Oh, Those Stereotypes.

A commentary on stereotyping.

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A stereotype is an over-generalized belief about a particular group of people. Business Insider’s article, 5 mistaken ideas about Americans, says a common stereotype of Americans throughout the world, is Americans are loud, arrogant, and entitled. That is certainly a stereotype that many Canadians hold.

The Globe and Mail’s article, These days, Canadians aren’t big fans of the U.S, published in October 2018, says,

In its report, the Pew Research Center found that “just” 39 per cent of Canadians had a favourable opinion of the U.S., the lowest percentage in polling since 2002. Two years ago, during the final stretch of Barack Obama’s presidency, 65 per cent of Canadians expressed a favourable opinion of their southern neighbour.

The drop was even more dramatic for Mr. Trump himself. “Only” 25 per cent of Canadians have confidence in Mr. Trump, the report said – a slight uptick from 2017, but plummeting from 83 per cent in the final year of Mr. Obama’s tenure.

Now that is striking, and in my experience accurate as pretty much anyone I talk to, has a negative view of Americans. The reality is, America gets a bad rap because of the current resident of the White House.  He certainly fits the American stereotype of being loud, arrogant, and entitled. News reports that us Canadians hear about white supremacy and the anti-immigration rhetoric coming from the United States doesn’t help either.

The Globe and Mail article goes on to say,

The trends in Canada – a two-year erosion of U.S. favourability and presidential ratings – were pervasive among America’s allies and neighbours, the survey suggests. In Mexico, positive views of the U.S. have decreased by an even greater percentage than in Canada since the end of the Obama presidency.

The negative view of the United States is prevalent throughout the world.

I believe regular, everyday Americans are getting a bad rap. Let me tell you why, based on my experience.  My wife and I just returned two weeks ago from a vacation in Maui, Hawaii. It was a wonderful trip of sun and beaches after a winter from hell. But this is not my point. Being we were in one of the American states, as expected, we met American citizens from all over. We met people from California, Tennessee, Kentucky, Oregon, Montana, New York, Washington, Arizona—I’m sure I’m missing some—and Hawaii.  I can honestly tell you that not a single one of them were loud, arrogant, or acted entitled. In fact, the only loud, arrogant person we met, ironically, was a Canadian.

An interesting side note, the vast majority of Americans that we met never spoke of their president or talked politics. I may be wrong, but Americans almost seemed embarrassed by their politics. We did meet a few people who made of point of telling us that their country was a mess because of Trump.

So, the question is: Is the stereotype wrong? No.  The article, All Stereotypes Are True, Except, by Psychology Today,  says,

Many stereotypes are empirical generalizations with a statistical basis and thus on average tend to be true. If they are not true, they wouldn’t be stereotypes. The only problem with stereotypes and empirical generalizations is that they are not always true for all individual cases. They are generalizations, not invariant laws.

There are plenty of Americans who are loud, arrogant, and entitled, but as far as that goes, there are plenty of Canadians who are as well. I’ve met many of them. I’m sure there are in every country.

Is there a danger with Stereotyping?  Yes. Stereotypes encourage prejudice.  How?  Another Psychology Today article, The Psychology of Prejudice and Racism, says,

By definition, stereotypes are limiting and disregard people’s individuality. They also lend themselves to negative and derogatory assumptions. When that happens the stereotype blends into prejudice.

As I mentioned earlier, not a single American that we met in Maui was loud, arrogant, or acted entitled. How does one explain that? Well, I can only speculate, but of all the Americans we met, they all were willing to travel and try new experiences, even if it was only in their own country. Many mentioned that they’ve been to Europe or other places, though. Those that travel meet people of other races and cultures, and become more tolerant of difference.

Intolerance can also be built by meeting and getting to know immigrants. If people—Muslims, Christians, Blacks, White, Indigenous, and so on—get to know one another, prejudices and racism would decrease. The reality is, we are all human beings with the same pains, desires, struggles, etc. This is what William Shakespeare is saying in the play, The Merchant of Venice.

In Act 3, scene 1 of the play, Shylock confronts two provoking Christians saying, “I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions… warm’d and cool’d by the same winter and summer, as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die…”

It seems this struggle has gone on for centuries.

