Does Religious Bullying Occur?

A commentary on Religious Bullying

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Article 2 states,

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

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

A Senseless Tragedy Because of Bullying

A commentary on the absurdity of bullying

From: timeout.com

Most people that I know go into the new year with optimism, hoping that the commencement of a new year will bring a better year then the previous one. Perhaps they hope that there will be more cooperation between peoples and nations, that people are more tolerant and inclusive, and love for fellow human brothers and sisters becomes more prevalent. Or, as one New Year greeting says, “The approaching New Year brings hope to everyone for calmness, kindness and fulfillment of dreams.” I started 2020 with this hope and then I came across the Telegraph’s headline, PhD student took her own life after classmates mocked her for not being ‘posh enough’, and my hopes for 2020 were shattered.

The article reports that a 26-year-old attending the University of Kent’s School of Anthropology and Conservation in the city of Kent, England, was found deceased due to suicide. It seems this young student was vulnerable, as the third-year doctoral candidate struggled with anxiety, depression, and a low-self-esteem after allegedly being bullied because she was state-educated instead of privately schooled as her peers were. The post-graduate student also struggled with the “toxic” environment in the university laboratory, and according to her mother, was also struggling with her thesis.

What caused such a tragedy? The sad truth is the issue was the deceased anthropology student received a state education and the others received a private education. She ‘wasn’t posh enough’ her mother says. In other words, she wasn’t high-class or was considered inferior to her peers. Her mother reports that her daughter told her “about being mocked for her accent and because she’d never been sailing.”

My blood boils when I read a story like this. It brings me back to when I was in Grade 5 in the village I grew up in. In Grade Five, the farm boys bullied me because I lived in town where my dad ran a service station. The “farm boys” accused the town boys of being lazy, having no chores, and being weaklings.

The bottom line is a tragedy occurred for a ridiculous reason. This 26-year-old with the potential of changing the world for the better took her own life because her peers, who came from privilege, harassed her and saw her as inferior. I was bullied because my classmates  from a farming background saw themselves as superior because they did farm chores. The bullying that happened to me and to the anthropology student is absurd.

The rock band, Simple Plan, has a song titled, “Welcome to My Life,” that I believe relays what the 26-year-old in this story was likely feeling. If you haven’t heard the song, here it is.

Here are some of the song’s lyrics:

Do you want to be somebody else?
Are you sick of feeling so left out?
Are you desperate to find something more
Before your life is over

Are you stuck inside a world you hate?
Are you sick of everyone around?
With the big fake smiles and stupid lies
But deep inside you’re bleeding

No you don’t know what its like
When nothing feels alright
You don’t know what its like to be like me
To be hurt
To feel lost
To be left out in the dark
To be kicked when you’re down
To feel like you’ve been pushed around
To be on the edge of breaking down
And no one there to save you
No you don’t know what its like
Welcome to my life

This song, in my view, captures what a victim of a bully feels. Do you want to be somebody else? Yes. Are you sick of everyone around? Clearly, as that is why victims attempt suicide. No you don’t know what its like when nothing feels alright. You don’t know what its like to be like me. No one knows what it feels like to be a bully’s victim, unless they’ve been one. Only victims relate to these lyrics. To be hurt. To feel lost… I felt like this in Grade 5. I felt hurt. I felt lost. I felt left out. I felt rejected and unaccepted. Why? Because I lived in town and not a farm. The post-graduate student from Kent, England felt this way too—I would bet on it—because she was state-educated and not privately schooled; because she did not come from privilege, and now she is dead because of it. Shameful!

There is a very simple solution to bullying. It is called the Golden Rule, which says, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Or as the Author of “If Heaven had a Mailbox”, Jill Telford says, “Start each day asking, “How do I want others to feel?” Then act accordingly.” If every single person lived their life following this very simple rule, bullying would stop. Try it!

 

Young People Who Inspire Me (Part Two)

A commentary on social activism.

In my last post, Young People Who Inspire Me (Part One), I talked about Greta Thunberg, Áine Peterson, and Malala Yousafzai, three young people who inspire because they are making an impact in our world. I would like to continue with that same theme.

Greta Thunberg

First, an update on 16-year-old Greta Thunberg from Sweden. She is participating in the first ever Youth Climate Action Summit which brings youth climate campaigners together from more than 140 countries and territories to share their solutions to climate change on the global stage, and deliver a message to world leaders that we need to act now.

