Not Even a Pandemic Stops Bullying

NetFlix docuseries Pandemic

As citizens of the world isolate themselves, and most of the world has come to a halt because of COVID-19 or Coronavirus, I had some hope for the future. Why, you ask? Because if ever there was a time, since World War II, that the world must come together to stop a threat, it is now.

The reality is, this virus, known as COVID-19, does not discriminate. It does not discriminate based on whether an individual is male or female. It doesn’t choose its victims based on a person’s age, race, sexual orientation, religious beliefs, or social standing. It does not matter to the virus whether you belong to a Royal family, a wealthy family, middle class family, or a poverty-stricken family. Nor does it discriminate based on whether you’re a celebrity, a politician, a CEO of a corporation, a professional, or tradesperson.  The truth is, if you are a human being, you qualify.

Yet, I naively thought that we humans would realize (during a crisis never experienced by anyone presently living) that all of us are human brothers and sisters, and that we are all in the same boat. I thought it would motivate humans to start behaving more kindly and compassionate to one another. Don’t get me wrong, many on the planet are. But still bullying and racism continue, even when the world is in crisis. People and Forbes magazines both report that countries worldwide are reporting an increase in assaults against citizens of Asian descent. People’s article, Racist Attacks Against Asians Continue to Rise as the Coronavirus Threat Grows, tells of a Chinese fencing student who was viciously assaulted in Australia, how a student from Singapore was attacked in London by four men shouting ‘I Don’t Want Your Coronavirus in my country,’ and how a Los Angeles high school student was attacked after bullies accused him of having the virus. It lists other examples. Clearly, many in the human family fail to see one another as brothers and sisters.

There is a letter in the Parksville Qualicum Beach News, a newspaper in the Canadian province of British Columbia titled, Adults are a primary cause of bullying behaviour among children, where the authors say:

One only has to really look around to see and realize that bullying exists, every day, in all age groups. Bullying is a constant in our society and it is about exerting or trying to exert power over those who are vulnerable or in positions with less or no power. It seems to be acceptable for adults to bully in their daily dealings and interactions. Corporations and government at all levels pay lip service to preventative programs. Programs need to be geared to adults as well as youth and children.

Children learn by observing the behaviours of their parents. They mimic those behaviours and take those behaviours and beliefs on as their own. If their parents/society demonstrate bullying behaviours and those behaviours/ beliefs/attitudes are deemed acceptable, then the child will think that they too can get away with those behaviours. They become the norm.

This is exactly right. We are born innocent and pure. We are born without the tendency to bully. Bullying is a learned behaviour, so I agree completely, adults are to blame when children or young people bully.

The letter also says; “The activities of the U.S. president Donald Trump are a blatant example of bullying,” which is exactly right. In my last post I revealed how the U.S. president was referring to COVID-19 as the “Chinese virus,” claiming he does this because it was where the pandemic had its roots. What he is really doing is laying blame on Chinese people and encouraging racial bullying against people of Chinese or Asian descent. Racial bullying is a type of racism where someone’s bullying focuses on your race, ethnicity, or culture.

I saw a meme on Facebook that said, “It kind of feels like the universe has sent us to our rooms to think about what we’ve done.” The world is being stilled, just as it says in Psalm 46:10 of the Christian scriptures, “Be still and know that I am God.”  Maybe it is a reminder to all of us that we humans are a family, and we need to be acting as a family. Perhaps it is reminding us of the Golden Rule; “Do unto others, as you would have done to you.”

Perhaps this COVID pandemic is a tool of some higher power bringing about transformation on our planet to a create simpler, kinder, and more caring world. Perhaps the pandemic is lasting a long time because we humans are slow learners. Anthon St. Maarten, an inspirational speaker from the Netherlands, says; “Many of us dream of a better, safer, more caring world, without recognizing that it all begins with creating and maintaining a deeper love in our own home. The seeds of world peace should be planted in our own backyard.”  Mohandas K. Gandhi says it best when he said, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” Maybe that is what this virus is trying to teach the world, and more specifically each of us. The change has to start with you and me.

