Gratitude makes the journey better and so does kindness

Tag: human rights

Online Game Teaches The Wrong Message

(Originally published as a column under the same title in the Saturday edition of the Kamloops Daily News on December 14, 2013)

I had planned to write about last weekend’s outing near Lac Le Jeune where we took the boys skiing. It was freezing cold (minus 21) and the snow gave up clumping up and turned dusty instead. It was a good frosty adventure.

But that night after dinner a few words were dropped about child slaves – a thing that should no longer exist in today’s world and yet it does and we often discuss social inequities – and my oldest son said ‘Mom, you would not like to hear about this game many kids are addicted to.”

Curious? I was. And he told us. We looked it up and cringed.

It’s called Cookie Clicker. It is described as a ‘mindless, addictive and fascinating web game’ or, according to Wikipedia ‘The point of the game is to bake cookies as fast as possible, to have a large number of cookies, and to have a lot of milk; notably, however, there is no true end to the gameplay.”

Like I said, mindless. So you might ask if the cringing was elicited by the mindless aspect of it. Partially, but the disturbing part were some of the upgrades.

They come with explanations: you can use grandmas (‘A nice worker to manufacture more cookies’) or child labour (‘cheaper, healthier workforce’,) or sweatshop (‘slackers will be terminated’.)

Child labour is an atrocious reality of today’s world and so are sweatshops, there’s no way of joking about it and not wondering where your common sense and heart went. You just cannot take such things in jest and have your dignity intact.

Yet children click on cookies and buy child labour as we speak, in an effort (or not, since the device they play on can keep up the game playing by itself) to collect… well, more cookies. Mindless should become worrisome at this point.

A sign of times, you might say. Empathy and a social conscience plus a responsibility to watch over the values our children learn or not learn, that should stay, no matter how crazy the times get.

The world is a crazy place to be, it has always been, but we are witnessing the stretching of this concept to new dimensions. If I had to choose one major aspect of the new degree of craziness I’d settle on information and the way we use it.

The amount of information we are bombarded with on a daily basis has increased a lot since the first days of internet. Exponential growth on steroids.

If we lived in a physically enclosed internet space, someone looking from up above will be noticing some bursting at the seams here and there. With more to come.

And if daily information for the adult mind is overwhelming occasionally, and increasingly so, just imagine what it’s like for children.

Jumping off a cliff in the azure waters below because you choose to is one thing. Being pushed off is a totally different thing.

Children today are born and raised in the murky waters of too much information, and much of it is often controversial enough and it should make even us adults avert our eyes.

The question is: are we vocal and aware of the controversial content enough to make our children aware of things that are not right. Because that is the responsible thing to do.

It is simply wrong to assume that this is only going to amuse kids. It will also desensitize them. We are born empathic.

Young children cannot stand to hear another one crying, yet if they are not encouraged in that caring attitude they may lose it after a while.

As they grow, they become prisoners to peer pressure and their own social image, which they will strive to keep cool at all costs. Often the price is insensitivity, a sword with more than two sharp edges that ends up hurting them, their loved ones and increasingly affecting the world around.

It is high time we reconsider our children’s upbringing and align the values we want them to adopt for themselves with the ones we would like to see modeled around us every day.

Is “Cradle to Grave” About To Die?

Old? Still holding...Here’s something I struggle with: the new models . . . of this and that.

From phones to TV screens and cars, a new model is just around the corner and the old ones seem obsolete all of a sudden, though many are not.

Do we still believe in the “cradle to grave” concept?

Or are we so driven by money, materialistic desires and keeping up with the times and the Joneses that we are slowly pushing the very concept into its own grave?

There was a time when goods were purchased with no plans of replacing them a year or couple of years later just because the new model was out. Those goods were meant to last.

As a race that keeps growing and invading more of the remote corners of the planet, we are facing two issues. The first one: the exploitation of natural, non-renewable resources to produce the goods we both need and want, though you would agree it is the “wants” that drive the most destructive behaviour.

As for the second one, it is a growing one, pun fully intended. The garbage we leave behind is a reality we can no longer run from.

Every town and city has developed a garbage satellite and whether we are aware of it or not, each of us leaves a trail of garbage, too. That the garbage trails grows long, thick and reaches far beyond the country borders is a present day situation that applies to many.

There is now domestic waste, industrial waste and e-waste, the latter being the least glamorous of all. That’s the one that reaches further than we have ever imagined.

In all fairness, few of us have pictured the kind of waste that TV screens, old phones and computers, and all the electronic paraphernalia we’re surrounded with will leave behind once they break down or fall out of our graces.

