Gratitude makes the journey better and so does kindness

Tag: society

It’s All Connected And Life Depends On It

Originally published as a column on CFJC Today Kamloops on June 26, 2017. 

A few things have happened in the last few days. The Rae Fawcett Breast Health Clinic at RIH is now officially open in Kamloops, after being active for a month already, providing women with streamlined care, from examinations to diagnostic. A beautiful example of putting money to good work – the Fawcett family has donated $1 million towards the centre.

This comes as positive news after the recently released study by the Canadian Cancer Society. The report predicts that 1 in 2 Canadians will develop cancer during their lifetime, and 1 in 4 will die because of it. Can you say dire?

The report states that the rather dark predictions have to do with with aging. An aging population is indeed subject to more chronic disease, that is what we learn. With a catch: the report places old age past the age of 50. Wait, that is not that old, I can hear many say. True. Life does not take a downturn after you turn 50. Not if lifestyle choices include healthy eating, exercise, and stress-busting strategies of some sort, be it volunteering, reading, gardening, making time for precious family time, you name it.

When I first learned about cancer, I also learned that if a person lives long enough, they’ll eventually develop the dreaded disease simply because the cells in their body age.  The DNA ages too and that induces changes that translate into the ultimate cellular havoc we all know about. Yes, all true, except that ‘old age’ in this case was placed closer to 100 than at the halfway mark like mentioned above.

So, many will say, that refers to the older people. Young ones are safe then? I wish I could say yes, yet before the young population feels relieved, here’s some sobering thought bites:

  • Cancer is often intertwined with lifestyle choices: radiation exposure, smoking, unhealthy food consumption which leads to obesity, combined with lack of physical activity. Genetics plays a role as well, that is true, but giving ourselves to fate alone would be disempowering to say the least
  • Young people and even children do develop cancer, and the rates of cancer in kids under the age of 19 have been increasing over the last decades. That treatment and survival chances have also gone up is true, but that does not change the increased rates.
  • In many types of cancer, the risk of recurrence can be significantly lowered by daily physical exercise. Moderate intensity, that is, and performed for a certain length of time, benefit both body and mind, mood if you prefer, a definite helper in beating cancer
  • Our world is getting more chemically loaded by the day. Of the chemicals that are found in our homes, work places and in the great outdoors, especially in various bodies of water, many are found to be carcinogenic, or potentially carcinogenic. Exposure matters. ‘Nuff said.

It so happened that the latter is made more relevant by news pertaining to events such as the Mount Polley spill disaster. As of April 7, 2017, the BC Ministry of the Environment has granted permission to Mount Polley Mining Corporation to transfer their mining waste water into Quesnel Lake. Entertaining the thought of having to drink water from what used to be a pristine source, but is now laced with many chemicals from the spill, which was never fully cleaned up to begin with, is enough to make one shudder. Yet people will.

It will take years to see the unfortunate consequences of drinking polluted water years from now. That water was deemed clean and safe by government official through environmental assessments that might or might not be biased, and by the corporate management team who likely gets their drinking water from a different source, only adds to the controversy and the wrongness of it.

Kamloops has been in the decision trenches regarding the Ajax mine for a few good years now. We’ve heard it all and then some, the pros and cons. In the wake of the report that the Canadian Cancer Society released, I feel compelled to say that in every decision we make, as individuals, or as communities, health should be first on the list. Truly, we have nothing if health is affected.

Should a mine or any other project be built, strict safety standards closely monitored by a government that has the best of its citizens in mind, that would allow for an economic boost without the risks. If priorities other than health crowd the list, we will simply get used to getting dire stats, shrugging once we have digested the news and opt for… well, adapting, which is what one radio show host was suggesting as a solution for dealing with climate change.

Adaptation is a wonderful gift that the living world is blessed with, but there’s only that much we can stretch the concept until it becomes another nail in the coffin. And until proven otherwise, no scary-sounding stats will make a corporate heart bleed and turn a compassionate eye towards the community its profits come from.

It comes down to every one of us getting the facts and making individual and community-wide decisions that will ultimately enhance quality of life, long-term, for everyone. That’s partly how I think a cancer prediction-beating strategy could work.

The Stuff We Need More Of


Originally published as a column on CFJC Today on January 9, 2017. 

Every now and then I come across a quote that resides in my thoughts for days. Such was the case of the words I later discovered to belong to David Orr, professor of environmental studies and politics (quite the combination), writer, and activist.