The Two Faces of a Pandemic

A commentary on the current pandemic

The NetFlix docuseries Pandemic

As I watch the world literally shut down because of the virus known as COVID-19, and as my wife and I are practicing “social distancing” by self-isolating in our home, I can observe and reflect on the world’s new reality.  American author, J Lynn, says, “Sometimes when things are falling apart, they may actually be falling into place,” or American singer-songwriter, Morgan Harper Nichols who says, “Going through things you never thought you’d go through, will only take you places you’d never thought you’d get to.” Perhaps this is what is happening. This COVID-19 pandemic may involve forces we don’t understand that are taking the world in a new direction. My wife and I call it a “reset.”

I been  feeling like the world is out of control for a while now. Democracy in its present form is failing us. Corporate greed is irreparably damaging the planet. Racism and hate are on the rise. I could go on and on.

Tough times—presently the COVID-19 virus—can bring out the best in people, and the worst in people. I witnessed and read about both. First, the worst in people.

A personal example is recently a parent asked our great nieces to stop at the grocery store on the way home from school to pick up some milk. It just so happened that they got the last jug. Three ladies with their carts stocked piled with various products followed them around the store, calling them selfish. They were traumatized by the experience and refused to ever go back during this pandemic.

Barbara Coloroso,  an international bestselling author says this about bullying:

Bullying is not about anger, it’s about contempt, a powerful feeling of dislike toward somebody considered to be worthless, inferior, and undeserving of respect…

These three selfish ladies were feeling contempt towards our nieces because they were not able to get the last jug of milk. They likely—I’m speculating—considered two teenagers to be inferior and undeserving of their respect. The Japan Times has an news report titled, Japan sees rise in harassment, bullying and discrimination linked to COVID-19, so bullying is occurring as a result of this pandemic.

The HuffPost article, Forced To Finally Take Coronavirus Seriously, Trump Turns To Racism, reports that after months of properly referring to the virus as Coronavirus or COVID-19, the U. S. president is now insisting on calling it the “Chinese virus.” Trump claims he does this because it is where the pandemic has its roots, but what he is really doing is laying blame on Chinese people and encouraging prejudice and violence against people of Chinese or Asian descent. The American leader is promoting hatred, racism, and bullying. Is racism bullying, you ask?

Childline, based in London, England, is a confidential service for children, says this about bullying and racism.

Racial bullying is a type of racism where someone’s bullying focuses on your race, ethnicity, or culture. Racism and racist bullying can include:

  • being called racist names or being sent insulting messages or threats
  • having your belongings damaged or having to see racist graffiti
  • personal attacks, including violence or assault
  • being left out, treated differently or excluded
  • people making assumptions about you because of your colour, race or culture
  • being made to feel like you have to change how you look
  • racist jokes, including jokes about your colour, nationality race or culture.

What Trump is doing is shamefully encouraging people to be exclusive of Asians and to treat Asians differently. Racism is bullying!

I have also observed that this pandemic is doing wonderful things. China and Italy’s pollution have drastically lessoned. (see CBC News). Fish and dolphins have returned to Venice’s canals because of halted tourism (see Venice). Italians sing from their balconies during pandemic lockdown (see Singing). People are posting all sorts humorous memes (see example below) to uplift people’s spirits, and posting creative ways to de-stress during this difficult time.  I could go on.

What I find most interesting during this difficult time in history, is people’s attitudes seem to be shifting. I’ve heard people say, “I feel relief and less stressed now that my commitments are gone.” One person told my wife that she has never felt better now that she isn’t working because of social distancing.  People seem to be coming to the realization that maybe their lives have been out of control, and this pandemic is forcing them to slow down. The world was required to “be still” as the Christian scriptures say, “Be still and know that I am God” in Psalm 46:10. Many in the world are beginning to see all humans as a family, saying things like, “We’re all in this together,” and “We all must do our part to prevent overwhelming our health care systems.” Humanity is reaching out to one another.

