Could Travelling Abroad Make a Better World?

A Commentary on the benefits of traveling

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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!

Artists May Have the Answer

A commentary on the wisdom of war.

I came across a rather unsettling headline on the CBC News website: North Korea warns of nuclear war at ‘any moment’. There really hasn’t been much concern about nuclear weapons since the former Soviet Union fell. Whenever the topic of the United States comes up, I hear concern in people’s voices over what is transpiring with the North Koran leader, Kim Jong Un and the current resident of the White House. There has been a war of words between the two of them, each calling one other names. Trump called the North Korean leader ‘Rocket Man’ and Kim Jong Un responded saying Trump was “a mentally deranged U.S. dotard”.  In other words, Jong Un is insinuating that Trump’s mental faculties are declining. One has to wonder if there is some truth in that.

Seriously, these two world leaders are acting just like children act in the school yard. As a retired teacher, I have personally witnessed much bullying on the school playground. Donald Trump has made threats such as; “North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States. They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen”. (see NYT) and Jong Un has uttered such things as; “If the American imperialists provoke us a bit, we will not hesitate to slap them with a pre-emptive nuclear strike. The United States must choose! It’s up to you whether the nation called the United States exists on this planet or not.” (see NYT). Watching these two world leaders act like school yard bullies is really reminiscent of the numerous supervision shifts I did as a teacher. You expect children to act this way but it is just sad when grown-ups behave this way especially if they are leaders of a country.

My wife and I attended a Chris De Burgh concert earlier this week. We haven’t been to a concert of his since the late 80s. My wife is an avid fan of Chris De Burgh and was long before I met her, and that was how I got to know his music. It was a fabulous concert and he can still put on a great show even though he just started touring after 30 years in the past few years. I was reminded of why I used to go to his concerts and listen to his records. The messages of his songs are so powerful and usually touch people at the soul level.

Why am I bringing up a Chris De Burgh concert? Well, it struck me, listening to Chris De Burgh sing his songs that his messages could teach these leaders a thing or two. Perhaps instead of looking to our politicians to solve conflicts, we should be looking to our artists. One of the songs that De Burgh sang at his concert was one he dedicated to the Canadian soldiers who liberated Vimy Ridge during WWI from the Axis powers, not without a high cost of lives. The song was Borderline. If you’ve never heard it, hear it is.

The song is about a soldier leaving to go to the front in WWI but the soldier is torn because he didn’t want to leave the love of his life, hence the lyrics; I hear my country call me, but I want to be with you. But the most powerful message of the song is the soldier questioning what he is about to partake in when he says; How men can see the wisdom in a war… Is there wisdom in a war? I can’t think of any. It was U.S. president, Franklin D. Roosevelt, who said, “War is young men dying and old men talking.”  That is so true! The reality is a leader can only take his or her country to war if the people that they oversee agree with them and follow. It was Adolf Hitler who said, “How fortunate for governments that the people they administer don’t think.”  The only wisdom related to war that I know of was by Niccolò Machiavelli, an Italian diplomat, politician, historian, philosopher and writer of the Renaissance period. In one of his writings, The Prince, he says “Wisdom consists of knowing how to distinguish the nature of trouble, and in choosing the lesser evil.” Perhaps it was said better in the movie, Pearl Harbor (2001), by Admiral Yamamoto (Mako) who said, “A brilliant man will find a way not to fight a war.”

Chris De Burgh has another song, one of my favorites, which unfortunately he didn’t sing. The song is called, Up Here in Heaven and it too has a very powerful message. In case you’ve haven’t heard it, here it is.

The song talks about visiting a military cemetery. Two years ago, my wife and I visited several military cemeteries while visiting the Normandy beaches and Vimy Ridge in France.  It was probably one of the most humbling and emotional experiences of our trip. The lyrics of Chris De Burgh’s song say:

What of the children caught in the war,
How can we tell them what it’s for,
When they cry, when they cry are voices heard anymore?

Are you listening, are you listening men of the war?
There is nothing, there is nothing worth dying for;

Up here in heaven, we stand together,
Both the enemy and the friend, ’till the end of time,
Up here in heaven, we are forever,
There is only one God up here, for all of the world.

Allied WWII military cemetery visited in Normandy, France.

