Leadership at a New Low

A commentary on some of our world leaders.

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On December 6, 2018, just eleven days after returning from a trip to China, Canada arrested the chief financial officer (CEO) of Chinese tech-giant Huawei for breaking United States (U.S.) sanctions against Iran. Canada legally acted on an extradition request of the U.S. since Canada has had an Extradition Treaty with the United States since 1971.

Now, because of our legal obligation to honour such a request, my country is caught in the middle of its two largest trading partners—two super powers essentially—and worried about having to choose sides. If Canada extradites the Chinese executive to the States, it will result in deep anger from China, and letting her go free will anger the U.S. which is our chief trading partner.

China warned Canada there would be severe consequences if it did not immediately release the CEO of Huawei. Since the arrest, according to The Guardian, 13 of Canada’s citizens have been detained in China. The Guardian reports that at least 8 of those 13 have since been released.  The media has mostly focused on the two detained Canadians who have been accused of endangering state security. On the 14th of January, 2019, a Chinese court issued a death sentence to a Canadian man accused of drug smuggling. This young man appealed his original 15-year sentence, and in a sudden retrial the death sentence was issued. This all sounds like bullying to me. Bullying is bullying whether it is in a schoolyard, or part of world politics. According to Forbes, China is accused of bullying several countries, such as The Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan, and Vietnam.

Really, Canada is caught in between two bullies. You could take the classic bully story line of the ‘big bully’ frightening the smaller kid to turn over his or her lunch money to the bully. If you apply it to Canada’s current situation, it would be a small child being tormented by two ‘big bullies.’ Both bullies want the victimized kid to turn over the lunch money to them. The child victim is damned no matter what he or she does. If he or she turns over the money to bully one, there will be a deep anger, and likely retaliation, from bully two. If he or she turns the money over to bully two, there will be a deep anger, and likely retaliation, from bully one. It’s the old idiom, damned if you do, damned if you don’t scenario. Every possible action or inaction would result in a negative outcome.

That brings us to the United States (U.S.). The magazine, Foreign Affairs has been the leading forum for discussion of American foreign policy and global affairs. It describes the United States as the “bully of the free world.” The Washington Post says, “Trump’s America is a bully, not a beacon.”

In my June, 2018 post called, A Flashback to School Yard Supervision, I reported on how Trump displayed bullying behaviour over perceived trade inequalities with Canada. On Twitter—he seldom exhibits bullying behaviour at news conferences—accused Canada’s Prime Minster Justin Trudeau as “meek and mild” and “very dishonest and weak” all because our prime minister declared that U.S. tariffs on steel and aluminum were “insulting” and his insistence that Canada would not be pushed around.

The English Oxford dictionary defines a bully as “a person who habitually seeks to harm or intimidate those whom they perceive as vulnerable,”or as an individual who “seeks to harm, intimidate, or coerce someone perceived as vulnerable.” There is no shortage of examples of Trump seeking to intimidate a vulnerable person, world leader, or country.

Temple of Heaven exercise park

I’ve visited both countries. I mentioned earlier that I returned from a trip to China just prior to all of this tension between Canada and China. I found the wonderful people of China to be welcoming and friendly. In fact, one man gave each of us a mystic knot tassel, a Feng Shui symbol for good fortune. The retired Chinese people at Temple of Heaven fitness park were very happy to demonstrate their physical fitness abilities. While watching musicians and large groups of people singing in this same park, one Chinese person grabbed the hands of two people in our tour group and starting dancing with them. The Chinese people we met were non-threatening, welcoming and kind.

I’ve been to the United States many times, met several Americans in our Canadian national parks, and I travelled with Americans when we were on our Irish tour in the summer of 2018. The Americans I met were friendly, happy to talk to us, and were genuinely non-threatening in any way. In fact, while on our tour of Ireland, one our fellow American travellers bought me a whiskey while visiting an Irish Distillery.

mystic knot tassel,

What is really going on is that my country, Canada, is caught in the middle of a trade dispute between the U.S. and China, the two biggest economies in the world. The U.S. is accusing China of unfair trade practices. The Americans want China to import more American goods and to stop forcing American companies to hand over their valued intellectual property if those companies wish to do business in China. This dispute became a ‘trade war’ when tariffs implemented by the Trump administration, and China retaliated with their own tariffs. Are tariffs a form of intimidation? You bet. Is Trump trying to intimidate China to do what America wants them to do? Yes. Is China attempting to scare Canada? There is no argument there.

