Oh, Those Stereotypes.

A commentary on stereotyping.

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.

China Gave Me Much to Think About

Some thoughts on the recent trip to China

Tiananmen Square , Beijing

On November 20th, I returned home from an eleven-day trip to China. It was indeed a busy, yet educational adventure. The trip made me wonder about economic and political systems. Is capitalism better than communism? Canada is considered a mixed economy where there are some government owned corporations as well as privately owned businesses.

I grew up during the Cold War, continuously hearing about the evils of communism. North Americans were indoctrinated to believe communism was immoral and we were to fear it. I heard U.S. presidents such as, Richard Nixon, say, “The Cold War isn’t thawing; it is burning with a deadly heat. Communism isn’t sleeping; it is, as always, plotting, scheming, working, fighting,” and John F. Kennedy saying, “Communism has never come to power in a country that was not disrupted by war or corruption, or both.”  I lived through the Cuban missile crisis and fearing a nuclear war.

First let’s be clear on the difference between communism and capitalism. The word ‘communism’ has Latin roots, communi, which means ‘common.’ Although it is more complicated, simply put, in communism, everything is owned communally. Ideally, there is no government or class division, and wealth is distributed among people based on their needs; each person contributes to society as best as he or she is able, and takes from that society only what he or she needs. Communism is based on the principle of economic equality. Capitalism, on the other hand, stems from the word, capital, or the “means of production,” which is owned, operated, and supplied to generate profits for private owners or shareholders. Simply put, capitalism is an economic system which individuals own economic resources and industry.  Capitalism is based on the principles of profit and competition.

Climbing Great Wall of China

Based on what I observed, China seemed to have both systems. Many of the places we visited, such as the Jade factory, the pearl factory and embroidery Institute were all government-owned businesses. Free enterprise, or private businesses, were in China as well. We were told that Jack Ma, the co-founder and chairman of Alibaba, (equivalent to Amazon in North America) was the richest man in China.  We visited markets in the cities of Suzhou and Shanghai where small businesses were selling all sorts of things.

Something I noticed about the Chinese people is that they have a great love for their country. They speak of Chairman Mao, China’s revolutionary leader, with love and affection. Forbes describes China’s present leader  Xi Jinping as having a dream of a “moderately prosperous society,” instead of a communist utopia. He talks about “national rejuvenation,” and a China with a space program, high-speed rail network and high technology parks. One of our tour guides said Xi Jinping most known sayings—at least in China—is, “If it is good for China, then China will do it.” It seems to work as China is growing rapidly. Forbes says, China is on its way to becoming the largest economy in the world. It reports that in just one generation, 300 million+ people went from rural subsistence farming to urban industrial and technology jobs. The United States has always been considered the world’s economic power house in modern times, but the New York Times says,

Emerging signs of weakness in major economic sectors…are prompting some forecasters to warn that one of the longest periods of economic growth in American history may be approaching the end of its run.

Temple of Heaven exercise park

Another thing I observed while visiting China, was how happy the Chinese people were. In fact, one of my travel partners commented on how happy the Chinese people were, and how unhappy the people back home were because they were always complaining. The Chinese government does takes care of its people. For example, their government provides exercise parks for their retired citizens. We visited one at the Temple of Heaven Park. The Chinese people were happy to show us how the various machines worked. In this Beijing park, we saw musicians and large groups of people singing loudly and looked to be having fun. We also witnessed this at the Summer Palace. In fact, one Chinese person grabbed the hands of two people in our tour group and starting dancing with them. Unemployment, we were told, was non-existent. One of our tour guides told us that unless retired, everyone had a job. I saw numerous people with brooms cleaning the streets and removing falling autumn leaves. There was virtually no garbage anywhere.

