Europe Then and Now

Since returning from our trip abroad, my wife and I have been asked numerous times what we found different in Europe compared to our first time over there which was 26 years ago. Our gut response is always to say, “It pretty much looks the same as it did last time we were there.”  Now that is the truth.  It still looks pretty much as it did in the 1980s.  Most of the buildings still look very old and the majority of the streets are still very narrow. However, if there is one thing that was noticeably different was the amount of English around.

When I taught Social Studies, we used to discuss the  question, Is English becoming a universal language? when teaching about how globalization is changing the world.  For me, it was interesting to see if what I taught was indeed truth.  According to the article, 10 Reasons why English is the World’s Language, some of  the reasons why English is considered by some to be, or at least on its way to being, a universal language are:

  1. English is the language of business & finance
  2. Hollywood is the capital of film-making and many foreign actors have had to learn to speak English to work in Hollywood.
  3. If you want to make in the international music arena, you must be able to sing in English.
  4. English is the language of travel. English is the language used when the local hotel, restaurant or retail staff members communicate with foreigners and visitors.
  5. English is the unofficial language of the internet. There are billions upon billions of websites on the Internet nowadays, and it’s estimated that more than half of the entire online material is published in English.
  6. The influence of the United States and the United Kingdom, two very influential English-speaking world players.

Kevin & Marilyn - 1557 of 2668Now this all makes sense to me, but I know when I was teaching this stuff I wondered if it really was that way.  Well I can tell you after returning from Europe, I have to say that I believe there is truth in these arguments.  Allow me to share some of my observations.  When we were in the airports and train stations I noticed the signage would have the language of the country we were in written first, with English written underneath. We were in airports in Athens (Greece), Rome (Italy), Paris (France) Istanbul (Turkey) and Warsaw (Poland).  This was the case in every one of those airports.  I don’t recall that being the case 26 years ago.  Announcements in the airports were also in both the language of the country and in English.  This was also the case for most train stations and we were in many, many train stations throughout Italy and France.

Before leaving for Europe, we prepared by downloading a translator app, and then we inputted and saved numerous phrases that we thought would be necessary when over in Italy, France and Greece.  We did not need to use this app once when talking to people.  Almost everyone we talked to in France, Italy, the Turkish airport, the Polish airport and in Greece spoke fluent English, although with an accent. We were most surprised when we found an English speaking waitress in the Warsaw airport.The only time we used the translator app was when looking at ingredients in a supermarket.

IMG_2491As for the restaurants, no matter what country we were in, most of the staff spoke English.  Not only that, almost every restaurant we ate at had menus in English.  Often they would have the Greek or Italian or French first with the English written underneath.

My wife and I drove in northern France. One day we decided to see what was on the radio, so we turned on the radio only to be pleasantly surprised to hear a song we recognized; a pop song in English.  As soon as the song was finished, we were astonished to hear the disk jockey speak in French.  It struck me as odd; as “out of sink”; as not fitting.  This certainly does suggest that much of the world’s popular music is indeed sung in English.

IMG_2857Another noticeable difference from the 1980s was the number of signs you see in English.  In all three of the countries we visited; France, Italy and Greece, you would see store or company signage in both the language of the country we were in and in English. Often it would be Greek (or Italian or French) on some businesses and English on others. Many of the directions for toilets, exits, or tourist sites would also have English on them.

Another topic I often discussed with my students was; Was the world  becoming more homogenized  (more the same) because of globalization?  I certainly saw evidence of this as well.  The youth in Europe for the most part wore blue jeans just as the youth in North America do.  This was not only true of the youth. The hair styles of the youth were the same styles you would see on North American youth. Then there is the cell phones.  Everyone appears to have one and be on it just like in North America. Whether we were on the Metro, on a bus, in a museum or walking down a street, you would see people texting or talking on their cell phones.This certainly suggests homogenization to me.

It was not unusual to see stores or products from the same corporations in European cities that you would see in North American cities.  I noticed many MacDonald’s restaurants, Burger King, Shell gas stations, Esso gas stations, and clothing stores such as Abercrombie & Fitch and the Gap.  I also noticed Apple Stores, Starbucks coffee, and Disneyland Paris.  There were Coca Cola and/or Pepsi signs every where. I’m sure I missed a few companies that operate in the European Union. This also advocates for the homogenization argument.  We went into one store in Greece only to discover that much of clothing they sold had American cities written on them or some  saying written in English.