It goes like this: “The plain fact is that the planet does not need more successful people. But it does desperately need more peacemakers, healers, storytellers, and lovers of every kind. It needs people who live well in their places. It needs people of moral courage willing to join the fight to make the world habitable and humane. And these qualities have little to do with success as we have defined it.”

Truly riveting, isn’t it?

It could sound rather counterproductive and somewhat the opposite of what we’re telling children about life nowadays. That these very words are part of a book called ‘Educational Literacy: Educating Our Children for A Sustainable Future’ makes all the sense and more.

When my oldest son was in grade 1, he asked what being rich meant. I said that though it may seem otherwise, true richness has nothing to do with things but with what we carry inside. It has to do with how much of the stuff that we cannot measure we have. Though he is inching his way towards becoming an adult, should he asked the same question now, I’d tell him the same, though some might think I am depriving him of the much-needed impetus for building a successful career.

A day or two after discovering the above-mentioned quote, I came across two news stories that fueled the debate with myself. One had to do with the salaries of some of the most successful CEOs in Canada; the numbers peppered throughout the report were in the millions, and lots of them. Really, if too many zeroes are used to describe one’s monetary compensation, numbers kind of lose their significance. Unless some of that sum is used to add goodness to the world.

The second story had to do with a Montreal-based small restaurant owner who offers free meals to those in need, no questions asked. That averages to four or five meals a day (and less wasted food.) The ripple effects of the free meals reached further than expected: People who eat there started leaving small sums of money to help cover the cost of the free meals.

If you were ever in a desperate financial situation, even once in your life, you know what a godsend a free meal can be. Compassion invites gratefulness, which in turn invites more compassion. Deep down we all know that. It’s easy to forget to look back, and at times it may seem easy to shrug and hope someone else will take care of the ungracious side of the world.

If success was measured in how much better we can each make the world around us by exercising compassion (and not judging), we’d definitely need as many successful people as we can get.

For the world to carry itself forward with unselfish grace, it is us who need to supply it by raising children who think outside of their own personal boundaries. Moreover, we need to raise children that follow passions, dreams and become fulfilled in ways that go beyond financial success while preserving the kind ways of the heart.

No one ever lost anything in lending a hand. Still, many of us are afraid to commit to it because the amount of wrongness to be fixed seems insurmountable and ever-growing. Many of us are perhaps of the opinion that paying it forward works best in the movies. Every now and then, stories that prove good deeds invite to more of the same surface, and with that, one can hope, the conviction that letting our humanity show is but the right thing to do.

And then again, there is the very opposite of the coin that prompts doubt, anger even. In our community, the recent hit-and-run that took a life and left so much sadness behind shoots down all hope that people carry warmth in their heart no matter what.

There are heinous acts in every part of our world. There are people who act senselessly; they steal, hurt, kill, do irreparable and atrocious damage, and truth is, no one will ever be able to stop that from happening. But the aftermath is where we can lend a helping, healing, loving hand. We live, you could say, in a perpetual aftermath where every day is a good day to start.

Part of doing that is raising compassionate children by making helping those less fortunate common place, and by helping them understand that life and death are but brackets and the in between is where we can make a difference in how we live.

We are all born with smiles sketched across our minds and hearts, yet many peel off as we go. We learn that success involves climbing ladders that often claim the softest parts of our hearts. What we can teach our children is that being successful does not mean leaving compassion behind.

Indeed, in the age of a growing and often ailing population, due to hardship related to climate change, wars and everyday societal wrongness, it may be necessary to forgo the urge to push our children towards one-sided success and help them instead carry on with heartful, giving steps. We’d all be richer for it and smile more.


Why Do Pitt Bulls Get More Public Attention Than Abused Children

Initially published as a column in the Armchair Mayor News on Friday, October 7, 2016. 

ProtectSince 2011, at least 233 children between the ages of three and 18 have been subjected to sexual abuse while in foster care. That is in British Columbia alone. The majority of them were girls and more than 60 percent Indigenous. To put it in perspective, approximately 25 percent of the children in foster care in our province are aboriginal.

The report created some ripples on the day it hit the press, but definitely not enough and the ripples also did not carry through the next few days. In other words, it’s not something we talk about and become rightfully shocked by.

In contrast, the Montreal pit bull ban got so much publicity and word of mouth that it reached many corners of this province and the country too. While I will not go into that debate, my contention revolves around what makes us tick as a society. That over two hundred children (many more go unreported) were subjected to sexual violence in Canada in this day and age should make us all stop and question our priorities as a society.