Rickshaw Ride

China’s political system is drastically different from democratic countries like Canada and the U.S. China has a one-party system; the Communist Party. We asked about what Chinese people thought about the politics of their country. The guide’s response (paraphrased) was Chinese people really don’t care about politics or their government. As long as people are living a good life, have a job and making money, they are happy. He said there is consistency with a one-party system as when there is a change in leadership, the policy of the previous government continues. Then our tour guide said something thought-provoking. He said in the democratic world, little is accomplished as governments are always squabbling. He further explained, whenever a new party is elected, they reverse the previous party’s policies, thus little progress is made.

Now this made me think. It’s true. In Canada, when a new party takes power—presently it’s the Liberal Party—they change many of the policies put into place by the previous ruling Conservative Party. In the United States, the Trump administration—Republicans—are reversing and changing many of the policies that the Obama administration—Democrats—put in place. It’s accurate, there is no consistency in policy. No wonder little progress occurs. The U.S. is a very divided country, and Canada has its divisions as well. China, because it is a one-party system, is relatively united.

Now I’m not saying that China doesn’t have problems, it does. According to Global Risk Insights,

“Land disputes, labour strikes and environmental concerns have been frequently cited as the leading causes of protest across China in recent years, as the drive for growth has resulted in the destruction of farmland, the proliferation of polluting factories and waste plants, and poor labour rights.”

Smog was prevalent in Beijing. I’m sure we visited only places the government wanted us to see. We saw none of the negative parts of society. But that is also true of tours taken in democratic countries I’ve visited.

Chinese Market

It was obvious that the Chinese people are likely one of the most watched people in the world. I saw cameras everywhere. But is it any different in the “free world?” According to Crime Feed, an average American citizen can be caught on camera more than 75 times a day. I was unable find stats on Canada, but likely it is no different in my country. When we entered China, we had finger prints electronically taken, and our passports were scanned by every hotel. We, as foreigners, were tracked. We in the “free world” like to think we have freedom, but the reality is our phones are tracked and our Internet activity is monitored. The Huffpost has an article, 9 Ways You’re Being Spied On Every Day, where it talks of all the ways we are being monitored. In reality, we are just as watched as people in China.

You’re probably wondering if I am a communist. No, I don’t believe so although the idea of economic equality and doing what is best for everyone makes sense. Am I pro-capitalism? Not when I hear stories such as General Motors laying off thousands of workers by closing one plant in Canada and four in the U.S. This is a company that earned $35.79 billion in 2018 in revenue, up 6 percent from $33.62 billion during the same quarter in 2017 (see GM).  Or, when I learn that Sears is seeking court approval to pay its executives as much as $25 million in annual bonuses when the company has declared bankruptcy. Three top executives could get nearly $1 million each if the company goes out of business (see CNN). Furthermore, Sears pensions were cut by 20%, yet billions in payouts to shareholders happened (see Union). Rewarding people whose decisions caused bankruptcy makes no sense. Putting shareholders before workers is unjust.

Terracotta Warriors

American celebrity, Whoopi Goldberg, once uttered, “I don’t really view communism as a bad thing.”  I agree with Whoopi. Canadian-born economist, public official, and diplomat, John Kenneth Galbraith, once wrote, “Under capitalism, man exploits man. Under communism, it’s just the opposite.” Exploitation occurs in both economic systems. There are pros and cons to both economic systems and both forms of government. Neal Donald Walsh, in one of his Conversations with God books, wrote, “Your way is not the only way, it is just a way.” That quote sums up my point of view.

How Times Have Changed

A reflection on the changing world

An outhouse like my parents used

Heraclitus, a Greek philosopher, is credited for saying, “The Only Thing That Is Constant Is Change.” Now that I have had a lot of life experience, I realize how true that is. I remember my parents talking about how much the world had changed in their lifetime. They talked about how they grew up with outhouses. That usually happened when us kids were complaining about something. We only had one washroom between seven of us, so it was likely when someone was hogging the bathroom. For those that don’t know, an outhouse was an outbuilding containing a toilet with no plumbing. Essentially it had a wooden platform with a hole in it so the human waste would fall into a hole in the ground. Mom and Dad both expressed how much they hated having to go to an outhouse, especially at night in the winter.

