Gratitude makes the journey better. Kindness, too.

Tag: respect

Why Some Media Outlets Should Rethink Their Ways

Originally published as column in CFJC Today and Armchair Mayor News on February 20, 2017. 

We are in the midst of much turmoil worldwide. Unrest is becoming the word of the day. Controversial topics and happenings pouring in with our daily news can make you feel so small and overwhelmed. The ant in the anthill.

Amidst the flurry of news over the last few weeks, the smiling face of a child kept popping up. Head tilted cutely, sweetness beaming towards whoever took that photo, likely his parents. Next to that photo was a photo of his grandparents, also smiling. Their story was so sad and heartbreaking, it brings tears every time. You may have heard or read about the little boy and his grandparents who got violently killed in Calgary in 2014. After a painful trial, justice has been served a couple of days ago: 75 years without parole.

Many media outlets followed the story, relating on yet another gruesome detail. Every time I saw another headline about the story, I cringed. I thought of the family that was going through this. I cannot imagine pain that runs that deep, though I’ve met pain in my life.

Then, two days ago, I read the little boy’s mom’s impact statement. I’d call it heartbreaking but it would be an understatement. One of the things that saddened me the most was her telling of how hard she fought to have the media leave the photos of her dead son and parents unpublished.

That was her child, those were her parents, that was her childhood home, and some of the media outlets took no notice of how the publishing of photos would affect the people whose lives have been so painfully and permanently altered by an senseless, heinous act. No one other than jurors, detectives, lawyers, and judge need to see those photos anyway.

Some people may find it compelling, and armchair detectives may get their fix perhaps, because they are detached from the story, but for those who lost so much, the photos that are now available online will make for a continuous nightmare.

I cannot find a reason for which a self-respecting journalist or media outlet would push humanity and compassion out of the way to make room for the sensational. Journalists are story tellers. They pick ideas from here and there, they are approached by people who want their story told, and then they go on hunting down stories to bring forth. It’s a tough job.

There are some amazing people out there who make the world a better place by exposing wrongness, by having the courage to stand for worthy causes, and by putting their lives on the line, metaphorically and literally. Some of the ones I follow and greatly admire share one simple quality: compassion. Hats off to them. They all know when a line should not be crossed.

Others and the outlets they represent do the opposite. If pain is an inherent, unfortunate part of the story they relate on, they dig deeper into the wound, leading to what Nathan O’Brian’s mother, Jennifer O’Brien, called ‘less than honourable work.’ While freedom of speech is a must and high ratings are important, there ought to be some conditions in place for not breaking someone’s heart further while having the privilege of earning your money by telling their story.

Because in the end, it is a privilege, in my opinion, to be able to put a story out there for people to see or read. It is a privilege that no journalist should abuse. Then there’s trust. Many times I have had people around me say ‘I’d better not say anything more about this or it’ll end up in one of your articles.’ For the record, I have yet to wade those waters. Truth is, I never will. For the above-mentioned reasons; trust first of all.

Here’s the thing. It’s been almost eleven years since my mom’s unexpected passing. It was a tough river to cross, that kind of pain; I am never too far from those waters, though time has worked its magic in dulling some of the pain. I remember the days after when everything seems to be out of place and hurting: the sky, birds’ songs, and holding my toddler’s hand. My mom could not have that anymore, so I could I enjoy it from then on?

Losing someone dear or going through heartaches of a similar nature chips at our hearts, but adds new dimensions: compassion, understanding and kindness. You know the feeling of wearing that kind of shoes. In a world that keeps on spinning, nothing makes sense anymore and yet life keeps on churning.

The sad story of the little boy and his grandparents is but a small story in the sleuth of daily news, yet it’s one story journalists are expected to tell with much sensitivity and compassion, while still delivering a powerful message. No graphic photo that the mourning family fought hard to keep from the public eye can make a story more powerful. Horrific yes, but that’s betrayal to those who matter the most in the story.

Because of all of that and more, I felt ashamed to read about that mom’s horrific ordeal that some of media made worse. I wish that all aspiring and established journalists will read those passages and I hope, just like she hopes, that one day enough public backlash will spare other families from the pain her family had to go through while fighting the media.

In fact, I hope that all respectable media outlets will add to the backlash so that there will be a consensus on how to go about telling stories. If someone would ask my opinion on how to go about it, I’d say just like I tell the boys all the time: be kind, leave a person’s dignity intact and listen. Never stomp on someone’s heart. Never.

What Does It Take To Keep A Promise?

Originally published as a column on Friday July 22, 2016 in NewsKamloops

TearsFew things are more disappointing than not keeping a promise. More so when the promise has to do with people who died under circumstances that ought to be investigated so justice can be served. More so when the people who died are all First Nations Canadian women, the majority of them under 45 and mothers.

On our recent trip to Prince Rupert we drove on the Highway of Tears and the overall feeling is one of uneasiness and sadness. There are big billboards warning women of the dangers of hitchhiking. As you stop along the way in some of the small towns, there are signs that grief has touched that community.