His second song touches on the same theme. As the lyrics say; What of the children caught in the war, how can we tell them what it’s for. When they cry, when they cry are voices heard anymore? The characters in the song are questioning if war is justifiable, especially when it comes to the young men and women who are expected to fight it. It certainly isn’t the politicians who are battling it out. But the most powerful part of the song are the lyrics: Up here in heaven, we stand together, Both the enemy and the friend, ’till the end of time. Up here in heaven, we are forever, there is only one God up here, for all of the world. I believe when our souls arrive on the other side, heaven if you will, we will discover a God that sees no differences; that loves everyone equally. There are no enemies. Even though in our societies, God is referred to as Yahweh by the Jews, God by the Christians and Allah by the Muslims, as the lyrics say, there is only one God.

For me anyway, there is so much truth in these two songs. When the soldier in the song Borderline wonders; How men can see the wisdom in a war, the truth is, there is no wisdom in a war.  War is merely a school yard fight carried out in a big way. This is the message that needs to be sent to the bully politicians of the world. There is no wisdom in war! There is simply no way to justify war to those who are expected to fight it which is usually our young people. You might ask: What do we do when a bully leader threatens a sovereign state?  It was World War 1 veteran, the late Harry Patch, who once said:

“If I had my way I would lock all leaders in a room, and let them fight it out. Then there’d be no need, for lads like me, to go to war. Why should the government send me to a battlefield, to fight a man I never knew, whose language I couldn’t speak? All those lives, lost in a war, finished over a table. Now where’s the sense in all that? Give you leaders give them each a gun, and let them fight it out themselves”.

That is what needs to be done. Place the North Koran leader and the current resident of the White house into a room and let them ‘duke it out’. No more young soldiers need to die, or in the case of a nuclear holocaust, people of all ages all because two world leaders are behaving like school yard bullies.

Do Good Samaritans Exist?

A commentary about the goodness of people.

Helen Keller, an American author, political activist, and lecturer, once said, “Science may have found a cure for most evils; but it has found no remedy for the worst of them all – the apathy of human beings.”  The Free Dictionary defines apathy as a ‘lack of interest or concern or as indifference.  George Carlin, an American comedian poked fun at this quote when he said, “Scientists announced today that they have discovered a cure for apathy. However, they claim no one has shown the slightest interest in it.” Leo Buscaglia, an American motivational speaker and writer is quoted as saying, “I have a very strong feeling that the opposite of love is not hate –it’s apathy. It’s not giving a damn.”

So why am I bringing up the subject of apathy? I have to admit that sometimes I can be cynical. By that I mean I believed that people are motivated chiefly by selfish concerns. So where does that cynicism come from? I’ve determined that its from the news media. For example, here are two recent news headlines: Indian guru jailed 20 years for raping 2 followers and killer costs family $45K fighting estate. When you hear stories like these, you begin to believe  that people are selfish, uncaring and apathetic.

Of course, there are people in the world that are selfish, uncaring and apathetic, but are these people commonplace? The Guardian has an article called,  We’re not as selfish as we think we are. Here’s the proof says, “The media worships wealth and power, and sometimes launches furious attacks on people who behave altruistically.” Altruism is unselfish concern for the welfare of others.  So is this true? The article sites a study by the Common Cause Foundation which reveals two findings:

The first is that a large majority of the 1,000 people they surveyed – 74% – identifies more strongly with unselfish values than with selfish values. This means that they are more interested in helpfulness, honesty, forgiveness and justice than in money, fame, status and power. The second is that a similar majority – 78% – believes others to be more selfish than they really are.

I recently had a stark reminder that my belief that humanity tends to be selfish, uncaring and apathetic simply isn’t true.  A few weeks ago, my wife and I were on our way to a lake with our fifth wheel when we encountered four Good Samaritans. The Free Dictionary defines a Good Samaritan as ‘a compassionate person who unselfishly helps others, especially strangers.

In case you are not familiar with the Good Samaritan story, I’ll give you the Wikipedia summary version. It comes from the Christian biblical story found in the book of Luke, chapter 10, verses 25–37 where Jesus tells a parable which is a simple story with a moral or a story told to teach a lesson. This story is about a Jewish traveler who is stripped of clothing, beaten, and left half dead alongside the road. First a priest and then a Levite comes by, but both avoid the man. Finally, a Samaritan happens upon the traveler. What makes this story so powerful, is that in biblical times Samaritans and Jews  despised each other, but strangely it is the Samaritan who helps the injured man.