IMG_3061I have mixed feelings about these changes that I’ve observed.  Regarding English as perhaps a universal language, that is great for those of us that English is our first language, or in my case the only language.  I guess I should be grateful that the language I was born into is being spoken in most parts of the world. After all, it makes travelling much less stressful.  What bothers me is the possibility that the world is becoming more and more the same culturally.  This saddens me because the point of travel for me at least is to experience the cultural diversity in the world.  I fear that as globalization continues to take hold, diversity will be lost.  The fact that youth in Europe and North America dress the same is evidence of this.  The truth that you see many of the same companies in the European Union as you do in North America suggests the world is indeed becoming more and more alike.  Like anything else there are always pros and cons.  I do hope that the various cultures of the world will be able to resist globalization enough so that they will continue to exist as a unique culture of the world. Variety makes the world more interesting.  If all countries of the world become more and more alike, then won’t that make for a boring world?

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Get it Right

If you follow the news at all, you know that the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference, also known as COP21, is presently being held in Paris, France. The talks started November 30 and will continue until December 11. The objective of the conference is to achieve a legally binding and universal agreement from all the nations of the world. The goal of the agreement is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions so as to limit the global temperature increase to 2 °C. If you are not familiar with greenhouse gasses and what is known as the greenhouse effect, here is a little science lesson.

GUSTAVO-CAMACHO-GONZALEZ-L1060274_(23430273715)It is referred to as the greenhouse effect because the earth acts just like a greenhouse does. The sun gives off electromagnetic radiation, in particular infrared radiation, visible light, and ultraviolet light. Visible light consists of short wavelengths of energy, which are able to pass through the glass or plastic of a greenhouse, and are absorbed. It is then released back as heat (thermal energy) or infrared radiation. This is what heats up the greenhouse as infrared radiation consists of long wavelengths of energy which are unable to pass through the greenhouse’s glass or plastic, thus are trapped in the greenhouse.

The earth, in essence is like a big greenhouse. The sun sends energy to the earth’s surface in the form of visible light (and other radiation), which is absorbed and then released back as heat. Our atmosphere, which contains naturally occurring greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, water vapour, and methane gas, absorbs the heat radiation and then slowly releases some of it into space. The earth’s atmosphere is like the glass or plastic of a greenhouse; it traps heat in. Since there is an excess amount of greenhouse gases caused by human activity, namely the burning of fossil fuels, being released into our atmosphere (See the graph on NASA’s Global Climate change website. ), plus the fact that humans are destroying forests at an alarming rate which remove CO2 , more heat radiation than normal is trapped in our atmosphere. The result is the earth is getting warmer

We refer to global warming as when excess greenhouse gases cause the Earth’s temperature to rise.  According to NASA’s Earth Observatory website, “As the Earth moved out of ice ages over the past million years, the global temperature rose a total of 4 to 7 degrees Celsius over about 5,000 years. In the past century alone, the temperature has climbed 0.7 degrees Celsius, roughly ten times faster than the average rate of ice-age-recovery warming”.

Climate change is caused by the rising temperature of the earth, which causes regional climate characteristics (temperature, humidity, rainfall, etc.) to be altered, leading to catastrophic events like melting glaciers, rising oceans, evaporating lakes, devastating hurricanes, and heavy snowfalls.

United Nations Climate Change Conferences have been tried on numerous occasions before with UN conferences on climate change occurring every year since 1995. Will this conference be different? Will the world leaders unify this time and actually produce a binding agreement to reduce greenhouse gasses and commit to it? Let’s hope so.

It doesn’t take much research to determine that our planet is in trouble. Climate change is happening whether we believe it or not. On NASA’s Global Climate change website it states, “Ninety-seven percent of climate scientists agree that climate warming trends over the past century are very likely due to human activities, and most of the leading scientific organizations worldwide have issued public statements endorsing this position.” On this website, and there are many other websites agreeing, it sites evidence such as rising sea levels, increasing ocean temperatures, the melting of polar ice caps and glaciers in Greenland. Then there are the extreme weather events that all of us have witnessed in recent years. NASA’s website also sites extreme weather events as evidence. If we are to save this planet, and ultimately ourselves as humans, we must start doing something constructive now!

Many of the world’s leaders are saying the right things. Addressing the 2015 conference in Paris, U. S president Barack Obama said on November 30 that the U.S. accepted its responsibility to help fix climate change, and that global action need not damage economic growth. “What should give us hope that this is a turning point, that this is the moment we finally determined we would save our planet.” He urged the leaders to take action even if the benefits were not evident for generations. Mr. Obama also has stated the importance for getting India and China on board to make the U.N climate summit a success, as both those countries are huge CO2 emitters. (see Citing Urgency)

Canada’s prime minister, Justin Trudeau in his address to the conference stated that, “Canada will take on a new leadership role internationally,” Mr. Trudeau was interrupted by applause when he said: “We’re here to help.”