In her address to the UN Youth Climate Summit, she said, “Yesterday, millions of people across the globe marched and demanded real climate action, especially young people. We showed that we are united and that we, young people, are unstoppable.” (see Greta delivers message). Her phrase, “young people are unstoppable,” caught my attention and I hope she is right since it is the youth that have  the most to lose.

CBC’s article, Protest for Climate Action, reported that millions of youth were taking to the streets in roughly 150 countries around the world on September 20,  as part of a global strike demanding world leaders gathering at a UN climate summit to adopt urgent measures to avert an environmental catastrophe. This worldwide strike was inspired by Greta, and these were her words to the demonstrators in New York:

“Right now, we are the ones who are making a difference. If no one else will take action, then we will…We demand a safe future. Is that really too much to ask?”

I am excited about what is happening, as it gives me hope for change. I believe the world must change and UN Secretary-General António Guterres who spoke at the UN Youth Climate Summit said it best when he said,

“I have granddaughters. I want them to live in a livable planet. My generation has a huge responsibility. It is your generation that must hold us accountable to make sure we don’t betray the future of humankind.”

I don’t have grandchildren yet, but I want my children and future grandchildren “to live in a livable planet.” I’ve seen many science fiction movies that portrayed an uninhabitable world because we humans left the planet in ruins. The UN Secretary-General is right. The youth must hold my generation accountable. Let’s be honest; my, and previous generations, have exploited planet Earth for profits. American politician, Bernie Sanders, said, “What a disgrace that it takes a 16 year-old to tell world leaders what they won’t acknowledge.” He is right! So, I say, bravo, to Greta. I support your cause and wish you success.

Craig Kielburger, age 12

Craig Kielburger, a Canadian human rights activist and social entrepreneur, is another young person who inspires me. I used him as an example  of how one person can make a difference when I taught high school Social Studies. He is the co-founder, with his brother Marc Kielburger, of WE Charity, as well as WE Day.  In 2008, Kielburger was named a Member of the Order of Canada.

Craig Kielburger’s story starts in 1995, when at age 12 years old, he saw the headline, Battled child labour, boy, 12, murdered, in the Toronto Star newspaper. This was a story about a young Pakistani boy, a child labourer, turned child-rights activist who was killed for speaking out against the carpet industry. Kielburger did research on child labour and asked his grade seven teacher to speak to his classmates on the topic. Several students wanted to help, and the group of pre-teens started “Kids Can Free the Children” (later named WE Charity).

In December that same year, Kielburger travelled to Asia to see for himself the conditions of child labourers. While there, he learnt that then Canadian Prime Minister, Jean Chrétien, was travelling to India. He requested to meet with Mr. Chrétien, and was initially denied.  Kielburger was granted 15 minutes with Chretien, and he advocated for Canadian action on the issue of child labour, making headlines across Canada and internationally.  Kielburger attracted international media attention with features on 60 Minutes and the Oprah Winfrey Show.

Remember, this young man was 12 years old when he was inspired to act against injustice. I have taught many 12 year-olds, and don’t recall any of them being that aware of injustice in the world.

Time Magazine’s article, The School Shooting Generation Has Had Enough, tells the story of the Never again MSD movement. The days after the Parkland shooting—On February 14, 2018, a gunman opened fire with a AR-15 style semi-automatic rifle at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, killing 17 people and injuring 17 others—Parkland kids publicly called out the NRA’s influence on national politics, and shamed the leaders they considered responsible for the nation’s slack gun laws.

Cameron Kasky in centre

The Never Again MSD group was co-formed by Cameron Kasky and his high school friends in the first four days after the shooting.  After a vigil, Kasky invited Wind and Whitney (the other cofounders) to his house, and they came up with the name “Never Again.” The next three days after the shooting, the group gained over 35,000 followers on Facebook. The group organized a nationwide protest on March 24, 2018, where nearly a million kids across the country left class for the National School Walkout to protest the school-shooting epidemic.

The Never Again group has lost the attention of the media and is no longer making headlines. Since the groups inception, many attempts to discredit the Never Again movement have been attempted in the form of verbal attacks and misinformation by right-wing Republican leaders. Wikipedia provides specifics.

