimes. Two former Brazilian presidents were investigated for a scandal known as Operation Car Wash (see BBS).

My province recently elected a premier who was under investigation of voter fraud (see CBC). I thought politicians where supposed to have integrity. Even more disturbing for me, is our newly elected premier handed out earplugs to his caucus, clearly indicating his refusal to hear debate from democratically elected opposition members about a bill that removes some bargaining rights for government workers (see HuffPost). This kind of behaviour from a leader stems from arrogance; a leader who thinks his party knows best and those who have alternative views are to be ignored. I thought the heart of democracy was healthy debate. Apparently not in my province. Former US president, Barack Obama said, “The strongest democracies flourish from frequent and lively debate, but they endure when people of every background and belief find a way to set aside smaller differences in service of a greater purpose.” I believe this to be true. When healthy debate is squashed in our legislatures, then as far as I am concerned, democracy is broken.

That leads us to the question: What is wrong with democracy? Former British Prime Minster, Winston Churchill once said, “The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.” Perhaps he is onto something.  Louis L’Amour, an American novelist said, “To make democracy work, we must be a nation of participants, not simply observers. One who does not vote has no right to complain.” Exactly!

My brother and his wife worked during our province’s recent election, and both expressed how appalled they were by the electorate. They said they had numerous voters in their 30s and 40s who were voting for the first time. They also said they fielded numerous questions asking how the voting process works. Both my brother and his wife were shocked when several voters asked them why there were names on the ballots which they did not recognize. Many of them were looking for the party leaders’ names on the ballot. I was shocked to hear this. This is why, at least in part, democracy is broken. The voters are failing democracy.

Former US president, Franklin D. Roosevelt said, “Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education.” That is it! Voters are too apathetic to educate themselves. That explains, at least in part, why Donald Trump won the 2016 election.  Trump’s supporters are largely uneducated, according to polls (see Inquisitr).

Former US president, John F. Kennedy, once said, “The ignorance of one voter in a democracy impairs the security of all.”  I have to wonder if unprepared voters, who buy into the dangerous rhetoric being spouted by extremist right-wing nationalistic politicians is putting world security at risk. History teaches extreme nationalism started both world wars. Jose Marti, a Cuban poet, writer, and nationalist leader said, “The first duty of a man is to think for himself.”  Democracy is literally “rule by people,” and is a system where the citizens choose their leaders or government. To fix our broken democracy, people need to start thinking for themselves and educating themselves. Voters need to make informed decisions when voting, and that means determining what news stories are true and which are “fake news” stories. This does not seem to be happening at the moment as most voters believe the rhetoric spouted by extremist right-wing nationalistic politicians. English humourist, writer, and journalist, Allan Coren says, “Democracy consists of choosing your dictators, after they’ve told you what you think it is you want to hear.”  Ralph Waldo Emerson, American 19th-century philosopher says, “Democracy becomes a government of bullies tempered by editors.” Are we electing dictators? Seems that way to me. Are we electing bullies?  I see this more and more, and voter ignorance is to blame.

Former US president, Abraham Lincoln said democracy is “government of, by and for the people.”  I still believe this is why democracy is the better system when it is not broken. Former US president Barack Obama said, “No party has a monopoly on wisdom. No democracy works without compromise.” Perhaps compromise is another problem. We’re living in a polarized time in history and compromise seems to have gone out the window. Each political party thinks they know best and are unwilling to listen to other parties’ views. An openness to different points of views and a willingness to compromise must occur for democracy to work effectively! Politicians must unite and do what is best for all. 

I know it is more complicated than what I’ve outlined, and democracy has problems other than those I’ve addressed above. The issue of corporate donations to help political parties get elected, for example.  Corporate wealth increases when a corporation’s preferred political party is elected and makes policies that perpetuate corporate greed. An informed electorate that votes responsibly is a good start to fixing our broken democracies.

Tribalism Isn’t Working, so There Needs to be a Better Way

A commentary on our present state of democracy.

The province where I live is presently immersed in an election to determine who will govern  for the next four years. As I educate myself and watch the campaigning, I am alarmed.  Why you ask? The Edmonton Journal’s article, Controversies hound numerous MLA hopefuls ahead of Tuesday’s election, outlines numerous candidates, most from one political party, who have posted homophobic, Islamophobic, and white supremacist comments on social media. There are other controversies as well, such as one of the parties being under RCMP investigation for voter fraud and a “kamikaze’ scheme during the leadership race, yet people continue to support this party. I don’t understand why.