Mr. Trudeau also goes on to say, “Indigenous peoples have known for thousands of years how to care for our planet…The rest of us have a lot to learn and no time to waste”.

Justin Trudeau also said climate change is more than a challenge, but an historic opportunity. He said climate change is “An opportunity to build a sustainable economy based on clean technology, on green infrastructure and on green jobs. We will not sacrifice growth, we will create growth,” he said. (see APTN National News)

It is true that the indigenous people have historically had a great deal of respect for “Mother Earth”, and when the Europeans came over to North America, that changed. This is something I have taught about for years. Mr. Trudeau is right! Climate change does not have to be just a challenge. It is an opportunity to develop new, clean energy technologies that will create new jobs and potentially provide huge economic growth. This is what the world needs to be focused on. It is time to discharge our addiction to fossil fuels.

There seems to be some indications that world leaders are serious about reducing greenhouse emissions. India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi has stated: “The sun is the source of all energy.”  He apparently is enthusiastic about solar energy and in January set an investment target of $100 billion in India’s solar sector by 2022. The United Kingdom has committed to phasing out coal plants entirely by 2025. In Canada the province of Alberta announced a climate change strategy that includes a carbon tax, a cap on tar sands emissions, a phasing out of coal-fired electricity, and an emphasis on wind power. These are all steps in the right direction.

On Monday, Pope Francis said it’s “now or never” for the international community to start effectively curbing climate change. He said, “Every year the problems are getting worse. We are at the limits. If I may use a strong word I would say that we are at the limits of suicide.” (see World leaders must listen to Pope Francis). I believe Pope Francis is correct. I sincerely hope that the leaders of our world are serious about curbing climate change. The planet that we leave behind for our children must be a planet that is habitable. World leaders must get it right this time or our planet will become a vastly different planet; a planet with less habitable landmass, a planet with more deserts than we can ever imagine. A planet where there is little fresh water left to be found since much of our fresh clapping-hands-transparent-b-g-mdwater supply is in the glaciers that are disappearing. That’s not mentioning the numerous plant and animal species that will likely disappear because of global warming. (see Consequences of Global Warming).  The list goes on. It is time to get serious about curbing climate change. That doesn’t have to be a negative thing. I applaud those leaders who have already committed to change.

Here is an interesting website to check out: Time to Choose

Culture of Fear or Compassion ?

ct-photos-eiffel-tower-in-the-french-flag-s-co-006Since my wife and I had just been in Paris, France a month ago, I  was filled with great sadness when I heard about the terrorist attacks that occurred in Paris on Friday, November 13, 2015.  Terrorism is something I have a difficult time wrapping my head around. I cannot for the life of me understand how someone can cause harm and death to innocent people such as the carnage we saw in Paris. The news media has repeatedly said that the people who carry out such acts of violence have been radicalized, that is, have become more radical. Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a radical as  “advocating extreme measures to retain or restore a political state of affairs”.  I guess for radicals that means carrying out acts of murder.  This is what I can’t get my head around.  How can someone with any kind of conscience murder innocent people? The only explanation I can come up with is these people have been brainwashed. The MacMillan Dictionary defines brainwash as “to force someone to accept a particular set of beliefs by repeating the same idea many times so that the person cannot think in an independent way”.  How exactly terrorist groups such as Al-Qaeda or ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) are able to do this using the internet is a mystery to me, but this  must be what is happening.

