My New Years Resolution – No More News

new-year-clipart-best-free-happy-new-year-borders-clip-artOn January 6, 2017, my wife and I along with our three wonderful children flew back from Mexico after spending Christmas and New Years at a resort. It was paradise with its long ocean beaches, good food, 25 degree Celsius or better temperatures and quality family time. There was time to relax, reflect and forget about everything. I didn’t check my phone once which meant I was totally out of touch with world events.

When we arrived back home, I thought I should check the news to see what is happening in the world. When I did I saw headlines such as;

  • At least 5 dead, 8 hospitalized after shooting at Ft. Lauderdale airport
  • U.S. allies warn of “new level of threat” from North Korea
  • Hundreds arrested, police officer killed in Mexico gas price protests
  • Brazil gang kills 31, many hacked to death, as prison violence explodes
  • Rapes and violence continue in Germany in first week of 2017

What a “downer” it was to read these headlines after spending two weeks in paradise away from reality.

New Year’s Eve was wonderful at our resort. The Mexicans know how to throw a good New Year’s Eve party. The hundreds of people attending the party were festive, cheerful and the room had a wonderful energy; an energy I would describe as optimism and hope.

Whenever a new year concludes people start to tell you about their new year’s resolutions. Now I have to admit, in the past I haven’t been much into the new year’s resolution hullabaloo. When I practiced partaking in new year’s resolutions, like most people, I would start off the year doing my best to honour my new year’s resolution but by the end of January I’d “throw it out the window”.  Resolutions were just too much effort. I would ultimately come to the conclusion that New Year’s resolutions were just a ridiculous ritual.

Where did the idea of New Year’s resolutions even come from? Is it practiced in all countries? I was curious so I looked it up. According to Wikipedia, a New Year’s resolution is when a person resolves to change an undesired trait or behaviour. It is a tradition that is most common in the Western Hemisphere but also found in the Eastern Hemisphere. It is believed to have started with the ancient Babylonians some 4,000 years ago. They were also the first to hold recorded celebrations in honour of the New Year, however for them the year began not in January but in mid-March when the crops were planted.

This year I feel different. This year I am taking on a new year’s resolution. That resolution is to watch less news. I’m not convinced I can stop “cold turkey”.  Why you ask? The answer is simple. The news is depressing. The news media for the most part report the stories of tragedy and sorrow; news stories that cause anxiety.  Now I’ve been told (I don’t remember who) that the mind is like a computer. What goes in is what comes out. So, if that is true and we are constantly filling our minds with tragedy and sorrow, then we become more and more anxious and fearful.

fight-or-flightAccording to Wikipedia, when we start to feel excessive anxiety we’re in trouble. Our bodies never turn off our fight, flight or freeze response. As a former biology teacher, I can tell you that chronic stress, or when the body is in flight or fight mode over a prolonged period of time, can contribute to long-term problems for heart and blood vessels. Specifically, a raised heart rate causes hypertension (high blood pressure) which puts you at higher risk of having a stroke or heart attack. Maybe this is why according to the America Heart Association one of every three deaths in the U.S. in 2013 were from heart disease, stroke and other cardiovascular diseases. According to the Government of Canada cardiovascular disease  is the second leading cause of death in Canada.

Napoleon Hill was an American new thought author who is well known for his book, Think and Grow Rich. Mr. Hill once said,

“Our minds become magnetized with the dominating thoughts we hold in our minds and these magnets attract to us the forces, the people, the circumstances of life which harmonize with the nature of our dominating thoughts.”

Napoleon Hill would likely say that if you’re watching stories that causes your thoughts to be negative and fearful, then that is what becomes your dominating thoughts.   Karen Marie Moning, an American author, seems to agree as she says:

“Who and what we surround ourselves with is who and what we become. In the midst of good people, it is easy to be good. in the midst of bad people, it is easy to be bad.”

If we surround ourselves with “negative news” then we become negative, anxious and fearful. So for me, if watching less negative news makes me feel more positive, optimistic and joyful, then it is worth it. It is so easy to get caught up in the negativity in the world that our minds start to tell us that the world is falling apart; that the world is going to hell; that the world is a “bad” place. I’ve never believed that the world is a horrible place to be. I’ve written about that in previous posts. Anytime I’ve travelled, I’ve met wonderful people who are happy. Our recent trip to Mexico reminded me of that once again. The Mexicans we met were wonderful people. They were joyful, helpful, kind and generous.

