Gratitude makes the journey better and so does kindness

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Weekly Column: The world can be changed for the better and many are already doing it

Originally published as a column on CFJC Today Kamloops on May 20, 2019.

If you were to sit with us for dinner on any given night, you would be privy to a recurrent conversation that surfaces whenever social issues such as poverty, violation of human rights and modern-day slavery, refugee and climate change-caused disasters are brought to our attention via news, books or any other sources: why don’t wealthy people help more? And why do some choose to act in ways that take away from those who have little to begin with?

It’s disheartening to have to ask those questions.

The Elusiveness Of Social Conscience

Originally published as a column on CFJC Today Kamloops and Armchair Mayor News on Monday, July 31, 2017. 

What makes some people offer their homes to wildfire evacuees, donate money and goods, and even go and spend long nights snuggling terrified pets, while others do the exact opposite; stealing hoses and water pumps, enjoying time on lakes where firefighting aircraft load up, flying drones in hot (literally) areas to the point of aircraft having to land due to added risk. Oh, and there are some individuals engaging in looting, scamming, and basically anything that would transform one’s vulnerability into their monetary gain.

It’s contrary to anything most people would do. It’s deeply upsetting, adding many degrees of aggravation to the issues the province is battling as we speak, as has been for the last weeks. And let’s not forget those who increase the potential for yet another devastating wildfire by carelessly disposing of cigarette butts, or having campfires when the fire prohibition has been with us for many weeks now. It makes everything harder than it should be.

You could liken it to playing Whack-A-Mole with this population group that somehow does not see it the way the rest of us do and they do not only make it harder, but add danger, heartache and push one’s faith in humanity to the lowest point.

Many wonder how to go about that. Harsh punishment such as fines, prison time, etc. I am willing to say, given the very topic of this column, that aside from fines that should cover more than the cost of what was stolen or destroyed, or set on fire by careless actions, community service (compulsory of course, and lengthy that is,) performed by those found guilty might just be what best serves the cause.

I have been amongst those who say that our legal system has it so that often times the punishment does not seem to fit the crime. At the same time, I have been a proponent of obligatory community service (whatever and wherever is needed) that those found guilty should give to their fellow humans.

I dare believe that it might spark thoughts of social consciousness. Perhaps not in all, but truly, hard work does have its merits when it comes to bringing a message through. If regular people can lend themselves to volunteering for good causes, I do not see why perpetrators would not do the same, willingly or not, instead of being given a fine and/or possibly a mild sentence.

There is much to speculate about what makes one go against everything decent and instead engage in contrary behaviour. The various types of crimes against society in times of crisis such as the one we’re now living through in the BC interior, while discouraging and depressing when taken out of context, only reinforce the fact that for every person doing the wrong, unlawful thing, there are hundreds more going above and beyond in trying to help their fellow humans and animals in times of need.

That is heartwarming. Kamloops has become an example of what helpful means when people are in trouble. It would be unrealistic to think that resources can be bottomless, should the same attitude be continued with once the wildfire season is past us (now that’s a happy thought!). But kindness towards each other should, to the same extent and more. As they say, you might not have anything material to give, but a smile, a kind word or helping when you can, that is where it’s at.

I’ve been told repeatedly that social conscience at the level of society is my own kind of illusion I keep hanging onto for no good reason, yet I choose to believe it is possible. Perfect? Not even close. Humans are, as we all know, fallible and imperfect in their actions and intentions, some downright cruel and ill-intended, and there is no point in trying to find out why they do that.

But what if they had to give back in form of work, which means time and effort, the willy-nilly paying back for one’s crimes which will benefit their fellow humans and can yet provide a possible path to reconciling… Fines and prison time, while they can turn some around, or scare them from repeating the crime, might just make many more careful in how they commit the crime.

Should a person be forced to serve the community they wrongfully acted against, it might just help them see things in a different light. Such as ‘this is what your actions led to; this is what you need to do, work-wise, to make it up to your fellow humans.’

What do you think?

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.

Apples and Cherries and Oil Spills

Originally published as a column on July 29, 2016 in NewsKamloops. 