IMG_1182What concerns me the most is that many people are becoming fearful. On November 23rd, the American Government issued a world wide travel alert cautioning Americans to possible risks of travel due to increased terrorist threats. This obviously means that Americans are becoming fearful. Don’t get me wrong, caution when traveling is always a good thing.  Travellers should always use caution when travelling outside of their country whether terrorism threats are around or not. That is just common sense.  Moreover, we are beginning to see a rise in Islamophobia (or anti-Muslim sentiment). That is when there is prejudice against, hatred towards, or fear of the religion of Islam or Muslims. U. S. Republican presidential candidates Donald Trump and Ben Carson have been advocating for more surveillance of Muslims. (see Muslim-Americans fear ‘ugly rhetoric’) Mr. Trump says, “we’re being foolish, we’re kidding ourselves” if law enforcement doesn’t keep close surveillance on mosques, and he expressed support for the idea of a database for tracking Muslims in the United States. Some have even resorted to using religion to justify Islamophobia or fear of Muslims. During a November 15 sermon at First Baptist Church in Dallas, pastor Robert Jeffress told his congregation that the Paris terrorists were “acting according to the teaching of Islam,” and said “it is time” to call out Islam as “a false religion … inspired by Satan himself”.  (see Theological Studies Director calls out) This is wrong, pure and simple. It simply is not fair to put all adherents to Islam in the same category.  In fact, the majority of Muslims around the world have condemned the Paris attacks and other acts of terrorism carried out by Muslim extremists. Even more, most if not all non-extremist Muslims categorically say that these extremists are not true Muslims. (see Muslims Around World Speak Out)  The bottom line is we must not let the terrorists achieve their goal. The root word of terrorism is terror which Dictionary.com defines as “an instance or cause of intense fear or anxiety”.  The very goal of terrorism is to instil fear in society so that our leaders cave into their demands. 

IMG_1239This fear, caused by the Paris terrorists and other terror attacks, has changed the debate over refugees.  Since returning home from Europe a few weeks ago I have been asked many times if we were affected by the refugees that had been dominating the news media before the Paris incident. Of course we were not.  My wife and I even had a conversation with another couple recently at an airport where this couple expressed real concern over Canada accepting refugees from Syria. They told us that they heard one of the Paris extremists was a refugee. Once again their concerns were stemming from fear.

There seems to be two camps in this debate; Do we allow the Syrian refugees into our country or do we keep them out as there might be an extremist among them? Canada’s new prime minister,  Justin Trudeau has promised to bring 25 000 Syrian refugees to Canada. (see Trudeau…) The debate in Canada and United States over the refugees is heated.  Several of Canada’s premiers have spoken out on the issue, both for and against. Petitions against bringing in the Syrian refugees have been popping up online. (see Should Canada stop).  Quebec’s premier Philip Couillard said it well when he said, “We must keep our arms open to refugees. They have fled their villages, they have seen their parents murdered and sometimes in front of their eyes. They come here in search of peace and freedom. Always remember that the Syrian refugees that will come to Quebec are themselves the first victims of terror.” (see We must keep our arms open)   The Free Dictionary defines a refugee as “one who flees, especially to another country, seeking refuge from war, political oppression, religious persecution, or a natural disaster”.  These people fear for their lives. They have witnessed horrible things. As Mr. Couillard stated, they are victims themselves. Alberta’s new premier,  Rachel Notley said it even better when she delivered an impassioned speech on the need to keep our doors open to Syrian refugees in the wake of the Paris attack, to not treat them as if they are terrorists about to launch a jihad in Edmonton or Calgary.  (see Graham Thomson) Here are some of Premier Notley’s words from Monday, November 16 speech; “…The refugees are themselves fleeing exactly the kind of terror that we were all shocked to observe and watch unfold this weekend. And that’s why we need to be reaching out to them…” The Premier later told reporters: “We cannot have our decisions being driven by fear.” The premiers of Quebec and Alberta are right! We must not be driven by fear.  My fear is that my country is buying into a culture of fear and as a result becoming less compassionate. I have always believed and been proud of the fact that Canadians are a compassionate people. Now is the time to show compassion for the Syrian refugees and NOT fear them. Now is the time to show the extremists that we will NOT be dictated by fear, that we will continue to travel abroad, and that we will NOT live our lives in fear.  President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the 32nd president of the United State said  in his 1933 Inaugural Address, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself”. Roosevelt is right! My fear is that fear will take hold in our free society thereby making us prisoners of fear.

Those Crazy European Drivers

On our flight over to Europe, I watched the recently released movie called Spy whereby the main character, Susan Cooper, played by Melissa McCarthy. is a desk bound CIA analyst who volunteers to go undercover to infiltrate the world of a deadly arms dealer, and prevent a global disaster. The movie has a very funny driving scene where an Italian agent named Bradley Fine, played by Jude Law, picks Cooper up and drives her to her hotel. During that scene the Italian agent, driving a sporty convertible speeds through the narrow streets of Rome, paying more attention to the girls he is passing by than to his driving. The scene is very funny and typifies the way Europeans drive. Anytime I’ve watched scenes like this, I’ve always thought that the movies must be majorly exaggerating drivers in Europe. After returning home, I no longer think that.

