The Two Faces of a Pandemic

A commentary on the current pandemic

The NetFlix docuseries Pandemic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leadership and Influence

A commentary on how much leaders empower their followers

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

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

The news article sites examples such as:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An article titled, Influence and Leadership, says:

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

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

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

It’s all About the Perception of Reality

A commentary on fear-mongering

My wife was out in the community recently and ran into a community member who had the view the “sky was falling.” What I mean is that this person thinks the world is all bad, and that there are more “bad” people in it as opposed to “good” people. I personally have talked to people with this perception as well.

I understand where this is coming from. If you watch the news regularly—which I have made the conscious choice not to—you get the impression that the world is a bad place. The news media tends to sensationalize news stories, whether it be a mass shooting, a terrorist attack, or a disease pandemic. In fact, CNN ran a story of a meteorologist who worked in a news station in Indiana who was fired after calling out his station for over-the-top weather warnings (see CNN Business). One might ask the question; Why does the media tend to sensationalize the stories they are reporting?

The ThoughtCo has an article, Is Sensationalism in the News Bad? which says:

There’s another point to be made about sensational news stories: We love them. Sensational stories are the junk food of our news diet, the ice cream sundae that you eagerly gobble up. You know it’s bad for you but it’s delicious, and you can always have a salad tomorrow.

This is one answer. The media tends to sensationalize stories because we the consumers; those who watch the news are addicted to it, so we demand the negative stories. We want to see all the “blood and gore” and see how horrible humans treat one another. Psychology Today’s article, If It Bleeds, It Leads: Understanding Fear-Based Media suggests sensationalization increases profits. It would if people are addicted to it.

There is a scene in the TV series, Station 19, where a first responder is rescuing a young person from a burning building that sells fireworks. The teen being rescued is so frightened by the fireworks explosions, he is unable to move, believing they are gun shots. As the fire fighter is dragging the overwhelmed person out, he says,

“If it terrifies you, you drink more, you smoke more, you take more prescription drugs, and that financially benefits the same people who program the news. Yes, there are bad people out there, with a crazy number of guns, but there are good people too, kind people who fight for justice, who build houses, and plant trees. Ignore the fear-mongering, or rise above it. So, don’t waste your energy worrying that you’re going to get shot. Use it to fight for the world you want to be a part of. Use that energy to use your fully functioning legs…and march you toward the world you want to live in.”

Now that is thought provoking! Could it be that the pharmaceutical companies, the tobacco companies, the companies promoting alcohol, and God knows who else are the ones dictating how the news is reported. Could it be that they want to instil a culture of fear so the fearful consume more antidepressants, smoke more, and drink more? The article, 25 People and Industries That Profit From Fear, by Business Pundit seems to support this.

The truth is, the world is full of good people. As the fire fighter’s rant in the TV show, Station 19, said, “there are good people too, kind people who fight for justice, who build houses, and plant trees.” My daughter traveled for three months in southeast Asia and she told us numerous stories of the kind people she and her friend encountered. My wife and I have travelled extensively, and we have always encountered kind and helpful people. We even had someone invite us to their home to stay while we were in Switzerland. There are plenty of news stories about acts of kindness. ABC News has a story, High school students gift new clothes to bullied classmate, that tells of a Memphis, Tennessee high school student receiving a new set of clothes and sneakers from two of his classmates because he was bullied for wearing the same clothes day after day. Here is the story.

Ellen DeGeneres, along with actor Will Smith, heard this story and were so touched by this story that Ellen DeGeneres invited the boys on her show (see Facebook video). My daughter living in Europe sent me a similar video from Sport Nation; a video where a bullied kid receives clothes from classmates (see Facebook video).  MSM News devotes an entire section to good news stories (see Good News).

It is true! The world is full of kind people. If you look to the news media, you’re likely not going to hear about them. There are many celebrity philanthropists—celebrities who makes charitable donations intended to increase human well-being. Pop star, Taylor Swift, was voted the most charitable celebrity in 2014. Oprah Winfrey, has been widely considered the ‘greatest African American philanthropist in American history.’  Bono, lead singer for U2, has been named “the face of fusion philanthropy” for collaborating with politicians, religious leaders, media organizations, and other power players throughout the world. Singer Lady Gaga and her mother Cynthia Germanotta, started the Born This Way Foundation, which is committed to supporting the wellness of young people and empowering them to create a kinder and braver world. I could go one and on. The world is full of “good people and kind people who fight for justice,” as the first responders says in Station 19.  There are numerous organizations and foundations doing the same, and many of them are addressing the issue of bullying.