Does creating friendships with individuals from other cultures and races reduce prejudice? Absolutely!  The Psychology Today article mentioned earlier says,

Positive emotional experiences with members of different groups [people from other cultures or races] can also reduce negative stereotypes. Having close friends from different groups is especially effective in this regard.

I would encourage everyone to put away their fear of other cultures and races, and instead ,talk to them, whether that be through travelling or meeting new immigrants. The world will be a better place because of it.

We Canadians Have Something to be Proud of.

A commentary on the Canadian Spirit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When Will the Meanness End?

As a teacher, I spent my entire career trying to instill in my students the values of respect, responsibility, honesty, integrity, kindness, and compassion. I know many of my colleagues did as well. We tried, as teachers, to show students that bullying behaviour was unacceptable, and not the way to solve problems. We also taught that all people were equal and that racism was immoral.

What is discouraging is the amount of bullying I see happening in the world. The World Health Organization defines bullying as, “repeated exposure of one person to physical and/or emotional aggression including teasing, name calling, mockery, threats, harassment, taunting, hazing, social exclusion or rumours.”  Here are two recent examples.

The Edmonton Journal reported that an Edmonton, Alberta mosque received a detestable letter in January of this year. Here are some of the highlights of the letter:

“On behalf of real Albertans, we would like to advise you that you and your religion [Muslims] don’t belong here in Alberta…We are White. We are Christians. We are Proud…Our Premier to be…is going to take Alberta back…We are not racist. We just want our way of life back.”

What amazes me is the author(s) say they speak on behalf of real Albertans. For those who may not know, an Albertan is a person who lives in Alberta, one of the ten provinces in Canada. I googled ‘real Albertans’ because I really don’t know what a real Albertan is. I could not find a definition. By the tone of the letter, I would say I am not a real Albertan, even though I was born, raised, and lived here all my life.

The letter says ‘we are White’ and ‘We are Christians.” I’m also white and raised Christian. A declaration of ‘we are white’ can only be interpreted as a declaration of white supremacy. Meriam-Webster Dictionary defines white supremacy as a “person who believes that the white race is inherently superior to other races and that white people should have control over people of other races.” So, that definitely makes me not a real Albertan as I think ALL humans are equal. That is what the UN Declaration of Human Rights says in Article 1: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.”

Now what astonishes me the most about this terrible letter is the declaration, “We are Christian.” There is nothing Christian about this letter’s message. Romans 2:11, in the Christian Bible says, “For God shows no partiality.” Furthermore, Mark 12:31 commands, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” The message of the letter is the opposite. There is NOTHING Christian about this letter’s message.

The declaration, “We are not racist,” in the letter is what astounds me the most. Meriam-Webster Dictionary defines racism as “a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race.” The letter’s declaration of “We are White” infers whites are superior. Clearly the author(s) of this letter are racist and don’t know what a racist is, nor what a Christian is.

In January of this year, CTV News reported that a threatening letter was left on the doorstep of a Leduc, Alberta Indigenous family urging them to ‘move out’.  The letter said, ‘We do not like your kind’. This is eerily similar to a letter I referred to in an earlier blog post, Should we be worried.  That letter, like this one, was signed “Your friendly Neighbours.” There is nothing friendly about a letter that threatens. The authors of this letter are hypocrites.

Furthermore, this is a racist letter. The author(s) are suggesting superiority of a particular race—the white race—for they stated, ‘We do not like your kind’.  They disapproved of the family’s “lifestyle,” criticizing the upkeep of the family’s home. The writers wrote, “If you cannot take care of your property, then go back to the Indian reservation where it is accepted…We gave you land and you need to respect the generosity.”

The last statement is insulting, as the author(s) clearly don’t know Canada’s history. Indigenous people are the original peoples—thus why they are referred to as First Nations People—of Canada. A website of the government of British Columbia (another Canadian province), also called B.C. says, “Indigenous people have lived in the area now known as B.C. for more than 10,000 years.” Europeans, on the other hand, landed in Canada in 1497 with the expedition of John Cabot. Really, the Norsemen (Vikings) were the first in Canada dating to around the year 1000. L’Anse aux Meadows, in Newfoundland and Labrador is the only confirmed Norse archeological site in North America, and is widely accepted as evidence. Indigenous people were in Canada long before Europeans.  This is why the letter’s statement, “We gave you land and you need to respect the generosity,” is absurd. If anyone was generous, it was the Indigenous people who welcomed and allowed the Europeans to stay.

