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Could Meditation be the Answer?

A commentary on the use of mindfulness programs in schools.

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If you have  been reading my blog for a while, you know that I am a retired teacher who taught for 35 years. I still substitute teach from time to time, so I stay in touch with the teaching world. I’ve spent my career wondering what the best way to deal with disruptive, reluctant learners is. I often debated whether to kick a disruptive kid out of class, keep them in at breaks, send him or her to the office or just tolerate them. When I began my teaching career, the school I was at practiced corporal punishment in the form of strapping students. Physical abuse is not the answer either.  In 35 years I have never found an ideal method.

I recently came across an article on a blog called: The Way of Meditation. The article was titled: School Replaced Detention with Meditation. Now this intrigued me. I meditate regularly and it certainly has made a difference in my life. The article quotes the Dalai Lama who said, “If every 8-year-old in the world is taught meditation, we will eliminate violence from the world within one generation.” Wow!  That would be amazing. Just watching the news occasionally tells me there is an enormous need. Not only that, could this be the answer to a school’s discipline problems?

The article tells of Coleman Elementary School in Baltimore, a city located in the state of Maryland in the United States. This school starts its day with a breathing exercise over the PA system and ends it with an after-school program of yoga and meditation in addition to the usual sports activities. The school’s staff guide students through breathing and other centering exercises in the Mindful Moment room, which is a calming space with cozy cushions and beanbags, lit by glowing pink Himalayan salt lamps. When one of the students become a discipline problem, he or she is sent to the Mindful Moment room. In the room, unruly students are guided to sit, breathe and meditate in order to calm down and re-center. They are also counselled to talk about what happened.

Tibet’s spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama

Now what a fantastic idea! A Mindful Moment room—meditation room—instead of a detention room. I wish I had thought of that. In another article, Meditation is Imperative: Schools Replacing Detention…, it tells of a dialogue with the Dalai Lama after the Paris Attacks in November 2015. The Tibetan spiritual leader claimed that humanity bears part of the responsibility for the emergence of global terrorism. He said praying to God for a solution and using the hashtag of the likes of #PrayforParis won’t do much to help. I agree! His most impactful statement was, “Let us work for peace within our families and society, and not expect help from God, Buddha or the governments.”  He’s right! Praying to God or wanting governments to fix things hasn’t worked so far. As the Buddha says, “Peace comes from within. Do not seek it without.” Or as Ralph Waldo Emerson puts it, “Nothing can bring you peace but yourself.”  

The Guardian’s article: One of San Francisco’s toughest schools transformed by the power of meditation, tells of Visitacion Valley middle school in San Francisco, California, which is a school surrounded by drugs and gang violence.  Students at this school were often stressed out and agitated as on one occasion three dead bodies were dumped in the schoolyard. In 2007, a meditation program called Quiet Time was brought in to deal with worried students. A month after the meditation program began, teachers noticed changes in behaviour. Students appeared happier, worked harder, paid more attention, were easier to teach and the number of conflicts fell dramatically.

Now, I began to wonder if there are schools in Canada that practice mindfulness. In case you are not familiar with this word, the Mindfulness Institute of Canada defines mindfulness as “a state of being fully present in the present moment, with acceptance and without judgement.”  This is really the same thing as meditation as the Free Dictionary defines meditation as “a practice of concentrated focus upon a sound, object, visualization, the breath, movement, or attention itself in order to increase awareness of the present moment, reduce stress, promote relaxation, and enhance personal and spiritual growth.” It seems there are schools in Canada that have instituted this practice.

Young girl meditating

According to Macleans.ca, in the city of Toronto, Ontario,  the District School Board introduced lessons in mindfulness to all of its 200 Grade 9 students. In six workshops over a two-month period, led by the school’s teachers, students practiced breathing, “body scans” (a meditation exercise that draws attention to different parts of the body), and learned to “surf the wave” of difficult emotions, like anger and anxiety. The article reports that the “response was overwhelmingly positive.” Another place in Canada that has adopted mindfulness is in Vancouver, British Columbia,  where Renfrew Community Elementary School is located. In this school students begin their day by heading outside to do tai chi.  The school’s assemblies always start with a mindful breathing exercise.

Unfortunately, not everyone agrees that mindfulness is the answer. Change.org has an online petition to remove Mindfulness Programs from Canadian Public Schools. The petition’s authors argue that legislated meditation in Canadian public classrooms is unlawful, and are alarmed that mindfulness stems from Buddhist meditation. They argue that if mindfulness meditation is permitted, then what is to stop decision makers from forcing students to engage in mandatory Transcendental Meditation? Or mandatory hypnosis? Or require all students to eat bacon three times per day, regardless of their vegetarian or vegan standing. This seems to me to be somewhat of a paranoid reaction, none-the-less, everyone is entitled to their point of view.

