Gratitude makes the journey better and so does kindness

Tag: critical thinking

It’s High Time We Give Our Buying Power A Shake-up

Initially published as a column in the AM News on Friday January 30, 2015. 

I had forgotten my reusable bags at home that time and had to choose between plastic and buying another reusable bag. Too much plastic as it is, I thought, so I chose the latter.

After I got home I realized that the reusable one had a plastic insert on the bottom. Right. To keep things steady and prevent the usual crowding of groceries and falling on top of each other. A first world problem indeed. The insert, made from ordinary plastic bearing no recycling sign, defeats the very purpose of it all.

I was misled and felt uncomfortable. No one likes that. More so when the buying of something I believed greener than a mere plastic bag (many of which are recyclable, not that that makes it better) turned out to be the wrong decision. Greenwashing at its best.

Here’s the thing. Ever since we open our eyes to the world of commerce, we are being told that the customer’s wishes are the merchant’s desires. If only that’d be true. Once upon a time it was.

One cannot notice that things have shifted sideways for a while now. The merchant, backed up by crafty marketing gurus designing the offer, present it to the customers and the rest unfolds. The customers, minds ripe with commercials, promises of this if you buy that, expectations, not to mention the ominous ‘buy now, pay later’, well, it’s easy to fall into the trap (it really is one.)

It is truly scary and overwhelming to try to imagine the amount of goods – excluding food – that are being offered in all stores across the North American continent. Add Europe and Asia and Australia to all of that and it get nauseating.

After the buying comes the garbage and if applicable, recycling. Then, we move on to the next spree of things we do not need but buy anyway to fill spaces that cannot be filled that way anyway.

I am not here to deflate any bubbles, though maybe secretly that is the idea. I just cannot wrap my head around why the merchandise one can find in today’s stores often include completely useless items made from questionable or downright toxic materials, many of which are geared towards children (who are learning to equate happiness with being able to buy one more thing.)

At the same time, garbage grows, people complain of unhappiness and busy schedules, working long hours that deliver the means to buy more stuff we do not need, while stealing away any hope of spending time doing what we love and matters. Ultimately, ‘having’ just doesn’t deliver what the flyer promised.

We are, in many ways, at a crossroad. Climate change is more of a subject (and reality) than it has ever been, there are battles over approving and/or regulating products, including foods and chemicals that end up in our homes or around them, and there are debates over pipelines and mines and fracking.

It is enough to give one a headache. In some ways we seem to have lost our way while faced with so many opportunities to get rich (for some), to buy more (for many) and, should guilt or that little thought that says ‘I have enough’ ever come begging for attention, we have entertainment to chase them away.

Yet reality and truth have the annoying habit of showing up in front of us. Not always civilized and ready to spell it out for us, but rather aggressively throwing it in our faces. Pollution is high in many parts of the world, and because of it the health of many suffers, children and the elderly most of all.

The oceans carry more plastic than ever and more is coming, because we buy and throw more plastic, and more pristine land is being sacrificed to grow palm trees, create feedlots and extract natural resources. Hardly respectful towards the blue planet we all hail as unique.

We are at an important crossroad. We need to assert the power to do exactly what we were once told (and many times over since) we can do: have our wishes satisfied by those who are benefiting from our needs.

It is so. With every choice we each make in how we buy or not buy things, in what we buy and what refuse to buy because we think it unethical, toxic, unhealthy or environmentally wrong, we force the big river called consumption steer a bit in a better direction.

We might have to forgo a few things along the way. Simplicity is a beautiful thing. It helps us make time for what matters. It helps fill the spaces that cannot be filled with anything else.

It helps us help the world get cleaner, our kids breathe easier, have fewer chemicals around to absorb and ingest, and it will remind us of some of the reasons we’re here. To make every day count, to make a difference, no matter how small, to leave the world a tad better than we found it; to know, most of all, that is it up to us, to each of us really, to make good things happen.