More and more, it feels like elections and politics are becoming increasingly divisive and polarized. Politicians show no shame in provoking anger, attacking one another, bolstering fear, and pitting people against each other. This certainly is true for the provincial election happening right now. I see it in our Federal politics as well, with the current Prime Minister and his government attacking the opposition leader and his party and visa versa. Threats of lawsuits for defamation of character are taunted. Then there is the United States, the most polarized country with its president constantly attacking someone and most definitely displaying these polarized views.

I’ve gone through numerous elections before, so I’m trying to understand what is happening in this one. I don’t recall them being so divisive before. It could be my memory, but I don’t believe so. We seem to be living in turbulent times. Recently, someone helped me understand what is happening. He said—not  in these exact words—’our democratic system is based on tribalism’. What is he talking about?

The Oxford Dictionary defines tribalism​ as “the state or fact of being organized in a tribe or tribes,” and “the behaviour and attitudes that stem from strong loyalty to one’s own tribe or social group.” Yes, this is what is happening in our politics. We have tribes—political parties with specific philosophies on how to govern—with members loyal to the tribe, that is, political party, and its tribe members refuse to consider philosophies different from the one they align themselves with.

From Debate.org

I see two main philosophies; conservatism and liberalism, or some may say the progressives. The Oxford Dictionary defines conservatism as “commitment to traditional values and ideas with opposition to change or innovation,” and “the holding of political views that favour free enterprise, private ownership, and socially conservative ideas.” It defines Liberalism as, “willing to respect or accept behaviour or opinions different from one’s own; open to new ideas,” and “favourable to or respectful of individual rights and freedoms.” That same dictionary defines progressives as “an idea favouring social reform,” and “favouring change or innovation.”

That appears to be it. Both philosophies are found in most democratic countries,  and its people are aligned with one or the other. In Canada, some of our political parties even have these words in their names. Federally, we have the Conservative Party of Canada and the Liberal Party of Canada. In my province, we have a Liberal Party and the United Conservative Party (UCP). In the U.S. there are the Democrats—the tribe that follows liberal/progressive philosophy—and the Republicans—a conservative philosophy. Even churches like the Catholic church is divided into conservatives and liberals. I’ll be honest about which tribe I align with. It’s the Liberal tribe as we have to be open to new ideas, since many of the old ways are not working.

From my point of view, political tribalism is failing us. As I mentioned earlier, it stokes anger, promotes attacks on one another, bolsters fear, and pits people against each other. I’ve read many of the comments on political stories involving the provincial election, and people are nasty, and insults are written to those who oppose their views. Conservatism is strong in rural areas of my province, and my experience has been most are unwilling to listen to other points of view. They dig into their positions and refuse to listen to counter arguments. This is NOT healthy!

The New York Times has an opinion article called, The Destructive Dynamics of Political Tribalism, which outlines the many ways tribal politics is detrimental to our societies. Canada’s Maclean’s Magazine has an article titled, Tribalism is tearing Canada apart. The title needs no explanation.

There must be a better way; a gentler, kinder, and more cooperative way. I’ve pondered this and the only system that makes sense to me is a system of governance involving consensus, which means a general agreement must occur in decision-making.

Wikipedia explains consensus decision-making as,

a group decision-making process in which group members develop, and agree to support a decision in the best interest of the whole group or common goal. Consensus may be defined professionally as an acceptable resolution, one that can be supported, even if not the ‘favourite’ of everyone.”

Wikipedia says consensus decision-making aims to be:

  1. Agreement Seeking: A consensus decision-making process attempts to generate as much agreement as possible.
  2. Collaborative: Participants contribute to a shared proposal and shape it into a decision that meets the concerns of all group members .
  3. Cooperative: Participants in an effective consensus process strive to reach the best possible decision for the group and all its members, rather than competing for personal preferences.
  4. Egalitarian: All members of a consensus decision-making body are afforded, as much as possible, equal input into the process. All members could present, and amend proposals.
  5. Inclusive: As many stakeholders as possible should be involved in the consensus decision-making process.
  6. Participatory: The consensus process should actively solicit the input and participation of all decision-makers.
The Legislative Building of the NWT.