Forbes.com published an article titled, Science Shows Meditation Benefits Children’s Brains and Behavior, which lists the following benefits of meditation:

  1. Increased attention: A study in 2013 showed that in boys with ADHD, with an eight-week training in mindfulness, significantly reduced hyperactive behaviours and improved concentration.
  2. Increased attendance and grades in school: One school district in California prolonged its school day in some of its “high-risk” schools in order to add meditation into the day. These schools have reported better attendance and grades, fewer suspensions, and happier, less aggressive kids.
  3. A reprieve from outside trauma: Meditation and mindfulness have been shown to help kids who are dealing with stressors such as neglect at home.
  4. Better mental health: One study found that an afterschool program consisting of yoga and meditation helped kids feel happier and more relaxed.
  5. Self-awareness and self-regulation: A study found that a mindful yoga treatment helped kids improve their ability to self-regulate, or control themselves, over the longer-term in a one-year study.
  6. Social-emotional development: One study found that a social-emotional learning program coupled with mindfulness was more effective than a classic “social responsibility” program as kids using mindfulness in their treatment had greater empathy, perspective-taking, and emotional control, compared to the control group.

The Harvard Gazette reports an eight-week study conducted by Harvard researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital, a study which involved taking magnetic resonance images (MRI) from 16 study participants two weeks prior to the study, determined that meditation literally rebuilds the brain’s grey matter in just eight weeks.

If you are not familiar with the nervous system’s grey and white matter, here is a quick biology lesson. Grey and white matter are found in the brain and spinal cord. Grey matter is found in brain areas that control an individual’s perception, such as how things are seen or heard, the formation of memories and the influencing speech and emotions. White matter connects one region of the brain or spinal cord to another transferring nerve impulses in and out of the grey matter.  Medical science has always told us that grey matter cannot rebuild, but Harvard’s research seems to suggest otherwise.

There is no doubt in my mind that meditation, or mindfulness, reduces stress, promotes relaxation, improves personal happiness and induces feelings of peacefulness. I have personally experienced it. As a retired teacher, I would have welcomed anything that curbed undesirable student behaviours, improved student work habits and grades, and made the classroom a better learning environment. If mediation–mindfulness programs–does that, then I say bring it on.

Did the Pope Really Refuse to Apologize?

A commentary on whether the Pope should apologize to Canada’s Indigenous people.

Back in May of 2017, Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau met with Pope Francis and asked him to apologize for the Catholic Church’s role in the residential school system where abuse of indigenous children occurred (see Newsweek).  When I first heard about this, I was confused as I thought the Pope had already apologized. I  wondered why the Catholic leader was being asked to apologize again.  Newsweek’s article explains that in 2009 the previous pontiff, Pope Benedict, met with survivor of the system Phil Fontaine, then national chief of the Assembly of First Nations. The article asserts that the pope did not formally apologize. Instead, he simply shared his ‘sorrow’ and ‘sympathy.’

Pope Francis

In March, the headline, Pope’s decision to not issue apology , appeared on the CBC News website. The article says Pope Francis claimed he could not personally apologize for residential school abuses. This month, Global News reported that the Canadian Parliament held a “historic” debate on whether to ask Pope Francis to formally apologize for the substantial role the Catholic church played in the residential school system. This week The National Post reports that Canadian Members of Parliament (MPs) passed a motion to invite the Pope to Canada to apologize for residential schools. The vote was passed by a margin of 269-10 .  One of the advocates of the motion was residential school survivor and MP, Romeo Saganash. The article says that an apology is one of the 94 Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission; a Commission that recommended an apology be delivered in Canada by the pontiff, for the church’s role in the residential school abuse of First Nations, Inuit and Metis children.

All this talk about another apology from a pope piqued my curiosity. If the previous pope, Pope Benedict, already issued an apology, what is this all about? I set out to find out.

The National Observer’s article, Bishops try to clarify Pope’s refusal to apologize for residential schools, says the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops sent a background paper to MPs and senators. The paper says the church has “on a number of occasions expressed regret and remorse at the involvement by various Catholics” in the schools. It also reminds us that Pope Benedict met with a delegation of Indigenous leaders in 2009 “and expressed sorrow and regret for the abuses suffered” in the schools. The Bishop’s paper said Phil Fontaine declared that the meeting with Pope Benedict “closes the circle of reconciliation.” It also said

  “To suggest that the Catholic community has not accepted responsibility for its involvement in residential schools is simply inaccurate. The Catholic Church has apologized in the way it is structured.”

The New York Times article, A Pope Given to Apologies Has Nothing for Indigenous Canada, says that Phil Fontaine has since stated, “It was right for the moment,” about Pope Benedict’s expression of sorrow. “But there’s a lot we didn’t know about in 2009: We didn’t know the number of deaths, the numbers of those abused. So much has been exposed through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, it’s really so different now.”

 I have to agree with Mr. Fontaine. Since 2009 we’ve learned a lot more about the horrors that occurred in those schools. In fact, I was shocked to learn doing this post that CBC News reported that Ontario Provincial Police files reveal that an Ontario residential school, St. Anne’s, had built its own electric chair. In my last post, Hockey is Part of Canada, I talked about how residential school students lived in substandard conditions, endured physical, emotional and sexual abuse by brothers, priests and nuns who claimed they represented God.

This begs the question: Was the 2009 apology a true, sincere apology, and what constitutes an accurate apology anyways?  Mindtools.com in its article, How to Apologize: Asking for Forgiveness Gracefully, says to apologize correctly, an apology must:

  1. start with two magic words: “I’m sorry,” or “I apologize.”
  2. admit responsibility for actions or behaviour and acknowledge what an offender did.
  3. take action to make the situation right.
  4. explain that the offender will never repeat the action or behaviour again.