For example, people are making posts of encouragement. I just read this one:

This too shall pass. I just wanted to take a moment today to remind everyone that storms do end and nothing lasts forever. Things may get worse before they get better, but as a world we will get through this crisis together and emerge stronger because of it. This is a time to demonstrate our capacity to come together to help, care for, and support one another.  We can use these struggles to reforge our faith in one another and prove to ourselves our capacity to tackle difficult global challenges collaboratively. Like our ancestors before us did after the wars, we can use this humbling situation as a catalyst for new grow and new direction for the century to come.

Perhaps this is the silver lining! Perhaps this pandemic is transforming the world into one that is simpler, kinder, and more caring. Let’s hope so.

Leadership and Influence

A commentary on how much leaders empower their followers

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

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

The news article sites examples such as:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An article titled, Influence and Leadership, says:

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

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

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

Does Religious Bullying Occur?

A commentary on Religious Bullying

The National Post recently had an article titled, Christian school expels student who posed with rainbow birthday cake outside class, which reported that Whitefield Academy in Louisville, Kentucky, a private school, revealed it would expel students for living a lifestyle that does not align with Christian beliefs, and apparently that is exactly what they did. This Kentucky Christian school expelled a student after officials found a picture of her posing with a rainbow birthday cake. In the photo, the student of the Academy wears a long-sleeve sweater, with a rainbow on it, and she is sitting in front of a rainbow-coloured cake. For those who may not know, the rainbow is associated with LGBTQ pride. The Academy sent an email to the family outlining that the offending student, their child, showed “a posture of morality and cultural acceptance contrary to that of Whitefield Academy’s beliefs,” and the photo was the last straw in a series of “lifestyle violations.” Some Christian groups reject people who identify as LGBTQ. The mother of the student says that her daughter is not gay, not that it matters.

Rainbow flag  (Photo credit PEDRO ARMESTRE/AFP/GettyImages)

Stories like these infuriate me! Why? Because this student attending Whitefield Academy is a victim of bullying.  Legal Match defines bullying as “the use of intimidation to achieve a state of dominance over another person. Bullying can involve conduct such as, threats, force, coercion, aggressive or offensive behaviour.” The Kentucky student is being forced to change her ways, or risk being expelled from the school she chose to attend. That means the student was bullied! This is the use of coercion, or intimidation, so the school can achieve dominance over their students; to force students to comply with their belief system. That means they are bulling. Let’s call this what it is. This is religious bullying. The W. Y. Alice Chan website says “religious bullying occurs when a religious…person chooses to intentionally or unintentionally degrade another person emotionally, mentally, or physically based on: the bullied individual’s actual or perceived religious…identity, or the doctrines or practices of their belief.” In short, degrading another because someone’s religious beliefs do not align with theirs.

What is this type of behaviour really about? This is yet another story about intolerance, cold-heartedness, and exclusiveness of another.  American political activist, Rabbi Lerner, calls this ‘desanctification’, which is not being able to see the divine in the other. French philosopher, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin called it “dehumanization,” which is not being able to see the humanity in the other.

Barbara Coloroso  is an international bestselling author and is an internationally recognized speaker and consultant on parenting, teaching, school discipline, positive school climate, bullying, cyber bullying, grieving, nonviolent conflict resolution and restorative justice. I’ve never had the honour of hearing her speak, but some of my colleagues have. In her book, The Bully, The Bullied, and the Bystander, she says,

 Bullying is not about anger, it’s about contempt, a powerful feeling of dislike toward somebody considered to be worthless, inferior, and undeserving of respect. Contempt comes with three apparent psychological advantages that allow kids [or adults] to harm others without feeling empathy, compassion or shame. These are: a sense of entitlement, that they have the right to hurt or control others, an intolerance towards difference, and a freedom to exclude, bar, isolate and segregate others.

I like the way Ms. Coloroso defines bullying, and it applies to this story. The private Christian school is showing a powerful dislike toward the LGBTQ community and this student because she is perceived as being connected to the community. The community seems to be “considered to be worthless, inferior, and undeserving of respect.” The school appears to think it has the right “to harm others without feeling empathy, compassion or shame.”  It appears the school has “a sense of entitlement, that they have the right to hurt or control others, an intolerance towards difference, and a freedom to exclude, bar, isolate and segregate others.”  By all definitions, the school is bullying. Just because someone has different beliefs, or disagrees with your beliefs, doesn’t make their victims any less human. Every human deserves respect, regardless of what they may believe.