I like to believe that we teachers made a difference in instilling values into our students. I’ve had parents tell me we have. But, it only takes one person to undermine what teachers and parents do. The Psychology Today’s article, The Trump Effect: An Update, says,

“Last spring, we wrote a two-part post about “The Trump Effect,” which was originally defined as an increase in bullying in schools caused by the rhetoric Donald Trump used during his presidential campaign. Now, a year into Mr. Trump’s presidency, the definition of The Trump Effect has expanded to include religious and racial bullying by adults as well as: misogyny, sexual assault, and other socially unacceptable behaviours.”

The article goes on to say,

“Free speech and expressing our opinion is a constitutional right. It’s up to others whether or not they want to listen. But when the speaker is POTUS, we all listen. And when the president’s use of provocative rhetoric that causes harm to others, including and especially innocents, or when he behaves in previously unacceptable ways, what can we do? What should we do?

First, we can realize the only person we have control over is ourselves. We control what we think, what we choose to say, and how we act and react. We can choose to be harsh and damaging, or to be kind and compassionate.”

It is not fair to put all the blame on the current resident of the White House, as there are other world leaders spewing rhetoric promoting racism and bullying. However, Trump is likely the single most negative influence in North America. This childish man has brought out the worst in some people and his rhetoric is impacting my country. What Trump has taught me is our world needs more love, kindness and compassion.  Thankfully, there are good people. Neighbours of the Leduc Indigenous family overwhelming came out supporting the family. (see Hateful letter backfires).

A TRUE Christian speaks out against unkindness, racism and bullying. Christian or not, that is what we need to do. I think Francis of Assisi said it best in the Serenity Prayer. “Lord, grant that I might not so much seek to be loved as to love.”  Or as the Christian Bible says in 1 John 4:20,

“If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.” If the authors of these letters claim to be Christian, then they need to act as one.

Is First Contact with Indigenous People Necessary?

A commentary on the ignorance of non-Indigenous people about Canada’s first residents

This month, CBC reported on a ‘Offensive’ online test about Indigenous Canadians.   This test was being used in an Outreach school, which is a school for students who don’t fit into a traditional school.  This school was using distance Learning materials which contained a multiple-choice test question which asked about the “positive effect” of residential schools. Students could choose from four possible answers such as “children were away from home” and “children became civilized.” A photo of the question was posted to social media by an offended student from the school, sparking swift apologies from the province’s education minister and school officials among condemnation from critics.

As the CBC article states, this question reflects views that are decades old; the very views highlighted by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada that calls for change. With all that has been learned about the Residential Schools in recent years, it amazes me that a question like this is still in use. Clearly there is much educating and healing to be done between Indigenous people and non-Indigenous people. As a social teacher who taught about Residential Schools, I assure you there was nothing positive about these schools. The only intent of these schools was cultural genocide. Or, as spoken by our first Prime Minister, Sir. John A MacDonald in 1887, “The great aim of our legislation has been to do away with the tribal system and assimilate the Indian people in all respects with the other inhabitants of the Dominion [of Canada] as speedily as they are fit to change.” There is nothing positive about destruction of another culture.

In another CBC news article titled, Radio ad claiming to debunk ‘myths’ of residential schools draws criticism, reported this month that a two-minute ad aired across multiple private radio stations in the province of Saskatchewan. It begins with a question: “are Canadians being told the whole truth about residential schools?” It continues, “We have been told that the residential school system deserves the blame for many of the dysfunctions in Indigenous society — abuse of alcohol and drugs, domestic violence and educational failures can all be blamed on the school system which did not finally end until the 1990s,” says the ad. This ad then goes on to debunk what it calls myths, such as the myth that residential schools robbed native kids of their childhood and the myth that the harm that was done to those attending residential schools has been passed on to today’s generation.

I was appalled to learn of this. It reminds me of the Holocaust deniers who deny the genocide of Jews occurred and who claim that Nazi Germany’s Final Solution was aimed only at deporting Jews, claiming the slaughtering of Jews is a myth. Now  we have residential school deniers who deny that residential schools were  harmful and that the problems of the Indigenous people are unrelated to these schools.