Psychology Today’s article, The Five Ingredients of an Effective Apology, says in order for an apology to be effective, it must have the following ingredients:

  1. A clear ‘I’m sorry’ statement.
  2. An expression of regret for what happened.
  3. An acknowledgment that social norms or expectations were violated.
  4. An empathy statement acknowledging the full impact of the offender’s actions on the victim(s). In other words, to truly forgive, a victim needs to feel that the offender completely understands the full impact their actions had on them.
  5. A request for forgiveness.

So, do the Canadian Conference of Bishops have a valid argument? Has the Catholic Church given a proper apology? Using the above criteria, l shall analyze Pope Benedict’s 2009 apology.

CTV News in 2009 reported, that the pontiff expressed his sorrow and emphasized that “acts of abuse cannot be tolerated”.  Pope Benedict went on to say,

“Given the sufferings that some indigenous children experienced in the Canadian residential school system, the Holy Father expressed his sorrow at the anguish caused by the deplorable conduct of some members of the church and he offered his sympathy and prayerful solidarity.”

Both Mindtools.com and Psychology Today say the words “I’m sorry,” or “I apologize” need to be used. They were not used by the pontiff in 2009. This is the primary argument for why it was  not a real apology. Pope Benedict’s apology definitely fails on this point.

Psychology Today says there needs to be an expression of regret for what happened. The Pontiff expressed his sorrow at the anguish. I’d say that shows regret, so it’s a pass on this one.

Mindtools.com says an apology needs to take responsibility for actions or behaviour as well as acknowledge what occurred. The Holy Father did acknowledge what happened, i.e. “the deplorable conduct of some members of the church”.  It’s debatable whether he’s taken responsibility. Another word for responsibility is accountability, which means being answerable for one’s actions.  Expressing “sorrow” and “regret” is not being accountable . I’d give a fail for this one.

Psychology Todays says an empathy statement acknowledging the full impact of an offender’s actions on the other person, needs to be given.  Benedict talked about “the anguish caused by the deplorable conduct of some members of the church” but that is hardly acknowledging the full impact of the actions. I would give a fail on this one.

Mindtools.com says the offender must take action to make the situation right and promise to never repeat the action or behavior. The pope’s apology fails on these points. Psychology Today says there needs to be a request for forgiveness. This did not happen, so a fail on this one as well.

Canada’s Parliament Buildings

Is our Prime Minister and Canada’s Members of Parliament justified in asking Pope Francis to apologize? After my analysis, I would say a resounding YES. Furthermore, aboard the Papal plane back in 2016, Pope Francis told reporters that gays — and all the other people the church has marginalized, such as the poor and the exploited — deserve an apology (see CBC).  It would seem to me that the indigenous people were marginalized, meaning they were seen as less important by members of the church, as late as 1996 when the last federally operated residential school closed. Actions speak louder than words. The pope needs to put his own words into action and deliver a sincere, acceptable apology to the indigenous people of Canada on behalf of the church he represents. It’s the Christian thing to do!

Hockey is Part of Canada

A commentary on two tragedies that affected all Canadians

Since my last post, two events have occurred that deeply impacted me on an emotional level.  I’ll start with the first; a horrific event. On April 6th,  the bus taking a hockey team, the Humboldt Broncos to a Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League playoff game, collided with a tractor-trailer in rural Saskatchewan.  Sixteen people were killed with the youngest victim being a 16-year-old Broncos player. Even though I am not part of the hockey world and never have been, I was still shaken and saddened. For me, it is more about family members of the victims. I thought about my own children and the many times they were on buses going to basketball or some other sport.

A memorial at the stairs that lead to Elgar Petersen Arena is shown in Humboldt, Sask.. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Liam Richards ORG

What struck me most about this event, was the reaction of Canadians and even the world. According to CTV News Saskatchewan, Humboldt’s only florist received hundreds of orders from as far away as Australia to send flowers to anyone and everyone affected by the crash. The Canalta Hotel offered free rooms to family members travelling to the Humboldt after the crash, plus provided food and support. Restaurants handed out free food. In one instance, an individual driving through a Tim Hortons bought coffee for the next 50 people in line. The food manager for the City of Humboldt said he has watched semi-trailers full of water, soda and edibles come into the Humboldt Uniplex every day. Flags were flown at half-mast across the nation to show compassion for Humboldt.

What is even more astonishing is people across Canada and from around the world contributed to a GoFundMe campaign for the victims and their families, which has exceeded fourteen million dollars, one of the largest drives in Canada’s history. As Maclean’s magazine put it, Humboldt’s GoFundMe account expresses a nation’s grief in dollars and cents.

An initiative #JerseysforHumboldt was first proposed on Facebook by a group of hockey parents in British Columbia as a way to honour the Saskatchewan junior hockey team. The movement snowballed resulting in Canadians across the country putting on jerseys as a massive show of support for the Humboldt Broncos hockey team. (see Jersey Day)

One person started a phenomenon by tweeting a picture that showed a lonely hockey stick left out on the front step of a home with the message, “Leaving it out on the porch tonight. The boys might need it … wherever they are.”  Numerous people have tweeted their pictures under the hashtag #PutYourStickOut to show their support to the team and their friends and families. (see Hockey Sticks)

It was Al Gore who said (paraphrased) in his latest movie, ‘An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power’, “It’s our suffering that unites us”. That is what seems to be happening in my country because of this awful event. Perhaps the late Nelson Mandela said it better with his words, “Our human compassion binds us the one to the other – not in pity or patronizingly, but as human beings who have learnt how to turn our common suffering into hope for the future.” Whatever is happening, I can honestly say that I felt proud to be a Canadian.