The Huffington Post has a news story called, Former Reporter Poses The question we must all ask ourselves about negative news. The story is about Michelle Gielan who was working as a local and national news reporter who covered numerous heartbreaking stories. In all her years as a television journalist, one particular story stuck out and made her question everything about how tragedy is covered in the media. Gielan was assigned to cover the funeral of a young girl who had been an innocent bystander caught up in deadly gang violence in Chicago. A week later, Gielan was covering the young girl’s funeral. That is when the reporter had an epiphany. “It was just beautiful,” she says. “We could talk about the fact that there’s pain and tragedy here, but there’s also hope and optimism and resilience… One story leaves us activated. The other leaves us paralyzed.” It is the elevation of positive news stories and hope, she continues, that holds true power. “What would happen if we talked about that stuff on the news?” Gielan asks. “How would that transform the community? How would that transform the world?” I would encourage you to read the story. Michelle Gielan has since left her job as a reporter and is now a positive psychology researcher.

If the media is going to continue to report on “pain and tragedy” then I choose to no longer watch it. If enough of us make that choice, then maybe, just maybe the news media will change their approach. They can still cover the same stories, but focus on “hope and the optimism”. It’s just a different way of looking at the story. Until then, it very little news for me.

Ignorance, Fear, Hate. What about Love?

A commentary on the effects of fear on society.

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From Fox News

CNN.com reports in their article, ‘Make America White Again’: Hate speech and crimes post-election, that there has been a stark increase in hate crimes against minorities. The article says, while Trump has been accused of fostering xenophobia (fear of people from other countries) and Islamophobia (fear of Muslims), some people have used his words as justification to carry out hateful crimes. Since Trump’s election there have been incidents of racist or anti-Semitic, pro-Trump graffiti along with threats or attacks against Muslims. Graffiti such as, ‘Trump,’ ‘Whites only,’ and ‘White America’ have shown up in high schools. Graffiti written on a wall in Durham, North Carolina said, “Black lives don’t matter and neither does your votes.” In the state of NY ‘Make America White Again’ was written in a softball dugout. This is just a sampling of the post-election happenings. CTV News reports a story that occurred at Royal Oak Middle School the day after Trump won the election where students chanted “build the wall”  in the school cafeteria, a reference to President-elect Donald Trump’s call for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. That’s not even mentioning the numerous anti-Trump protests that have occurred since election day.

rtx1gzco (1)What has Trump unleashed in America? One could argue that what Trump has unleashed is hatred. Hatred of non-whites. Hatred of immigrants. Hatred of Hispanics. Hatred towards African-Americans. The list goes on. Dictionary.com defines hate as “to dislike intensely or passionately; to feel extreme aversion for or extreme hostility toward; to detest. Graffiti such as, “Make America White Again” seems to suggest there is a hatred of non-whites.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, an American lecturer, poet, and essayist says, “Fear always springs from ignorance.”  Cyril Connolly, a literary critic and writer says, “Hate is the consequence of fear; we fear something before we hate it; a child who fears noises becomes a man who hates noise”. So, one could surmise that ignorance breeds fear. Fear breeds hate. Hate perpetrates harassment and violence. This is likely what is happening in the United States. Donald Trump has tapped into the fears of Americans (fear of Muslims, fear of immigrants, fear of terrorism) and used that fear to propel himself to the office of the presidency.  Now America is witnessing the consequences of that in the form of hate crimes. One might ask, where does the fear come from? The answer to that question, according to Ralph Waldo Emerson is ignorance. Are Americans really that ignorant?

Steffani Cameron is a journalist who was born and raised in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Feeling trapped by the monotony of life, Ms. Cameron sold her belongings for the chance to work remotely while travelling the world for five years. In the first 13 months, she flew 50,000 kilometres and explored 10 countries. After the Trump victory, she wrote an article titled, Why we need to travel more than ever. In her article she says,

In America, today, fewer than 40% of the populace has a passport, and even fewer put it to use. Beyond that, education is crumbling. Secondary education is for the wealthy…Talk to anyone who has traveled the world at length and they’ll often tell you the biggest lesson they learn is how much we have in common rather than what we don’t. But in places like America, where so few people travel outside the borders, they’re more likely to believe what they’re told about “us” and “them”. When they are told who’s a bad guy, that it’s anyone with a different culture, different colour skin, then they’ll latch onto that story, because they’re unexposed to diversity and it’s an alien enemy they can process…When media talks about “Muslim extremism,” it’s easy to convince an under-educated, under-traveled public that it means all Muslims are extreme. They may not know any, so how can they decide differently?