The only reason people believe that the world is filled with more “bad” people then “good” people is because of media sensationalism. Fred Rogers, better known as Mister Rogers, once said, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.'” I believe that to be the truth. So, as the Dalai Lama says, “Choose to be optimistic, it feels better.”

Is Hate the New Norm?

A commentary on the increase of hate crimes.

Lately I’ve been seeing a lot of news reports about hate crimes; reports that I find both disturbing and alarming. Here are a few examples.

I recently read about a homophobic attack on a lesbian couple in London, England. The couple were travelling on a city bus where they were assaulted by a group of teens after they allegedly refused to kiss each other on demand (see Homophobic Attack).

The New York Times reported that in “Staten Island, the phrase ‘Synagogue of Satan’ was spray painted on a wall outside of a Jewish school. In Brooklyn, a pro-Hitler message was scrawled on a poster outside a Jewish children’s museum whose mission is to fight anti-Semitism. In Manhattan, two rainbow pride flags were set on fire outside of a gay bar.” (see Swastikas and Burning Pride Flags).  Another New York Times article reports “The number of reported murders, rapes and robberies in New York is lower now [2019] than it was a year ago…These recent figures show that the drop in crime that began in the mid-1990s has largely continued…Reported hate crimes are up 64 percent compared with this time a year ago. A majority of those incidents were targeted at Jews, officials said” (see Hate Crimes Up).

In my country, Canada, CBC News reports that “the number of police-reported hate crimes reached an all-time high in 2017, largely driven by incidents targeting Muslim, Jewish and black people, according to Statistics Canada data… [saying] hate crimes have been steadily climbing since 2014, but shot up by some 47 per cent 2017, the last year for which data was collected” (see Hate crimes reach all time high).

This is just a small sampling of articles I’ve seen about hate crimes. Not only was I alarmed and disturbed, but began to wonder if hate was the new norm. One of last times hate was so prevalent on our planet was pre WWII, during a time when Hitler set out to eliminate Jews, LTQB, and other undesirables. It was also the time of the Nanking massacre in China by the Japanese. The last time the world went down a path of hate; a path lead by Hitler and other extremist leaders, WWII occurred.

I used to naively think that the human race had learned from WWI and WWII and would never make that mistake again. Now I am not so sure. One thing that strikes me, is many of those who are perpetrating hate claim to be Christians. THEY ARE NOT TRUE CHRISTIANS.

A meme recently went across my Facebook feed which is a quote from Jimmy Carter, the 39th president of the United States.

I agree with the former US president. Homophobes are not real Christians! I saw another meme on my Facebook feed.

That sums it up. Hate is the choice. We cannot choose homosexuality no more than we can choose to be heterosexual. It wasn’t a choice for me. I was just attracted to the opposite sex. I did not choose to be Caucasian. I did not choose to be born in Canada, although I am grateful I was. I did not choose to  come from European heritage. I can, however, choose to hate because I fear someone different than me. I can also choose to include and love those different from me.

Pope Francis is quoted as saying: “A person once asked me, in a provocative manner, if I approved of homosexuality. I replied with another question: ‘Tell me: when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person? We must always consider the person” (see  America Magazine in 2013). Pope Francis also said, “It is deplorable that homosexual persons have been and are the object of violent malice in speech or in action. Such treatment deserves the condemnation from the church’s pastors wherever it occurs.”

Where is all this hate coming from. One word answers that. FEAR. Much of that fear is propagated by extremist leaders.

Kevyn Aucoin, American makeup artist, photographer, and author, once said:

Fear is the most debilitating emotion in the world, and it can keep you from ever truly knowing yourself and others – its adverse effects can no longer be overlooked or underestimated. Fear breeds hatred, and hatred has the power to destroy everything in its path.