Earlier this month my wife and I watched a three-part series on APTN (The Aboriginal Peoples Television Network) called First Contact. If you missed it, I strongly encourage you to watch it when it is rebroadcast on October 8th. I have taught Social Studies for years and thought I knew all there was to know about Indigenous people. This program taught me things I never knew and challenged my stereotypes about Indigenous people.

First Contact takes six Canadians, all with strong opinions about Indigenous People, on a 28-day journey into Indigenous Canada. These were people from all across Canada and who describe Indigenous people as alcoholics, drug abusers, welfare cheats, lazy, and entitled. They claim Indigenous Canadians are angry at white people, always get free money and handouts, are a drain to the system, and they just want people to feel sorry for them as  they are victims. One participant, who lived by a reserve growing up, spoke of how she was told never to go on the reserve as it was dangerous and to never look  at an indigenous person.

These six individuals left their everyday lives behind and traveled to Winnipeg, Nunavut, Alberta, Northern Ontario, and the coast of BC to visit Indigenous communities. The idea was to challenge their perceptions and confront their opinions about Indigenous Canadians.

In Episode one, the participants begin their journey in Winnipeg, Manitoba. In Winnipeg they work alongside two community driven movements; the Bear Clan patrol which works to keep Winnipeg’s notorious North End streets safe, and Drag the Red which takes on the sobering task of helping to solve cases of missing and murdered Indigenous women by searching the river, and the riverbank, for remains or other evidence. Then the group traveled over 2,000 kilometres north to the remote Inuit community of Kimmirut where they discover how difficult life on the land is for the Inuit people.

In the second episode, the group of six arrive in Muskrat Dam, one of several fly-in reserves in Northern Ontario. Let’s face it, us non-Indigenous Canadians cannot understand why aboriginal people continue to live in remote places like Muskrat Dam. While there, the participants learn why relocating isn’t an option for them as families have lived there for generations. They will also learn tough lessons about educating youth in a remote fly-in community, the impact of the legacy of residential schools, and learn that clean drinking water is unavailable there, and is unavailable in 140 other reserves across the country. The next stop takes the travellers to Alberta. With a population of over 17,000, the Maskwacis reserve has a reputation for gangs, crime, and a high suicide rate.  In Maskwacis, the six attend their first Pow Wow and sweat lodge ceremony, causing some attitudes within the group to shift.

In the last episode, the group is taken to Calgary, to experience life on the streets, and then north, to an Edmonton prison to learn about life on the inside for Indigenous inmates. According to a Statistics Canada report, Indigenous people comprise about 5 per cent of Canada’s population but account for 27 per cent of the federal prison population in 2016–17. The final stop is in Ahousaht First Nation, on the west side of Vancouver Island. Historically, Ahousaht has suffered many issues, but in recent years, with strong leadership from within, the reserve has made many changes and turned the community around. Sadly, not all minds were changed. A rift began to occur in the group, ending with four of them challenging the two individuals from my home province who still held the same view of Indigenous Canadians as when they started.

One of the lines in the series that struck me was, “We are all treaty people.” Indian Treaties were agreements made between Europeans and Native Canadians used to secure alliances, and most often to acquire land from Native Canadians. None of us were present when these treaties were agreed upon. It was our ancestors who made these agreements. That is true for those of us who are descendants of European settlers as it is for Indigenous Canadians. These Treaties are still honoured today, so the statement, “We are all treaty people,” is true. Treaties do not just apply to Native Canadians.

The chief from Alberta’s biggest reserve, Maskwacis, said money for his people came from a fund. He said most non-aboriginal people don’t understand that the money they use to run their reserves comes from this fund and that the fund is a finite amount of money. I wondered what he meant by fund. The CBC article, How does native funding work? explains how funding from the federal government works. The article states,

“The federal government established each First Nation band as an autonomous entity and, therefore, provides separate program funding to each one…”

“The primary method to fund [Indigenous] services is through what’s called ‘contribution agreements.’ The agreements are renewed annually, although not always on time…that means ‘First Nations must often reallocate funds from elsewhere to continue meeting community service requirements.’ The article also says that “while the agreements state the services or actions to be provided, they do not always focus on service standards or results to be achieved…there’s no linking of funding levels to national standards for services such as in the equalization program for provinces.” The article says the growth rate of federal funding to First Nations has not been keeping pace with the growth rate in transfers to the provinces.