With every new model introduced an old one goes out the door. Our door, not the people in a third world country that have no choice but survive the folly of “this year’s model.”

For every new model created and its countless copies to be sold around the world, resources are being mined, people are being exploited and minds are being swayed off in a way that makes them unwilling, unable and uninterested in answering the question “Do I really need that?” That includes children. A losing trade for us all.

The fact that things become cheaper as we go, money-wise, does not help, either. They become expensive in every other way, but our health, our children’s well-being — emotional and otherwise — and the environment are paying the highest price.

To be mindful and be able to ignore a killer sale or promotional price becomes an art, perhaps not the easiest to master.

Out of sight, out of mind is a luxury concept we can no longer afford. Our purchase today impacts someone and ultimately the community we share with our fellow humans.

The old iPhone with a cracked screen that will be send to a third world country for dismantling and recycling of rare metals will find its way to haunt us. Wind and rain know no boundaries. They blow just the same and shuffle the same polluting chemicals on all of us, sooner or later.

What’s the solution? We’re too far in the game to give up the gadgets and the convenience associated with goods we’re accustomed to. But we can still work on our attachment to them.

Stick to what we have for as long as it works, no matter if the surface is no longer shiny. Opt for companies that include ethics in their business plans and never forget that each of our actions impacts the world, whether we see the results or not.

You could argue that one person’s actions will not change the world, but I choose to believe that changes have to start somewhere. Just like a fire, a spark is all it takes.

Originally published as a column in the Saturday edition of the Kamloops Daily News on August 24, 2013

Shopping Reminders

I vent. I stop. And then I vent again. It’s the season of shopping that ruffles my feathers the wrong way. So the witch in me has some more food for thought to offer. Old news you’ll say. Perhaps. Yet we’re still about to learn how to be more human than we were a few days ago. Steep learning curves deserve repeated attention. Like I said, the witch is in, read away and do as you please with it.

There is a subject I cannot chew on for too long without feeling appropriately nauseated: necessary evils. We each have our subjectively developed lists and while it is hard to place the many necessary evils in a particular order, the two that top my list are plastic and slavery/forced labor involved in making goods.

I know plastic has its uses in various objects I need or depend on, yet I am far from being at peace with it. Plastic is a classic example of a double-edged sword. With one edge sharper than the other.

Plastic has been around long enough for us to know that it is harmful to people and animals, harmful to the environment and so wickedly pervasive that it gets into places we had no idea existed. Recycle it, dump it, off it goes? Hardly. We are its ultimate destination. You, me, our children and their children to come. Plastic affects our health and it soils the planet. And maybe it’s just me, but the thought of it being around hundreds of years after I’m gone is infuriating. The irony.

As for slavery, it’s true. Many of the products we buy, and we buy a lot more during this time of the year, come with that invisible burden that we may choose to overlook but it ultimately leaves a nasty stain on who we are. Who are the slaves? Men, women and especially children, performing various low-paid or unpaid jobs, some of which are dangerous and plain hard. Think of a worker who has barely left his milk teeth behind. Modern day slaves.

I’ve heard people say “at least they make an income to feed their families.” Double-edged sword again. I am torn yet I maintain that slavery-imbued items carry a shameful imprint. ‘Tis the season to be jolly for some, unjolly for others. That kind of imprint. I choose to steer clear of it. I encourage you to do the same.

Slavery notwithstanding, there are lots of people in our own backyard who cannot think of Christmas as joyful. So it would only make sense to maybe take some of the money that we would pour into gifts that are bought just because, and put it towards making someone’s world a bit better.

Whether buying some hot meals for those hungry and cold, or hitting the thrift stores for mittens and hats and some warmer boots (it’s the lack of basic stuff that makes one’s life miserable), you’ll fill a need. That’s what the Christmas spirit is about.

Think about putting the money you would spend on a gift you’re not sure is needed into one that is: a microloan with companies such as Kiva or GlobalGiving. Your money will reach further than many of your gifts ever could. There are many options worth exploring. Stepping out the (Christmas) boxed gift.

It’s easy to forget accountability in the midst of Christmas shopping. Hurried as we are, it is understandable that we may overlook stopping to smell the rose. Understandable but hardly acceptable anymore, I’d say.

Everything we buy, whether edible or not, will shape the world around us, the environment and the community. By this I mean the immediate community and the global one. The offer reflects our habits. An image we may not feel honored about after all.

Living in a country that offers so much, and that includes unmatchable natural resources, I believe it is our responsibility to say no to things that come with an unfair environmental or denial of basic human rights. May we choose wisely and deck our halls with bows of goodness. It’s the gift that keeps on giving.

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