How true that is. Angela Merkel, former Chancellor of Germany, once said, “Hatred, racism, and extremism have no place in this country.” I agree with Ms. Merkel wholeheartedly. Hatred, racism, misogynism, anti-immigration, or anti-tolerance of any kind has no place in any country, especially my country.

The bottom line is unless humanity makes the choice to love one another, humanity is headed down perhaps another dark path like those that caused WWI and WWII.  After all,  Jesus commanded in John 13:34 of the Christian scriptures,

“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”

This is what a true Christian does!

We Canadians Have Something to be Proud of.

A commentary on the Canadian Spirit

Every day I thank the Universe/God that I live in Canada. I am a proud Canadian. Let me tell you why.

The article, 7 Stereotypes About Canadians That Are Too Real, says that:

Canadians are notorious for their politeness and niceness. If you find yourself in a grocery store in Canada, the classic line you’ll hear from Canadians when they want to move through a tight aisle is “just gonna sneak past you there.” Sometimes, there’ll be enough room to fit two trucks, yet Canadians will still say “excuse me” to avoid alarming their neighbour casually looking at the canned goods section.

In fact, most Canucks are so polite that if you bump into one, they will probably apologize for standing in your walking space. When in doubt, Canadians err on the side of apologizing rather to avoid conflict.

In a BBC travel article entitled, Can Canada teach the Rest of us to be Nicer? it says,

We experience Canadian nice as soon as we reach customs. The US border guards are gruff and all business. The Canadians, by contrast, are unfailingly polite, even as they grill us about the number of wine bottles we’re bringing into the country…The niceness continues for our entire trip, as we encounter nice waiters, nice hotel clerks, nice strangers.

Canadian niceness is pure, and untainted by the passive-aggressive undertones found in American niceness (have a good day, or else!). It’s also abundant. Canada is to niceness as Saudi Arabia is to oil. It’s awash in the stuff, and it’s about time, I say, the rest of the world imported some.

In one recent list of rude countries as perceived by travellers, France, Russia and the UK were voted the rudest countries in the world, according to this list. The United States came in seventh place and Canada, I’m proud to say, came in 27th place out of 34 countries listed. The least rude countries on this list is Brazil and Caribbean. We’re not the nicest nation, but we’re rated pretty good.

There were two stories in the news this week that illustrated the truth behind the ‘Canadians are nice’ stereotype. Now, let’s be realistic. It’s a stereotype. Simply Psychology defines stereotype as “a fixed, over generalized belief about a particular group or class of people.” Not all Canadians are nice. I’ve met many unfriendly Canadians. Having said that, I believe most Canadians have integrity, are benevolent, and are altruistic. Here are two examples.

The CTV News article, Closed Kingston grocery store left unlocked, reports that shoppers walked into the downtown Kingston Food Basics store on Family Day—a statutory holiday in some Canadian provinces–when the store was closed, but the front doors were accidentally left unlocked. When a store manager arrived at the store, they found everything still in place. The manager was quoted saying, “Nobody took anything out of the store.” He also said some customers left money on the counter and notes; informing the manager of what they took. Police praised customers for doing the right thing. “It’s rare anywhere. We’re pretty impressed with our citizens that they’d be so honourable, honest to leave a bunch of money for the groceries they were taking.” said a Kingston Police officer. It is fair to say that Canadians value integrity and community. If that doesn’t illustrate integrity and ‘niceness’, I don’t know what does.

The news report, ‘They’re Heroes!’ reports of another example of the “Canadians are  nice’ stereotype. At Grouse Mountain Ski Resort near Vancouver, British Columbia, a group of quick-thinking thirteen year old youths cooperated to rescue an 8-year-old boy who was dangling from a ski lift. The group of teens heard the boy’s cries for help as a man who was on the lift with him—presumably his father—held onto him, unable to pull him back up. As the young boy dangled more than 6 metres (20 feet) above the ground, the group of five 13-year-old friends raced to grab nearby fencing, which they used as an improvised safety net. You can watch the video of the event in the news report.

Youth are often criticized as being trouble makers. The Seventeen Magazine’s article, 11 Ridiculous Stereotypes About Teens That Need To Go Away, list stereotypes such as,

  • Youth are addicted to social media.
  • Teens are all lazy.
  • Youth only care about themselves, and are unwilling to help others.