Love or hate pit bulls, the thing is, we talk about it, we have it in the news, petitions are flying (one had approximately 191,000 signatures a week or so ago) and we collectively argue about the ban. There are some pretty strong opinions flying out there if you care to check the news.

For the record, I love dogs. I have one I dearly love, and I do think that dogs deserve to be cared for the right way. But, I am of the belief that every dog owner should be charged or drastically fined should their dog attack anyone and harm them. The money should go straight to shelters to help other animals.

On the other hand, are we being just as vocal about those abused children? A year ago or so I wrote a column about a little girl (age 2) who died while in foster care, bearing many signs of physical abuse. It saddened me then and it still saddens me now. There was a lot of muddling in the case as the foster parents denied being physically abusive and the natural mother who fought hard to get her baby back had a history of mental disease.

B.C. Minister of Children and Family Development Stephanie Cadieux still maintains that the ministry has rigorous standards when choosing foster parents. Outrage? Nah. New measures will be implemented, possibly after paper-pushing, stamping, approving of this and that, and then some more paper-pushing. Meanwhile, children suffer.

It’s hard to believe our most beautiful province has a shameful reputation when it comes to how we take care of children. Not mine or yours most likely, but of those who were born under less lucky stars. The most vulnerable of them all. They drop even lower and the sky above them darkens even more with every day of abuse and mistreatment.

It’s high time we put a stop to that. That in every society throughout time people found themselves at the opposite poles of status, financially or otherwise, is true. But nowadays we are privy to enough information to be able to step up and stop any kind of abuse, to shorten decision-making time when a child’s life depends on it and to make it big news and a subject of conversation until the issue does not longer exist. To paraphrase our PM who is still dragging his feet in the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Inquiry, this is 2016. Almost 2017 in fact.

I believe in compassion and second chances, yet there is a fine line we ought not to cross when dealing with children who are subjected to sexual violence of any kind. The problem is, many of these children are scarred for life. Second chances are, in these cases and sadly so, more often for the perpetrators than for the young victims.

When we think of the future we think of children. They are the ones carrying the legacy into tomorrow. The more we allow as a society for a partially rotten legacy to exist, the more troublesome the future we hope for becomes.

A quote I often think of belongs to Nelson Mandela: ‘There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.’ Am I right to assume that our society’s soul is not doing too well at the moment? We can each do something to make it heal by fighting to treat our collective children better and let no harm of the above sort come to them.

Hunt For Viral Bits Prevents Us From Seeing The Big Picture

Initially published as a column in the AM News on Friday May 29, 2015.

I was driving up Columbia Street when I saw what almost resembled a crowd of journalists gathered for a press conference. Phones were all pointed towards the other side of the street. A car was burning in the parking lot and a group of firefighters were pointing a thick stream of water in an effort to extinguish it.

As I drove further, I saw a few people running down towards the site with their phones out and ready to get in on the action. Of ogling, I mean, in which case action is in fact inaction as you simply stare.

What was the motivation behind all of this hubbub? Was it the hope of their video going ‘viral’ or simply the need to take a shot of something outside of the norm? A short-lived ability to make someone go ‘oh’ and ‘ah’ over something that bears the mark of sensational? I can only assume.

I kept on driving thinking of another incident heard over the news a few days ago. A man traveling in Thailand had his phone snatched by an elephant who, in the process of owning the device for a bit, took a ‘selfie’. Yes, the photo went viral and the story too and there was even a poll on the CBC website asking people to guess about the location. Go figure.

Now it is all forgotten, just like the fire in the parking lot will be or is gone already from collective memory (despite the CFJC video that had 66k likes on Facebook), just like the many ‘top viral videos of the week’, just like the viral photo or video of tomorrow. One could say this is what’s right about all of this though.

Short-lived stuff, no matter how many ripples it creates, is just that: a one match fire that lasts only as much as the match does.

And that is what makes it frustrating, especially in today’s social and political context when there are so many matters of utmost importance citizens can and should get involved in, post and write about it, and make ripples which will only add to the impact we all need to have on issues pertaining more than a burning car in a parking lot or other jaw-dropping quick facts of today’s world.

Like the infamous bill C-51, which our senators will get to vote on in a few days. Talk about ogling, cameras and things going awry. If the bill comes to be, people like you and me will be the object of ogling and there will be nothing sensational about it, other than the bewilderment over how this state of affairs came to be.

