Is Democracy Broken?

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

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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.

These Pathogens Have Not Been Eradicated?

A commentary on the state of our world.

A Pow Wow my wife and I attended two years ago.

Last week my wife, a friend, and I attended an event called, “Meet the Inuit.” It was a series of talks by Inuit, Metis and Indigenous speakers, along with cultural performances. Many speakers said things that caught my attention. One Indigenous speaker talked about the clash of two cultures; Indigenous, Inuit, and Metis cultures verses European culture.

This made sense to me. Indigenous culture is present orientated—time conscious without clocks—whereas European Canadians are future oriented—time conscious with clocks. Indigenous Canadians (likely all Indigenous peoples) share their possessions freely—at least traditionally,  cooperate, are spiritual, and live in harmony with nature whereas European Canadians are savers and hoarders, compete for goods, driven by capitalism, and try to conquer nature. The world views of these two groups are vastly different.

Some of the speakers shared their experiences in the Residential Schools. It always strikes me when a Residential School survivor speaks of being taken away from their parents at ages 4 or 5, given haircuts and new clothes, told never to speak their native tongue, kept from their siblings who were attending the same school, and forced to stay several years in an unwelcoming large building. One speaker even told us how his brother literally was taken off the street by government agents without his parents being informed. His parents thought his brother had gone  missing.

CBC News has an article titled, Genocide against Indigenous Peoples, reports that the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg, Manitoba, now deems the treatment of Indigenous Peoples in Canada a genocide. Previously, the museum had said Indigenous Peoples faced cultural genocide rather than genocide.

The United Nations’ convention on Genocide (1948) says a genocide is:

  1. causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group
  2. deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part
  3. forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

As The Star’s article, Cultural genocide?  says;

Canada did not pack Indigenous people onto train cars and send them to be gassed, or march them into fields and execute them with machine-gun fire. However, our country committed not “cultural” genocide, but just regular genocide.

We forcibly took children from families — sometimes at gunpoint — and flew them to remote locations they could not escape — sometimes in tiny handcuffs — where they were submitted to a program of forced labour and “education” designed to destroy their cultures and civilizations. This desire to destroy cultures seems to be the reasoning for various public figures’ use of the adjective “cultural” before genocide. The other reason, I presume, is that some cling tightly — and childishly — to the idea that Canada has always been on the side of goodness and justice, and they find it very hard to accept, admit, and announce that we are a country that committed a program of genocide that lasted for many decades.

Results of Rwandan Genocide

Let’s call “a spade a spade.” Canada committed genocide against our Indigenous, Inuit and Metis people; a genocide no different than the ones committed by Nazi Germany during WWII, or Rwanda in 1990s.  I must confess, I was one of those Canadians that held to the idea that Canada has always been on the side of goodness and justice. I no longer think that, and I now recognize that Canada has a dark past. Let us not forget the Japanese Internment during WWII; another dark part of our history.

One of the Indigenous speakers talked about how our greatest hurdles come from within. He spoke about what he called, The Six Social Pathogens.

Merriam-Webster defines a pathogen as a specific causative agent of disease. It typically refers to a bacterium or virus, but in the context of the speaker, a pathogen is a causative agent of the disease of racism. The six pathogens are: assumptions, presumptions, stereotyping, profiling, bias (for, or against), and misappropriation of feelings. This speaker says everyone—whether we’re aware of it or not—has some or all of the for mentioned pathogens working within us.

Before I go any further, let’s define the six pathogens. An assumption refers to something that is accepted as true without proof, whereas a presumption refers to an idea that is considered to be true on the basis of probability. Stereotyping is a set idea that people have about what a person, or group of people, are like. Profiling is the act of suspecting or targeting a person on the basis of observed characteristics or behaviour. A bias is a particular tendency, trend, inclination, feeling, or opinion, especially one that is preconceived or unreasoned.  Misappropriation means to put to a wrong use, so misappropriation of feelings is putting our feelings to a wrong use.

These six pathogens don’t just apply to attitudes towards the Indigenous, Metis, and Inuit people. They can apply to any group. As I observe what is happening in my country and the world, I would argue that these pathogens are presently very active. A Statistics Canada report in 2016 (the latest statistics I could find), revealed that the number of violent hate crimes rose 16% from the previous year, driven by increases in common assault, criminal harassment and uttering threats.” A 2014 Statistics Canada report found that, in two-thirds of cases, victims of crimes don’t report these hate crimes to the police.

As long as these six pathogens are alive and active, and there is a “us verses them” attitude, racism, prejudices, hate crimes, and so on, will continue. As long as we identify with a tribe instead of the human race, there will be conflict. As long as Christians, or Jews, or Hindus, or Muslims, or Buddhists think their faith is the right faith, there will be religious conflict. As long as there is masculism, there will be feminism. As long as feminist seeks to promote the rights and equality of women—which they should—and see themselves as equal with men, there will be misogyny, which is the disrespect and oppression of women.

As long as conservatives, as opposed to liberals, think their philosophy is best, there will be political tensions. As long as there are people who believe in “White Supremacy,” there will be racism and hate crimes. As long as there is ethnocentrism—The Cultural Superiority Complex, there will be anti-immigration. I could go on and on. Neale Donald Walsch, in one of his Conversations With God books, said, “Your way is not the only way. It’s just a way.”  We humans need to integrate that. Unless humans are willing to understand and accept differences, our planet is headed down a dark path.

Now, I had to ask myself: Do I have these pathogens? When I thought about it, and was completely honest with myself, the answer is yes. Have I made assumptions, or presumptions? Yes. I once believed Christianity was the superior religion. Did I stereotype? Yes. I once thought that people living on the streets were just too lazy to get a job. Did I profile? Yes. I targeted “unique” individuals in high school. Did I have biases. Yes. I had preconceived ideas about Indigenous people—they were lazy, drunks, etc.—until I educated myself. Were my feelings misappropriated? Yes.  I had my opinions about the LGBT community until I got to know some of their members. I would judge people based on first impressions, when I knew nothing about them, or knew anything about their story. In other words, I didn’t follow the Muslim proverb:  To understand a man, you’ve got to walk a mile in his shoes, whether they fit or not. Other variations of this proverb are: walk a mile in someone else’s moccasins, put oneself in another’s shoes, put oneself in another’s place, walk a mile in someone else’s shoes, and see the world through someone else’s eyes. Now, I try to do this; I try and  understand others and avoid judging them. I’m not saying I’m always successful, but I try.  If humanity did the same, perhaps our planet would be in a better place.

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.

Should We Be Worried?

A commentary on the rise of bigotry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Times Have Changed

A reflection on the changing world

An outhouse like my parents used

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Could Travelling Abroad Make a Better World?

A Commentary on the benefits of traveling

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

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

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

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

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

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

Giant’s Causeway, N. Ireland

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

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

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

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

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

Edinburgh, Scotland

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love You Forever

Europe, here we come!

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

The following is how Munsch’s story begins:

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

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

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

Later in the book it reads:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’ll sign off with an Irish drinking toast

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