The ski lift story certainly counters the last stereotype. I know from working with youth for 35 plus years that most youth are compassionate, caring people.

Stereotypes come from some sort of truth. I like to think that we Canadians are friendly people. That is why I am proud to be Canadian. Canadians—for the most part—are nice, kind, , compassionate people with integrity, and community minded citizens. That is why Canada has social programs like universal health care and low-income support. Perhaps that’s why Jane Fonda, an American actress, writer, and activist, said, “When I’m in Canada, I feel this is what the world should be like.” Or, Bono, Irish musician, and philanthropist, said, “I believe the world needs more Canada.”  Bill Clinton, 42nd president of the United States, once said, “In a world darkened by ethnic conflicts that tear nations apart, Canada stands as a model of how people of different cultures can live and work together in peace, prosperity, and mutual respect.”

There must be some reason these people hold Canada up as a model country. Are we (Canadians) perfect? Hardly! Can we do better? You bet. The list of rude countries as perceived by travellers I mentioned earlier listed Canada as the  27th ‘nicest’ country out of 34, so yes we can do better. Does Canada have problems? Of course.  Nonetheless, I think we have something to be proud of.

CNBC gives a list of the 10 top countries to live in. In its article, These are the 10 best countries in the world in 2019, Canada is listed in 3rd place, with Switzerland and Japan listed in 1st and 2nd respectively.  The United States is listed as 8th place.  Business Insider’s article, The 19 best countries to live in if you’re a woman, also lists Canada in 3rd place, with Sweden and Denmark in listed in 1st and 2nd respectively. The United States is listed as 16th place for 2019.  I for one won’t be happy until Canada is number one in both. Still, 3rd place is pretty good.

I say to all Canadians: Well done fellow Canadians, but we can do better. Let’s be a world leader in niceness. Nelson Mandela,  South African anti-apartheid  revolutionary, said, “It is in your hands to create a better world for all who live in it.” Let us make the world a better place as examples of the world’s friendliest people.

Could Travelling Abroad Make a Better World?

A Commentary on the benefits of traveling

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

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

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

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

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

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

Giant’s Causeway, N. Ireland

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

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

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

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

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

Edinburgh, Scotland

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Message to My Children

A Dad’s advice to his children.

If you were to give your children advice, what would it be? In my last post (Artists May Have the Answer) I mentioned that my wife and I attended a Chris de Burgh concert. At that concert, Chris de Burgh sang one of his newer songs called ‘Go Where Your Heart Believes’, a song I had never heard before; a song from his album “Moonfleet and Other Stories” released in January of 2011. If you’ve never heard the song, here it is.

This song helped me answer that question. In September, I wrote a post (When the Nest Empties) about Empty Nest Syndrome where I admitted that I was afflicted with this syndrome when my middle daughter moved to Dublin, Ireland to attend Trinity College. This song helped me understand why our daughter needed to do what  she was doing.

Chris de Burgh’s song, ‘Go Where Your Heart Believes’ has put Empty Nest Syndrome–those feelings of loneliness or sadness after children grow up and leave home—into perspective for me. Henry Ward Beecher, a clergyman, once said, “We never know the love of a parent till we become parents ourselves.” This is so true! Sometimes as parents, we love our children so much we don’t want to let them go. That seemed to hold true for me.

Actor and producer, Peter Krause, says, “Parenthood…It’s about guiding the next generation, and forgiving the last”.  My wife and I have guided our children as best we knew how, just as our parents did. Yes, we’ve made mistakes as our parents did, but we have to trust that our guidance has enabled our children to be independent, strong, brave, and productive citizens. Chris de Burgh’s song ‘Go Where Your Heart Believes’ expressed for me the message I want to deliver to my children.

The lyrics say, “I am old but there’s a wisdom that comes with years. You are young and it’s so easy when you have no fears.”  I learned much wisdom throughout my years and I continue to do so, but I’ve also learned that I am hanging onto many fears which I acquired from my life experiences. I am now working to release those fears as they no longer serve me. You, my children, are just beginning your life journey, so live it without fear. What is fear anyway? It is False Emotion Appearing (as) Real.