On the other hand, and in less darker tones, the story of ogling could still take better turns.  A few days ago while my family and I visited friends in Barnhartvale I saw a pink-flower bush that bore plump blossom clumps and on each clump there was a swallowtail butterfly and a couple of bumblebees.

I could get close enough to look at them and then we all stood for a while, hosts included, watching the most gracious dance of yellow and black wings over big pink blossoms. I will never forget that. And yes, I did take a few photos and as I did, I knew I will write about it at least once.

Viral or not, there was something so outstandingly beautiful about it all. The warm afternoon air pinched at times by the buzzing of bumblebees, the silent dance of the butterflies, grownups and children standing in fascination in the middle of grassy slopes nestled among treed hills… a world worth staring at, because the more we do, the more we want to keep it like that.

Hunting for the cheap sensational of today that will never be remembered tomorrow dulls our senses to the point of responding only to that, as the real world is not exciting enough to garner that kind of attention.

Like a bad drug, you could say, the need to see the dirt on the world rather than its worthwhile beauty. By that I do not mean just pretty butterflies, but all that pertains to life, raw and real and giving us the full measure of what we’re here for.

With so many people in the world and so much happening, with greed and an increased lack of social conscience at times, we cannot afford to have our attention drawn to things that do little more than elicit the said oh and ah, or a chuckle.

When we focus our attention on loftier goals, as individuals and as a society, rather than monitoring the small cheap stuff, we allow ourselves a fair chance to see the big picture which in turns allows us to do more than ogle, which is observe and act upon matters than keep the world worth looking at.

Political Correctness vs. Principles. Where Do You Stand?

Rivers of ink and pixels have been flooding newspapers, news websites and social media outlets about Rob Ford, the current Mayor of Toronto, for a few days now. The threat of it all lurked in the shadows for a few months, since the drug antics of Rob Ford have been hinted at by the media. We now have a fully developed case of social and political black eye (one of them at least) for all to see and shake their heads at .

Most people who kept informed willingly or were assaulted by the news over the last few days, know that Rob Ford has admitted to using illegal drugs (while in a drunken stupor, as if that softens the blow,) he avoided admitting to drug use when asked by the media a few months ago, and he has also been photographed with alleged drug dealers, hardly the place to be for a mayor, unless it’s some wicked undercover work to expose the bad guys.

You can access details in most papers, and online as well, so I will not go further. The situation is disgraceful and it shouldn’t have made it this far. A person in a position of influence should display respectable conduct. There are no two ways about it. Even more so when the situation is recurrent. That points to absent remorse and that is a scary reality.

But my thoughts revolve around the conflicting messages about this situation. That such a situation has been created is a sign of the times. It is, on the bright side, an opportunity to reassess our value system and make the appropriate adjustments, if you will.

Some people defend Rob Ford with the unoriginal, though true, “everyone makes mistakes,” and while that each of us want that applied to us at least once in a lifetime, I believe this to be a case of “n/a” (not applicable). It should be. Barring unforeseen political and social circumstances, when one is in the public eye, and in an influential position in which elected by a community, one should avoid any situation that might become a black eye.

Others are saying “Many of us have been there at least once or have loved ones who have…” meaning not drugs necessarily but alcohol and questionable behavior. I’d stamp another “n/a” on this too. This is not an appeal for help and compassion issued by a man seeking help. A man of high political stature is plunging into one pool of social wrongness after another and he is getting away with it, while almost everyone’s hands are wringing over something that should have not been. Shedding some PR-required crocodile tears while saying “sincerely” three times and throwing a “God bless the people of Toronto” at the end should not make anyone say “have some understanding, he’s going through a tough time.”

The threshold of what we consider socially acceptable is getting lower and lower. I am troubled by it. Extremes are never good. Taut lines stretched across concepts and ideas and life in general annoy people and make them react, but being permissive and lacking principles is not the answer either. With common sense and critical thinking as bearings we can find the way, I am sure.

Finally, there are some people who are saying “enough is enough; how much time are we going to spend on this issue when there’s many more pressing ones that need attention?”

True to some extent. I think the Rob Ford incident is one of the iceberg tips that might help us – if we are so inclined – understand and assess the times, review our collective principles, reformulate terms on engagement for those who are or will ever be in positions of influence and ultimately understand the huge responsibility we bear as today’s adults. Our collective children are learning values, principles, political and social correctness (they should not differ much) from us. Parents, educators, politicians, and every person who has the capacity to become a role model has to know that the responsibilities associated with such a job are as high as the job itself.

What do you think?

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