I would encourage you to read her article. I think what Ms. Cameron says is ‘bang on”. I personally can attest to what she says as I have travelled a far bit. I’ve been to Europe three times visiting numerous European countries. I’ve been to the Balkans, Cuba, and Mexico. I’ve also visited various American states. One thing I’ve discovered during my travels is that there are wonderful people everywhere. In my post, Where are all the Good People? and Let the Adventures Begin, I wrote about some of the wonderful people I encountered while travelling.

Here are some experiences I had on our most recent trip to Europe just over a year ago. My wife and I were driving in France from Bayeux to Lievin and on the way, we stopped in the French village of Aumale. While walking around we discovered a market.  Meandering about the market we came across a table with croissants on it so my wife, salivating for one, asked if she could have one.  The lady at the table spoke no English but still understood what my wife had asked, so she responded with “Oui”.  Then the lady points to the coffee urn and says something in French looking at me.  Realizing that she was offering me coffee I excitedly said, “Oui” as I cherish my coffee. This pleasant, welcoming French lady then proceeds to pour my wife a juice.  The people of Aumale were most gracious and hospitable to us, the strangers in town. These wonderful villagers welcomed us with open arms.

ct-photos-eiffel-tower-in-the-french-flag-s-co-006Just before arriving in the wonderful village of Aumale, we were stopped at an intersection. Drivers around us were pointing at our vehicle so we immediately panicked presuming that we had done something illegal or that something was wrong with our vehicle.  Then one man gets out of his car, comes running up to our vehicle and says something in French while pointing down at the car door.  My wife who was driving at the time rolls down the window and to her horror discovers that her coat was hanging out the car door. This kind man had made the effort to alert us to our carelessness.  There are wonderful, caring people everywhere.

Sadly, this fear is spilling over into Canada. Mohsin Zaman of Edmonton, Alberta wrote a post on Facebook where he describes an incident that he personally experienced. He explains that a white male shouted at him, “You’re done, you brown hippie! Trump is going to send your ass home! Don’t matter if you’re in Canada. You just wait!”  I thought that this fear and hate would remain south of the border but I guess that was too much to hope for. It seems that ignorance is prevalent in Canada as well.

Global News reports that residents in the Toronto’s east-end found “ultra right wing” posters that urged white people “tired of political correctness” and “questioning when immigration will stop” to join an online movement. The signs had a headline that reads “Hey, WHITE PERSON” and asked, “wondering why only white countries have to become ‘multicultural’?” Sadly, Canada is not immune to Donald Trump’s rhetoric.

The late John Lennon once said,

“There are two basic motivating forces: fear and love. When we are afraid, we pull back from life. When we are in love, we open to all that life has to offer with passion, excitement, and acceptance. We need to learn to love ourselves first, in all our glory and our imperfections. If we cannot love ourselves, we cannot fully open to our ability to love others or our potential to create. Evolution and all hopes for a better world rest in the fearlessness and open-hearted vision of people who embrace life.”

bryant-mcgill-fear-love-choiceHis wife, Yoko Ono, once said, “The opposite of love is fear, not hate”. The Christian scriptures in 1 John 4:18  it says, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.” Perhaps America needs to learn to love itself with all its diversity of people and its diversity of views.  It seems Canada may need to do the same. We Canadians need to remember the words of former Prime Minister (PM) of Canada and father of our present PM, the late Pierre Trudeau who said.

We must now establish the basic principles, the basic values and beliefs which hold us together as Canadians so that beyond our regional loyalties there is a way of life and a system of values which make us proud of the country that has given us such freedom and such immeasurable joy.

Pierre Trudeau’s vision was one of embracing our diversity. When a country (or person) fully accepts, embraces and loves who they are then people like Donald Trump have no power. What the United States needs is to learn is to love, not fear! Love casts out fear. Love is inclusive. It celebrates diversity. PLEASE don’t get “sucked into” Donald Trump’s toxic xenophobic and Islamophobic rhetoric. There is way more goodness and love in the world than what our American cousins, and apparently some Canadians think. Just check out some of the news on Good News Network and Good News website if you don’t believe me.

We Shall Never Forget!

John 15:13 of the Christian Scriptures says, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Always remember that this is what those who died fighting for our freedoms did.