In fact, this is the stand of the United Nations (UN). In the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, it says in Article 1:

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

Article 2 states,

Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status…

As I said in my last post, there is a very simple solution to bullying, and that is the Golden Rule, which says, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Ironically, there are 6 scripture texts in Christian scripture that say this in one way or another. They are Matthew 7:12, Luke 6:31, Matthew 22:39-40, Mark 12:31, Romans 13:8-9, and Galatians 5:24. In my view, the behaviour of the Academy is unchristian, and hypocritical, since Christians are supposed to emulate Jesus Christ. Jesus was one of the most tolerant, understanding and accepting people ever, as Christian scripture says Jesus ate with many tax collectors and sinners (Mark 2:15). Tax collectors in biblical times were Jews who worked for the hated Romans. They were seen as traitors who enriched themselves at the expense of their fellow Jews. So, for Jesus to eat with them was a big deal. If every person lived by this simple rule, bullying would stop. It would make for a better world.

Has the True Message of Christmas Been Lost?

A commentary on the Christmas message.

from http://www.shutterfly.com/

A saying often seen on Christmas cards is, “Rejoice! Rejoice! Rejoice in the birth of the Lord – for unto us a child is given this night to bring peace and love to all [hu]mankind.” Another is a quote from Luke 2:13-14 from the Christian scriptures which says, “And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” Peace and Goodwill is a message we hear every Christmas season. New Year’s greetings often involve a wish for peace,  examples being, “Wishing you a New Year filled with peace, prosperity and good fortune,” or “May the New Year bring joy, peace and happiness to you and your family.”

Yet, despite the fact that we are in a Christmas  and New Years season with its message of peace and goodwill, we see stories of intolerance, cold-heartedness, and rejection.  On December 23, 2019, two days before Christmas, the headline, 11-Year-Old Vegan Ordered To Eat Grass By School Bullies appeared on my newsfeed.

The story describes how bullies rammed a tuna melt into a Archbishop Ilsley Catholic School student’s face, and then told the 11-year-old to eat grass. According to the victim’s parents, their son has faced torment in the Acocks Green, Birmingham, England school because he doesn’t eat animal products; in other words, chooses to be vegan. The victim’s dad says “It’s got so bad he [the victim] is now pretending to be ill just to avoid school.”

This story shows intolerance, cold-heartedness, and exclusiveness of another. It is a sad example that shows what the Christmas and New Years message of “Peace and Goodwill” is not. In order for peace to occur, there must be tolerance, understanding and acceptance. Without these three things, peace is impossible in my view.  Cambridge Dictionary defines tolerance as willingness to accept behaviour and beliefs that are different from their own. Understanding a person, according to Cambridge Dictionary, is when a person has the ability to know how other people are feeling; in other words, they have empathy.  Acceptance of a person is the act of agreeing to a person belonging to your group as an equal. Peace occurs when differences of any kind are accepted, and it is understood others think and do things differently. To quote Neal Donald Walsch; “My way is not the only way. It is just a way.”

A common expression I hear during the Christmas season is, “Jesus Is the Reason For The Season,” which is correct since Christmas is a celebration of  Jesus’ birth. Since this bullying occurred in a Catholic School, it should be safe to say the bullies were familiar with the Christmas message.

from thecatholicrealist.com

Jesus was one of the most tolerant, understanding and accepting people ever. In Luke 15:2 of the Christian scriptures, Jesus drew anger of the scribes and Pharisees for eating with sinners and outlaws. In Luke 7:34, Jesus is accused of being “a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.” The tax collectors in Biblical times were Jews who worked for the despised Romans, as tax collectors were seen as traitors to their own citizens. Matthew 9:9-13 tells the story of Jesus calling Matthew the tax collector to be his disciple. In Mark 2:15 Jesus sits at table with many tax collectors and sinners. Luke 5:32 describes how the scribes and Pharisees grumble about the company Jesus keeps. Jesus tells them that he has “not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”  Clearly, Jesus was tolerant, understanding and accepting of everyone.