This must be what Maskwacis’ chief means by fund.  Each reserve receives a set amount of funding from the federal government to provide services for their band.  The truth is, Indigenous people do not get endless handouts from the government, as many Canadians think.

There is so much misinformation about Indigenous Canadians and stereotypic beliefs about aboriginal people . It is time that we as non-Indigenous Canadians learn the truth about residential schools and the effects of it instead of sitting comfortable in our ignorance and being arrogant with our judgemental point of views. The two individuals in the series from my home province illustrated this by their lack of openness to change their views.

Christmas Controversies 3.0

A commentary on the Christmas controversies of 2017

I realize it has been a while since I’ve published a post and I’ll tell you more about that in another post, but the Christmas season is fast approaching so it seems only appropriate that this post be about Christmas. Every year at this time of year, I am curious about what controversies will erupt regarding Christmas. I’ve learned this year, like previous years, there are many.

In October, while speaking at the Values Voter Summit in Washington, D.C., Donald Trump claimed that political correctness has gotten in the way of celebrating the holiday. He told the crowd that “we’re saying Merry Christmas again” now that he’s president. At the Christian public policy conference, he said “We’re getting near that beautiful Christmas season that people don’t talk about anymore. They don’t use the word Christmas because it’s not politically correct.”  (see Trump: ‘We’re saying merry Christmas again’). I can’t say as I’ve experienced that as most people still say “Merry Christmas” in my community.

Every year we hear about this storm.  Essentially, the issue is about political correctness and whether people should say to one another Happy Holidays or Merry Christmas. To me there is nothing to debate. Just let common sense prevail, but it seems common sense is not so common. It is really about basic etiquette. If you know someone is a Christian who is celebrating Christmas you should say to them ‘Merry Christmas.’ Likewise, say ‘Happy Hanukkah’ to a person you know is Jewish. Similarly, say a happy Diwali to your Hindu friends. Diwali is the autumn Hindu festival of lights celebrated every year.  During the month of Ramadan, Islam’s holiest month, say “Ramadan Mubarak” which means “Happy Ramadan”. If you don’t know a person’s faith, say what feels right; either Happy Holidays or Merry Christmas. Being that Canada (and the U.S.) is primarily a Christian country, no one should be offended. If I were in Israel, I would not be offended if someone wished me a “Happy Hanukkah”. Why would a non-Christian be offended when being wished a Merry Christmas in a Christian country?

In fact, The Guardian’s article, Don’t cancel Christmas on behalf of Muslims like me – I love it by Remona Aly, a Muslim, says, “Trying to avoid offending the sensibilities of other religions by watering down Christmas traditions merely fuels the myths of Islamic intolerance.”  The article also says, “there are non-Christians who won’t feel comfortable with saying, “Happy Christmas”, or with being in a nativity play, and that’s totally fair enough and up to them. They shouldn’t be treated like weirdos, nor should they be labelled with that grating word, “intolerant”. So there you have it. I doubt a non-Christian would be offended in a Christian country that celebrates Christian festivals. Why would they?

ABC News article, Upside down Christmas tree trend sparks controversy online, describes a trend whereby Christmas trees are literally turned upside down and decorated. So why would this be controversial? It seems some on social media say this fad is disrespectful to Christmas traditions. Well, traditions can and do change. Now, to be honest, I don’t believe this fad will catch on, but if someone thinks it is cool, then why knock it. Everyone is free to celebrate how they wish so long as it is not injuring someone else.

I’m curious. Where did this idea of decorating a tree for Christmas come from? No one can say for certain, but Country Living’s article, Where Did the Tradition of the Christmas Tree Come From?, says in 1771 “while Christmas trees were appearing in Germany years earlier, the trend really caught on after writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe visited Strasbourg, near the German border, and included the concept in his novel, The Sorrows of Young Werther”. That same article says that the 1820s was the first record of German settlers in Pennsylvania decorating evergreen trees in America.  It is interesting to note that as late as the 1840s Christmas trees were seen as pagan symbols and not accepted by most Americans.