Are China and the United States—one could include Russia in this list—bullies? If the ordinary citizens of those countries are not the bullying types, then it must be their leaders who are the bullies. And because they are bullies, the citizens, who are innocent people, get hurt. Canadians in China are being detained as a form of retaliation for Canada’s participation in the arrest.  Business Insider warns that tariffs will likely increase the price of goods, which can have serious economic effects. Several economists and business groups have warned that higher prices from tariffs can hurt American firms and consumers. Ordinary citizens in both countries are harmed because they have to pay more for goods.

Trump is a bully. Same can be said about China and Russia’s leaders. Bullies on the world stage are not only a threat to world peace, but heartlessly make decisions that often are not in their ordinary citizen’s best interests. It is time to elect—when that is possible—world leaders who have their people’s best interests at heart, and not their egos.

Could Travelling Abroad Make a Better World?

A Commentary on the benefits of traveling

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

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

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

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

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

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

Giant’s Causeway, N. Ireland

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

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

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

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

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

Edinburgh, Scotland

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.

Political Bullying

I have always had an interest in politics. I taught social studies in high school for years and would passionately discuss politics with my students and give projects to them when election campaigns were on. I’ve even scrutineered once.  For those of you who don’t know what a scrutineer is, in the British and Canadian systems, a scrutineer is an official examiner of votes in an election. There was even a time when I would have seriously considered running for office. I used to think politicians were honourable people and individuals to be admired for their service. Now don’t get me wrong, there are still a few honourable people who are leaders. However, as I watch the politicking of our neighbours to the south, I begin to wonder if honourable and honest people enter politics anymore.

You’re probably wondering why I say such a thing. I was recently watching some of the analysis on CNN regarding the most recent primaries that are happening in the United States. One of the commentators was discussing the insults that were exchanged between Donald Trump and Marco Rubio, two candidates running for the Republican Party nomination for president. Here is an article about what I’m talking about –Us Election 2016. There were insults traded between the two candidates about misspelled tweets, wet trousers, wearing makeup and Trump ridiculing Marco Rubio for his love of drinking water.  Apparently, in a State of the Union response speech in 2013 while on national television Mr. Rubio paused for a sip of water. But what really got me were their exchanges about sweating.

Trump
From BBC.com

According to Business Insider, the exchange apparently happened backstage when they were debating one another. Mr. Rubio insinuated that Trump possibly “wet” himself. “He called me Mr. Meltdown,” Rubio went on to say, “Let me tell you, during one of the breaks — two of the breaks — he went backstage. He was having a meltdown. First he had this little makeup thing, applying makeup around his mustache, because he had one of those sweat mustaches. Then he asked for a full-length mirror. I don’t know why, because the podium goes up to here. Maybe he was making sure his pants weren’t wet. I don’t know.

Trump countered with, “He’s with a pile of makeup putting it on his face, I said Marco, easy with the makeup, you don’t need that much. You know the story with Marco. I watched Marco with this man [Christie]. Where Marco, he was right over here I asked him I said are you okay? He looked like he just came out of a swimming pool. He was a mess.” Anyway, I’m sure you get what I’m talking about.

The first question I have is, Why are they throwing insults when I’m sure the American people want to hear about solutions to the problems the country faces? Donald Trump’s campaign slogan is, “Make America Great Again.” A great slogan I might add. But I seldom hear him telling the American people how he intends to do that. What I typically hear is insults flying and Trump being a bully. The other Republican candidates don’t seem to be a whole lot better. Are these the best candidates that America has to offer, candidates throwing insults at one another? Granted, it might be entertaining, but really it’s bullying. No wonder our society has a bullying problem. When I vote, I vote for those candidates that reflect my values, but even more because they’ve explained what they will do to make their country better.

