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?

Littering! Really?

A commentary on the disrespectful act of littering.

For the past three summers, my wife and I have camped for several weeks at a campsite near where we live. This campsite is beside a river and has a golf course where I golf at least once a day. The campsite is located in a beautifully treed area where you can truly feel connected with nature. I don’t need to write about the health benefits of being in nature as I did that in my post Nature’s Wonders in May. Spending time golfing and having campfires is what I’ve been doing for the last few weeks so in case you’ve been wondering, that is why I haven’t published anything lately.

My wife loves to walk and so I go for walks as often as I can with her. It’s good quality time together and we often have some of our best talks doing this. We either walk around the campsite visiting the occasional camper that we know or we walk down a rural road near the campground. It’s about a six kilometre (3.7 mile) walk to the location we go to and back. The road is a gravel road so sometimes we get bombarded with dust when a vehicle goes by but for the most part the road is a beautiful walk in the river valley.

litter
From Litter Heros website

The last time I walked this route, I was alone which gave me more time to observe my surroundings. What struck me was the amount of litter I saw. I counted eight (8) soft drink or coffee cups. They were from such fast food restaurants as Dairy Queen (DQ), Tim Horton’s, and MacDonald’s.  I also saw fast food napkins, a hamburger Styrofoam box, a beer bottle and a beer can. There were also candy wrappers and a level which must have fallen off a work truck. That was what I could see just from the road. I’m sure there was much more litter as the grass was long in the ditches. What disturbs me about finding beer containers is the people who tossed them likely were drinking and driving. That to me is alarming!

Years ago our son was in 4H and every year the 4H clubs participated in the Alberta Highway cleanup where 4H members gather to clean up a section of a highway. I participated with him and what I remember most about that event was the number of cigarette packages there were. Smokers seem to be some of the worst litterers. The second most common piece of litter we picked up were fast food cups. Of course there were numerous bottles and cans and other miscellaneous items including dirty diapers. During a town cleanup last year we picked up mainly fast food cups, cigarette packages, along with other miscellaneous items and yes even dirty disposable diapers.

I’ve tried to understand why people litter and the only thing I can conclude is that people are just too lazy to find a garbage can and that people really don’t care about our environment. This inspired me to learn more about the topic.

Here are some facts from a website created by a Litter Reduction Task Force to address the litter issues within the Region of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada. This site is called, The only cure for litter is you.

  • The average distance someone will carry garbage before littering is 12 paces.
  • Most litter occurs within 5 meters of a garbage receptacle.
  • Single use food and beverage litter made up 45 per cent of litter cleaned up in the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup in Ontario, Canada.
  • There are 8,000 tonnes of cigarette butts dropped by Canadians each year, the majority within 10 feet of an ashtray. It takes 10 years for the filter to biodegrade.

What people need to understand is that much of this litter remains in the environment for a long time. According to this same website, it takes an aluminum can 80 to 200 years to break down naturally but if recycled, it can be reused within six weeks.  Here is some information about how long it takes other items to break down naturally.

  • Banana peel: 3 to 4 weeks
  • Paper bag: 1 month
  • Cardboard: 2 months
  • Wool sock: 1 year
  • Tin steel can: 50 years
  • Disposable diapers: 550 years
  • Plastic bags: 20 to 1000 years
  • Plastic jug: 1 million years
  • Glass: 1 to 2 million years
  • Styrofoam: 1+ million years
6_pack_duck_270x224
From humanesociety.org

It seems obvious to me that people just don’t care what they are doing to Mother Earth. So that begs the question, Why should we care about the problem of littering? According to the same website,

  • Litter is damaging to plant life. Litter can stunt plant growth.
  • Every year, millions of birds, fish and animals die from ingesting litter.
  • Litter on the ground and in our water is dangerous to humans.
  • Litter destroys the beauty of the community. Litter begets litter. One piece of litter on the ground signals others to litter.
  • Litter is a safety hazard. It is a breeding ground for rodents and bacteria.