Sommer Season all year

As I’ve mentioned in my first Remembrance Day post, November 11th is an important day to observe as it marks the anniversary of the official ending of World War I. That war ended on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month thus explaining why Remembrance day is November 11th.  When in France recently, my wife and I visited the Normandy D-Day beaches. In case you don’t know the significance of those beaches, here is a history lesson.

On D-Day, June 6, 1944, “Operation Overlord”, the allied invasion of Nazi-occupied Europe started at 06:30. The target was an 80 kilometre (50-mile) stretch of the Normandy coast, which was divided into five sectors: Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword Beach. The Utah and Omaha sectors would be assaulted by the American Army, Gold and Sword beaches by the British troops and Juno beach by the Canadians. We visited the British, Canadian and American beaches. The success…

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We Shall Remember!

This post was first published on November 6th of last year upon returning from Europe. My wife and I spent time exploring the Normandy Beaches in France and the Vimy Ridge memorial. This was a profound experience for us and has made Remembrance Day that much more important. Never forget this ultimate sacrifice our soldiers made.

Sommer Season all year

November 11th is an important day to observe as it marks the anniversary of the official ending of World War I. That war ended on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month thus explaining why Remembrance day is November 11th. In Canada Remembrance Day is a national holiday and all Commonwealth Nations observe this day as a day to remember the members of their armed forces who have died in the line of duty. For those that don’t know, the Commonwealth is an organization of 53 member states that were mostly territories of the former British Empire, which includes the United Kingdom. The United States has a day of remembrance called Veterans Day, which is an official federal holiday that is observed annually on November 11. Its purpose is to honor people who have served in the U.S. Armed Forces, that is, its veterans. Armistice Day remains the name of…

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Thanksgiving, More Than a Holiday.

A commentary on the meaning of Thanksgiving

thanksgiving-clip-art-thanksgiving-turkey-clipart-4-jpg-jcnrel-clipartOn Monday, October 10, 2016 our family, like most Canadians, celebrated the Canadian Thanksgiving holiday. Thanksgiving is a statutory holiday in most of Canada, with the exceptions being the Atlantic provinces of Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland and Labrador, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia, where it is an optional holiday. In its beginnings Thanksgiving was celebration for a successful harvest but the tradition has changed over the years. Now the focus is to get together with family to eat a large turkey dinner, including stuffing and pumpkin pie for dessert.

The first Thanksgiving Day after Canada’s Confederation was observed as a civic holiday on April 5, 1872. It was to celebrate the recovery of the Prince of Wales, who later became King Edward VII, from a serious illness. It was made official on January 31, 1957, when the Canadian Parliament proclaimed: A Day of General Thanksgiving to Almighty God for the bountiful harvest with which Canada has been blessed, to be observed on the 2nd Monday in October. During and after the American Revolution, Americans who remained loyal to Great Britain moved from United States to Canada. They brought with them the customs and practices of the American Thanksgiving, such as the turkey, pumpkin, and squash.

Thanksgiving in the United States is a public holiday, celebrated on the fourth Thursday in November by all 50 states. Americans commonly trace the Thanksgiving holiday to a 1621 celebration at the Plymouth Plantation, where the settlers held a harvest feast after a successful growing season. It has been celebrated as a federal holiday every year since 1863, due to President Abraham Lincoln’s proclamation declaring it as a national day of “Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens,” to be celebrated on the last Thursday in November.

An interesting difference between Canada and the US is that in America, Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, is one of their biggest shopping days.  Black Friday has been regarded as the beginning of the Christmas shopping season with stores offering many items on sale. That is not the case in Canada although we are starting to see retail outlets offer Black Friday sales in Canada. For Canadians, the holiday Monday means it’s a long weekend and shopping isn’t an essential part of it. Canada’s biggest shopping day of the year is December 26, Boxing Day, the day after Christmas.

Every thanksgiving, barring the occasional exception, we gather as a family to eat our turkey with stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, carrots harvested from my garden, and turnips. The meal always finishes with pumpkin pie. Before we eat our delicious meal each family member takes turns sharing with one another at least five things we are thankful for. We have done this since our three children were little. Sometimes they would complain becoming impatient since they were hungry. My wife and I had a policy that if we heard complaining, our children would have to share more than the required number of “thankfuls”. One year when our eldest daughter was in her early teens she starting complaining about the number of “thankfuls” she was required to share. Each time she complained my wife and I added more. She finally stopped complaining after she reached about 12. She reluctantly came up with 12 things she was thankful for. We still laugh about that.