Does consensus decision-making exist in governance today? Absolutely. Consensus democracy government is alive and well in Canada as it is used in two of Canada’s three territories; Northwest Territories and Nunavut. These Legislatures are designed so politicians sit in a circle, symbolizing a unity of purpose.  In Provincial Legislatures, opposing parties sit across from each other, symbolizing opposing views. It’s interesting to note that the population of these territorial jurisdictions are a majority of Indigenous people.

Consensus democracy government stems from the Indigenous culture. I’ve always maintained that the traditional Indigenous people have always done things right, and this is but another example. A blog by Indigenous Corporate Training Inc. called What does traditional consensus decision making mean? explains some of the roots of this form of governance. I know many of you are thinking “no way consensus democracy would work because it is impossible to get everyone to agree.” This blog explains,

Consensus is not the same as unanimity. Consensus means a group or community arrives at a consensus by listening to the opinions and concerns of others – they work towards a suitable decision. Not everyone is necessarily pleased with the outcome but they realize it is the best decision for the community. Unanimity requires that everyone involved agrees.

This is how governments should work, and need to work. Perhaps it is time for democratic countries to seriously look at alternatives, such as consensus democracy. Just because tribal politics has been our the way till now, doesn’t mean we can’t make a change for the better.

Oh, Those Stereotypes.

A commentary on stereotyping.

A stereotype is an over-generalized belief about a particular group of people. Business Insider’s article, 5 mistaken ideas about Americans, says a common stereotype of Americans throughout the world, is Americans are loud, arrogant, and entitled. That is certainly a stereotype that many Canadians hold.

The Globe and Mail’s article, These days, Canadians aren’t big fans of the U.S, published in October 2018, says,

In its report, the Pew Research Center found that “just” 39 per cent of Canadians had a favourable opinion of the U.S., the lowest percentage in polling since 2002. Two years ago, during the final stretch of Barack Obama’s presidency, 65 per cent of Canadians expressed a favourable opinion of their southern neighbour.

The drop was even more dramatic for Mr. Trump himself. “Only” 25 per cent of Canadians have confidence in Mr. Trump, the report said – a slight uptick from 2017, but plummeting from 83 per cent in the final year of Mr. Obama’s tenure.

Now that is striking, and in my experience accurate as pretty much anyone I talk to, has a negative view of Americans. The reality is, America gets a bad rap because of the current resident of the White House.  He certainly fits the American stereotype of being loud, arrogant, and entitled. News reports that us Canadians hear about white supremacy and the anti-immigration rhetoric coming from the United States doesn’t help either.

The Globe and Mail article goes on to say,

The trends in Canada – a two-year erosion of U.S. favourability and presidential ratings – were pervasive among America’s allies and neighbours, the survey suggests. In Mexico, positive views of the U.S. have decreased by an even greater percentage than in Canada since the end of the Obama presidency.

The negative view of the United States is prevalent throughout the world.

I believe regular, everyday Americans are getting a bad rap. Let me tell you why, based on my experience.  My wife and I just returned two weeks ago from a vacation in Maui, Hawaii. It was a wonderful trip of sun and beaches after a winter from hell. But this is not my point. Being we were in one of the American states, as expected, we met American citizens from all over. We met people from California, Tennessee, Kentucky, Oregon, Montana, New York, Washington, Arizona—I’m sure I’m missing some—and Hawaii.  I can honestly tell you that not a single one of them were loud, arrogant, or acted entitled. In fact, the only loud, arrogant person we met, ironically, was a Canadian.

An interesting side note, the vast majority of Americans that we met never spoke of their president or talked politics. I may be wrong, but Americans almost seemed embarrassed by their politics. We did meet a few people who made of point of telling us that their country was a mess because of Trump.

So, the question is: Is the stereotype wrong? No.  The article, All Stereotypes Are True, Except, by Psychology Today,  says,

Many stereotypes are empirical generalizations with a statistical basis and thus on average tend to be true. If they are not true, they wouldn’t be stereotypes. The only problem with stereotypes and empirical generalizations is that they are not always true for all individual cases. They are generalizations, not invariant laws.

There are plenty of Americans who are loud, arrogant, and entitled, but as far as that goes, there are plenty of Canadians who are as well. I’ve met many of them. I’m sure there are in every country.