IMG_1172Based on our experiences in Europe, it would seem that the stereotype, perpetrated by Hollywood movies,  that European drivers are crazy is true. Have you ever seen an intersection packed with cars at all different angles, none of them moving, many of them tooting angrily like it will possibly help? Well, we did in Paris when our shuttle driver entered the very large round about that encircles the Arc of Triumph (Arc de Triomphe).  There were no clear lanes and cars were everywhere and numerous horns were tooting. This is just one of the many driving experiences my wife and I, along with our friends, experienced when we visited Continental Europe. Even though I was aware of the stereotype, I was still “shell shocked when witnessing it”.

Our first taxi ride was on the island of Santorini, one of the Greek islands.  After a nice dinner at our hotel, we decided to visit the nearby village of Kamair, so we had the hotel call a taxi for us.  When the taxi arrived, My wife and our friends got in the back seat, and I got into the front with the driver.  No word of a lie, the driver put the “petal to the metal” and the car accelerated quickly.  Now in Greece, there are no side walks so pedestrians walk on the narrow roads.  There was a group walking down the road as the taxi driver sped toward them, showing no signs of slowing down.  The pedestrians scattered very quickly, as you might imagine.  The village was two kilometres from our hotel. and our taxi driver speeded the entire way there.  Thank God, we made it to the village alive.  We all were so shocked that all we could do was laugh. I would label this taxi driver as one of those stereotypical crazy European drivers.

IMG_1166Like the driver in Santorini, the taxi driver who took us to the airport in Athens “floored it” at every opportunity.  At one point he narrowly missed a car door that was opening. What made the situation even more humorous was the fact that just before the taxi arrived, a huge thundercloud moved over the city and a torrential rainstorm occurred as we were driving off.  Now as in many cities, Athens does not have the infrastructure to handle torrential downpours, so needless to say the streets of Athens were semi flooding, or in some case fully flooded.  That didn’t slow down our taxi driver.  He just sped through the water sending water everywhere.  Now we were nervous to say the least and I suspect our driver must have sensed that since he put in a CD of Greek music and “cranked” it up.  It worked, as we did relax and started swaying to the music. This driver fit the stereotype.

IMG_1738Being a pedestrian in Europe is truly an adventure.  Really you take your own life into your hands every time you step out onto the street as there was no other choice since sidewalks are rare in Europe.  There were many, many times when our friends and us would be walking in what we assumed was a pedestrian zone only to be shocked when a vehicle would drive through scattering all the pedestrians.  That happened in Florence and Sorrento in Italy, Mykonos town in Greece, and Bayeux in France, to name some places we experienced this.  In fact, at our vacation rental in Sorrento, the gate opened right onto the road, and I’m not kidding when I say the vehicles did not slow down on that road.  Numerous times we literally ran to cross the road for fear of getting hit by a car.  It was most entertaining when you watched some else doing so.

In places like Rome, Paris and Athens it is common to see the narrow streets jammed with unruly drivers, streetcars, buses, mopeds, and double-parked trucks.  It is also common in these cities to see massive horn-honking traffic jams.  The mopeds and motorbikes were plentiful on the streets and would weave in and out of the vehicles, and often would drive between two vehicles to get ahead.  There didn’t seem to be any sense of abiding by rules and such.

IMG_2752Then there is the parking.  In Rome and Paris, for example, you would see vehicles parked in every which direction.  There would be trucks parked in lanes with their flashers on.  We saw this often in Paris on the shuttle.   Vehicles would be parked up on sidewalks, if there was one, and it was not uncommon to see cars double parked.  Vehicles would just park beside other parked vehicles and turn on their flashers.  It just seemed liked chaos to me.

Now I realize that the reason drivers are so aggressive in Europe and why people park in any available space they can find in cities is because Europe does not have the space that North America has. Most of the cities in Europe are ancient.  To give you some perspective, parts of Rome are truly ancient.  If you look at the famous Roman Colosseum and inquire when it was built you would learn that it was commissioned around A.D. (CE) 70-72 by Emperor Vespasian. Paris existed long before Notre Dame Cathedral was built and the cathedral began its construction  in 1163 AD (CE). The site of Athens has been inhabited since before 3000 BC (BCE). The earliest buildings date from the late Bronze Age, about 1200 BC (BCE), when part of the town spread to the south of the citadel on the Acropolis. The Acropolis is an ancient citadel (fortress) located on a high rocky outcrop above the city of Athens and contains the remains of several ancient Greek Temples.  So as you can see, these cities are truly ancient thus explaining why the city streets are narrow.  They were built in times before vehicles were around.  These cities were never intended to have modern vehicles on them.  In fact, many of these streets are still cobblestone. Space is at a premium over in Europe.