Up the street from where we live there is an apple tree loaded with apples to the point of having its branches snap under the weight. Plenty more are scattered on the grass. There is no one to ask about whether we could pick them so they won’t go to waste, and trespassing is not an option even if there is no fence.

Along one of the trails where I walk the dog there is a yard with a cherry tree where cherries now hang burgundy and withered. I got to see them beautifully red and inviting, until the cherry season almost passed. I took that trail daily hoping that I’d see someone and ask about picking. Again, nobody to ask, and the fruit went to waste.

But this is not a piece about food waste only but appreciation and gratefulness. For what we have and what we’re bound to lose if we’re not paying attention. Whether it is fruit that goes to waste when there are people right here in Kamloops, children included, who cannot afford healthy fares, or water that gets polluted and becomes toxic to the very communities it’s supposed to sustain, the trouble is the same: waste. In the latter case, waste in seen differently by those who cause it versus though who suffer from it.

That apples and cherries and oil spills could ever be connected like dots to reveal a surprising picture is hard to imagine, and yet I am attempting to do just that.

If you have been following the recent Husky pipeline oil spill in Saskatchewan in all its dirty bits, you know it cannot be left alone. Not when the possibility of a new Kinder Morgan pipeline passing through here is looming in the distance (hopefully not). Not when pipeline-related oil spills are happening when least expected (Kinder Morgan had seven spills in BC only since 2005, four of which involved volumes larger than 100,000 litres).

The approximately 250,000-litre spill in the North Saskatchewan River is no little thing. By now the oil made its way some 500 kilometres downstream and four communities along the way have declared state of emergency. The company is ‘deeply sorry’ and will take care of the financial side of the problem. That they call the spill a ‘pipeline release’ is disturbing and insulting.

There are two issues that that stand out with this spill.

The first is that a leak had been noticed 14 hours before the spill was reported. That is a lot of hours to do something to hopefully prevent a larger disaster. At least you can say you tried. They did not. While the initial story mentioned the 14-hour delay, a second version has now been released: no one really saw the leak. From guilty as charged, Husky swiftly becomes the responsible community employer that will try to remediate the ‘mistake’.

What gets a company off the hook easier: admitting that its staff should have and could have done something and they didn’t, or that they took all the appropriate measures but somehow they missed the leak? Accountability be damned, the PR team worked hard on this one and the Ministry of Environment rolls happily with it. Yes, Husky has already been praised for their stellar cooperation by the ministry, who perhaps forgot for the time being that they are called Ministry of Environment for a reason.

The second worrying issue is that the spill happened shortly after Husky restarted the flow of oil through its new extension pipeline. It was the old rickety pipeline that leaked or so they say, yet it is hard to avoid the obvious question: why so soon after the flow was reopened? Is that a known risk? We might never know if this could have been prevented since in 2014 the Ministry of Environment decided that there was no need for an Environmental Impact Assessment for the extension project. Choking yet?

Talk about a lesson being learned the hard way. Not by companies but by communities along the way. Except that those who pay the hardest price sometimes have the weakest voices sometimes. You see, being vocal enough to be heard and slick enough to be believed is often proportional with the finances tied to the issue.

There is but one conclusion: we do not have enough time for all the spills and carbon overload that can still happen with fossil fuels. A greener future must happen or else. We may not read much these days about climate change in our local and national news, except for the independent media outlets, but the 14 repeats of the hottest-month-on-record is one crazy reality that we should all think about.

Switching to alternative energy sources could not happen too soon. People are enthusiastic and willing to roll up their sleeves and do the work (and save money since the source is renewable). It would help immensely if the government, provincial and federal, would stop dancing with the same old rich partners and switch to the environmentally-responsible, albeit less rich ones that are waiting for their turn. It’d be about time.

So what is there to learn from cherries dried-up on the tree, scattered apples and oil spills? We only have so much that we can use in the time we’re given, and waste (of food and water and green clean spaces) is not an option. Not when there are alternatives.

Where to from here? Wherever our collective common sense takes us. The government, despite the occasional impositions, is still ruling over a democratic society so ideally we should function like one and demand that the right to make informed choices be respected.

It’s Good To Be Known, But For What?