According to the website, Conserve Energy Future (CCF),

  • Littering is expensive. Every year millions upon millions of dollars are spent cleaning up litter. This money should be going to more productive things, but instead, people don’t realize that something as small as littering done on a mass scale does indeed affect them. Taxpayers’ dollars are being spent on littering…
  • A very large majority of Americans have admitted to littering in their lifetimes. I’ll admit it. I have littered. The average American only walks a few steps before dumping their trash on the ground without even searching for a garbage can.
  • Billions of tons of litter are dumped into the ocean each year…This leads to the repeated killing of fish on a daily basis and the gradual depletion of marine life. Believe it or not, the litter we produce is causing more underwater species to become endangered.
  • Cigarette butts make up over half of our littered objects, and they take a grand total of ten years to decompose because of a cellulose acetate, contrary to the popular perception that cigarette butts decompose very quickly in only a matter of days. In reality, cigarette butts are a serious threat to the environment.

According to the article, Littering a crime of inconvenience for Canadians by Marc and Craig Kielburger, WWF Canada says Canadians are frustrated with environmental groups telling them that making small changes will have a big impact on our planet.

But Canadians are doing their part to clean up the mess we humans have created. According to the Kielburger brothers, The Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup is one of the largest public action conservation programs in the country. Last year, more than 58,000 volunteers picked up litter along 3,000 km of shoreline and inventoried every piece. Having said that, we need to do more.

do-not-see-clipart-1It’s time we humans stop this disrespectful action of littering and start getting involved in public actions such as the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup, Alberta Highway Clean Up (if you live in Alberta) or in your local community spring clean-ups (see Communities celebrate spring with clean ups). It’s time to be stewards and to protect, respect and take care of our precious planet. No longer should we take our environment for granted. So do the right thing!

Orlando: Hate or Terrorism?

A commentary regarding the massacre that occurred in Orlando, Florida on Sunday, June 12.

us-today-7591
USA Today headlines June 13, 2016

I was horrified to learn that on Sunday, June 12, 2016, a gunman pledging allegiance to the Islamic State opened fire inside a crowded gay bar and dance club in Orlando, Florida, leaving 49 people dead and 53 injured. This sickening event is being called the deadliest mass shooting in the history of United States.

President Obama, once again commenting on a mass shooting, said it was “an act of terror and an act of hate.” So that begs the question: Was the Orlando massacre an act of terrorism or was it a hate crime? Dictionary.com defines a hate crime as a crime, usually violent, motivated by prejudice or intolerance toward an individual’s national origin, ethnicity, colour, religion, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, or disability. Vocabulary.com defines an act of terrorism as the calculated use of violence against civilians in order to attain goals that are political or religious or ideological in nature. Now if we consider the two definitions, the answer to the question would be it is both an act of terror and a hate crime. Violence in the form of gun shooting was carried out against civilians, specifically the LGBT community, and was motivated or at least inspired by the terrorist group known as ISIS so it is an act of terror. Even more, it was a hate crime. It was a hate crime clearly directed towards the LGBT community. Omar Mateen, a man previously investigated by the FBI, was allegedly motivated when he witnessed two men kissing. Seeing the two men together apparently angered him enough to commit this horrendous act.

To me, this is much more a hate crime as opposed to an act of terrorism. There is no evidence that ISIS or any other terrorist organization directed Mateen to act. I was moved by the words of Tom Walters from Canada’s CTV news station. On the night of the shooting, Tom Walters closed the newscast with these words. I wish I could say these are my words because Mr. Walters captures the essence of the problem so brilliantly.