Many have spoken out about school shootings. Here are some of the most noteworthy in my opinion. Richard Patrick, an American musician, singer and songwriter, said:

“We live in a crazy time. Every other week, there’s a school shooting. There’s always some nutty thing and I’ve always wanted to kind of understand the crazy.”

Florence Yared, a Parkland school shooting survivor, spoke in Tallahassee, Florida. This was where five people were shot and wounded at the University Village Shopping Center. She passionately said:

“The right to bear arms … does not and never will overpower the individual’s right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness…We cannot protect our guns before we protect our children.”

Brandon Wolf, Pulse nightclub shooting survivor, also spoke in Tallahassee. He said:

“After first graders were gunned down at Sandy Hook, what did you do? Not a damn thing. After 49 people, including my two brothers, were murdered at Pulse, what did you do? Not a damn thing. You plugged your ears and turned your eyes and hoped that we would stop talking. Now we’re here again. 17 people are dead. 14 of them are children. And what did you do yesterday when given the chance to do something about it? Not a damn thing.”

According to Wikipedia, there have been 28 school shootings in 2019, and that doesn’t include the many that have been thwarted. The young people behind the Never Again MSD movement have just cause.

Young people—high school aged when they started—are leading the way for change and speaking out against injustice. Why? Because they have Didaskaleinophobia, the fear of school or fear of going to school. An American High School student, Jillian French, said, “We shouldn’t have to be scared (when we leave for school) that we are not going back home.” Like Greta Thunberg, high school aged youth have to tell leaders in the U.S. what they won’t acknowledge.

I applaud these young people, support their cause, and wish them success! Thank God for youth! They just might save the world.

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

A commentary on our education system.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The article goes on to say,

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

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

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

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

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

What is Wrong With Being Wrong?

A commentary on our culture’s obsession with being right.

Numerous posts come across my Facebook feed, and for the most part, I typically ignore them, but this week a post caught my attention. It contained the following meme:

It’s true. People do get offended if you say, or even imply, they might be wrong. I’ve experienced it. I have to admit that even I have had times in my life when it was important for me to be right. I can think of many times when I was offended when told I was wrong. It got me thinking about the question: Why are people so obsessed with being right? Why are people so afraid to admit they’re wrong? An email, which I get regularly from Neal Donald Walsch, arrived in my inbox, and ironically it was about that topic. It read:

I believe God wants you to know that being “right” has nothing to do with it.

The idea that you call “right” is the idea that someone else calls “wrong.” The solution that you call “perfect” is the solution that another calls “unworkable.” The position that you feel is unassailable is the very position that others assail.

What will solve all of this? Not attack, that’s for sure.  And not defence, either. So what is left? Simple human love. The kind of love that says, “It doesn’t matter who is right or wrong. It only matters that you are not hurt.  And that we both can benefit. All true benefits are mutual.”

Wow! Those are some wise words, but it didn’t answer the question: Why is it so imperative to be right? I did some research, and in a Psychology Today article titled, Why Is It So Important to Be Right?  it said,

…this fixation is more likely wed to highly competitive cultures than traditionally oriented, cooperative societies. In the latter, issues of right and wrong don’t equivalently inform one’s sense of self or identity. The ego may be shaped by other influences, such as being honored, respected, or altruistic. In first-world cultures, the drive to be right advances one in the competitive race. In the desire to get ahead, this is utilized as a core value.

That explains it.  That answers the question. We live in a highly competitive world and being right (or being the best or being number one) is highly valued.   Our parents, our schools, and even our governments encourage us to be competitive; to be the best. If we’re not the best, then we are failures. Cooperation is encouraged by our religions, but even our religions are competing with one another to draw in believers. Cooperation is NOT highly valued in our culture. Our need to be right is ingrained in us from the moment we are born, because of the culture we live in.