The second event was also a horrific event that also involves hockey, but in a different way. It was an experience that affected me just as deeply as the one I described above. On the weekend I went to the Canadian movie, Indian Horse, a movie released on April 13.  This is a movie I would encourage every Canadian, and even people of other nationalities to see if they can. It tells a story that needs to be told and Canadians need to hear, even though it is a story that will likely make you uncomfortable.

What is so special about this film is it connects hockey with Indigenous issues. The story is adapted from a novel by Richard Wagamese, and is executive produced by Clint Eastwood. It explores the career of an exceptionally talented young Indigenous hockey player and  a NHL hopeful who endures Indian Residential school and struggles against racism-even from his own team-when he is recruited to a farm team for the Maple Leafs in Toronto.

The Star says, “Indigenous elders were on hand, as they had been throughout production of the movie…guiding the cast and crew through some of the darker moments they experienced.” The movie disturbingly shows the horror that indigenous children endured in Canadian Residential Schools as well as the relentless racism directed towards them outside the schools.

Here is a video telling a bit about the movie.

The story centers around the main character, Saul, who is forcibly taken from his family and placed in a Catholic governed Residential School. Saul’s only way to cope with his school hell is to turn to hockey.

Here is a quick lesson on the schools. In the 19th century, the Canadian government developed a policy called “aggressive assimilation” to be carried out at church-run, government-funded industrial schools, later to be called residential schools. It thought indigenous people’s best chance for success was to learn English, adopt Christianity and the Euro-Canadian culture.

To truly understand the mindset of Canadian government at that time in history, we just need to comprehend the mindset of Duncan Campbell Scott, who was head of the Department of Indian Affairs from 1913 to 1932, a department he had served since joining the federal civil service in 1879. Mr. Scott said:

 “I want to get rid of the Indian problem. I do not think as a matter of fact, that the country ought to continuously protect a class of people who are able to stand alone… Our objective is to continue until there is not a single Indian in Canada that has not been absorbed into the body politic and there is no Indian question, and no Indian Department, that is the whole object of this Bill.”

It is clear that the Canadian government saw the indigenous people as a problem that needed to be dealt with. In fact, Duncan Campbell Scott once said, the “policy of this Department [Indian Affairs]…is geared towards the final solution of our Indian Problem.”

The movie boldly showed how students of the Residential schools lived in substandard conditions, endured physical and emotional abuse as well as sexual abuse by people who claimed to be God’s representatives.  Essentially, the Government of Canada initiated a cultural genocide, a genocide carried out by various denominations of church missionaries.

I left that movie feeling sickened that my country has this dark history. I felt compassion for indigenous Canadians. I felt annoyed that it is only in the 21st century that I am now learning about this dark history regarding Canada’s treatment of its indigenous people. And most of all, I left that movie feeling ashamed to be a Canadian and ashamed of my Catholic roots.

Is Brainwashing a Real Thing?

A commentary on the use of thought reform in the military

Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama

On my last post: Why is war so popular? I sited His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet, specifically his talk on the Realities of War. I would like to continue with that discussion.  His Holiness says,

 

War is like a fire in the human community, one whose fuel is living beings…Modern warfare waged primarily with different forms of fire, but we are so conditioned to see it as thrilling that we talk about this or that marvelous weapon as a remarkable piece of technology without remembering that, if it is actually used, it will burn living people. War also strongly resembles a fire in the way it spreads. If one area gets weak, the commanding officer sends in reinforcements. This is throwing live people onto a fire. But because we have been brainwashed to think this way, we do not consider the suffering of individual soldiers. No soldiers want to be wounded or die. None of his loved ones wants any harm to come to him [or her]. If one soldier is killed, or maimed for life, at least another five or ten people – his relatives and friends – suffer as well. We should all be horrified by the extent of this tragedy, but we are too confused.

I mentioned in my last post that I was transfixed by the Dalai Lama’s use of the phrase, “we have been brainwashed.”  In my last post I concluded that we, the general public, have been brainwashed to accept war as normal and necessary. But what about the soldiers? Have they been brainwashed as well? The Dalai Lama later in his message says,

It is not only during times of war that military establishments are destructive. By their very design, they were the single greatest violators of human rights, and it is the soldiers themselves who suffer most consistently from their abuse…They are then compelled to forfeit their individual will, and, in the end, to sacrifice their lives.

His Holiness seems to think so as he says, soldiers “are then compelled to forfeit their individual will.” I guess I’ve never really thought about it before. It is unrealistic to believe that an individual could join the military and be able to do what is required of them without ‘reprogramming’. So, what happens to a person when they join? Are they brainwashed or reprogrammed so to speak?

According to Wikipedia’s, Recruit Training, psychological conditioning techniques are used to shape attitudes and behaviours of soldiers in training, so that the recruits will obey all orders, face mortal danger, and kill their opponents in battle.  The article goes on to quote specialists in US recruit training. These specialists say,

“The intense workload and sleep restriction experienced by military recruits leaves them little attention capacity for processing the messages they receive about new norms…Therefore, recruits should be less likely to devote their remaining cognitive effort to judging the quality of persuasive messages and will be more likely to be persuaded by the messages…”

Is this brainwashing? Is this mind control?