“In simple terms, the motive for the Orlando massacre is not mystery, it was hate. And finding out what kind will explain little because every reason to hate a stranger is just as senseless. Colour, religion, sexual orientation, these are mere fragments of a human being, not the summation of who a person is or the basis to judge what a person is worth. Consigning people to categories denies them their individuality and robs them of their humanity. This is what makes hate possible…only a handful [of individuals] could do this. Now in the aftermath, some would still put individuals into categories and ask us to fear and reject whole groups. Society will never be perfectly safe from the deranged few, but when they are fed the rhetoric of hate and have access to the tools of murder, common sense would say we are less safe. Now facing the monstrous evil of terrorism, a future with less hate may seem distant…and if hate itself is the poison, that future is out of reach until people everywhere reject the ideas that diminish the individual and enable hate. That could include any doctrine that says I belong here more than you or that my love for someone is more valid than yours or I am among the chosen and you are not…but in a world of individuals we can each make a choice to reject those ideas that would add another drop of poison to the common cup.”

As Tom Walters says, “consigning people to categories denies them their individuality…and makes hate possible”. The Orlando mass shooting is clearly an act of hate directed towards the LGBT community; a community who just want to be treated as equals and live their lives happily.

The mass shooting in Orlando is but a familiar story in the United States. It was the third mass shooting in 2016 that left at least three victims dead, following shootings in Hesston, Kansas. and Kalamazoo, Michigan in February. Six months earlier 14 people were killed in a rage in San Bernardino, California. Time magazine has complied a list of mass shooting since 1984. (see 34 years of mass shootings). Wikipedia lists the United States’ firearm-related death rate as 10.44 per 100,000 people per year. Canada’s firearm-related death rate is 1.97 per 100,000 people per year. That is a significant difference. The article Gun violence by the numbers by Global News lists the USA as having 90 firearms per 100 people whereas Canada’s rate is 30 firearms per 100 people. The American Medical Association called gun violence a “public health crisis” on June 14th and urged Congress to fund research into the problem.The association pleaded that a long-standing ban on federal government research into gun violence must be lifted to better understand and tackle the problem. It astounds me that researching the gun problem is forbidden. Does that make sense?

Now this information raises a second question: Why haven’t Americans realized that there is a connection between mass shootings and the amount of guns. Canada has always had tighter controls on guns. I am convinced that is why Canada’s firearm-related death rate is much lower than USA’s. The Global News article sited earlier says you’re more likely to be shot to death in the United States than you are to die in a car accident in Canada. It seems obvious to me that the more guns a society has the more gun related deaths there will be. Americans always cite the second amendment to the United States Constitution, adopted on December 15, 1791, as a defence to owning guns. This amendment protects the right of the people to keep and bear arms.  An amendment is a change or addition to a legal or statutory document so if Americans wanted to change their relationship with guns they could change (amend) their Constitution.

Donald Trump, GOP presidential nominee tweeted on the night of the shooting, “Appreciate the congrats for being right on radical Islamic terrorism, I don’t want congrats, I want toughness & vigilance. We must be smart!” He later tweeted, “What has happened in Orlando is just the beginning. Our leadership is weak and ineffective. I called it and asked for the ban. Must be tough.” In other words, his view is that radical Islamic terrorists are to blame and so his answer is to ban all Muslims from entering the USA. Now that leads to a third question: Should we fear all Muslims because they might be terrorists? My answer to that is a resounding NO. To use the words of Tom Walters, what Mr. Trump is doing is putting “individuals into categories and ask[ing] us to fear and reject” Muslims.

Slate, an online magazine, has an article called, The Truth About Islam. The article says Muslim societies are among the least violent in the world. It goes on to say,

The reality is that Islam—like Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, and other major world religions—is neither inherently violent nor inherently peaceful. Like every other great religion, the history of Islam is darkened by periods of violent bloodletting. And the holy texts of all religions can be mined for quotes to legitimize terrorism—or indeed principled nonviolence.