And yet… The promised inquiry into the death of murdered and missing Aboriginal women is still far from becoming a reality. It’s not a promise that should be made lightly. Our new PM Justin Trudeau has a full agenda, no doubt about that. But a promise is a promise, and when closure of some sort is at stake, then the promise should be kept.

The numbers are staggering, the grief and pain left in the hearts of the families who are still waiting for answers are too. British Columbia has the highest numbers of missing and murdered First Nations women, 160 of them. Approximately 63 percent are murder cases and 24 percent missing persons cases. The majority of them were between 19 and 31 years old, and 16 percent under the age of 18.

Each of those young women was someone’s daughter, granddaughter or sister before they had a chance to become mothers. One could argue that sadly enough, the system failed many of them before they were born. After all, the drug and alcohol addictions among First Nations people are rampant. So is domestic abuse. A vicious circle that chews up many lives leaving but grieving survivors and unanswered questions.

Which is where the government comes in. the authority that can say enough is enough, vioplence againt women (by strangers in most cases) is not condoned anymore and we will not only find what happened to these women and girls but also work closely with First Nations leaders and communities to educate, protect and offer a way out to those whose are in danger of being mangled by that vicious circle that indifference, political (in)correctness and plain old feet-dragging enable.

It is shameful to not hear the plight of those left behind. And yet…Let’s hope the many questions will be answered soon. Let’s hope that dignity and justice will take their place where they rightfully belong.

I might hear soon that the topics I’ve been writing on are depressing. Or just on the brink of sadness. True enough, yet sadness that crushes many or even a few cannot be ignored. Ideally, we should all be so happy that we’d burst at the seams.

By caring and lending a few minutes and a few thoughts to the side of life that is ungraceful as it is scary, we make it less dark for the ones whose hearts are pounding and crying at the same time. Compassion makes us all better. It’s in giving that part of ourselves which is so vulnerable in the face of suffering that we are afraid to show, that makes us better human beings.

So here’s the answer. For as long as there are indignities and pain, I will bring them up, as many as I can. Some will be screaming louder than others at me. Suffering does not know boundaries. It should not. Yet the case of the missing and murdered Aboriginal women shows that race boundaries exist, though many pretend to not see them.

It’s not negativity to bring these things up but respect for humanity and all its dark and bright bits. It’s not negativity to bring them up in conversations but the hope that one day communities can be safe for all who are part of them.

It’s by letting myself be humbled by people’s strength to carry on after tragedies and heartbreaks that I can be a better person and see beyond my immediate world. That is why I think promises should be kept. Because people matter. Every single one of them.

The Honour System – Why We Need It In Place


Initially published as a column in the AM News.

There are many pressing environmental issues that have my attention these days, such as the new decision that Shell can drill in the arctic (restrictions notwithstanding, drilling is drilling), or that our premier is about to sign up the province for many long years of LNG extraction. Meanwhile, there is yet an urgent community issue that I wish to put forth. Traffic matters.

I love driving, but it was during a drive from Vancouver to Kamloops a couple of months ago that I felt uncomfortable on the road and fearful. A semi, as big and roaring as semis can be, was tailgating. Kind of a bullying situation in the school yard but with cars.

To see a big truck way too close to a small car was scary for many reasons. What if the small car had to hit the breaks to avoid collision or another hurried driver sneaking in front? Mass and speed make for one major road threat, and breaking becomes a lengthy process that could take lives or maim someone.

That was before Hope. Once the speed limit switched to 120km/h after Hope the road became a race track.

I used to love speed. Car and road bike. One could argue that it can be done safely in certain areas. I changed my mind on that one once I allowed physics to imbue the reality of driving fast, and even more so after hearing a line that kept repeating itself to create a haunting, yet necessary effect. Whether said in first or third person the story ends with ‘…did not expect that car to drive into ours… The guy was doing at least 150km/h…’

If you’re lucky, you end up with some temporary health problems. If not, it’s chronic ones or death. I have a friend who is still mourning the death of his child. There’s nothing in this world to ever explain how risking not just your own life but everyone else’s on the road is not a capital sin.

Truly, there is little police reinforcement on some roads so it is left to us drivers to keep it civilized, whether that means no tailgating or abiding by other road signs and prompts. Which means that even though 60km/h in construction areas may feel like you’re barely moving, after rolling at 120 for most of the drive, you cannot go 80 or more just because 60 seems intolerable.

Honour and driving could make a smashing combo and a safe one for everyone.

Two issues stand out regarding honour on the road: drinking and driving, and hit-and-run scenarios. How many people drink and drive and are never caught because somehow they never get involved in a dangerous situation that ends someone’s life? The stories I’ve heard from many people are heartbreaking.

The punishment is a mild one still, in Canada, and if being punished is what it comes down to… well, let’s just say we’re all innocent until proven otherwise, but what a way to live.