The Aftermath: Keeping Halloween Fun For Kids

Picture this: a dummy resembling a person fallen to the ground is placed in front of a garage door to look as if the head has been crushed by the door — blood on the door and suggestive puddles on the pavement included. It looks as real as you can imagine. Anything more would be the real thing.

A neighbour calls 911 and a discussion ensues.

It happened in more than one place. Comments abounded. The majority were a reverberation of, “Come on, it’s Halloween!” and praised the creativity of the displays. A matter of opinion.

Others argued that we shouldn’t allow for something that creates fear or unease.

One such commenter was told to look the other way if she couldn’t take it, while another who suggested we should return to what Halloween used to be (goblins, ghosts, black cats) was deemed a witch and told, “What did they do with witches back then? Burn, witches, burn!”

Feeling uncomfortable yet? Intolerance of a different opinions punctuated with implied violence is never a good thing.

Halloween is one spooky day, everyone agrees, but suggested violence — to the extreme, in this case — can stir negative emotions that are not conducive to good fun. Most commenters suggested that children would be the first ones to find the display funny because they know what Halloween is about.

I disagree. Creepy and horrifying is not funny. Normalizing violence is not acceptable. Halloween or not, some boundaries should not be crossed.

Our 92-year-old neighbour reminisces about Halloweens that were not about zombies and severed crawling hands. “Halloween is for kids,” she said. Jack-o-lanterns and decorations, trick-or-treat if they wished, but horror was never part of it.

Children nowadays are exposed to myriad stimuli that may or may not be appropriate for their level of understanding. They seem to know more, but knowing is not the same as understanding.

Children’s brains need time to grow and rushing serves no one. They need time to learn to make the distinction between fake and real.

Present-day Halloween décor is different from what it used to be. Children, young and old, get a big dose of gore, dismembered bodies and zombie action, on top of the old-fashioned ghosts and skeletons, which seem tame by comparison. Save for the last items, I am not sure children can take the above-mentioned in the expected stride. Some will, some won’t.

One way to honour human nature is to not desensitize children to violence. In my youngest son’s class, some kids still believe in the tooth fairy, while they also talk about watching clips from movies like Chucky and Candyman.

If violence happens out of the Halloween context, children are referred to counsellors for help. Parents have a hard time explaining it. Violent images in the news can shock children. We know that.

Movies have parental guidance warnings for a reason. Not only is the plot geared toward a mature audience, but the horror elements and sexual references are clearly not to be seen, let alone understood, by children and tweens.

I watched 20 minutes of a scary movie once. I was already an adult, yet it made me cringe.

I grew up with very little television. We played outside and read. But here’s an interesting thing: many of my favourite books included sword fighting (Alexandre Dumas) and gunfights (Karl May’s books describing the Wild West). I was never uneasy or scared. The violence wasn’t gratuitous, though.

I am trying to raise my boys the same way. We have always been outside a lot, around our yard, town and on road trips. We read books depicting times past and present and the heroes within — real or fantasy. Ditto for movies.

They never feared “monsters” under their beds — until this year, that is. My youngest now struggles when night approaches.

He was told about a bad guy who comes and kills you in your sleep. Some kids at school talked about it. The name is Candyman. Just the product of someone’s imagination, we told him. He knows, but fear has stuck for now. Having our home broken into recently doesn’t help.

As a result, he is ambivalent about Halloween. Excited about the dressing up part, troubled about the anticipated scary, possibly gory, décor and costumes he might see that day and the stories associated with them.

It shouldn’t be this way; it should be fun — kiddie-appropriate jack-o-lantern, goblin and ghost fun. After all, like our 92-year-old neighbour said, “Halloween has always been fun for kids.”

We should keep it that way.

Originally published as a column in the Kamloops Daily News on Saturday, November 2, 2013. 