Bucket and dipper, like the one I remember using at my grandparents

My parents also talked about having to haul water in from the well to fill the bucket that they drank out of using a dipper—a ladle or scoop. I remember visiting my grandparents and drinking water from a dipper. My grandparents eventually got plumbing and running water installed. My parents also spoke of oil lamps used for lighting which was replaced by electric lights. What a major change those were. I can only imagine how excited that must have been for my grandparents.

My parents also talked about riding on horse and buggies and walking to their school—usually uphill both ways—to a one room, multi-grade school. Now kids are picked up with school busses and taken to schools with multiple rooms, one room per grade. My mom is still alive so she saw travel with horse and buggy to nowadays where automobiles, planes and trains are used.

I could go on and on. Even in my lifetime, I’ve witnessed a lot of change. I remember phone numbers of two digits. I remember having to get the phone operator to connect me to whomever I was calling. In those days, they were party lines, so your neighbours could listen in on your conversations. Then we had dial phones with 7 digits. I remember how frustrating that was to get to the 6 or 7th digit and your finger slips. That meant you had to start all over. Then there was touch tone. Now you just press a button and the phone dials the number for you.

A Gestetner like I once used
A Spirit Duplicator like I used to use

When I started teaching, we used Gestetners. These machines used a stencil, a thin sheet of wax-coated paper which when written or typed upon creating a broken line in the stencil. Ink was forced through the stencil by an ink roller to make copies. I remember my hands and sometimes clothes getting ink on them. It was a messy job. We also used Spirit Duplicators where a master, either created or purchased, containing an alcohol soluble dye-carbon which was transferred to the paper. The alcohol had a distinct smell which is why they were called spirit—the alcohol—machines. Before photocopies, that is how us teachers cranked out our handouts and worksheets. In the very early 1980s, our school got its first photocopiers. We were so excited as a staff. When I left teaching, I used computers with smartboards. Many assignments I sent out electronically and most assignments that students handed in were handed in via email. When I think about it, I’ve seen a lot of change.

My son is planning to backpack in Europe for several weeks this spring where he will spend some time with his “Irish” sister. My daughter is planning to visit her sister in the summer of 2019. These plans of travelling to Europe got me thinking about 21st century travel verses 20th century travel, comparing it to when I first backpacked in Europe in 1986, over 30 years ago.

When I backpacked in Europe, the only way to communicate with home was telephone. In those days, you bought a phone card which gave you so many minutes to call back to Canada. It was about a week after I left that I called home. I didn’t consider the time difference enough because my mom said it is 6 am in the morning when I called. She said she did not care, because she was so happy to hear my voice. My mother still remarks, even today, that for all she knew I was “dead in a ditch somewhere.”

Even when my wife and I backpacked in Europe in 1989, the only way to connect with home was phone. We each called our parents once and asked whichever parent we talked to, to call the other’s parents so that they would know we were fine. It seems archaic when you compare to nowadays.

In this 21st century, in my opinion, I think we are too connected with home. We can phone, text, WhatsApp, email, send a tweet, send an Instagram, Facetime or Skype, and numerous other modalities to connect with people back home. I must admit though, now that I have a daughter living in Ireland, I am very grateful to be able to see her face using Facetime or Skype. On the negative side, some people spend more time posting pictures of their trip, or connecting with people on social media, instead of enjoying a new culture. Like everything, there are pros and cons.

Navigating around a foreign country is another big change. In the 80s, we used maps and relied on kind foreigners to guide us. Maps were the only way we had available to find our way through cities. My wife and I had one of our worst arguments over which direction to get to the museum where the statue of David in Florence, Italy was. I humbly admit that it was I who couldn’t read a map properly. I sometimes have to wonder how I made my way through multiple countries and cities in Europe using maps when I travelled alone in 1986. My middle daughter often comments, “I don’t get how you navigated using just maps.”