In the 1983 PBS production, Anybody’s Son Will Do, gave this assessment of what it means to be trained to be a soldier. Here is one of the opening quotes: “The secret about basic training is that it’s not really about teaching people things at all. It’s about changing people so that they can do things they wouldn’t have dreamed of doing otherwise.”  It can be found on YouTube. Here is part two.

In part V of Anybody’s Son Will Do, the commentator mentions the trainers indoctrinate the recruits with the idea that the enemy, whoever he may be, is not fully human, and so it’s all right to kill him. I haven’t viewed the entire program, but what I did view I found disturbing.  Don’t take my word for it. Have a look starting at 2:00.

Now I was curious. Is the military – and it doesn’t matter whether it is the Canadian, American, Chinese,  Russian military or any other country’s military – using mind control techniques, otherwise known as brainwashing?

HowStuffWorks is an award-winning source of unbiased, reliable, easy-to-understand answers and explanations of how the world actually works. In its explanation of how cults work, it claims cults use techniques known as “mind control,” or otherwise known as “thought reform,” “brainwashing” and “coercive persuasion.” It is the systematic breakdown of a person’s sense of self. The article explains that cults use:

  • Deception where new recruits are conned into joining the group.
  • Use of deprivation where a person may be deprived of adequate nutrition and/or sleep so the mind becomes confused.
  • Isolation where individuals are cut off from outside world or each other to produce intense introspection, confusion, loss of perspective and a distorted sense of reality.
  • Induced Dependency where total, obedient devotion, loyalty and submission is demanded.

There is no question in my mind that there are similarities between the mind-control practices used by cults and boot camp training in military.  It is important to note that there are differences. Firstly, military recruits know from day one of joining that they are giving up some of their autonomy. A military recruit makes a knowledgeable decision to relinquish that autonomy, whereas a cult recruit does not since they are deceived.  Also, a recruit signs up for a definite period of time, that is, he or she agrees to a legal contract that states how long he will be a soldier and what he will get in return. A person who joins a cult is deceived into thinking he or she can leave whenever he/she desires, but in reality, they cannot easily leave.

Now let’s be clear. At this time in history, we do need the military. There are times when a country needs to call upon their military. His Holiness, the Dalai Lama agrees as he states:

I want to make it clear, however, that although I am deeply opposed to war, I am not advocating appeasement. It is often necessary to take a strong stand to counter unjust aggression. For instance, it is plain to all of us that the Second World War was entirely justified. It “saved civilization” from the tyranny of Nazi Germany, as Winston Churchill so aptly put it. In my view, the Korean War was also just, since it gave South Korea the chance of gradually developing democracy. But we can only judge whether or not a conflict was vindicated on moral grounds with hindsight.

He goes on to say:

…in the case of the Cold War, through deterrence may have helped promote stability, it did not create genuine peace. The last forty years in Europe have seen merely the absence of war, which has not been real peace but a facsimile founded dear. At best, building arms to maintain peace serves only as a temporary measure. As long as adversaries do not trust each other, any number of factors can upset the balance of power. Lasting peace can assure secured only on the basis of genuine trust.

So what is the answer? Can a world ever be created by us humans where the military is obsolete. I believe the Dalai Lama has the answer. Until we build a world where there is trust; trust between religions, trust between nations, trust of governments, trust between corporations, and so on, we will never have genuine peace on this planet. Perhaps it is better put by this unknown person: “A relationship with no trust is kind of like having a phone with no service. You just end up playing games.” This is true whether we’re referring to a person, government, nation, or organization.

Why is War so Popular?

A commentary on why humanity engages in warfare.

A CBC News article, Here’s a look at Russia’s ‘invulnerable’ weapons, reports that on March 1st, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced to the world that Russia possesses an arsenal of new nuclear weapons that can’t be stopped. He publicized such weapons as nuclear-powered subs called uninhabited underwater vehicles (UUV), nuclear-powered missiles and hypersonic, intercontinental ballistic missiles. This kind of language has not been used since the Cold War. Why is Putin telling the world about its weapons of mass destruction? Is this talk of war?

Wikipedia has a list of ongoing armed conflicts. Two of the most notable are the Syrian civil war and the Iraq civil war. These are the two conflicts we hear about most often in the news. There are many others; many of them on the continent of Africa. This got me thinking. Why are humans set on war?

I recently read an interesting article called, The Dalai Lama’s Hard Hitting Message for World Leaders About The Reality of War.  Now the Dalai Lama is someone I deeply respect and I believe has much wisdom to offer the world. For those who don’t know, the Dalai Lama is the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism and traditionally the political leader of Tibet, but the Chinese government forced him into exile in 1959 because of its imperialistic policies.  Here is some of the Dalai Lama’s message.

“…war and the large military establishments are the greatest sources of violence in the world. Whether their purpose is defensive or offensive, these vast powerful organizations exist solely to kill human beings. We should think carefully about the reality of war. Most of us have been conditioned to regard military combat as exciting and glamorous – an opportunity for men to prove their competence and courage. Since armies are legal, we feel that war is acceptable; in general, nobody feels that war is criminal or that accepting it is criminal attitude. In fact, we have been brainwashed. War is neither glamorous nor attractive. It is monstrous. Its very nature is one of tragedy and suffering.”