I always take time to express the things I’m grateful for at thanksgiving. I will always be grateful for my loving and supportive wife. She puts up with all my crazy ideas and ventures. I will always be grateful for my three wonderful children. We are fortunate enough to have two daughters and a son. All three of them have made us proud with the hard work they did to achieve their university degrees and how they practice their careers with commitment, purpose and integrity. I am also grateful for my health and the health of my loved ones. I am grateful to be living in a country that is inclusive, safe and respected. I could go on and on.

attitude-whatsapp-profile-pictures-attitude-dp-coolstatus-co-yvaufa-clipartThinking about this post, I realized that Thanksgiving is really about our attitude. Thanksgiving is more than just a holiday. It’s also a reminder to us to have an “attitude of gratitude”. It should be an attitude that we have every day of our lives. Why, you may ask? Psychology Today says there are seven scientifically proven benefits of gratitude. They are

  • Gratitude opens the door to more relationships.
  • Gratitude improves physical health.
  • Gratitude improves psychological health.
  • Gratitude enhances empathy and reduces aggression.
  • Grateful people sleep better.
  • Gratitude improves self-esteem.
  • Gratitude increases mental strength.

The blog, Happier Human, has a post titled, The 31 Benefits of Gratitude You Didn’t Know About: How Gratitude Can Change Your Life, which obviously claims there are 31 benefits of Gratitude. One that caught my attention is gratitude lets you live longer. The Huffington Post’s article, 10 Reasons Why Gratitude Is Healthy, says it has benefits to the heart,  immune system and boosts general well-being.

The article titled, Why Gratitude Is Good, summarizes the benefits of gratitude this way:

Physical
• Stronger immune systems
• Less bothered by aches and pains
• Lower blood pressure
• Exercise more and take better care of their health
• Sleep longer and feel more refreshed upon waking

Psychological
• Higher levels of positive emotions
• More alert, alive, and awake
• More joy and pleasure
• More optimism and happiness

Social
• More helpful, generous, and compassionate
• More forgiving
• More outgoing
• Feel less lonely and isolated.

happy-thanksgiving-clipart-clipart-panda-free-clipart-images-ksmaop-clipartEven though there may not be agreement on the number of benefits to having an “attitude of gratitude”, one can safely conclude that there are benefits to having this attitude. So don’t just have this “attitude of gratitude” at Thanksgiving, have it every single day of your life. Maybe start a gratitude journal. I have done this from time to time. (Now that I think about it, I haven’t done a journal in a while. I need to do something about that). It forces us to think of things that we are thankful for. If you’re not sure what a gratitude journal is or how to do one, see the article, Tips for Keeping a Gratitude Journal. So I encourage you to develop that “attitude of gratitude.” The bottom line is, it’s good for you.

Dance Could Change the World Too

A commentary on the value of dancing.

A few weeks ago I wrote a post entitled, Music can change the world suggesting that music is a way to unite the world. I personally believe this to be true. A few days ago a link to the following video landed in my inbox.

Dance has always been a part of my world. I grew up in a small town where there were dances, often wedding dances, many weekends of the year. It was at those small town dances that I learned to dance. When I was in college and university I joined the dance club where we learned to do such dances as the Rumba, Samba, the Foxtrot, old-time waltz, swing and even square dance. My wife tells me that one of the things that attracted her to me was the fact that I could dance. She also tells me that now I don’t dance with her enough. Our daughters danced for years with the local dance association doing Hip Hop, Ballet, Modern, Jazz and Lyrical dance. My wife and I also volunteered when our club held their dance festivals. So when I watched this video I was immediately enlivened and inspired. What a great video! Watching it put a smile on my face. The video raises one’s spirits. Dance, even just watching it, has the ability to put us in a better mood.

I wanted to learn more about what kind of person would make such a video and why they would make it, so, like I typically do, I did some research.   Can dancing unite the world? is an article I found on the Pocket Cultures site, a website which aims to increase connections, awareness and understanding between different cultures.  According the article, the video was created by Matt Harding who became an Internet celebrity by creating a series of videos of himself doing silly dances in numerous countries around the world. The video above is his latest and was made in 2012. If you go to Mr. Harding’s website, where the heck is Matt, you will find other videos he has created. Matt says he started dancing with locals because he thought it looked like fun but some people have argued that he is actually improving world relations by connecting people around the world. clapping-hands-transparent-b-g-mdI applaud Mr. Harding for his diplomatic projects and for showing us that everyone in this world just wants to dance and enjoy life.