My son, just the other day, was talking about travel phone plans and whether or not to get a SIM card in Europe as he depended on his phone for navigation. I must admit, an app that shows you where you are, what direction you are walking verses which direction you need to go is pretty handy. I likely would not have been lost as much had we had smartphones, apps and GPS back in the 80s.

In 1989, you didn’t book ahead of time for accommodations. There was no such thing as Vacation Rental by Owner (VRBOs) and Airbnbs. There were hotels and Bed & Breakfasts. In those days, you when you arrived in a foreign city, you went to the nearest information centre and they found you a room or hotel. Now the options are almost limitless—Airbnbs, VRBOs, Hostels, Couchsurfing, house sitting, homestays, Guesthouses, pet sitting, and who knows what else—and these are all arranged and booked months in advance using the Internet. This is the way my wife and I travelled the last two times we visited Europe.

Even travelling around a country or continent has changed drastically. In the 1980s, you could purchase a Eurorail pass which enabled you to travel in any participating European country by just showing the conductor your pass. I understand these passes are still available but they are not as handy or economically advantageous as they once were. Back then, you went to the train station, studied the schedule to determine when you needed to catch your train. Today, you can book a spot on the train—very advisable—as well as determine when your train arrives or leaves using an Internet site. Much easier these days. You can also purchase your tickets using the Internet instead of physically going to the train station.

You definitely have to be more prepared to travel nowadays. When I travelled Europe in 1986, I “flew by the seat of my pants.” In other words, I didn’t plan too much. I went to the train station, decided when and where I would go next, and when I arrived in a new destination, I  relied on the tourist information booths to find me a place to stay, which was usually a youth hostel. I would not advise anyone to do that today.

As I’ve already stated, Heraclitus is credited for saying, “The Only Thing That Is Constant Is Change.” Actually, I would say there are two things; taxes and change. I will admit, I don’t like change much especially when it is sprung on me. Having said that, we have no choice but to embrace changes as they happen because they’re going to happen, like it or not.

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.

Love You Forever

Europe, here we come!

I been thinking a lot about Robert Munsch’s book, Love You Forever. Robert Munsch is an author who was born in the U.S. but moved to Canada, so as far as Canadians are concerned, he is a fellow Canadian. One of his best-known books, Love You Forever, was published in 1986. It is a book that we used to read to our children. It’s a wonderful story about a mother’s—could just as easily be a father’s—love for their child. So why am I thinking about this book now? It’s because we are off to see our daughter in Ireland for the next four weeks which is why you likely won’t hear from me for a short while. My wife and I are so excited about seeing our baby girl.

The following is how Munsch’s story begins:

A mother held her new baby and very slowly rocked him back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. And while she held him, she sang:

I’ll love you forever,
I’ll like you for always,
As long as I’m living
my baby you’ll be.

My wife and I have three wonderful children. Our eldest is a school teacher. Our second born is getting her masters in Dublin, Ireland and our youngest, our son, is an environmental scientist. We haven’t seen our “Irish” daughter since Christmas. The thought of spending time with our baby girl reminds me of the book, Love You Forever.

Later in the book it reads:

That teenager grew. He grew and he grew and he grew. He grew until he was a grown-up man. He left home and got a house across town. But sometimes on dark nights the mother got into her car and drove across town.  If all the lights in her son’s house were out, she opened his bedroom window, crawled across the floor, and looked up over the side of his bed. If that great big man was really asleep she picked him up and rocked him back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. And while she rocked him she sang:

I’ll love you forever,
I’ll like you for always,
As long as I’m living
my baby you’ll be.

Now in our case, all three of our children are grown up and none of them live across town. Our eldest, the teacher, lives two hours away, our middle child is overseas, and our son lives four hours away.  So, needless to say, we don’t sneak over to our children’s homes and sing to them, as tempting as that may be. But we do spend time with them whenever we can.

erseasonallyear.files.wordpress.com/2018/07/will.jpg”> From: newindianexpress.com

[/caption]James E. Faust, an American religious leader, lawyer, and politician, once said, “The depth of the love of parents for their children cannot be measured. It is like no other relationship. It exceeds concern for life itself. The love of a parent for a child is continuous and transcends heartbreak and disappointment.”  This is so true.  The love for my children cannot be quantitatively measured.