In an another article titled, Why It’s Better to be Human Than to Be Right, it says the consequences of having to be right are:

  1. We oversimplify reality, as not everything can be divided into right or wrong.
  2. No matter how smart or logical we are, our mind plays a role in filtering our experience.
  3. We fear being wrong. We believe if we are wrong there’s something wrong with us.
  4. The decree to be always rights adds huge stress. Our brain is under constant pressure either justifying our thoughts or hiding our flaws.
  5. We stop listening to others. The belief of ‘being always right’ assumes that everyone else is wrong. When we own the truth, we stop trying to understand other people’s points of view.
  6. Resistance to being wrong paralyzes our understanding.
From: sheofferedthemchrist.wordpress.com

The above listed costs to needing to be right make a lot of sense. We do oversimplify reality, because let’s face it, our puny brains will never fully understand reality. Quantum Physics is proving that. We do fear being wrong, because we do think there is something wrong with us if we admit we’re wrong. Let’s be honest, being right adds enormous stress to our lives. Our brain must work overtime to justify our positions, or maybe we really are hiding our defects. Having to be right does paralyze our understanding. There is little doubt in my mind that obsessing about being right is damaging.

Psychology Today’s article, What’s Wrong With Being Right, says

Yet neither the positive nor negative perceptions that we hold represent an absolutely accurate reflection of reality. They are, rather, interpretations of ourselves, other people, and our world produced and shaped by our mental software. The difference between what is and what I think is can be an incredibly difficult distinction to make, because our thoughts can be extremely convincing when we are trying to discern the truth.

Practicing open-mindedness and reflection is enormously valuable in our close relationships [or any relationship for that matter]. It can be very difficult for those of us who have long been so attached to being right. It’s freeing, but humbling.

Realistically, our brain can never know all the facts, or understand the information we receive, because of our programming. A Christian would interpret information through Christian beliefs and values, whereas a Buddhist would interpret information through Buddhist thinking. A conservative would interpret information through conservative beliefs and values, whereas a liberal would interpret information through liberal beliefs and values. Our thoughts—or ego—convinces us that we are right and the opposing viewpoint is wrong. This doesn’t mean one is wrong and one is right. They’re just two different point of views, but as long as the need to be right exists, cooperation and consensus building cannot occur.

Perhaps American poet, author and teacher, Stephen Levine, said it best when he said, “Our addiction to always being right is a great block to the truth. It keeps us from the kind of openness that comes from confidence in our natural wisdom.”

So how do we move beyond the need to be right? Neal Donald Walsch says, “Simple human love.” Mother Teresa said, “Let us always meet each other with a smile, for the smile is the beginning of love.” I think Gautama Buddha, or The Buddha, said it best when he said, “Sometimes it’s better to be kind than to be right. We do not need an intelligent mind that speaks, but a patient heart that listens.” 

My favourite answer is a quote by Paula Heller Garland, a lecturer at University of North Texas. She says, “Often after arguing about differing opinions, I hear people say, “let’s agree to disagree.” I look forward to a time, so open-minded I’ll hear people say, “I’m right and you can be, too” That is what I’m working towards.

Tribalism Isn’t Working, so There Needs to be a Better Way

A commentary on our present state of democracy.

The province where I live is presently immersed in an election to determine who will govern  for the next four years. As I educate myself and watch the campaigning, I am alarmed.  Why you ask? The Edmonton Journal’s article, Controversies hound numerous MLA hopefuls ahead of Tuesday’s election, outlines numerous candidates, most from one political party, who have posted homophobic, Islamophobic, and white supremacist comments on social media. There are other controversies as well, such as one of the parties being under RCMP investigation for voter fraud and a “kamikaze’ scheme during the leadership race, yet people continue to support this party. I don’t understand why.

More and more, it feels like elections and politics are becoming increasingly divisive and polarized. Politicians show no shame in provoking anger, attacking one another, bolstering fear, and pitting people against each other. This certainly is true for the provincial election happening right now. I see it in our Federal politics as well, with the current Prime Minister and his government attacking the opposition leader and his party and visa versa. Threats of lawsuits for defamation of character are taunted. Then there is the United States, the most polarized country with its president constantly attacking someone and most definitely displaying these polarized views.

I’ve gone through numerous elections before, so I’m trying to understand what is happening in this one. I don’t recall them being so divisive before. It could be my memory, but I don’t believe so. We seem to be living in turbulent times. Recently, someone helped me understand what is happening. He said—not  in these exact words—’our democratic system is based on tribalism’. What is he talking about?

The Oxford Dictionary defines tribalism​ as “the state or fact of being organized in a tribe or tribes,” and “the behaviour and attitudes that stem from strong loyalty to one’s own tribe or social group.” Yes, this is what is happening in our politics. We have tribes—political parties with specific philosophies on how to govern—with members loyal to the tribe, that is, political party, and its tribe members refuse to consider philosophies different from the one they align themselves with.