The words “we have been brainwashed” really struck me. Have we been brainwashed? I was attracted to the military as a youngster. I always thought it would have been glamorous to come back a war hero. I never actually seriously considered joining, except maybe on the day I had to register for university classes in the 1970s; a very stressful experience. What attracted me mostly was its discipline. Interestingly, the Dalai Lama was also attracted to the military in his youth. He explains in his message.

“Frankly as a child, I too was attracted to the military. Their uniform looked so smart and beautiful. But that is exactly how the seduction begins. Children start playing games that will one day lead them in trouble…Again, if we as adults were not so fascinated by war, we would clearly see that to allow our children to become habituated to war games is extremely unfortunate. Some former soldiers have told me that when they shot their first person they felt uncomfortable but as they continued to kill it began to feel quite normal. In time, we can get used to anything.”

I think the Dalai Lama is right. Society has been brainwashed. I used to play war games as a kid. I even had plastic soldiers to play with. Nowadays, there are numerous video games involving killing in war scenarios. As the Dalai Lama says, this “is exactly how the seduction begins.”  Or, shall we say the brainwashing begins.

One might ask: Why would our leaders want us to believe war is “exciting and glamorous”?  In June of last year, the Atlantic announced that the U.S. Approves $1.4 Billion Military Sale to Saudi Arabia. CNN says the U.S. accounts for one-third of global arms sales. If you are curious to who the Americans sell arms to, see: Here’s who buys the most weapons from the U.S.  So why are we being brainwashed to see war as “exciting and glamorous”?  It seems war is big business. If you want to make money selling arms, you must have wars. It seems very logical to me.

The New York Times published an article in 2014 entitled: The Lack of Major Wars May Be Hurting Economic Growth.  It says,

The continuing slowness of economic growth in high-income economies has prompted soul-searching among economists. They have looked to weak demand, rising inequality, Chinese competition, over-regulation, inadequate infrastructure and an exhaustion of new technological ideas as possible culprits. An additional explanation of slow growth is now receiving attention… the persistence and expectation of peace.

This is the only answer I can come up with. War makes money, so it makes sense in light of the fact that the U.S. accounts for one-third of global arms sales.

Buffy Sainte-Marie is an indigenous Canadian singer-songwriter, musician, composer, visual artist, educator, pacifist, and social activist. She wrote a song titled, ‘Universal Soldier’. If you’ve never heard it, here it is. The song begins at 1:48.

The lyrics go as follows:

He’s five feet two and he’s six feet four
He fights with missiles and with spears
He’s all of thirty-one and he’s only seventeen
He’s been a soldier for a thousand years

He’s a catholic, a Hindu, an Atheist, a Jane
A Buddhist and a Baptist and Jew
And he knows he shouldn’t kill and he knows he always will kill
You’ll for me my friend and me for you

And he’s fighting for Canada, he’s fighting for France
He’s fighting for the USA
And he’s fighting for the Russians and he’s fighting for Japan
And he thinks we’ll put an end to war this way

And he’s fighting for democracy he’s fighting for the reds
He says it’s for the peace of all
He’s the one who must decide who’s to live and who’s to die
And he never sees the writing on the wall

But without him how would Hitler have condemned him at Le Val
Without him Caesar would have stood alone
He’s the one who gives his body as the weapon to the war
And without him all this killing can’t go on

He’s the universal soldier and he really is to blame
But his orders come from far away no more
They come from him and you and me and brothers can’t you see
This is not the way we put an end to war?

It is the last stanza that reveals Buffy Sainte-Marie’s key message. The artist reveals that it is us (you and me) that are the ones who start, continue and end wars.  Remember, the politicians are controlled by the people and work for the people. Or as Abraham Lincoln, one of the American presidents, said in his Gettysburg Address, delivered on November 19, 1863, “government of the people, by the people, for the people.” If citizens refuse to support and/or participate in conflict and wars, then the killing will stop. As long as people agree to fight unnecessary wars for their political leaders, the killing continues. Let’s face it. Hitler could not have carried out his atrocities without his countrymen supporting him and without their willingness to carry them out.

It’s Time to Give Youth a Voice!

A commentary on giving youth a real voice.

From CBC.com

CBC News reports in its article,  Thousands of students in U.S. walk out of classes to protest gun violence, accounts that students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida staged  a 17-minute walkout, one minute for each of the Florida school shooting victims from February 14.  This walkout was exactly a month to the day after an expelled student using an AR-15 assault-style rifle treaded into the school and opened fire, killing 14 students and three of its staff members. More than 3,000 walkouts were planned throughout the U.S. The purpose of the protests was to pressure federal lawmakers to pass gun control laws. Parkland students argue such laws will prevent other students from having to face the kind of trauma they experienced. As a retired social studies teacher, this is exactly the kind of activity I encouraged my students to participate in; to make their voices heard.

According to Wikipedia, there have been  219 (assuming I counted correctly) school shootings since the April 20, 1999. Why this date?  That is the date of the Columbine High School massacre where two Columbine students killed twelve students and one teacher as well as injured 24 others. They finished their massacre when they committed suicide. I especially remember this event because 8 days later, in Canada, a 14-year-old boy opened fire inside the W.R. Myers High School in Taber, Alberta, killing student Jason Lang and seriously injuring another student. In Canada, during the same time period, there have been three school shootings according to Wikipedia, one of which was in a college. When you compare Canada to the U.S., it clear that American students have just cause for concern.