As for hit-and-run, that might be classified as a classic case of missing honour. Here’s a story I heard recently with the mention ‘Please write about it, it’s just so wrong…’. It is indeed.

Imagine person A driving into a parking lot, parking and walking into a store, only to emerge twenty minutes later to find person B standing by the car and pointing to person C just a few steps away. ‘That guy just hit your truck.’ Person A assesses the damage. Meanwhile, person C walks over and says to person A: ‘You hit my car.’

Bedazzled, person A says ‘No, I didn’t, I was in the store.’ Person C is relentless. ‘Yes you did.’

Person A resists and strikes forth with the confidence of having backup. ‘No, I didn’t. You hit mine, that guy saw you.’ Silence. Person C, now exposed, and in lower voice ‘OK… well, is there any damage?’ No comment.

Honour? Nope, at all. Sad and scary? Yes, in more than one way. Taking responsibility for our actions is a mature thing to do, on the road, in parking lots, at home, at work, whether a thousand people see us or no one does. Someone always does. Ourselves.

Honour is what makes our society liveable and good to live in. Safe. Humanity has always been flawed, no period in history had only honourable people walking around, but having walked on this Earth long enough as a race, we ought to show that we understand more and behave accordingly.

If you create a situation with a negative consequence, you own it and fix it and that’s that. Being unforthcoming about things, even trivial matters, creates room for bigger ones to occur. And they do. It’s called complacency. It grows like the scum on unattended ponds and it takes over transparency.

There may be a time to shrug and brush over the consequences of our actions if they are not of deadly nature, but the point is, when we’re in a social situation, we need to show our grown-up side and own up to it all, good and bad.

Learning happens when the mind is open. Keeping our minds open is a sign of understanding our commitment to life and all its magic. Mindfulness. When we do, good things happen, and that means mistakes too, as they become opportunities to learn. A measure of honour if you will.

Consideration Is The Only Way To Go

Initially published as a column in the AM News on Friday, July 17, 2015. 

then and thereYesterday we landed on Denman Island and luck had it that we got a campsite by the ocean in what could easily be called ‘slice of paradise’. Night came and with it clouds and a bit of rain. Might as well, it is not only needed in our bone dry province but it really suits the ocean well.

We had dinner and listened to the waves. Lights flickered on the islands nearby and on the sky that was occasionally cleared of clouds.

A light came on at the site opposing ours. Then musical instruments, and an impromptu band complemented our night by the ocean. A group of musicians, most of them calling themselves ‘old enough to know that song’ who meet every year on the island for a couple of weeks, managed to add a touch of magic to the night.

For two hours or so, they provided us all with music and laughs. It happens when there you can count the sites on the fingers of your hands. We got to chatting and found out about other campsites on nearby islands where partying takes a different path.

Many young people bring enough alcohol and recreational drugs to party hard, which makes it noisy and unpleasant for the rest of the campers there. No softly sung tunes that invite in, we’re told, but raucous and uncomfortable.

It made me think father then just camping. It’s everywhere and it has to do with everything we do, from everyday life activities we have to do, to the recreational ones. Some people live with consideration towards others, while others live for themselves and do not bother think whether their actions impend other people in any way. Everything we do impacts others and it takes a good deal of brain power trying to figure out why some simply do not care.

It shouldn’t be this way with anything.

Raising our children in a way that helps them learn that everything they do might prevent a lot of heartache down the road.

As we drove through a handful of small communities along the northern part of Vancouver Island, we got to talk to a few people and learned a lot. Many communities have been heavily and negatively impacted by the industries that provided work for most of the people for enough years to make people dependent on it, but recent changes in laws (think the last decade or so) created work vacuums that saw the same communities dismantled and people scattered in search of means to survive.

The story repeats itself at every level. Local people are employed by certain industries (mainly logging here) but often times they see things that oppose their communities’ beliefs, yet speaking up might mean job loss and inability to provide for their families.

Just the same, residents can wake up with chemicals being sprayed way too close to their only source of water and no accountability for what could mean health issues down the road for people who form too small a community to have a loud enough voice to be heard.

These are beautiful places, just like the rest of our province and country, where nothing deleterious to people or nature should ever occur. Not if people would live with consideration for others.

People’s efforts to save beauty and the pristine while also allowing the necessary work-providing industries is the same in every community, be it large or small, except that in the small ones everything is more visible.

With enough consideration and less greed, everyone would have a fair chance to live a life they’d earn with decent work and enjoy the places they choose to live in. Consideration cannot be achieved by secrecy or governments that do not consider the impact of their laws on the very people they govern, but by openness that allows for opinions to be shared and consequences to be understood and if negative, prevented.

such isConsideration allows for joy as well. Whether it concerns working, vacationing, driving (rather shocking to realize how many tailgaters live in our very province), building a new home or an industrial project, activities that people undertake, individually or as a group, should be taken through the necessary filter of consideration and respect.

Lack of it benefits a handful, while its presence benefits all. Choosing the latter and educating ourselves and our children in that way of living makes all the sense.

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