Then there is the population factor. Italy, for example, has 60,808,000 inhabitants and is 33 times smaller than Canada and the United States. Canada’s population is about 35 million and the population of the United States is approximately 319 million. Now that doesn’t mean much until you compare the number of people to the land area, otherwise known as their population density.  According to the World Bank Data Website Italy has a population density of 209 people per sq. kilometre (km) of land area.  Canada, on the other hand, has a density of 4 people per sq. km of land area and the United States has 35 people per sq. km of land area.  So as you can see, Italy is much more densely populated than either Canada or the United States. In light of these statistics, it is easy to understand that Italy has much less space to handle its vehicles and pedestrians.

After returning home, I have come to appreciate  the amount of space we have in North America.  Our wide streets, our sidewalks for pedestrians our large, straight highways, our open space in rural areas  are so refreshing after being in Europe.  All the while we were in Europe we heard about the refugee crisis.  It was on the news.  It was in their news papers.  We even witnessed a demonstration in support of the Syrian refugees in Athens. North America has so much more space and fewer people when compared to the European nations, therefore we should not be afraid to take in more of the Syrian refugees, especially in light of the fact that Europe is experiencing a refuge crisis right now. North America can easily encompass more inhabitants.  We have the space!

What is the matter with our youth?

niBBgppxTOver the last few years, because I was a veteran teacher, I’ve been asked many times if kids or youth of today are different compared to those when I started teaching.  That is a really interesting question; a question I have pondered for a while. There is no doubt that there are differences in the youth of today compared to say 35 years ago when I began my teaching career, or even 15 years ago for that matter.  But does that mean young people are different from the youth of previous generations?  That question always brings me back to a couple of quotes I first read in a book many years ago.

“The world is passing through troublous times. The young people of today think of nothing but themselves. They have no reverence for parents or old age. They are impatient of all restraint. They talk as if they knew everything, and what passes for wisdom with us is foolishness with them. As for the girls, they are forward, immodest and unladylike in speech, behavior and dress.”

“I see no hope for the future of our people if they are dependent on frivolous youth of today, for certainly all youth are reckless beyond words… When I was young, we were taught to be discreet and respectful of elders, but the present youth are exceedingly wise [disrespectful] and impatient of restraint”.

So have “kids” changed?  Are the youth of today different?  I don’t believe the youth of today are any different from the youth of previous generations.   Children have always been mischievous.  Young people have always been self-centred. Kids have always rebelled against authority when they could.  There has always been a generation gap. All one has to do is remember the beatniks and hippies of the 1960s and 1970s  The two quotes above also illustrate this.  Does the first quote sound like something an older person of today might say?  You bet it does!  The surprising thing is it is actually a quote from a sermon preached by Peter the Hermit in  C. E. (A.D.) 1274.  That was said 741 years ago.  The second quote is reported as being said by Hesiod, a Greek poet in 8th century BCE (BC).  He is generally thought by scholars to have been active between 750 and 650 BC. so that means he said this well over two thousand years ago.  I don’t know about you, but it sounds like youth have not changed in thousands of years.

So why does the youth of today seem so different compared to previous generations?  I believe there are two key reasons for this.

The first reason is due to the fact that today’s culture is very different from previous generations, and the biggest difference is technology.  The generations of today have all sorts of technologies that were not prevalent 20 years ago.  Today we have cell phones, computers, calculators, and the World Wide Web, otherwise known as the internet.  When I was in school in the 1970s, there weren’t even calculators.  We had to use slide rules when attending high school math classes. For you youngsters reading this, that was a ruler-like contraption that was used primarily for multiplication and division, and also for functions such as roots, logarithms and trigonometry. Addition or subtraction had to be done using pencil and paper. In my experience, computers did not really start appearing in my world until the 1980s when the Commodore 64 came out in 1982. I never had one, but I was envious of those individuals who had one.  The internet became available to the world in 1991.  So the youth of yesterday did not have access to the vast amount of knowledge the internet provides.  For the most part, people still had to rely on libraries to get information. Today, the culture is very different. Young people have come to expect things instantly.  They expect instant calculations using calculators.  Kids expect to find the answers to their questions within seconds and not to look in books to find them.  This is why the youth of today are not as patient.