So, back to my story. About five minutes into our trek we encounter our first good Samaritan. A vehicle pulls alongside of us (we were on a four-lane highway) and using hand gestures signals us to pull over. Heeding his signals, we pull off to the side of the busy highway as did the Good Samaritan. Not knowing why he signalled us to pull over, we get out to talk to this man who thankfully told us that he saw rubber flying from our trailer. It turned out that we had blown a trailer tire. We were very grateful to this kind man who took time out of his drive to inform us of the unfortunate incident.

from winjana5thwheelers.com.au/

After taking in what happened, we notice another fifth wheel parked just ahead of us. A lady comes walking towards our truck and fifth wheel to talk to us. This is when we encounter our next three Good Samaritans. This wonderful lady tells us that they had just blown a tire on their RV and her husband and son had just finished changing it. She asked us if we would like them to change our tire since her husband was a retired trucker and had lots of experience, as well as the equipment to do so. She assured us that is was not a problem or an inposition for them. How could we refuse an offer like that, so we accepted their gracious offer. After the tire was changed, we both drove to a tire shop in the community where we came from. The young man even volunteered to carry our blown tire into the shop for us. Who says Good Samaritans don’t exist. We encountered four of them in a few minutes.

Curious, I searched to see how common Good Samaritans are. Global News has a page with links to several Good Samaritan stories. One the stories is about a Teen Hero, a story about a 13-year-old North Vancouver teen when he heard a woman screaming at a strip mall in July of this year. When he saw was a man carrying a bag and running away from an SUV with a smashed window, so the teen chased down the man and tackled him wrestling the bag out of his hands. This does not sound like someone who is selfish, uncaring and apathetic to me.

An even more heroic story, Mother of 5 loses both legs, describes an incident that happened in April of this year, when a mother of five from Florida had to have both of her legs amputated after helping a car crash victim. Dani Hagmann was driving home on a highway when she noticed another car on the road had lost control and crashed. She stopped, got out to assist the driver, called 911, and waited with the injured woman until first responders arrived. Wanting to keep the injured person comfortable, she went to get a blanket when another vehicle crashed and pinned Hagmann in-between the two cars. She certainly wasn’t selfish, uncaring and apathetic. There were many more stories on the site and there are other sites.

Now I’ve always known that the world was full of ‘good’ people, but sometimes we humans can get sucked into rhetoric and the sensationalized, ‘bad’ news stories reported by the media. I know I did. Don’t believe everything you see and hear in the news. It is misleading and can give you a false sensation that people are selfish, uncaring and apathetic. There truly are more ‘good’ people on this planet than there are ‘bad’ people. When I think about my life experience so far, I can think of countless acts of kindness shown to me and my family by random strangers. That is what I want to focus on and not what I hear on the news. You should too!

The Pope, a TED Talk Celebrity

A commentary on the importance of community.

A few days ago, I went to the CBC news website to see if anything significant was happening in the world. This is something I do frequently. I was surprised to see an article called, Pope urges powerful to put people ahead of products in surprise TED Talk. My first reaction was, “the Pope gave a TED talk? How cool is that. When I read the article, and watched the talk, I was taken with his message as it made me think. Now I don’t always agree with the pope, but in regards to this talk, I think his message is one that the world needs to hear. It was a message about how influential people are failing to help those in need, and what the pope refers to as a “culture of waste”, a culture that puts products ahead of people. If you haven’t seen the talk, here it is.

The first thing that struck me in the Pope’s TED talk were his words:

People’s paths are riddled with suffering, as everything is centred around money, and things, instead of people. And often there is this habit, by people who call themselves “respectable,” of not taking care of the others, thus leaving behind thousands of human beings, or entire populations, on the side of the road. Fortunately, there are also those who are creating a new world by taking care of the other, even out of their own pockets. Mother Teresa actually said: “One cannot love, unless it is at their own expense.”

The pope is absolutely right. Our society is centred around money. Our society tends to put money and possessions before people. According to Wikipedia, a 2012 study for the years 2002–2008 found that about 25% of all senior citizens living in the United States declared bankruptcy due to medical expenses, and 43% were forced to mortgage or sell their primary residence. A 2004 Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)  report said: “With the exception of Mexico, Turkey, and the United States, all OECD countries had achieved universal or near-universal (at least 98.4% insured) coverage of their populations by 1990.” I will always be grateful that Canada has a universal health care system. Private, for profit health care is but one example where money and possessions are prioritized before people.