Henry Ward Beecher, an American Protestant Clergyman in the 1800s, once said, “We never know the love of a parent till we become parents ourselves.”  How true that is! It wasn’t until after my first child was born that I really truly appreciated my parent’s love for me. When I reflect on all the sacrifices they made for me and my siblings, I understand a parent’s love now. My dad always took time away from busy schedule at his business to teach us some new skill, such as welding. My mom comforted us through many illnesses and injuries, and always dropped what she was doing to do so.

Nicholas Sparks, an American author, once asked, “What it’s like to be a parent: It’s one of the hardest things you’ll ever do but in exchange it teaches you the meaning of unconditional love.”   This is another truth!

When I was teaching, I encountered parents who expected their children to get honours (80% or higher) in all their courses or they would be disappointed. That is not love. That is approval.

What is love? Love needs to be unconditional to be real love. It is a love that doesn’t have to be earned. It is a love doesn’t have to be proven. When someone unconditionally loves you, they love you for who you are, no matter what you do or how you behave.

My wife and I have always just accepted our children for who they are, even though that was very difficult at times. Our middle child is a free spirit or loves adventure. That is why she is studying in Europe and travelling to various European countries when she is able. If we had not chosen to love her unconditionally, then we would have likely discouraged her from going overseas, and she likely would not have gone because of our communication to her that we disapproved. Instead, we supported her emotionally, financially and spiritually, and because of that we a jetting off to Ireland in a few hours.

The way I see it, loving your children unconditionally has its perks. Because one of our daughters is in Ireland, now we have an excuse—as if we need one—to visit Europe. Because we loved our son unconditionally, he doesn’t hesitate to give a helping hand when we ask him and likes to spend time with us. Because we loved our eldest daughter unconditionally, she graciously has a place for us to stay whenever we are in her city and comes to visit us regularly.

files.wordpress.com/2018/07/image.jpg”> From: http://lhyme.com

[/caption]I’m super excited about spending time with our daughter, but I’m also excited about spending time in Ireland.  Ireland is a glorious place with beautiful landscape, a rich history and wonderful culture. The people of Ireland have a reputation of being very hospitable and friendly, much like Canadians do. One thing that truly sets the culture in Ireland aside from other countries, is the pubs. While it is widely recognized that Ireland has a bit of a problem with the over-consumption of alcohol, pubs are quite different in Ireland when compared with North America. In North America, a pub–more commonly known as a bar– is simply a place to drink. In Ireland, however, it is a meeting place. I look forward to meeting people in the Irish pubs and enjoying a cold beer. I’m sure I’ll have some stories to blog about when I return to Canada.

I’ll sign off with an Irish drinking toast

May your glass be ever full.
May the roof over your head be always strong.
And may you be in heaven half an hour before the devil knows you’re dead.

When the Nest Empties

A commentary about dealing with Empty Nest Syndrome.

Robert Neelly Bellah, an American sociologist, once said, “However painful the process of leaving home, for parents and for children, the really frightening thing for both would be the prospect of the child never leaving home.” 

This quote really resonated with me because this week my wife and I, along with two of our adult children, said goodbye to one of our two daughters who flew to Dublin, Ireland to attend Trinity College. Mr. Bellah is right, it is a painful process for both the parents and the child leaving home. I’ve watched my wife cry a few dozen times before our daughter left. I have to be honest, I’ve shed the occasional tear myself thinking about her leaving and while watching her leave. I’ve watched my daughter get emotional talking about saying goodbye to her many friends. It is indeed a painful process.