The second reason has to do with parenting.  Today there are so many parents who “smother” their children.  They are always hovering  and waiting to swoop in and rescue their child whenever their child whimpers. We in the teaching world call these parents “helicopter parents.”  The kids of today for the most part are not allowed to “fall flat”.  They are not allowed to learn from their failures because their parents are always rescuing them.  This is why we are raising a generation that may not know how to handle failure.  Young people need to fail from time to time so that they learn how to be stronger; so that they learn from their mistakes.

Not only that, sometimes kids need to be taught values like respect through discipline.  They need to be taught that some behaviours are undesirable.  When I went to school, my parents always reminded me and my siblings that if we got in trouble at school, we would be in trouble at home. And they meant it. In my experience, this doesn’t happen much any more. They typically blame others for their child’s behaviour. So many parents of today do not “parent” their children.  They give children whatever they want.  This creates a generation of entitlement. The youth of today expect all things immediately, such as a new car or a new house.  Previous generations just accepted  this would take time to get and would have to work for it.

So, are young people different today compared to the youth of generations past?  The short answer is NO!  It is the parenting that is different and the culture that is different.  Kids learn these behaviours and develop traits like impatience from the older generations. This is why children behave differently.  So don’t blame the children, blame the parents; blame the culture; blame the adults.

Now don’t get me wrong.  There are a lot of great parents out there who don’t always give in to their children and who believe in strong discipline and not of the corporal kind either.  It’s just that they are in the minority.  Parents need to be parents. There are lots of great things about our culture and its technologies.  We just need to learn as a society how to use the technology appropriately and respectfully.

Change is inevitable!

I recently received this quote in an email and the quote got me thinking. The quote was:

Change cannot be avoided in life. So do not resist change, embrace it!

There is no doubt that life is changing all the time.  I’ll use myself as an example.  This year, 2015, has been very much a year of change for myself as well as my family. As I mentioned in some of my other posts, I retired as a classroom teacher after 35 years of teaching.  So to say that this is a huge change for me personally is an understatement.  Really, retirement is a new beginning; it is the beginning of a whole new journey.  For me, that has meant following some of my passions.  One of those passions is writing which is why I started this blog.  I needed an outlet for my writing.  I needed a place to share my stories and my opinions.  It means change because now there will be no more having to get up for work unless I decide to work somewhere.  Working is more of a choice now, rather than a necessity.  That is a good change.  I’ve heard it said, “some people work to live and others live to work”.  I was always one of those that worked to live.  I needed to work to support my family and to feel useful to society.

My wife and I have three wonderful children,  All three of our children have gone through some sort of change this year.  Our eldest daughter has moved to a new place to live after being in her previous place for five years.  That was a major change for her as she is not a person who freely embraces change.  Our youngest daughter is returning to university this year after living and working for the past year in her home town.   Our son is also off to university after spending two years at the local community college.  He is excited for this change as he has been living with us while getting his Diploma.  So as you can see, there has been much change in my family.  The only one that is remaining at her same job is my wife.  Having said that, she has taken a three-month leave of absence from her work place so that we can do some travelling this fall.  So even she has to endure some changes, although they are good changes.

If you listen to the news regularly, then you would also know that the day-to-day conditions on our planet are changing now in ways we could not have anticipated.  Climate change is one of the biggest changes our planet has had to endure.  Every year seems to be reported as the hottest on record.  Storms seem to be getting more and more frequent and progressively more violent.  According to the Union of concerned scientists, “As the Earth warms, the amount of rain or snow falling in the heaviest one percent of storms has risen nearly 20 percent on average in the United States—almost three times the rate of increase in total precipitation between 1958 and 2007.” That is definitely change, and not good change. Our planet needs help.

Changes the world will endure, according to the article, 5 ways the world will change radically, are:

  1. The world is becoming over populated.  The article states that,” India’s population will overtake China’s around 2020, and Africa’s population will overtake India’s by 2040″  That is not change to embrace since Africa is one of the world’s most poverty-stricken continents.
  2. Urbanization will rapidly increase.  The article says, “the number of people living in cities will climb from 3.5 billion today to 6.3 billion by 2050”  That means there will be much less farmland to grow food to feed the people.  That is not good change.
  3. Conflicts over water shortages will probably play out on our planet.  That is not positive change, for that means many people will die because the world is running short of fresh water.
  4. At this time in history, there isn’t enough energy being extracted from known sources of fossil fuels to sustain 10 billion people. That means humans will be forced to turn to new energy sources before the end of the century.  In my opinion this is good change as hopefully these new sources will mean less pollution.
  5. The article maintains, “biologists [not all biologists] believe that with the current rate of extinction, 75 percent of the planet’s species will disappear within the next 300 to 2,000 years”.  That is just sad as this planet has so much biodiversity.  That definitely is not good change.