From Debate.org

I see two main philosophies; conservatism and liberalism, or some may say the progressives. The Oxford Dictionary defines conservatism as “commitment to traditional values and ideas with opposition to change or innovation,” and “the holding of political views that favour free enterprise, private ownership, and socially conservative ideas.” It defines Liberalism as, “willing to respect or accept behaviour or opinions different from one’s own; open to new ideas,” and “favourable to or respectful of individual rights and freedoms.” That same dictionary defines progressives as “an idea favouring social reform,” and “favouring change or innovation.”

That appears to be it. Both philosophies are found in most democratic countries,  and its people are aligned with one or the other. In Canada, some of our political parties even have these words in their names. Federally, we have the Conservative Party of Canada and the Liberal Party of Canada. In my province, we have a Liberal Party and the United Conservative Party (UCP). In the U.S. there are the Democrats—the tribe that follows liberal/progressive philosophy—and the Republicans—a conservative philosophy. Even churches like the Catholic church is divided into conservatives and liberals. I’ll be honest about which tribe I align with. It’s the Liberal tribe as we have to be open to new ideas, since many of the old ways are not working.

From my point of view, political tribalism is failing us. As I mentioned earlier, it stokes anger, promotes attacks on one another, bolsters fear, and pits people against each other. I’ve read many of the comments on political stories involving the provincial election, and people are nasty, and insults are written to those who oppose their views. Conservatism is strong in rural areas of my province, and my experience has been most are unwilling to listen to other points of view. They dig into their positions and refuse to listen to counter arguments. This is NOT healthy!

The New York Times has an opinion article called, The Destructive Dynamics of Political Tribalism, which outlines the many ways tribal politics is detrimental to our societies. Canada’s Maclean’s Magazine has an article titled, Tribalism is tearing Canada apart. The title needs no explanation.

There must be a better way; a gentler, kinder, and more cooperative way. I’ve pondered this and the only system that makes sense to me is a system of governance involving consensus, which means a general agreement must occur in decision-making.

Wikipedia explains consensus decision-making as,

a group decision-making process in which group members develop, and agree to support a decision in the best interest of the whole group or common goal. Consensus may be defined professionally as an acceptable resolution, one that can be supported, even if not the ‘favourite’ of everyone.”

Wikipedia says consensus decision-making aims to be:

  1. Agreement Seeking: A consensus decision-making process attempts to generate as much agreement as possible.
  2. Collaborative: Participants contribute to a shared proposal and shape it into a decision that meets the concerns of all group members .
  3. Cooperative: Participants in an effective consensus process strive to reach the best possible decision for the group and all its members, rather than competing for personal preferences.
  4. Egalitarian: All members of a consensus decision-making body are afforded, as much as possible, equal input into the process. All members could present, and amend proposals.
  5. Inclusive: As many stakeholders as possible should be involved in the consensus decision-making process.
  6. Participatory: The consensus process should actively solicit the input and participation of all decision-makers.
The Legislative Building of the NWT.

Does consensus decision-making exist in governance today? Absolutely. Consensus democracy government is alive and well in Canada as it is used in two of Canada’s three territories; Northwest Territories and Nunavut. These Legislatures are designed so politicians sit in a circle, symbolizing a unity of purpose.  In Provincial Legislatures, opposing parties sit across from each other, symbolizing opposing views. It’s interesting to note that the population of these territorial jurisdictions are a majority of Indigenous people.

Consensus democracy government stems from the Indigenous culture. I’ve always maintained that the traditional Indigenous people have always done things right, and this is but another example. A blog by Indigenous Corporate Training Inc. called What does traditional consensus decision making mean? explains some of the roots of this form of governance. I know many of you are thinking “no way consensus democracy would work because it is impossible to get everyone to agree.” This blog explains,

Consensus is not the same as unanimity. Consensus means a group or community arrives at a consensus by listening to the opinions and concerns of others – they work towards a suitable decision. Not everyone is necessarily pleased with the outcome but they realize it is the best decision for the community. Unanimity requires that everyone involved agrees.