I remember the days when people would say that Canadians traveling abroad are perhaps among the only ones that can stitch a flag to their backpacks and be welcome wherever they’d go because of that. Canadians are nice and considerate, people would say. They were then and many, let’s hope the majority, still are.

Yet the image is being challenged by a group of adventurous yet inconsiderate young Canadians who have put themselves on the shame map by disrespecting a few of the iconic American landmarks such as the Yellowstone Park. A selfie here, a selfie there, they managed to step in those places that clearly said ‘do not’. There must have been a ‘please’ in there too, but the rush to get reactions to boldness was too much. So un-Canadian.

There will be some charges, and they will likely be forbidden to visit the US any time soon. That’s not it though. It’s the notoriety such incidents create, chipping away at the image that was built over the years. Not a bad one, you’d agree. It’s good to be known for being respectful.

Then it’s the green matter. Or lack thereof. It’s not good to be known for being the home of one of the worst polluters in North America. It is the oilsands, of course. They are the source of an incredibly high amount of secondary organic aerosols which increase the concentration of particulate matter, a recent Canadian study concluded, which can make the air people and animals breathe a lot more toxic than it should be. Carcinogenic too, according to the World Health Organization.

Another one in a different journal that was published two years ago brought attention to the much higher air pollutant concentration than previously thought forming out of the oilsands. When people’s health is at stake… well, never mind, that has been not been the case in communities closely positioned to either oil, gas or mining explorations. People were left to their own devices which are often limited.

Yes, Canada used to be known as ‘green’. That has been changing over the years though. If the previous government had us pull out of international climate change commitments and agree to ridiculously low targets, the present one has yet to show its shades of green by honouring the promises made during the flamboyant campaign.

Canada’s future as a green country is not farfetched. We have what we need, resource-wise. It may take a while to switch to renewable energies and the provincial and federal governments would have to commit financially to make it happen, but really, what other choice we have when industrial giants like China are pledging to switch to alternative sources of energy and have 5 million electric cars on the road in the near future. There is no turning back.

There is a magic word called subsidy. When the government decides to put more into what matters because our very future depends on it, good things happen. We ought to be known for that instead of scientifically-flawed processes that see pipelines approved and projects like the Site C dam being praised as good investments. We ought to have people know the difference between profitable for a few, versus sustainable in all aspects, hence good for entire communities and the country too.

Yes, Canadians are good people. The recent Fort McMurray fire (still raging by the way, though it is somewhat out of the hot news, no pun intended) brought forth the kind of stories that reinforce the belief that Canadians are brave, kind-hearted and considerate. There was a lot of heart being poured in getting people evacuated safely and saving as many of their houses from fire as possible. Many others donated generously to those left without homes and belongings.

Then, the ugly stuff emerged. People posing as Fort Mac fire refugees tried to scam generous people, others having just escaped the fire with a few possessions, mostly of sentimental value, ended up being robbed on the way to safer grounds.

You could say some bad apples look for opportunities to make a few dirty dollars and such people exist everywhere. Yet in times of grief, the opposite should kick in. If it’s poverty that pushes people to stealing, that is unfortunate. Poverty can be an ugly contender to honesty.

The few that made the news stealing and impersonating are small potatoes though. The recent revelations that over 300 addresses and names in the infamous Panama Papers were traced to Vancouver stings a lot more. Stealing is not all poverty-related after all. Shame.

There’s always good and bad coming together and even the skeptics would agree that you can’t have it all good and rosy. That’s not the goal either. How about aiming to return to being known as kind, considerate, even if too apologetic at times? To return to being known as environmental stewards who care for their land and base their decisions not on how they affect the present generation but how they will be helping future generations exist and flourish.

To be known not for having the most handsome Prime Minister in the world, or for the now out-of-proportion PM elbow incident, but for how boldly he insists on keeping his promises, because he is the face of all Canadians and their hope to make the country stand out for the good things that happen here.

It’s about returning to being able to walk around with the flag stitched to our backpacks and our heads held high. It’s been like that for an awfully long time, why not keep it that way?

Voting For The Next 40 Years

Initially published as a column on NewsKamloops on October 9, 2015.