The Christian and Jewish religions have had their share of “darkened periods of violent bloodletting”. In 1095 the Christian crusades began. This was when armies responded to Pope Urban II’s plea to go to war against Muslim forces in the Holy Land. The inquisition was the Catholic churches attempt to remove heresy. Both were filled with bloodletting. Judaism has a history of radical Zionism, a movement for the re-establishment of a Jewish nation. Zionism promoted aggressive war justified with biblical texts.

To categorize all Muslims as terrorists is stereotyping and that makes it wrong. There are many peaceful Muslims just as there are Christians and Jews. The Islamic Society of Wichita condemned the attack, as did many Islamic leaders. The group issued the following statement Sunday.

“Along with our fellow Americans, the Islamic Society of Wichita condemns the hateful act of violence in Orlando, Florida. In this holy month of Ramadan, we will be offering special prayers for the victims and their families. As people of faith, we stand unified against acts of terrorism and violence and will continue our work to defend all people against hatred and brutality. We urge local Muslims…to donate blood for the victims of this heinous act.” 

I would like to reiterate Tom Walters’ words to reject “any doctrine that says I belong here more than you or that my love for someone is more valid than yours or I am among the chosen and you are not.” Mr. Trump is saying that Muslims do not belong in America because they are potential terrorists. Trump is stereotyping. That is why he is calling for a ban on Muslims entering the United States. “Consigning people to categories” such as all Muslims are potential terrorists, “is what makes hate possible”. It is time to stop the labelling of groups because it “makes hate possible”. Not all Muslims are radical Islamic terrorists! The lifestyle of the LGBT community is not sinful!  Is a heterosexual’s love for another more valid than homosexual’s love? Who are we to judge? Guns kill when they fall into the hands of people who stereotype and hate. America, it’s time to decrease gun availability so they don’t fall into the hands of those who hate. After all, authorities tell us that the Orlando killer purchased guns a few days before he went on his rampage. So long as a person doesn’t have a criminal record or has no history of mental illness they can purchase a gun. Guns were created for one purpose only and that is to kill. Guns are just too plentiful and much too easy to obtain in the USA.

Legalized Discrimination

I’ve always held the belief that at least in the developed world human rights were considered sacred. I wanted to believe that because we live in the 21st century we had moved beyond discriminatory practices and racism. I thought the human race was evolving for the better. It seems I’m naive and that my assumptions were wrong.

On December 10, 1948, the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), a document listing universal rights entitled to all human beings. A human right is a right that is believed to belong justifiably to every person. Article 6 of UDHR states, everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law. Article 7 of that document states, all are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law. All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination in violation of this Declaration and against any incitement to such discrimination.

So why am I bringing up the UDHR? Well it appears that even in this modern era where we have an international declaration enshrining our human rights, that there are still people hell-bent on denying certain groups of people their rights.

On March 30 of this year, the State of Mississippi in the United States passed an Anti-LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender) Bill. Some of the law in Mississippi states, so long as individuals are motivated by “a sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction,” any of the following behaviours would be considered legal by the government:

  • Religious organizations can decline to honour any same-sex marriage or provide any services related to recognizing that marriage.
  • Religious organizations can refuse to hire, fire, and discipline employees for violating the organization’s religious beliefs, basically protecting those who carry out above mentioned actions towards the LGBT community.
  • Religious organizations can choose not to sell, rent, or otherwise provide shelter to namely the LGBT community.
  • Religious organizations that provide foster or adoptive services can decline service without risking their state subsidies.
  • Any person can choose not to provide treatment, counselling, or surgery related to gender transition or same-sex parenting.

On March 23, North Carolina passed the Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act that states, All public schools, government agencies and public college campuses to require that multiple-occupancy bathrooms and changing facilities, such as locker rooms, be designated for use only by people based on their “biological sex” stated on their birth certificate.

half-vic-lgbt
from nohatespeechmovement.org

Clearly the laws passed in North Carolina and Mississippi are in violation of UDHR, namely article 6 and 7. In essence these states have legalized discrimination.  Now this is not without consequences. The Guardian says President Barack Obama has called for North Carolina and Mississippi to overturn state laws that affect gay and transgender residents. The United Kingdom Foreign Office issued to its citizens a statement warning LGBT tourists of the dangers of visiting North Carolina and Mississippi after both introduced “anti-LGBT” laws.