This is how governments should work, and need to work. Perhaps it is time for democratic countries to seriously look at alternatives, such as consensus democracy. Just because tribal politics has been our the way till now, doesn’t mean we can’t make a change for the better.

Opposed to Better Men. I Don’t Get it.

A commentary about male privilege.

Gillette, a company owned by Procter & Gamble, released their “We Believe” ad a few weeks ago. It’s an ad that addresses issues such as toxic masculinity, sexual harassment and #metoo. If you haven’t seen the ad, here it is.

When I saw this ad, I applauded Gillete. I thought, “finally a company brave enough to take a stand against an injustice. The #metoo movement has educated us on how prevalent sexual harassment is in the 21st century, especially among celebrities and politicians.  I’ve heard the excuses men use, excuses like, women ask for it because of how they dress, #MeToo is just a “male witch hunt” and I Was Drunk.

I celebrate this ad because it promotes the idea that men can, and need, to do better, men need to hold each other accountable, and women need to be treated with respect.  The ad reminds us that young boys watch us and model what they see.

That is why I applaud this ad and this company.  I have a wife and two daughters, and I want them to live in a world where they feel safe and equal.  The ad didn’t offend me, even as a man, yet the backlash to the ad surprised me.  Am I missing something? Am I different from other men. (That is not a negative thing either).  Even after researching, I still don’t understand. Why is there opposition to an ad like this?

Business Insider’s article, People are trashing their razors, reports that some people have taken to social media to say they are boycotting Gillette and even posted photos and videos of themselves discarding Gillette razors.

Canada’s Global News’ article,  Gillette’s new ad tackles toxic masculinity, says,

“The ad sparked wild backlash, with some arguing the company was ‘moralizing’ or ‘virtue-signalling.’”

Instyle’s article, Everything to Know About the Gillette Boycott,  has a selection of Twitter reactions. Here is a sampling.

Hey [Gillette]. I have an idea, stay out of politics. Real men already stop other guys from acting badly. A razor company should want me to shave with your product. And, btw, I’m extremely masculine. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

So nice to see [Gillette] jumping on the “men are horrible” campaign permeating mainstream media and Hollywood entertainment. I for one will never use your product again.

Look [Gillette], I know your heart is in the right place.  But there’s a line.  And that line is where my razor blades start issuing me moral instruction.

The National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC)  says, “In the U.S., one in three women and one in six men experienced some form of contact sexual violence in their lifetime.”

SexAssault.ca reports, “Of every 100 incidents of sexual assault, only 6 are reported to the police and 1 in 4 North American women will be sexually assaulted during their lifetime.”

It seems to me with statistics as alarming as these, that men do not stop other men from assaulting.  Masculinity that harms the opposite sex is not something to be proud of.  Men, at least some men, do need moral instruction. Treating others with respect and dignity is a virtue. That includes women.

I found an interesting article titled, 160+ Examples of Male Privilege in All Areas of Life. This article listed examples of male privilege, more than 167 privileges to be exact. This list made me think. Here are some examples related to this topic.

Men:

  • are less likely to be the target of street harassment.
  • can have a casual, friendly interaction with a stranger, like exchanging a smile or responding to a greeting, without worrying about that stranger taking it as a sexual invitation and telling you to “lighten up” if you don’t.
  • can drink in a bar alone unbothered. In many other public spaces, including bookstores, coffee shops, festivals, and more. A woman alone is often assumed to be available for men to talk to and harass.
  • can travel alone without worrying about being targeted for violence because of your gender.
  • less likely to be stalked.
  • less likely to be the victim of revenge porn.
  • less likely to be killed by a partner. Researchers estimate that 40 to 70 percent of women who are murder victims were killed by a husband or boyfriend.
  • less likely to be blamed for your own sexual assault based on what you were wearing.
  • can stand in a crowded area, like on public transportation, without worrying about being groped.

A female once asked me (paraphrased) if I ever thought about my safety before going out alone. When I thought about that, I had to answer no. The female rebutted with, ‘as a women, I always do.’ Using the Internet, I did a comparison of safety tips for men verses women. What was interesting was there were countless web pages of safety tips for women. Most of those tips were to protect themselves from assault. (see Tips, as an example). When I googled ‘safety tips for men’, the pages I saw—and there weren’t many of them—were how to exercise safely.

I have to wonder if the men who oppose this ad are afraid their male privileges are in danger.