Dancing is a great way to connect people around the world, just as music is. Really, when you think about it, the two are connected. You can’t have dance without music and probably visa versa. It’s difficult to dance without music and I suspect music is what inspired dancing to arise in the first place. So I wondered, are there organizations or movements that share this vision of connecting through dance to unite the world? Using Google, this is what I discovered. United Dance is an organization with the purpose to unite and train dancers all over the world. They desire to show the heart of God in unity through creative expressions of worship and dance to the world. Another is Movement Exchange, a community of dance diplomats, who aim to unite the world through dance and service. This movement believes that sharing movement creates more joy in our world. That is so true! If you watch the above video carefully, you will notice that no matter what country Matt is in, the people dancing with him are smiling and joyful. I’m sure there are other movements as well.

Even the United Nations acknowledges dance music as a positive global force. According to this article, United Nations Secretary General Bam Ki-Moon praised Belgium’s Tomorrowland music festival, one of the most noteworthy global music festivals; a festival that began in 2005.

The Secretary General commented on the true power of global dance music, and its positioning within a wider cultural dialogue; one meant for a world of togetherness and universal acceptance. Now even though the festival isn’t specifically a dance festival, you can bet that the “dance music” had people dancing. In my view, dance and music go hand in hand.

Not only does music and dance unite people of different races and cultures, but dance is good for you.  According to the Better Health Channel’s article, Dance-Health Benefits, the health benefits of dancing are:

  • improved condition of your heart and lungs
  • increased muscular strength, endurance and motor fitness
  • increased aerobic fitness
  • improved muscle tone and strength
  • weight management
  • stronger bones and reduced risk of osteoporosis
  • better coordination, agility and flexibility
  • improved balance and spatial awareness
  • increased physical confidence
  • improved mental functioning
  • improved general and psychological well being
  • greater self-confidence and self-esteem
  • better social skills.

Time’s article, The Hidden Health Benefits of Dance, says:

“People who took dance class improved their fitness three times more than non-dancers”.

The Toronto Star reports in the article, Toronto researchers test benefits of dance for dementia patients, that a few studies suggest dancing programs in care homes appear to decrease problematic behaviour and increase social interaction and enjoyment.

Psychology Today’s article, Why Should We Dance?  says,

Studies have shown that dance, in particular, can decrease anxiety and boost mood more than other physical outlets

So the bottom line is dance has value in this world. We live in a world that needs unity. All one has to do is watch the news to come to that conclusion. So the more ways there are to unite the world, the better this world will be. I think dance, like music, is another way to do this. So, I encourage you to celebrate the different forms of dance in the world. I especially enjoy watching people from Africa dance. The African people know how to move and express themselves.

dancingSo let loose and dance. To quote Satchel Paige, an African-American Major League Baseball pitcher,

“Dance like nobody’s watching.”

It’s a good way to get fit. It makes you feel better. It unites the world because every country has their own unique dance forms. What more can I say?

So now I’m curious. Tell me what you think?

Bears Have Rights Too

tentI mentioned in a previous blog post, The Encounter, that my son and I do annual hiking trips in the Canadian Rocky Mountains. This past weekend we did a trip to Jasper National Park hiking up the Sunwapta Peak trail.  This was our 14th trip together. We stayed in a campground called, Wabasso, near the town of Jasper. When we were registering at the campground, we were warned that a black bear had been in the campsite the previous night. While eating our supper that evening, the people at the tent next to us started yelling, “there’s a bear!” They made a bunch of noise to scare the bear away. We never did get a glimpse of the wild animal but nonetheless, the possibility of a bear nearby always makes a person a bit anxious.