We are all familiar with those stories where people are treated as outcasts. The Syrian refugees would be one such group, but I would rather focus on the second part of the statement, that is, “creating a new world by taking care of the other.” One such example of this is Ontario’s basic income pilot project (see basic income). Basic income is when payments are provided to eligible families or individuals that ensures a minimum level of income. Ontario’s plan is to implement a pilot program. Supporters of the basic income say it could eliminate poverty and streamline government bureaucracies because a basic income would replace many other benefits, potentially including welfare, unemployment insurance, Old Age Security as well as others. Glasgow in the United Kingdom is considering such a project as well (see BBC). Sweden and Switzerland are also considering Basic Income programs (see Huffpost). The way I see it, basic income programs are merely a way of “taking care of the other”.

It’s interesting that research is indicating that “taking care of the other” is what happens in nature. Science Daily reports in their article, Species Take Care Of Each Other In Ecological Communities, that a University of Alberta study has determined that there are rules of existence in tropical rain forests. One species will not take up too much space so as to not squeeze out other species. Researchers say this is a way that ecological communities regulate themselves. Really, it is just “taking care of the other”.

Another message the pope had that caught my attention were his words,

Please, allow me to say it loud and clear: the more powerful you are, the more your actions will have an impact on people, the more responsible you are to act humbly. If you don’t, your power will ruin you, and you will ruin the other. There is a saying in Argentina: “Power is like drinking gin on an empty stomach.” You feel dizzy, you get drunk, you lose your balance, and you will end up hurting yourself and those around you, if you don’t connect your power with humility and tenderness. Through humility and concrete love, on the other hand, power – the highest, the strongest one – becomes a service, a force for good.

“With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility” This is a quote by Benjamin Parker (Uncle Ben) in the Marvel comic series “Spider-Man”.  Those in positions of power have a responsibility to do what is best for all the people they have influence over. Political leaders must, as Pope Francis says, be willing serve others as a force of good. It was Mahatma Gandhi who said,

“The day the power of love overrules the love of power, the world will know peace.” This is so true and this is really one of Pope Francis’ key messages in the TED talk. Or, to put it in the pope’s own words:

But the future is, most of all, in the hands of those people who recognize the other as a “you” and themselves as part of an “us.” We all need each other.

The blog called Tiny Buddha, gives six reasons for why we need one another in a post called The Power of Community,. They are:

  1. Collective wisdom. No one person ever has all of the answers. This makes sense since the more ideas there are, the more likely a solution to a problem can be found.
  2. Pushing our limits. When a person is alone, it’s easy to give up when things get tough. When you’re with others you’ll have people to motivate, and push you to do things you likely wouldn’t do otherwise.
  3. Support. On those days when you most want to give up or just can’t seem to move forward, you need to lean on your community for support to get you through.
  4. New ideas.  In a diverse world, there are many views. That is a good thing as it provides many approaches to a problem since everyone sees things differently.
  5. Motivation.  Sometimes all we need to do is look around our community to be inspired.
  6. Accountability.  When you’re accountable to others you are more likely to “step up to the plate” and accomplish something.

There is no doubt, in my view, that we need community; that we need one another simply because we cannot do it alone. The poet, John Donne, says it best when he said, “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent.” We need one another therefore we have a duty to take care of one another. There is an idiom that says, “I am not my brother’s keeper”, but I say we are our brother’s keeper. That is what Pope Francis is saying. If humanity is to survive, we must take care of one another. I would add we also need to take care of our home, the planet earth, as well because I know the pope would agree with that as well.

Is There a Cure for Racism? You Bet There is.

A commentary on racism

Obviously, I must be naiver than I thought because I truly thought that my generation was less racist than my parents and grandparent’s generations. I believed that racism was disappearing more and more with each generation. It seems I was wrong. The racism, at least in Canada, was hidden; below the surface so to speak.  Racism in Canada was intangible until all the rhetoric from south of the border starting filtering into Canada’s news media.

From cbc.ca

CBC recently published a news article called, Ottawa church fi
ghts racism. A Baptist church in Westboro, an area in the west end of Ottawa, Canada, is trying to use lawn signs to build community, and combat the negativity and racism being directed towards refugees in both Canada and the United States.  The First United Church printed 200 signs that read “No matter where you are from, we’re glad you’re our neighbour,” in the languages of English, French and Arabic. The idea for the signs was inspired from similar campaigns in the United States and southern Ontario.