The truth is, I am baffled. I am trying to understand how a Christian festival that has been celebrated for thousands of years; a festival that celebrates a child who is said to bring peace and love to all humankind, and yet we continue to have a pervasiveness of intolerance, cold-heartedness, and exclusivity in our world. Has Christianity failed with its message of love, tolerance, acceptance and understanding? Has the message been lost? Has humanity failed to understand the Christmas message? All I know, is something has gone wrong.

The reality is, rejection of others comes from a place of fear. It is a fear of difference, change, or the unfamiliar. The article, Accepting Other Peoples Differences, says many people are fearful of others because they’re not sure how to go about communicating with those who differ from them. They fear that their own little ‘cocoon of protection’ might be threatened. To say it another way, they make the mistake of believing that others’ viewpoints and opinions might threaten their way of thinking and acting . Every person’s culture, values, uniqueness, and viewpoints deserves respect even if we don’t understand or agree with it.

Jesus commands in John 13:34, “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”  When we “love one another” we are tolerant and understanding of others, and we accept them with all their differences. That is the Christmas and New Years message that seems to have been lost because of fear. I long for the true meaning of Christmas to return, and be understood. Perhaps this year your New Years resolution should be to practice tolerance, acceptance and understanding, and to teach your children to do the same.

Remembrance Day, a Day to Yearn for Peace

A commentary on war and peace.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Was I One Those Teachers Who Smothered Creativity, or Indoctrinated Children?

A commentary on our education system.

Several months ago, a news article came across one of my news feeds titled, We are born creative geniuses and the education system dumbs us down, according to NASA scientists. My immediate reaction was: No way was I a part of a system that “dumbs down” kids. I made them smarter. The truth was, this headline disturbed me, and when I first saw it, I ignored it and never bothered to read it, thinking I’ll read it some time later. Well, later is here, and I read the article. Here is the jest of the article.

Scientists gave a test that looks at the ability to come up with new, different, and innovative ideas to 1,600 children between the ages of 4 and 5. What they found was that 98 percent of children fell into the genius category of imagination?  The scientists were so astonished that they decided to make it a longer study and tested the children again five years later when they were ten years old. The result? Only 30 % of the children fell in the genius category of imagination. When the test was given at the age 15, the figure had dropped to 12%. Curious about adults, they tested them as well. Shockingly, only 2% of adults are still in contact with their creative genius after years of schooling.

The results were replicated more than a million times, implying that the school system robs us of our creative genius. That is especially disturbing to me because that means I played a part in it. I was a school teacher for 35 years. I had to ask myself: Did I really “dumb down” kids? I refused to believe it, but these results suggest otherwise. This bothered me, so I set out to prove otherwise.

The Huffpost’s article, How Schools Are Killing Creativity, says this about schools.

You were bullied, made fun of, and you had this teacher that told you to stop dreaming and live in reality. So what did you learn at school? You learned to stop questioning the world, to go with the flow, and that there’s only one right answer to each question. The “whys” you have always wanted to ask are never on the test, and they are omitted from the curriculum.

I had to admit, there is a lot of truth in that. I taught in a system that gave standardized tests which counted 50% of the student’s final mark. My focus as a teacher was preparing students for the government test, so I’ll be honest, all creativity went out the window. We didn’t have time to create and look at a diversity of viewpoints. We taught only what we had to in order to  prepare students for the test.

Benjamin Greene, founder of Britain’s biggest brewery says, “The biggest atrocity of all is to indoctrinate our children into a system that does not value their creative expression, nor encourage their unique abilities.”  I would have to agree, and sadly, I had to admit I may have contributed to it.

During my research, I came across numerous articles suggesting that our school systems indoctrinate children. This was even more disturbing to me, as in my mind, there was no way I was a part of a system that indoctrinated kids. I was preparing them for life and the “real world.”  Was I naive?