According to History.com,

“The early 20th century saw Americans decorating their trees mainly with homemade ornaments, while the German-American sect continued to use apples, nuts, and marzipan cookies. Popcorn joined in after being dyed bright colours and interlaced with berries and nuts. Electricity brought about Christmas lights, making it possible for Christmas trees to glow for days on end. With this, Christmas trees began to appear in town squares across the country and having a Christmas tree in the home became an American tradition”.

Now I say to you, traditions regarding the decorating of the Christmas tree have evolved over the years, and they continue to today. No reason to get offended, folks!

Now for the final controversy that I’ll address. It seems for three years in a row now, Starbucks has been immersed in a Christmas controversy over its Holiday cups. This year is no different. According to the New York Times article, Starbucks Is Criticized for Its Holiday Cups. Yes, Again, some people feel that Starbucks is promoting homosexuality.  The interlinked hands on the 2017 Starbucks holiday cups have some suggesting a “gay agenda.” Are people just looking for something to attack Starbucks about?

On November 1st the Holiday cup was introduced with an online video. It featured a diverse cast of Starbucks customers, including a pair of cartoon women who were shown holding hands. The nature of cartoon women’s relationship was not specified, but some viewers saw them as a sign of inclusion of gay and transgender customers. My reaction to that is gay and transgender customers should be included. Why would a business exclude a potential customer? More importantly, I would like to remind people what Christmas is about.

I think the late Dale Evans. an actress and singer, said it best when she said, “Christmas, my child, is love in action” or the late Bob Hope, an actor, comedian and singer, who said, “My idea of Christmas, whether old-fashioned or modern, is very simple: loving others”.  Christmas is the time Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus. This is the same child that grew up to give a new commandment, according to Christian scripture. In the Book of John, chapter 15, verse 12, Jesus says, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another”. He didn’t say love only those you approve of. In fact, in Luke 6.27 Jesus says, “But I say to you, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you.” Jesus’ message was to love everyone. No exceptions!

Since Christmas is a Christian holiday, I’ll define love using Christian scripture. In 1 Corinthians 13:4-8, it says, “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things”. This says love is kind and love does not insist on its own way. It seems to me excluding gay and transgender people stems from arrogance and insisting on its own way.  This is not love; in essence, going against the spirit of Christmas.

Dr, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, a Swiss-American psychiatrist, once said,

“There are only two emotions: love and fear. All positive emotions come from love, all negative emotions from fear. From love flows happiness, contentment, peace, and joy. From fear comes anger, hate, anxiety and guilt…”

If this is true, why do people fear the LTGB community? It is time to stop fearing one another and get back to the true meaning of Christmas; a message of love, acceptance, and inclusion. Perhaps this is what Starbucks is endeavouring to tell the world; that Christmas is about loving and accepting one another.

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!

But Words Will Never Hurt Me

A commentary on bullying

I was really saddened by a video I saw on Facebook. The video was featuring a 14-year-old boy named Jack Higgins who auditioned on Britain’s Got Talent. It is about a boy who refused to give up on his dream of being a dancer and thankfully Jack was rewarded for his efforts.

In fact, watching that video made me somewhat emotional. I felt so much compassion and heartbreak for 14-year-old Jack Higgins. Why you might wonder? I felt bad for Jack because he was bullied on the school yard simply because he prefers ballet to football. This led some of his schoolmates to look down at him and even call him “gay”, saying that dancing was for girls. As a teacher for 35 years, I witnessed this kind of bullying many times. When I personally see the pain that bullying brings, it breaks my heart. If you haven’t seen the video, here it is.

Jack gives a truly magical performance when he auditioned for Britain’s Got Talent and as a result was showered with compliments, but Simon Cowell’s words were the most powerful. Simon told Jack: “You know the one thing bullies don’t like? They don’t like it when you do well. I can see how hard you’ve worked for this moment and I congratulate you, Jack!” I applaud Simon for those words.

Bullying is never okay. We as a society must never accept it when someone behaves badly towards others just because of how he or she may look or what that person does. All humans deserve to be treated with equality as well as love and respect.