It was felt that the signs were a way to make a public statement without being political. One church volunteer said, “Make it clear that we’re happy, that diversity is a positive thing, that having neighbours from all over the world and from diverse places is great and that we’re happy to get to know our neighbours and welcome everyone to the community.”

There seems to be a perception in Canada, and seemingly more so in the United States, that diversity is a bad thing; that immigration needs to be slowed or even stopped. Well the truth is, diversity makes for a better society and scientific studies prove that.

In the Scientific American article, How Diversity Makes Us Smarter, studies show that being around people who are different from us makes us humans more creative, more diligent and harder-working. One study involving “more than 350 students from three universities participated in the study. Group members were asked to discuss a prevailing social issue (either child labor practices or the death penalty) for 15 minutes. The researchers wrote dissenting opinions and had both black and white members deliver them to their groups. When a black person presented a dissenting perspective to a group of whites, the perspective was perceived as more novel and led to broader thinking and consideration of alternatives than when a white person introduced that same dissenting perspective. The lesson: when we hear dissent from someone who is different from us, it provokes more thought than when it comes from someone who looks like us”.

This is just one of the numerous studies stated in the article. The fact of the matter is, the article clearly shows how diversity improves creativity, increases innovation, and increases open-mindedness. In other words, society is healthier with diverse environments.

A debate has gone on for some time over whether people are inherently racist; whether infants are born racist. Personally, I think it is a ridiculous argument. If you’ve ever held a child under six months old, you would clearly see that babies love everyone. They just want to be loved by everyone.

A US News’ article, Babies Not Racist, reports on a University of Massachusetts—Amherst study. The study found white 9-month-old babies were worse than white 5-month-old babies at telling apart African-American adults. The news media had a “field day” suggesting that the study is evidence for inherited racism. Time reported the study with the headline, Your Baby Is a Racist, and the Telegraph with the headline, Babies show racial bias. As the US News article points out, all the babies in the study had “little to no previous experience with African-American or other black individuals.” In fact, at that age, babies can’t tell apart something they’re not used to seeing. At least four previous studies suggested that infants who aren’t familiar with other races have difficulty identifying differences in facial structures.

There is convincing proof that racism is learned. In Jane Elliot’s infamous “Blue eyes–Brown eyes” exercise, she clearly demonstrates how racism is learned. Ms. Elliot was a third-grade schoolteacher in the 1960s and 1970s. She decided to base the exercise on eye colour rather than skin colour in order to show the children what racial segregation would be like. If you are not familiar with the exercise, here is part of a documentary explaining her exercise.

The results from the exercise are startling. As a result of the exercise,  Jane Elliot declared,

 “You are not born racist. You are born into a racist society. And like anything else, if you can learn it, you can unlearn it. But some people choose not to unlearn it, because they’re afraid they’ll lose power if they share with other people. We are afraid of sharing power. That’s what it’s all about.”

The Atlantic’s article, New Evidence That Racism Isn’t ‘Natural’, reports on a 2013 paper in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, of four researchers who performed amygdala studies, previously done on adults but now was being done on children. The amygdala is mass of grey matter inside each cerebral hemisphere involved with the experiencing of emotions. The researchers found that the racial sensitivity of the amygdala doesn’t kick in until around age 14 and once it kicks in, it doesn’t kick in equally for everybody. The more racially diverse the peer group, the less strong the amygdala effect. At really high levels of diversity, the effect disappeared entirely. The authors of the study write that ”these findings suggest that neural biases to race are not innate and that race is a social construction, learned over time.”

Martin Luther King, Jr., an American civil rights leader in the 1960s said, “I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality… I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.” This is what I believe as well. Pierre Berton, a noted Canadian author of non-fiction, once said, “Racism is a refuge for the ignorant. It seeks to divide and to destroy. It is the enemy of freedom, and deserves to be met head-on and stamped out.” There is no doubt in my mind that racism is learned and evolves from fear and ignorance.

I’ll finish with another one of Jane Elliot’s quotes.

“White people’s number one freedom, in the United States of America, is the freedom to be totally ignorant of those who are other than white. We don’t have to learn about those who are other than white. And our number two freedom is the freedom to deny that we’re ignorant.”

The same holds true for Canadians. We too have the freedom to be totally ignorant of those who are other than white and we too have the freedom to deny that we’re ignorant. “Ignorance is bliss” they say. It is time to speak up against the stupidity of racism!

Dance Could Change the World Too

A commentary on the value of dancing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Dance like nobody’s watching.”

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

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