Is there a danger with Stereotyping?  Yes. Stereotypes encourage prejudice.  How?  Another Psychology Today article, The Psychology of Prejudice and Racism, says,

By definition, stereotypes are limiting and disregard people’s individuality. They also lend themselves to negative and derogatory assumptions. When that happens the stereotype blends into prejudice.

As I mentioned earlier, not a single American that we met in Maui was loud, arrogant, or acted entitled. How does one explain that? Well, I can only speculate, but of all the Americans we met, they all were willing to travel and try new experiences, even if it was only in their own country. Many mentioned that they’ve been to Europe or other places, though. Those that travel meet people of other races and cultures, and become more tolerant of difference.

Intolerance can also be built by meeting and getting to know immigrants. If people—Muslims, Christians, Blacks, White, Indigenous, and so on—get to know one another, prejudices and racism would decrease. The reality is, we are all human beings with the same pains, desires, struggles, etc. This is what William Shakespeare is saying in the play, The Merchant of Venice.

In Act 3, scene 1 of the play, Shylock confronts two provoking Christians saying, “I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions… warm’d and cool’d by the same winter and summer, as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die…”

It seems this struggle has gone on for centuries.

Does creating friendships with individuals from other cultures and races reduce prejudice? Absolutely!  The Psychology Today article mentioned earlier says,

Positive emotional experiences with members of different groups [people from other cultures or races] can also reduce negative stereotypes. Having close friends from different groups is especially effective in this regard.

I would encourage everyone to put away their fear of other cultures and races, and instead ,talk to them, whether that be through travelling or meeting new immigrants. The world will be a better place because of it.

China Gave Me Much to Think About

Some thoughts on the recent trip to China

Tiananmen Square , Beijing

On November 20th, I returned home from an eleven-day trip to China. It was indeed a busy, yet educational adventure. The trip made me wonder about economic and political systems. Is capitalism better than communism? Canada is considered a mixed economy where there are some government owned corporations as well as privately owned businesses.

I grew up during the Cold War, continuously hearing about the evils of communism. North Americans were indoctrinated to believe communism was immoral and we were to fear it. I heard U.S. presidents such as, Richard Nixon, say, “The Cold War isn’t thawing; it is burning with a deadly heat. Communism isn’t sleeping; it is, as always, plotting, scheming, working, fighting,” and John F. Kennedy saying, “Communism has never come to power in a country that was not disrupted by war or corruption, or both.”  I lived through the Cuban missile crisis and fearing a nuclear war.

First let’s be clear on the difference between communism and capitalism. The word ‘communism’ has Latin roots, communi, which means ‘common.’ Although it is more complicated, simply put, in communism, everything is owned communally. Ideally, there is no government or class division, and wealth is distributed among people based on their needs; each person contributes to society as best as he or she is able, and takes from that society only what he or she needs. Communism is based on the principle of economic equality. Capitalism, on the other hand, stems from the word, capital, or the “means of production,” which is owned, operated, and supplied to generate profits for private owners or shareholders. Simply put, capitalism is an economic system which individuals own economic resources and industry.  Capitalism is based on the principles of profit and competition.

Climbing Great Wall of China

Based on what I observed, China seemed to have both systems. Many of the places we visited, such as the Jade factory, the pearl factory and embroidery Institute were all government-owned businesses. Free enterprise, or private businesses, were in China as well. We were told that Jack Ma, the co-founder and chairman of Alibaba, (equivalent to Amazon in North America) was the richest man in China.  We visited markets in the cities of Suzhou and Shanghai where small businesses were selling all sorts of things.

Something I noticed about the Chinese people is that they have a great love for their country. They speak of Chairman Mao, China’s revolutionary leader, with love and affection. Forbes describes China’s present leader  Xi Jinping as having a dream of a “moderately prosperous society,” instead of a communist utopia. He talks about “national rejuvenation,” and a China with a space program, high-speed rail network and high technology parks. One of our tour guides said Xi Jinping most known sayings—at least in China—is, “If it is good for China, then China will do it.” It seems to work as China is growing rapidly. Forbes says, China is on its way to becoming the largest economy in the world. It reports that in just one generation, 300 million+ people went from rural subsistence farming to urban industrial and technology jobs. The United States has always been considered the world’s economic power house in modern times, but the New York Times says,

Emerging signs of weakness in major economic sectors…are prompting some forecasters to warn that one of the longest periods of economic growth in American history may be approaching the end of its run.