I’ve always known that bullying is prevalent, but how prevalent is it? I did some research to find out. Before we do that, it is important to know what bullying is. Psychology Today defines it as a distinctive pattern of harming and humiliating others, specifically those who are in some way smaller, weaker, younger or in any way more vulnerable than the bully. The organization PromotePrevent (preventingbullying.promoteprevent.org) defines bullying as a repeated aggressive behavior where one person (or group of people) in a position of power deliberately intimidates, abuses, or coerces an individual with the intention to hurt that person physically or emotionally. So how prevalent is bullying?

The Canadian organization known as PREVNet does work based on four strategies: education, assessment, intervention and policy in order to stop bullying and victimization and to create environments where children feel safe. According to the article, Age Trends in the Prevalence of Bullying, these are some statistics:

  • Today, an estimated 200 million children and youth around the world are being victimized by their peers.
  • It is estimated that 10-15 % of children repeatedly bully others, and 10-15% of children are repeatedly bullied.

With the introduction of the Internet, came cyberbullying. When I was in school, a bully had to harass you in your face since a tormenter had no way to hide. Most bullies today are cowards as they hide behind their computers because they are too afraid to confront their victims face to face. Cyberbullying involves sending mean and sometimes threatening emails, tweets or text messages, spreading gossip, secrets or rumours about another person that will damage that person’s reputation and other such activities. The article, Electronic Bullying: Definition and Prevalence, reports:

  • Among youth who bully others electronically, 6% report frequent bullying, 6% report occasional bullying, and 17% report limited bullying within the previous year.
  • 55% of youth who are victimized report multiple electronic or cyber bullying incidents in the previous year.
  • About 50% of adolescents know someone who has been victimized online.
  • A majority of teachers (84%) report that they have been electronically bullied.

In terms of all types of bullying, Statistics Canada reports:

  • Canada has the 9th highest rate of bullying in the 13-years-olds category on a scale of 35 countries.
  • At least 1 in 3 adolescent students in Canada have reported being bullied recently.
  • 47% of Canadian parents report having a child victim of bullying.
  • The rate of discrimination experienced among students who identify as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans-identified, Two-Spirited, Queer or Questioning (LGBTQ) is three times higher than heterosexual youth.
  • Girls are more likely to be bullied on the Internet than boys,
  • The most common form of cyber-bullying involved receiving threatening or aggressive e-mails or instant messages, reported by 73% of victims.

Bullyiingfacts.info reports that in the United States in 2010,

  • 1 of every 7 students from kindergarten to Grade 12 has been a bully or has been bullied.
  • 61% of students who were interviewed stated that bullying can resort to students shooting other children.
  • More than 56% of students had already witnessed bullying that happened while they were in school.
  • 71% of students reported that bullying is an on-going problem.
  • 1 in every 20 students has seen a student carrying a gun while in school premises.
  • Each month, a shocking number of around 282,000 students are being victimized by bullying in the US.

These statistics are distressing to say the least, and they clearly indicate that bullying is a very serious problem. So, who is to blame? I hardly think it is fair to blame the children when many adults model bullying. Statistics Canada reports that 40% of Canadian workers experience bullying on a weekly basis.

from: http://www.panorama.com.al/

Even more disturbing to me is that some of our world leaders are bullies and model this to our youth. New York Times has a list of insults that U. S. President Trump made using Twitter since declaring his intention to run for president. Republican presidential candidate, Jeb Bush, said during the primaries that Russian President Vladimir Putin was a “bully” and the United States and its allies in Europe should be resolute in responding to Russian aggression (see Jeb Bush). Clearly, the Russian president is a bully when you consider what Putin has done to the Ukraine (see Ukrainian nationhood). Until adults stop bullying and sanctioning bullying, the cycle of bullying (actually a cycle of violence) will continue.

As long as our youth see adults harassing, they will continue to think that bullying is normal and acceptable. There is a well-known idiom that my friends and I used to spew at our tormentors growing up; “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.” Well, the truth is, words to do hurt and words can have a life-long effect on us. According to Psychology Today,

Ridicule, distain, humiliation, taunting, all cause injury, and when it is delivered in childhood from a child’s peers, verbal abuse causes more than emotional trauma. It inflicts lasting physical effects on brain structure.

The reality is, words (verbal abuse) hurt just as much, maybe more, than other forms of abuse.

John Powell, an English composer living in the U.S., is quoted as saying, “More than 90 percent of all the prisoners in our American prisons have been abused as children.” In light of the above quote from Psychology Today, I believe him.