Most dictionaries define indoctrination as, “The process of teaching a person or group to accept a set of beliefs uncritically.” American Journalist and author, Peter Hitchens said, “Is there any point in public debate in a society where hardly anyone has been taught how to think, while millions have been taught what to think?” Do our education systems teach children what to think? Having been in the education business, I would have to say yes.

Curriculum presents a point of view, and even though we as teachers try to teach kids to think critically, they are reluctant to do so. Students resist thinking critically, unless forced to, and with standardized tests, they didn’t have to for most part. Richard Dawkins, in his book, The God Delusion said, “Do not indoctrinate your children. Teach them how to think for themselves, how to evaluate evidence, and how to disagree with you.” I must agree. I believe we as an educational system have failed to teach our students how to think for themselves, or at least do it well. Instead we teach them “facts” to learn for a test.

American astrophysicist, Neil deGrasse Tyson said, “When Students cheat on exams it’s because our School System values grades more than Students value learning.”  Therein lies the flaw with the education system. There were thousands of times during my career when students would say to me, “Just tell me what I need to know for the test.”

American journalist, H.L. Mencken said, “The aim of public education is not to spread enlightenment at all; it is simply to reduce as many individuals as possible to the same safe level, to breed a standard citizenry, to put down dissent and originality.”  Are we teaching kids to be submissive? If we are, I am troubled!

I taught in the Catholic School System, and so I had to ask: Do Catholic schools indoctrinate? Catholic Answers’ article, In Defense of Indoctrination, does not hesitate to admit that Catholic schools indoctrinate, for it states:

…indoctrination itself is not wrong, because children have to be taught something in order to grow up to be functional members of society. The question is, what should they be taught? This means that Catholics and other Christians should have the right teach their children about God and his moral law without being unfairly labeled as practitioners of “indoctrination.”

Maclean’s article, Why are schools brainwashing our children? maintains that education systems in the Western world are “brainwashing” young children to be social activists, saying,

Increasingly, faculties of education in Canada and much of the Western world are preparing their student teachers to weave social justice throughout the primary school curriculum…as well as into a range of cross-curricular activities, events, and projects. The idea is to encourage kids to become critical analysts of contemporary issues, empathetic defenders of human rights and gatekeepers of the beleaguered Earth.

Is that a bad thing? Depends who you ask.  An article by The Federalist, says,

Many people have long suspected that governments sometimes attempt to indoctrinate their people to increase the government’s own power and influence. Unfortunately, ambitious governments will not stop at merely controlling what their people can do; they must control their minds.

The article goes on to say,

Few people seem to have a clear definition of indoctrination, and thus call anything they dislike indoctrination (e.g., “Leftists professors are indoctrinating their students,” “Those fundamentalist Christians are indoctrinating their kids,” or “Facebook is indoctrinating its users.”).

What is the solution to indoctrination then?  This same article states:

The only real solution to indoctrination, then, is good teachers. Good teachers (which include parents, mentors, and other knowledgeable adults) train students in methods of thought while supplying the stuff of thought. They teach a person to evaluate an argument properly, find actual solutions to problems, and determine what is true and what is false.

I tried to be one of those teachers, and it’s true! Most of the articles related to indoctrination and the education system are critical of the system’s use of a LGBQT Inclusive Curriculum, or promotion of a liberal agenda, or a conservative one, or a sex-education curriculum that they believed promoted promiscuity, and on and on. All maintained that the school system is indoctrinating children. According to the definition of indoctrination, they are. The reality is, you cannot remove viewpoints from school systems, as every curriculum designer, and every teacher has their point of view.  Is that Good? Depends on your perspective.

As far as I am concerned, if teachers are ‘indoctrinating’ kids to stand up for human rights and to protect the planet, then I am proud that I was one of those teachers. I say bravo to the teachers who do so. If our educational systems are stifling creativity and teaching kids to be submissive, then shame on them. As The Federalist article says, teachers must be allowed to teach their students “to evaluate an argument properly, find actual solutions to problems, and determine what is true and what is false.”