Canada is not immune to such antics. During the last 2015 Federal Election in Canada, the then reigning Conservative government placed ads in local newspapers and flyers, questioning whether Justin Trudeau, Canada’s current Prime Minister, shares their values. The ads tried to foster fear that a Liberal government would legalize marijuana, “making access easier for kids.” The ad warns there would be legal drug-injection sites in our neighbourhoods and that prostitution would be legalized, “putting brothels in our communities.” The Conservative Party attack ad finishes with, “Those aren’t our values either. Vote for your values.”  They were twisting the truth. Mr. Trudeau did make a campaign promise to legalize marijuana, but he never explicitly said he would legalize prostitution or drug injection sites. That was only Conservative fear mongering.

TrudeauOf course there was the long running television ads attacking Mr. Trudeau’s credibility saying, “He’s just not ready” to be prime minister. The Liberal Party of Canada is also guilty of attack ads. In 2006  then Liberal Party Leader Paul Martin approved a controversial ad suggesting the Tories would post armed soldiers on the streets of Canadian cities. During the last weeks of the campaign, the Liberals resorted to negative ads directed towards the Conservative party, attempting to depict its leader Stephen Harper as an extreme right-wing politician. The most controversial ad said, “Stephen Harper actually announced he wants to increase military presence in our cities. Canadian cities. Soldiers with guns. In our cities. In Canada.”

Chretien_AdHistorically, one that stands out for me was the 1993 Progressive Conservative Party attack on then Liberal leader Jean Chretien, who was elected as Prime Minister that year. The ad showed a picture (on left) of Mr. Chretien saying,”Is this a Prime Minister?” This ad was interpreted as mocking Chretien’s slight deformity and speech impediment that were leftover from a childhood case of Bell’s Palsy.  This is a condition where paralysis of the facial nerves occur, causing muscular weakness in one side of the face. To me, that was a “low blow.” That was “hitting below the belt.”

Why does politics have to be about attacking another’s character? Most people I have talked to express how repugnant this type of politicking is. I’m grateful that Canada’s present Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, did not run any attack ads during the 2015 election and does not resort to bullying to achieve his goals. In fact, in October of 2015 on CTV’s Canada AM Mr. Trudeau said,“I don’t believe in attack ads. I think they hurt your ability to govern and my capacity to stay positive and focused on our platform.” I say kudos to Canada’s Prime Minister. It is time to get back to what I call honourable politicking, where politicians put forth their platforms for making their country great. It’s time to bring honour and respect back to politics.  Time to give us politicians who have creative new ideas, who aren’t bullies, and who want to lead because they want to make a difference in this world. It is a sad state of affairs when the only potential leaders that step forward are bullies who attack their opponents. Enough already!

Seek Some Awe

William James, an American philosopher and psychologist, once said, “Religious awe is the same organic thrill which we feel in a forest at twilight, or in a mountain gorge.” I totally understand what Mr. James is communicating. I have had many experiences of awe when out in nature. But first, we should understand what awe is.

The Cambridge Dictionary defines awe as a feeling of great respect sometimes mixed with fear or surprise. Now that word fear usually confuses me especially when talking about awe.  We typically think of fear as being afraid of something or someone. However, Dictonary.com says in addition to being afraid, fear is reverential awe, especially toward God. The Free Dictionary describes awe as a feeling of respect or reverence mixed with dread and wonder, often inspired by something majestic or powerful.

Dacher Keltner, Professor of psychology at the University of California, defines awe as the feeling of being in the presence of something vast that transcends your understanding of the world. So the way I understand awe is that awe are those moments when we experience something majestic or powerful; when we feel wonder. They are the times when we have an encounter with the divine. They are moments when we in some way experience God or the Source of all Being or something mystical. It’s when you are touched at a soul or spiritual level; when what we are witnessing or experiencing is beyond our understanding.