Temple of Heaven exercise park

Another thing I observed while visiting China, was how happy the Chinese people were. In fact, one of my travel partners commented on how happy the Chinese people were, and how unhappy the people back home were because they were always complaining. The Chinese government does takes care of its people. For example, their government provides exercise parks for their retired citizens. We visited one at the Temple of Heaven Park. The Chinese people were happy to show us how the various machines worked. In this Beijing park, we saw musicians and large groups of people singing loudly and looked to be having fun. We also witnessed this at the Summer Palace. In fact, one Chinese person grabbed the hands of two people in our tour group and starting dancing with them. Unemployment, we were told, was non-existent. One of our tour guides told us that unless retired, everyone had a job. I saw numerous people with brooms cleaning the streets and removing falling autumn leaves. There was virtually no garbage anywhere.

Rickshaw Ride

China’s political system is drastically different from democratic countries like Canada and the U.S. China has a one-party system; the Communist Party. We asked about what Chinese people thought about the politics of their country. The guide’s response (paraphrased) was Chinese people really don’t care about politics or their government. As long as people are living a good life, have a job and making money, they are happy. He said there is consistency with a one-party system as when there is a change in leadership, the policy of the previous government continues. Then our tour guide said something thought-provoking. He said in the democratic world, little is accomplished as governments are always squabbling. He further explained, whenever a new party is elected, they reverse the previous party’s policies, thus little progress is made.

Now this made me think. It’s true. In Canada, when a new party takes power—presently it’s the Liberal Party—they change many of the policies put into place by the previous ruling Conservative Party. In the United States, the Trump administration—Republicans—are reversing and changing many of the policies that the Obama administration—Democrats—put in place. It’s accurate, there is no consistency in policy. No wonder little progress occurs. The U.S. is a very divided country, and Canada has its divisions as well. China, because it is a one-party system, is relatively united.

Now I’m not saying that China doesn’t have problems, it does. According to Global Risk Insights,

“Land disputes, labour strikes and environmental concerns have been frequently cited as the leading causes of protest across China in recent years, as the drive for growth has resulted in the destruction of farmland, the proliferation of polluting factories and waste plants, and poor labour rights.”

Smog was prevalent in Beijing. I’m sure we visited only places the government wanted us to see. We saw none of the negative parts of society. But that is also true of tours taken in democratic countries I’ve visited.

Chinese Market

It was obvious that the Chinese people are likely one of the most watched people in the world. I saw cameras everywhere. But is it any different in the “free world?” According to Crime Feed, an average American citizen can be caught on camera more than 75 times a day. I was unable find stats on Canada, but likely it is no different in my country. When we entered China, we had finger prints electronically taken, and our passports were scanned by every hotel. We, as foreigners, were tracked. We in the “free world” like to think we have freedom, but the reality is our phones are tracked and our Internet activity is monitored. The Huffpost has an article, 9 Ways You’re Being Spied On Every Day, where it talks of all the ways we are being monitored. In reality, we are just as watched as people in China.

You’re probably wondering if I am a communist. No, I don’t believe so although the idea of economic equality and doing what is best for everyone makes sense. Am I pro-capitalism? Not when I hear stories such as General Motors laying off thousands of workers by closing one plant in Canada and four in the U.S. This is a company that earned $35.79 billion in 2018 in revenue, up 6 percent from $33.62 billion during the same quarter in 2017 (see GM).  Or, when I learn that Sears is seeking court approval to pay its executives as much as $25 million in annual bonuses when the company has declared bankruptcy. Three top executives could get nearly $1 million each if the company goes out of business (see CNN). Furthermore, Sears pensions were cut by 20%, yet billions in payouts to shareholders happened (see Union). Rewarding people whose decisions caused bankruptcy makes no sense. Putting shareholders before workers is unjust.

Terracotta Warriors

American celebrity, Whoopi Goldberg, once uttered, “I don’t really view communism as a bad thing.”  I agree with Whoopi. Canadian-born economist, public official, and diplomat, John Kenneth Galbraith, once wrote, “Under capitalism, man exploits man. Under communism, it’s just the opposite.” Exploitation occurs in both economic systems. There are pros and cons to both economic systems and both forms of government. Neal Donald Walsh, in one of his Conversations with God books, wrote, “Your way is not the only way, it is just a way.” That quote sums up my point of view.