According to BuzzFeedNews entertainers such as Pearl Jam, Cirque du Soleil, Bruce Springsteen and Bryan Adams have cancelled plans to perform in those states. The Corporation PayPal cancelled its plans to open a new global operations centre in the city of Charlotte, North Carolina. The German Deutsche Bank announced that it was freezing plans to create 250 new jobs in North Carolina due to the state’s anti-LGBT law. At least 13 conventions in Charlotte were cancelled over concerns over the bill. Actress Sharon Stone, scheduled to film a movie in Mississippi, decided to change the location after the passage of the controversial law.

NewNowNext reported the corporation holding the rights of the musicals West Side Story and Footloose have withdrawn permission for their musicals to be done in the states of North Carolina and Mississippi, because of the anti-LGBT laws. The Blue Man Group tour was also withdrawn.

These anti-LGBT laws were passed despite the fact that the Supreme Court of the United States, the highest court of the land, ruled that same-sex marriages  were legal throughout the entire country.

Now the justification for these laws is based on religious beliefs; the beliefs of Christianity. Yes you can find passages in the Christian scriptures supporting the belief that homosexuality is sinful. Having said that you can also find numerous passages in scripture justifying slavery as well. Does that mean that we should also pass laws legalizing slavery? I think there would be a huge public outcry if we did. Slavery was a socially acceptable practice in biblical times but now it isn’t. Perhaps the beliefs about homosexuality shown in scripture are also reflecting the social norms of day. From what I’ve learned about LGBT, it is not a choice. Their sexual orientation is a part of their genetic and/or spiritual makeup. They can’t help who they are.

First Nations or aboriginal people use the umbrella term “two-spirited” to describe same-sex attraction and gender variance. The term refers to a person who has both a masculine and a feminine spirit. I first heard of this term many years ago when I was teaching a scripture course to a group of aboriginal people. From what I was told, the LGBT community is much more accepted by the First Nations people.

419339211_640
from joshuanhook.com

Moreover, if Christianity is going to be used as justification for these laws, then all of scripture must be considered. Christians are called to follow and emulate Jesus. In John 8:1-11 is a story about Jesus who sat down in the temple to address a group of scribes and Pharisees who confronted Jesus. They brought up the issue of an adulteress woman, and invited Jesus to pass judgment upon her when they asked the question, should she be stoned, which is what the Law of Moses instructed. Jesus responded by stating that the one who is without sin is the one who should cast the first stone. The religious leaders then departed, leaving Jesus and the woman alone. Jesus then asked the woman if anyone had condemned her. When she answers no, Jesus said that he did not condemn her either, and told her to go and sin no more. This story clearly shows that Jesus did not judge or condemn others for their lifestyles. NOR SHOULD WE.

No one should be denied their human rights no matter what their sexual orientation is or what the colour of their skin is or for any other reason for that matter. If the makers of these laws truly proclaim their actions are rooted in Christian belief, then they should take heed to Luke 6:35 (NRSV) where it says, But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he [God] is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting in any way that the LGBT community is wicked. I am only trying to get across the point that God treats everyone with kindness, even the wicked. As far as I’m concerned, LGBT individuals are like you and me. They are merely trying to happily live their lives like everyone else. No matter what our beliefs are, we must still learn to be tolerant and understanding of all people.