The_Earth_seen_from_Apollo_17Many astronauts talk about their experiences of awe when looking at the planet earth from space. Alan Shepard, Apollo 14 astronaut said, “When I first looked back at the Earth, standing on the Moon, I cried.” Russell “Rusty” Schweikart, Apollo 9 astronaut said, “When you go around the Earth in an hour and a half, you begin to recognize that your identity is with that whole thing. That makes a change … it comes through to you so powerfully that you’re the sensing element for Man.”

One of the best known for his experience of seeing Earth from space is Apollo 14 astronaut Edgar Mitchell who said:

“That’s a powerful experience, to see Earth rise over the surface [of the Moon]. And I suddenly realized that the molecules in my body, and the molecules in the spacecraft and my partners had been prototyped, maybe even manufactured, in some ancient generation of stars. But instead of being an intellectual experience, it was a personal feeling… And that was accompanied by a sense of joy and ecstasy, which caused me to say ‘What is this?’ It was only after I came back that I did the research and found that the term in ancient Sanskrit was Samadhi.”

Oxford dictionary defines Samadhi as a state of intense concentration achieved through meditation. In Hindu yoga, this is regarded as the final stage at which union with the divine is reached. In essence what Mr. Mitchell is saying is he felt some sort of union with the divine.

Susan Santucci, a learning specialist and author says, “Watch for glimpses of the divine order.  Find those experiences, sights, and sounds, which fill you with awe.  Any experience met with awe can be spiritual:  a safari through an animal kingdom, taking in a sunset, a hike to an awesome mountaintop.”

P1030507editedI have hiked in the mountains with my son and friends and family for many years. I have to agree with Susan Santucci as every time I stand on top of a mountain, I feel that sense of awe. For me, it is a spiritual experience. It is an experience where I am overtaken with the beauty of the mountain landscape. I have this same experience when I am at the ocean. Standing on an ocean beach, looking at the vast amount of water in front of me sets me into a state of awe. Sunsets do the same. When my wife and I were in Europe a few months ago, we were blessed to see numerous sunsets and even sunrises. It never ceases to amaze me how beautiful those magnificent colourful skies can be. Each sunrise we beheld on our trip was uniquely beautiful. I have a sense of awe or wonder every time I am lucky enough to see the northern lights or the aurora borealis. For me, each of these experiences were, as Dacher Keltner put it, a feeling of being in the presence of something vast that transcends ones understanding of the world.

Greece

Yes, I understand some of the science behind how mountains are built with colliding tectonic plates. I comprehend that when the Sun appears lower and lower on the horizon, its light needs to pass through more of the atmosphere to reach our eyes, so as the sun drops towards the horizon, it progressively loses violets and blues, then greens and yellows, and finally even the oranges, leaving only the reds behind. It is mind-boggling to comprehend that 70% of the Earth’s surface is covered by ocean, and the deepest known area measures 11 kilometres (6 miles) deep.  I understand that the aurora borealis occurs when collisions between electrically charged particles from the sun enter the earth’s atmosphere and collide with its gases. As amazing as the science is, when I experience the above-mentioned things I experience something beyond my science understanding. My experience is met with awe and wonder. When I am experiencing these things I touch the divine.

I had another one of these experiences when my daughter showed me a video of Jeffrey Li, a 10-year-old boy from Canada, and Celine Tam, a 7-year-old girl from Hong Kong, performing a duet of the song “You Raise Me Up”. I was blown away. These two singers literally took my breath away. What I heard from these two young people touched me at a soul or spiritual level. It made me ask, “How can a seven and ten year old have singing voices like this?” The singing voice of these two “kids” was beyond my understanding. If you haven’t seen the video, check it out below.

Maybe it is time to seek out more of those awe experiences, whatever they may be for you. In fact, doing so just may make the world a better place. Articles such as High on Wonder: People Who Experience More Awe Are Nicer, Better People, and The Key to Fulfillment claim science is providing empirical evidence that awe is the emotion that motivates people to do things that enhance the greater good. If we choose to get rid of the some of the distractions like cell phones and watching television in our lives and seek to put ourselves in new situations such as going to new places, and meeting new people, this may increase our chances of encountering awe. If it is true what the studies are saying, experiencing awe will make us better people. I implore you to seek out some awe and wonderment in your lives. You will be better for it!