Each time there is a mass shooting south of the border, the United States regime debate gun control, but nothing changes. Laws change minimally if at all.  Time.com makes an interesting statement saying, “though they [the students] may not be old enough to vote, they are making their voices heard outside the nation’s schools — in some cases, by physically getting up and leaving.”

That statement got me thinking. Do young people, those under the age of 18, have a voice or are they marginalized? Observing what is proceeding with the students in the U.S. and seeing them take a stand, I would say young people have been marginalized. The legal voting age in Canada and the United States is age 18. Now I’ve always bought the argument that young people are not ready to have that responsibility. They are not knowledgeable enough or responsible enough to be given the right to vote. Thinking about that, the same argument could be made about adults, those over age 18. I’ve met many, many adults who are not knowledgeable or responsible when it comes to politics. I now believe that age is not a factor.

Being curious, I wanted to know how many countries in the world have lowered the voting age to less than age 18. According to Worldatlas, Legal voting age by country, there are 15 countries plus the European Union, with its 28 member countries, that have voting ages less than 18. This is a topic I have discussed with my social studies classes over the years and I remember having some lively discussions with my under 18 students. Most advocated for the right to vote.

Craig Kielburger is a Canadian author and activist for the rights of children.  In 1995, when he was age of 12,  Kielburger saw a headline in the Toronto Star newspaper that read “Battled child labour, boy, 12, murdered.” This was a story was about a young Pakistani boy who was forced into child labour in a carpet factory at the age of four. Kielburger researched child labour and asked his seventh-grade teacher to speak to his classmates on the topic. As a result, a group of pre-teens started ‘Kids Can Free the Children’ which later became ‘Free the Children’.

In November of 2000, Craig Kielburger is quoted as saying:

Lowering the voting age to 16 is not a novel idea. Brazil has recently given the right to vote at all levels of government to 16-year-olds in that country. France, England and Australia are also contemplating lowering the voting age. Last month I attended meetings with world leaders at the State of the World Forum in New York City and met with the Japanese Minister of Finance to discuss youth issues during a trip to Japan. On November 27 [date of a Canadian federal election], however, I shall be denied the right to cast my vote for the individual I believe should lead my own country. Why? Because I am 17 years old. The time has come for Canadians to take a serious look at lowering the voting age to 16.  (see Giving Youth a Voice).

In an electoral studies research article prepared in 2012, Voting at 16: Turnout and the quality of vote choice, it says in the abstract,

Critics of giving citizens under 18 the right to vote argue that such teenagers lack the ability and motivation to participate effectively in elections. If this argument is true, lowering the voting age would have negative consequences for the quality of democracy. We test the argument using survey data from Austria, the only European country with a voting age of 16 in nation-wide elections. While the turnout levels of young people under 18 are relatively low, their failure to vote cannot be explained by a lower ability or motivation to participate. In addition, the quality of these citizens’ choices is similar to that of older voters, so they do cast votes in ways that enable their interests to be represented equally well. These results are encouraging for supporters of a lower voting age.

What struck me in this research was, “failure to vote cannot be explained by a lower ability or motivation to participate…the quality of these citizens’ choices is similar to that of older voters.” Age does not seem to be a factor.

A Capital News article,  Four reasons Canada should lower the voting age, gives the following four reasons for lowering the voting age.

  1. It might encourage a higher voter turnout. In Canada we have something called ‘Student Vote.’ On its website, it says, ‘Coinciding with government elections, students learn about government and the electoral process, research the parties and platforms, discuss relevant issues and cast ballots for the official election candidates. The results are shared with the media for broadcast and publication following the closing of the official polls.” If we are having our youth do this, why not grant the youth actual voting privileges.
  2. Young people would adopt the habit of voting. It seems to me that is what ‘Student Vote’ is attempting to do.
  3. Expand the notion of democracy. As the article says, students are taxed when they work so they should have the right to vote.
  4. The teenagers of today are engaged in their world and want to make a difference. My experience working with youth for 35 years as an educator, is I have seen many students speak passionately about world events and their role in it. It was not uncommon for me to hear a student say (paraphrased); “You adults are messing things up in our world so maybe it is our turn to have a say.”

The Guardian article, Have faith in our generation, quotes 16 year old, Chloe, from Scotland who says, “Politicians need to let go of old stereotypes and have faith in my generation.” The article explains that teens argue: ‘When we turn 16 we are trusted with responsibilities such as consenting to sexual activity, buying lottery tickets, and marrying or registering a civil partnership. It is absolutely absurd to grant young people these responsibilities without letting them have a say in their own future.’ I would also add that teens are considered responsible enough drive, so why not vote.

According to the article, Scottish 16-year-olds have proven they are engaged and capable of handling the right to vote based on the statistic that 16-year-olds had a greater turnout at the 2014 independence referendum than 18 to 24 year-olds.

I guess it’s official. I’ve had a change of mind. I do think the voting age should be lowered to age 16. We ‘Student Vote’ anyway.  Why not give them a real say? I have taught some very intelligent and passionate teens over the years who are educated on issues and know their position on issues. Yes, there are those who don’t care, but there are many people who have voting privileges who are apathetic. The fact that 31.7% of eligible voters did not vote in Canada’s 2015 federal election proves this.