Now in the 14 years of doing this, we have only encountered a bear once (if you can call it that).  It was five years ago and the black bear was on the trail in Jasper National Park some 500 or more metres ahead of us.  When we yelled and my brother-in-law set off a “bear banger” (that is a device that makes a very loud bang) the bear took off. Bears are always on your mind when hiking in the mountainous wilderness so we’ve always taken precautions. All of us carry bear spray, a type of pepper spray or capsicum deterrent that is used to deter aggressive bears. Thankfully, we’ve never had to use it although we have talked to hikers who have. When we hike we travel in groups and make lots of noise so that if there is a bear nearby, it knows humans are nearby as Parks Canada advises. (see Safe Travel in Bear Country). We also make sure our food is stored in vehicles, lockers or on bear poles. Bear poles are tall metal poles with hooks so that hikers can hoist their bags (food especially) up to the hooks for safekeeping overnight.

black-bear-blogHaving freshly done a mountain hike in bear country, I began to have some questions about bears so I did some research. The first question I wondered: Just how common are bear attacks? According to the article, Behaviour, by the Get Bear Smart Society,

Bears are NOT mean or malicious. Bears are normally shy, retiring animals that have very little desire to interact with humans. Unless they are forced to be around humans to be near a food source, they usually choose to avoid us.

That leads to my second question: Just how common are bear attacks? According to the article, A few surprises in decades-long black bear study, in the  Globe and Mail,

“Fatal black bear attacks were rare from 1900 to 2009 but they disproportionately occurred in Canada, according to an analysis published in the Journal of Wildlife Management. Of the 63 people who died in 59 incidents, 44 victims were mauled in Canada. It’s not known why, but periodic food shortages due to shorter growing seasons could be a factor.”

That means there were only 44 Canadian victims in 109 year span. The article also reports,

Researchers found that the vast majority of the confrontations weren’t the result of chance meetings in the woods, but the outcome of predatory behaviour, nearly always by lone male black bears. Surprisingly, only 8 per cent of the deadly attacks were attributed to mother bears.

So that made me wonder: Why are there bear attacks?  According to the Globe and Mail article,

Bear-caused fatalities have increased largely in lockstep with the continent’s human population growth and subsequent rise of recreational activities. Most of the deadly encounters with bears – 86 per cent – were recorded since 1960. Nine out of 10 times, the victim was alone or with only one other person. Improperly stored food and garbage was a likely attractant in 38 per cent of the incidents… In all cases, researchers found that bear pepper spray was not deployed as a measure of defence.

Another question: How do conservationists respond to bear habituation? Habituation is when a bear has constant, repeated exposure to people. When this happens bears can become increasingly bold and less afraid of people. These bears run the risk of becoming “problem” bears that enter townsites and campgrounds, places they are more likely to be illegally fed or rewarded with improperly stored garbage or pet food. Parks Canada’s wildlife specialists do their best to reverse this behaviour, but if a bear can’t be rehabilitated they are destroyed because they became too much of a risk to public safety. In areas outside the national parks, bears are often destroyed once they’ve been habituated. In Revelstoke, British Columbia, nine bears were destroyed in one week. (see the CBC article,  9 Bears Killed in one Week).

Recently Josh Bowmar, an American and a former javelin athlete, posted a video of himself killing a black bear in Alberta with a spear. That video caused sharp criticism on social media and from the provincial government. In the video, a black bear can be seen circling and then approaching the area that had been baited where Bowmar stands nearby before he impels the spear into the bear’s stomach.  The bear ran off, likely suffering for many hours and was found dead the next day. Alberta’s government have since announced it will introduce a ban on spear hunting this fall as part of those updated regulations. (see Alberta Government orders Investigation). If you haven’t seen the video, here it is.

I was surprised that spear hunting was even legal in Alberta. I was even more surprised to learn that baiting bears and other animals was also legal. Personally, I’ve never understood the appeal of hunting. When I was a teen I once shoot a sparrow with my pellet gun and killed the bird. I felt so incredibly guilty when the bird died that I’ve never intentional killed an animal since except for mosquitos, flies and spiders when my wife forces me to. Typically, I rescue the spiders and put them outside.

The bottom line is we humans have an obligation to learn how to live in harmony with wildlife. All living creatures have a right to exist. In fact, UNESCO, an agency of the United Nations, issued a Declaration for All Life on Earth which declared, we shall create a world based on love and harmony in which all forms of life are respected. Organizations such as, World Wildlife Federation (WWF) states their mission to stop the degradation of the planet’s natural environment and to build a future in which humans live in harmony with nature. I believe this is possible and education is the key. Dr. Jane Goodall, an animal rights activist and best known for dwelling with Tanzanian chimps to observe their behaviour, said it best when she said, “Only if we understand, will we care. Only if we care, will we help. Only if we help shall all be saved.”  If you are going to be in bear country, it is imperative that you get educated.  A good place to start is to read the Dispelling Myths article by the Get Bear Smart Society. To quote Nelson Mandela, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”.