So the fact of change is real!  The quote at the beginning says, So do not resist change, embrace it.”  When change happens to us individually, then yes it should be embraced.  As it has been said, “A change can be as good as a vacation.”  I think there is truth in that.  Many spiritual writers will say that when change happens to an individual, it is God’s or the universe’s way of forcing you to do what you are not choosing to do yourself, because God knows what is best. Having said that, sometimes individuals need Ostrichto resist change such as when individuals or groups of people are being forced to do something against their will. An example of this might be when groups of people are forced from their homes due to conflict like what we are witnessing in areas of the world like Africa and the Middle East.

However, when it comes to changes affecting this planet, such as climate change, or loss of biodiversity, then change needs to be resisted.  It is time for us humans to “get our heads out of the sand” and start resisting planetary changes that will only cause our planet to be less desirable to live in.

Will there ever be peace?

According to International Relations.com, there are ten wars where the fatalities are greater than 1000 every year and  five serious armed conflicts with fatalities just under a 1000 per year, happening on our planet at the present moment. According to the website, Syria remains the most lethal and overall “biggest” conflict, with an estimated 250,000 deaths in the past three years, of which fewer than half were battle-related deaths. The website goes on to list 15 other conflicts where less than a 1000 people are killed per year. For me, that is appalling.  For me that says something about the world’s sad state of affairs. It begs the question, “Will this planet ever experience peace?”  An even better question would be, “Is peace on this planet even possible?”

Personally I believe it is.  At the beginning of the Great War, otherwise known as World War One, the Christmas Truce of 1914 gives me a glimmer of hope. According the BBC,  a scattered series of small-scale cease fires did happen between some German and British forces. But this brief festive reprieve was not a mass event as some people have come to believe. In many places along the Western Front, December 25, 1914 was a day of brutal fighting like any other day in war times. Where it did occur, accounts suggest that men sang carols and in some cases left their trenches and met in No Man’s Land. If events where enemies put down their differences and celebrate, in this case Christmas, then those actions suggest to me that peace is achievable because of personal choices.  Each soldier involved in one of those brief cease-fires made a personal choice to make efforts of peace and goodwill towards their enemies.  It was a choice.

So is peace possible? Hans Küng,a scholar of theology and philosophy and author of many books, wrote in Christianity: Essence, History, Future, “No peace among the nations without peace among the religions. No peace among the religions without dialogue between the religions. No dialogue between the religions without investigation of the foundation of the religions”.  Many of the conflicts in the world involve tensions between the world religions. Hans Küng holds part of the key to the solution for world peace.  World religions need to understand one another and to practice what their religions teach, which is the ideals of their faith’s.  All world religions teach ideals of compassion, love and tolerance.

There have been and still are many spiritual leaders in history that have given us ways to achieve peace. The historical Jesus, the Buddha, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr, and the Dalai Lama to name a few. Gandhi once said,”An eye for an eye will only make the whole world blind”.  In other words, violence begets violence. History has demonstrated to humanity that most human conflicts have been as a result of stubbornness on the part of our leaders.  If our leaders could just learn that most disputes can be resolved by showing a willingness to understand the issues of our opponents and that by using diplomacy and compassion these issues can be solved peacefully.  Mahatma Gandhi also said, “There are many causes that I am prepared to die for but no cause that I am prepared to kill for”.

Martin Luther King Jr. said, “that peace is not merely a distant goal that we seek, but a means by which we arrive at that goal”.  His wisdom holds true not only for peace in our world, but for peace within ourselves.  Mr. Gandhi taught, “We must become the change we want to see in the world”This is by far Mahatma Gandhi’s wisest teaching. To achieve peace, be peace. How does one be peace? By a sheer act of Will. By the decision to always act peacefully and by causing others to experience what you wish to experience, that is peace.

peace-signThis especially holds true for our leaders, especially our political leaders. One cannot bring world peace to all unless a leader demonstrates peaceful acts of kindness daily.  Just think how different the world would be if our political or even religious leaders didn’t act like bullies, but instead always acted out of love, understanding and tolerance. It would be a very different world. A world living together in peace.

So what is my point simply put? Seymour Miller & Jill Jackson, a husband and wife songwriting team, say it much better than I could when they wrote the 1955 song, “Let There Be Peace on Earth,  with those beautiful words, ” Let there be peace on earth, And let it begin with me”. Peace begins with you and me!