Equal Pay for Equal Work

A commentary on gender equality.

Every year on March 8 most of the world celebrates International Women’s Day.  It observes the crusade for women’s rights. It is even an official holiday in many countries of the world. This year is especially noteworthy because of the “Me Too” movement which spread like wild-fire in October 2017 as a hashtag used on social media to help reveal the widespread pervasiveness of sexual assault and harassment occurring. It followed soon after the public revelations of sexual misconduct allegations against Harvey Weinstein, an American film producer. Now women are saying, “enough is enough.”  Too many men have been using their power and status to carry out heinous acts against women.  However, I would like to address another issue.

On Canada’s government website, the Status of Women, it says, “promoting equality for women and their increased representation in leadership and decision-making roles is a priority for the Government of Canada.” Is this just talk or is our government “walking the talk”?  It seems they are at least taking baby steps. Canada’s highlights for the 2018 Budget were tabled in February, and according to a Government of Canada press release, the government will introduce pay equity for workers in federally regulated sectors. It is estimated that through this legislation alone, the gender wage gap can be moved from 88.1 cents to 90.7 cents in the federal private sector alone.

Now that is great news and is certainly a step in the right direction, but it amazes me that in this 21st century, we have to legislate pay equity. It makes no sense to me. I have worked my entire life in a career where there is pay equality. In the teaching profession, at least in my province, a teacher receives the same salary regardless of gender or race. Pay is based solely on years of experience and years of university. I cannot comprehend why men still are paid more than women in much of the working world.

According to a CBC News article, StatsCan on gender pay gap, women earn 87 cents to men’s $1 in Canada. This reflects the hourly earnings of Canadians aged 25 to 54, and shows the gender wage gap has shrunk by 10 cents since 1981; a time when female workers earned 77 cents for each dollar earned by men. The Globe and Mail says, Canadian women working full-time earn, on average, 74 cents for every dollar a man makes, and that Canada’s wage gap remains well above the average for Organization for Economic Development and Co-operation member countries. No matter which statistic it is, women are not paid equally to men.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau the median earnings of all full-time, year-round workers in 2016, women make 80.5 cents for every dollar men make, a change from 79.6 cents the previous year. (see National Committee on Pay Equity). It is no different south of the border; women are not paid equally to men for the same work.

The CBC article also reports that the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) Economics dispatch shows that women are underrepresented in private sector leadership roles in Canada. Just 2.6 per cent of women were in charge of incorporated businesses in 2014, compared to 6.5 per cent of men. That still puts Canada second among G7 countries after Italy and ahead of Germany, France, the U.K., U.S. and Japan.

The Fortune.com article, The Percentage of Female CEOs in the Fortune 500 Drops to 4%, reports, the 2016 Fortune 500 list, includes just 21 companies with women at the wheel compared to 24 last year and in 2014. To put it another way, women hold a measly 4.2% of CEO positions in the United States of America’s 500 biggest companies.

Now what is a person to make of this. Aristotle, an ancient Greek philosopher and scientist, once said, “Again, the male is by nature superior, and the female inferior; and the one rules, and the other is ruled; this principle, of necessity, extends to all mankind.”  I would like to think that humankind’s thinking has evolved since Aristotle’s time.

Napoleon Bonaparte, a French military leader during the French Revolution which started in 1789, said, “Women are nothing but machines for producing children.” I would hope that men in today’s age believe women have much more to contribute than this.

So why is there still inequality? Susan B. Anthony, an American women’s rights activist in the 1800s, said, “There never will be complete equality until women themselves help to make laws and elect lawmakers.”  I’m beginning to think that this is where the problem arises. Men are still, by in large, running the show.

The CTV News article, Iceland law forces companies to prove equal pay for women, reports that Iceland’s new law passed in January is requiring all companies to prove that their wage practices don’t discriminate against women. Iceland is believed to be a first country on our planet working to reduce gender pay gaps. The law intends to erase a current pay gap between men and women of about 5.7% that can’t be explained by differing work hours, experience or education levels, as measured by Statistics Iceland. So why would Iceland pass a law like this? Could it be that it is run by women?

In the 2016 Iceland election, female candidates won a record 30 of parliament’s 63 seats. That means female representation in Iceland’s parliament is 48%. Iceland also has a female prime minister, Katrin Jakobsdottir. (see Fortune). Iceland’s government is made up of almost half females. That could explain why such a law was passed.

What about Canada? The Globe and Mail reports that in the 2015 election Canadian voters elected 88 female Members of Parliment, putting female representation in the House at 26%, just over a quarter of the representatives. Maybe that explains why Canada hasn’t passed a law like Iceland’s. On the positive note, for the first time in Canada’s history, our Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, appointed an equally balanced cabinet between men and women, 15 women ministers and 15 men ministers. This could explain why Canada’s government is moving towards gender equity with its proposed legislation in the 2018 Budget Highlights, but has not gone as far as Iceland since Canada’s female Members of Parliament is only 26%.

It seems obvious to me. It is all about who is running the show; who is leading the country. Even so, I say to my government and my Prime Minister, come on Canada! Do the right thing and pass a strong law that forces companies to have equal pay for equal work. After all, it is the 21st Century. And to the women in Canada. Perhaps it is time to think about running the show.