Another Fine Man Gone

On April 9th, 2016 my father in law passed away, which is the reason you haven’t heard from me for a while. My wife’s dad was one of the kindest, most generous men that I had the privilege to know. He was always willing to help people at any time, and at any place. He helped my wife and I many times throughout our marriage for which I will always be grateful. Generosity and sharing don’t seem to be highly valued in today’s society. Society instead seems to teach us to be greedy and to be hoarders. From what I see, most people seem to be selfish with their possessions, time and money. My father in law went against the norms of our society. He was always generous with his time, money and with his possessions. By far, his strongest value was, to always help others in need.

I feel privileged and honoured to have spent his last day with him. My wife and I, along with two of his other daughters and one of his sons were privileged to spend his last day with him and to say goodbye to him. Thankfully, his two other sons were able to say their goodbyes to him earlier. We don’t always get an opportunity to say goodbye before a person leaves the earthly plane.

It amazes me how music has the ability to express exactly what a person may be feeling. At my father in law’s funeral, the musician, a good friend of my wife’s, sang the most beautiful song by Phil Coulter called, The Old Man. This song brought tears to my eyes when she sang it because it so beautifully expressed how the family felt about this man. The lyrics of the song are:

The tears have all been shed now
we´ve said our last goodbyes
His soul been blessed
He’s laid to rest
And it´s now I feel alone.
He was more than just a father
A teacher my best friend
He can still be heard
In the tunes we shared
When we play them on our own

[Chorus]
I never will forget him
For he made me “what I am”
Though he may be gone
Memories linger on
And I miss him, the old man

As a boy he’d take me walking
By mountain field and stream
And he showed me things
not known to kings
And secret between him and me
Like the colors of the pheasant
As he rises in the dawn
And how to fish and make a wish
Beside the Holly Tree

I thought he’d live forever
He seemed so big and strong
But the minutes fly
And the years roll by
For a father and a son
And suddenly when it happened
There was so much left unsaid
No second chance
To tell him thanks
For everything he’s done

Even though the song was a tribute to my father in law, it still made me think of my dad who passed away 16 years ago in March. Coulter’s lyrics, I never will forget him, for he made me “what I am”, though he may be gone, memories linger on, and I miss him, the old man. He was more than just a father, a teacher, [and] my best friend describe who my dad was for me and I know they describe who my wife’s dad was for them, which was why the family chose the song. My wife often spoke about the things her dad taught her, especially how he taught her to drive a stick shift. I’m sure the rest of the family have many memories of things their dad taught them as well. I will forever be indebted that it was her dad and her mom who made my wife who she is. She is special because her parents were special.

The song ends with the lyrics, and suddenly when it happened, there was so much left unsaid, no second chance to tell him thanks for everything he’s done. I will always be grateful, as I know my wife is, that the family had an opportunity to thank him for all he had done for them on his last day of life. A few days prior to his death, my wife wrote a letter to her dad  and was able to read it to him. In the letter she shared many of her favourite memories of him and thanked him for being her dad. Needless to say, everyone present was in tears.

On the back of my father in law’s funeral card, the family chose to insert the poem, In Memory Of My Dad by Leah Hendrie. The poem reads as follows.

If I could write a story
It would be the greatest ever told
Of a kind and loving father
Who had a heart of gold

I could write a million pages
But still be unable to say, just how
Much I love and miss him
Every single day
I will remember all he taught me
I’m hurt but won’t be sad
Because he’ll send me down the answers
And he’ll always be MY DAD

As the song did, this poem describes my feelings towards my dad. Even though he left this world 16 years ago, I believe he is still sending me answers and giving me guidance just as he did when he was still alive. My father in law also gave us guidance from time to time and I know he will continue to do so from the other side. My father in law was an inspiration and role model for his children just as my dad was for my siblings and me. His legacies will continue to inspire us.  He will always be loved and definitely will be missed.

I will forever be in awe of my wife’s oldest sister who cared for her father in recent years. She is a reflection of the kind of man her dad was. I also feel honoured to be part of a family that so generously opened up their homes as a place to stay during this sad occasion. They are truly a family that reflect the values that their father/grandfather held.