Now don’t get me wrong. Fear serves a purpose. Psychology Today says,

“Fear is a vital response to physical and emotional danger—if we didn’t feel it, we couldn’t protect ourselves from legitimate threats. But often we fear situations that are far from life-or-death, and thus hang back for no good reason. Traumas or bad experiences can trigger a fear response within us that is hard to quell. Yet exposing ourselves to our personal demons is the best way to move past them”.

As it says in Psychology Today, fear protects us from legitimate threats. These are healthy fears. These fears protect us from life and death situations. The fears that I am referring to are “false emotion appearing as real.” As it says in Psychology Today, we “fear situations that are far from life-or-death, and thus hang back for no good reason. Traumas or bad experiences can trigger a fear response within us that is hard to quell.”  Those are the ones we need to dispose of. It is these fears that I am working on releasing now that I have the time to do so. These are fears like the fear of darkness, spiders, dogs, flying in an airplane, and such things as these; irrational fears.

Frank Sant’Agata says, “Love and fear are the only emotions we as human entities are able to express. All the others are just sub-categorical emotions. For example, on love’s side there is joy, peacefulness, happiness, forgiveness, and a host of others. On the other hand, fear reflects: hate, depression, guilt, inadequacy, discontentment, prejudice, anger, attack, and so on”.  Even the Christian Scriptures it is written, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love” (1 John 4:18). So, my advice to you, express love and not fear. Avoid those irrational fears.

The lyrics say, “Go, go where your heart believes, your memories are waiting, It’s the only way to find out who you are.”  So my advice to you is follow your dreams, your passions, your desires without fear! I truly wish I had done this more in my youth, but I held back because of irrational fears. I know many people who are afraid to travel to another country because of what they hear from the news media, mainly terrorism. Then there are those who fear flying likely because a bad experience or what they’ve heard on the news or tell themselves. These fears are “false emotion appearing as real.”  In an article called, Heart is more than a pump, it talks about a new branch of science called, Neurocardiology and studies in this field indicate there is constant communication between the heart and the brain. These scientific studies are showing that the heart may play a significant role in the way we experience emotions and make decisions. Maybe love is literally connected to the heart. Perhaps this is why the heart is a symbol of romantic love and a “wounded heart” means love sickness. It may also be why we have expressions like, “break my heart” (sadness due to breakup) or “have a heart” (show compassion) or “with all one’s heart” (deepest feeling). So, my advice to you is follow your heart. It is where your passions and desires are.

The lyrics say, “In this life, there is a road that you must follow, to the left or the right. One is wide but the other is hard and narrow. Take this one, and you can call it your own”. We can take the easy, safe road or we can take the tough road. I know I often took the safe road because of irrational fears. Looking back, I wish now I took the “harder” roads. Perhaps I would have taken that trip to Europe sooner. Perhaps I would have seriously considered teaching a year or two in another country, but I didn’t because I feared the amount of work involved and being far from home. So, my advice is to don’t always take the easy route!

The lyrics say, “There will be so many voices trying to turn you round, take a moment just to listen, then carry on”. Here is the most important message in the song. Stop believing what others say. It is fine to listen and consider what they are saying, but when deciding, follow your heart! I wish I had. I made the mistake of believing what others told me. My dad used to say, “If you have a job, hang on to it.” For him, a job pays the bills and to be fair, he lived through the Great Depression as a child and saw his dad–your great grandfather–struggle to feed the family. I listened to him and consequently, I went through periods of being discontented in my career.  In hindsight, I should have followed my heart.

The lyrics say, “There will be times when you’re lost and lonely, and you will have no-one beside you. And that is when you’ll find the hidden one inside, who will help you through.” There certainly will be times when you feel all alone and unsupported. These are the times when you need to trust your intuition; that knowing or understanding something without reasoning or proof. Trust that that is when the Universe, God, your angels, your guides are directing you. They are always with you. Most of the time we discredit our intuition with reasoning; telling ourselves it was our imagination. Trust it!

So, that is my message to you my three perfect children. It is a message not only for my children, but for all young people who are open to the message. Follow your heart without fear! Listen to others and decide with discernment what is best for you. Only you know what is best for you. Discover who you are. Better yet, decide who you are and be that person. And whatever you do, don’t fall victim to your fears!