October 19 is around the corner and the word of the day is voting. It’d better be. There is much at stake and citizens of this country are the ones in charge of it all by casting their ballot. The importance of this year’s voting is immense. We are voting not just for the next four years, but the next 40 and beyond.

Perusing the news is enough to help give us a bird’s eye view of the matters at hand and persuade anyone with a conscience to go out and vote. Ethical standards, or lack thereof rather, stand out as the driving engine behind many a foul matters that surface through various media outlets.

And we have to be discerning and realize that even though some issues seem to not pertain to us all, they do, more than we realize.

We have yet to see positive action that will address the death of the 1,181 missing and murdered Aboriginal women, and, while at that, action that will recognize and address violence against women, a dreadful reality still very present in our ever so polite society. Comments such as the one by former conservative MP John Cummings that blame the victims for putting themselves at risk rather than seeking the perpetrators are at best, shameful, and should make us realize that safety is not a privilege of a few but the right of everyone.

We have yet to see a justice system that will not be in any way influenced by money, if the perpetrators happen to have them, but will hold the value of truth and honesty above anything else.

We have yet to see a system where no victim will be ignored in any way, or their suffering or death brushed aside and classified as not important enough to warrant a public inquiry (see the case of foster children and youths who died while in government care). Public inquiries have the the potential to bring better rules that will see children protected and minded as they should be, and better qualified and ethically-driven people in key positions.

A society is never healthy until health is seen at all levels and by all people. That implies many things: ability to assess the situation, courage to address it and take action, and last but not least, transparency when it comes to the public knowing about it. Referendums to address issues that concern us all should be commonplace in a democratic society like ours. Unfortunately, these things are the result of people pushing for them to happen.

Hence the need to have our candidates committed to make changes that will see better things happen for Canadians, at all levels of society, and also willing to maintain transparency along the way, a feature that has been sorely missing more and more from our political landscape, a detrimental thing to us all, save for a selected few.

We have yet to see government action that will address climate change. There is a plethora of signs pointing to a suffering environment and no matter which side you happen to be on (the deniers’ numbers are dwindling by the day), the truth is that we all depend on clean air, water and soil. All of them have been suffering lately and that needs to be addressed.

Expectedly, climate change has also become one hot issue with the voters, for many of them ranking as the second most important after the economy.

Climate change is real, despite some candidates not being convinced by the existing evidence (explained as such by Conservative candidate for the North Okanagan-Shuswap, Mel Arnold). Evidence is not only here but staring us in the face; not a pretty stare either.

Whether at home or abroad, there are many changes we see in the environment which will only get worse unless properly addressed. The cause needs no further explaining: the progressively increased levels of greenhouse gases are causing warming of the atmosphere, which in turn brings ill such as rising sea levels, warming and acidification of the oceans, melting of glaciers and declining of Arctic ice sheets, dwindling snow reserves that forecast longer wildfire seasons.

It starts with realizing that pollution kills and it is man-made. Scientists at Environment Canada put together a computer-generated video showing how pollution spreads across the Prairies. The video, released to the public this week, is evidence of how gases generated by massive industrial sites (oil and gas, coal-burning plants and the oilsands), travel for hundreds of kilometers, spreading over populated areas and increasing the amount if pollution past acceptable limits. That is what we are all breathing in.

Such evidence should be taken seriously by the candidates and change should follow. A country’s economy is bound to be affected by climate change and it may just be that we are at a fork in the road. We can either ask our soon-to-be-elected leaders to address climate and thus influence the economy in a positive manner while also lessening the dependence on fossil fuels, or continue on the path of exploiting natural resources knowing that Mother Nature is not one we can ever trick into abiding by human-imposed rules.

Our country’s well-being is at stake here. Public health in all aspects, environmental health, an economy that is affected by both, no issue exists by itself. They are all connected and the bettering of one will influence the others in a positive way.

If there’s ever a time to be diligent about doing our homework, this should be it. Moral values such as honesty, ethics and a sense of responsibility for today’s young generation and the ones to follow are to be the guidelines in helping us choose our future leaders. Please vote with a conscience.


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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