Our instincts as parents is to keep our children nearby so we can protect them and rescue them when in need. I’ve watched many parents do this as a school teacher during my 35 years of teaching, especially in recent years. We teachers called them ‘helicopter parents’ because they hover and swoop in to rescue their children when the children whimper or if there is any chance their children might fail at something. These parents never want their children to fail or feel bad. As a teacher, I found these parents difficult and inflexible. Even more, I saw the damage they did to their children. What is even more disturbing to me is this is a phenomenon occurring with adult children.

In a blog called, Parenting Grown Children: What Dr. Spock Forgot to Tell Us, has a really interesting blog post called, Letting Go. This article describes what helicopter parents of adult children looks like. It says,

“What does this look like? Millennials’ parents joining their adult children at interviews; parents calling managers to lobby for better reviews or higher raises. Or parents actually doing the work for their adult children – which all unravels when the employee doesn’t have the luxury of time to participate or complete a task.”

If parents are rescuing their adult children when they go off to college or get a job, then in a way those children really haven’t left home, even though they may physically live in their own places. These young people are still being protected by their parents just as they would be when they were living in their parent’s dwelling.  Could this be what Robert Neelly Bellah meant when he said, “the really frightening thing for both would be the prospect of the child never leaving home.” I’m beginning to wonder if Mr. Bellah was referring to overprotective, meddlesome parents.

In the blog post I sited earlier, the author wrote,

“Many of us raised our children to be independent. Once they were adults, we wanted them to come to us for our advice, good counsel and, yes, the occasional handout. But in college, they would be on their own in dealing with professors and deans. In finding a job, we might prep them on how to put their best foot forward, but they would be on their own. Once on the job, they would figure out how to perform and to stand up for their rights and benefits.”

That is how we raised our children. I am so grateful to have a life partner who thought as I did. We wanted our children to be independent and be able to handle things on their own. We travelled with our children extensively so they would be able to confidently travel on their own. That is the reason our daughter was able to go half way around the world to attend graduate school. We gave her the confidence, knowledge and desire to do so. I am proud of that and I am even more proud of her. A friend recently reminded us of that. She told us that the reason our daughter is able to do this is because we raised her to be strong, brave and independent. She is a strong, brave woman and will be even a stronger woman because of this new adventure. Roy T. Bennett, author of The Light in the Heart, wrote, “It’s only after you’ve stepped outside your comfort zone that you begin to change, grow, and transform.” She is able to step outside her comfort zone because of my wife and I. She did this once before when she flew to South Africa alone to volunteer at the age of 21.

llustration by Andy Chase Cundiff

Having said that, seeing your daughter trek across the ocean to live far, far away is not easy. I have a whole array of emotions as does my wife and our other two children.  I was excited for my daughter, yet I was afraid because I would not be nearby to help her should she need help. I was a proud dad, because she was so strong, brave and independent, yet I had all the symptoms of Empty Nest Syndrome. Empty nest syndrome is when a parent has feelings of loneliness or sadness after children grow up and leave home. I was feeling sad. I was feeling lonely even though she just left. I felt so lonely, seeing her go through the airport security gates. I just wanted to give my little girl one more hug and tell her that I loved her one more time.

So many people, without really saying it, communicated to us with their body language and with words left unspoken, that they would not be able to let their child fly across the world to live. We could have expressed to our daughter our displeasure with the idea which would have influenced her decision, but we didn’t. You might be thinking, Why didn’t we? I think Terry Pratchett, an author from the United Kingdom answers that question best when he wrote, “Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colours. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.”  How could any good parent prevent their child from having an experience of a lifetime? An experience where she will grow tenfold in her confidence and maturity. I know that this is part of our daughter’s journey and that she will return a better person.

I admire her. She inspires me. She inspired me when she bravely left for South Africa to volunteer. She inspires me even more now. She will make this world a better place because of what she will take from this experience. I’ll miss her, but love for a child should be unconditional. I love her no matter what, as does my wife, and that is why she is free to experience life. I can’t wait for her to share her experiences with us.