The Critical Thinking How To

There’s no quiet dinners in our house. The boys have yet to master not talking with their mouths full but I am guilty of overlooking the very thing when other pressing matters are at hand.

“Where do the potatoes come from?”
“British Columbia.”
“How about broccoli?”
“Why do we buy them like this?”
“Because it’s good to eat food that grows close to where you live; it’s fresher and you’re helping the people who live close to you. And there’s no big trucks or ships or planes hauling it in from somewhere else, so you help the planet too.”

“Why don’t you like birthday goodie bags, mom?”
“Because I don’t like the thought of one-use trinkets that end up in the garbage soon after. And I think the fun is in celebrating…”

It’s not righteousness and my arguments are definitely not fail-proof. It’s what I can live with and what I hope for my boys to learn: critical thinking. Not accepting something just because someone expects you to. Asking why.

It’s a lesson in double-edged swordsmanship.

Something you don’t agree with today may become the argument for tomorrow’s deed. And that is but the nature of the beast: Learning to keep the mind open at all times and think for yourself. Reject or accept not out of pride or to make an impression, but because it makes sense.

There is no perfect way of carrying oneself through life; it’s what you can live with.

The question is how do I teach my children that? It’s not always a comfortable ride, that much I know. Yet if there is one thing I want them to have in life, this would be it.

Trend following among young ones is not a new topic. Young age is no longer the time to affirm one’s true beliefs. We’ve all been there: Tasting the fear of standing out as we express our true thoughts; the fear of being left in the one-man camp, chewing on those beliefs and wondering if it’s worth it after all.

But there’s an extra twist lately. Media and rabid marketing create tough-to-avoid temptations and one could say that it is not entirely the fear of being left out that makes our young ones follow blindly. It’s that it sounds too good to miss.

Children fall into following trends before knowing what hit them. They are born asking why and ideally they should never lose that. Us adults should never lose that because all that’s left once the ‘why’s are gone is complacency. Hardly an incentive for cultivating critical thinking in our young ones or encouraging them to ask questions.

Any opportunity for discussions with our children should be greeted with open arms. Be it the walk from school – and that might be filled with complaints about the day – or the talks around the dinner table.

I don’t mean poking them until they talk but letting them speak their mind; whatever thoughts they have on a subject because you are the only presence in their lives that accepts them entirely for what they are. No fear of standing out and being ridiculed (hopefully.)

They learn from sharing as much as they learn from listening to us. And from watching us. The choices we make speak volumes. When we stand behind our choices with arguments we came up with ourselves, we teach our children an important lesson: Do it if it makes sense, choose it if it makes sense, but don’t just accept something because it’s there, because someone thought of putting it there.

I have never believed in denying something without an explanation. I don’t have much respect for the “because I said so.” It may be that I don’t think much of sheer obedience. I believe that behind any interdiction there has to be an explanation.

For example, I never cared for junk food or bad food altogether. The boys know that and they know why. We talk about what makes a food worthy of eating and why. They used to grin silly and tell me how junk food is oh, so yummy and one day they’ll buy lots. I never said they shouldn’t. I told them why I don’t.

I rejoiced when the grin was no longer there. I had nothing to do with its disappearance though. Occasionally they ask for junk food, you see, but they want the acceptable version. The compromise between tasty and somewhat healthy.

Then one day they finally asked the question: “How come that junk food is made to taste yummy?” Because people need to be made to buy it.

It applies to many things, not just food. Why are they made to look or taste or feel a certain way? Because it takes convincing people to go after them and overlook asking the very question in the process. Because when people think critically, they make choices and that has the potential to change the world. In a good way.

There’s no sole opinion that’s always right. It’s a fallacy to even think that by thinking we’ll find the ultimate truth, always. But if we teach our children to think and ask questions, they’ll honor who they are and ultimately do better for themselves and the world around.

Originally published as a shorter version as “Critical thinking a skill taught by example” in the Kamloops Daily News on March 2, 2013.

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