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Archive for the ‘OPINION’ Category

gothic-1629448__340Yesterday I watched a young woman on Facebook suffer ridicule because she expressed genuine fear over a number of changes that have already been mandated by the new POTUS. She was articulate and measured in her speech. She did not criticize or name call, but simply asked one woman, a life coach/mentor, for advice in dealing with the anxiety she was feeling.

The mentor spoke calmly and gently about living in the present. She reminded the young woman that more often than not, life goes on as always and our greatest fears do not come to fruition. Without addressing any of the specific concerns the young woman mentioned, she did the best she could to smooth the waters.

A dozen or so people followed the same live video, but for the most part, their responses showed no such compassion or sensitivity. Instead, they mocked her, and joked among themselves about “her whining, and about having no use for people who were as soft as fluff.” They suggested she get a “helmet” and joked with each other about their willingness to fight.

It made me feel sick. What is happening to people?

If you study conflict resolution, the first things you learn is that you must show respect for the person with the opposing view. Whether you agree with them or not, whether you understand their feelings or not, you acknowledge the sincerity of those feelings and their inherent right to have them. You do not mock them, but try to get to the bottom of what is triggering their emotions. You try to find common ground – a common cause – and that in itself helps allay their fears.

Instead, what we are often seeing on FB, and what we’ve witnessed from the top on down in the new POTUS, is a kneejerk backlash against everything that has obviously angered some people for the past eight years. Many of them, freed from what they feel are the “shackles” of political correctness, are revelling in the novelty of saying whatever they want, exactly how they want. You can hear their glee, as if it’s a game. But to most of the rest of the world, it is terrifying. And it’s opposite to the values of respect and fair communication that we thought the States have always stood for. Were we wrong?

The real fear is how far this will go, which families will implode, and which mentally unstable people will grab this mania and take this even further, possibly to dangerous places. Neither “side” is safe. The hatred and tension are palpable. People must not assume that their prayers alone will magically keep the lid on this. God listens to prayers from countries all over the world, and still, for some reason, millions suffer. Americans are no more important than the people in Aleppo. Why would they think that their prayers will be answered first?

People need to wake up and feel a little bit of rational fear in their bellies. No country is immune to self-destruction.

 

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In May of 2011, not long after surviving prostate cancer, and still mending after a hip replacement, Jack Layton, the charismatic New Democratic Party leader, accomplished what to many seemed impossible. He led his party to the level of Official Opposition, winning over Quebec separatists, and thereby achieving a record number of seats in parliament. NDP supporters were euphoric.

Two months later, shockingly gaunt and weak, he announced that a new form of cancer had taken hold of him, and that he was taking a leave from his position in order to fight it.

On August 22, just four weeks later, he passed away, surrounded by his loved ones and closest colleagues. Shortly after his death, a letter was released, written by him just two days earlier (http://bit.ly/netnCX). Moved by his message, the entire country united in an unprecedented show of grief.

Social media gathered hundreds of thousands of supporters, all asking that Layton be honoured in special ways. Across the country, people “Left their Porchlight on for Jack,” “Left a Burning Candle in the Window for Jack,” participated in “Chalk for Jack,” covering the concrete at Mel Lastman Square with messages to the man they admired so much. Orange lights, the colour of the NDP party, lit up Niagara Falls and the CN Tower at night.

He received a state funeral.

Since then, many journalists have asked “What is it about Jack Layton’s death that creates such passion and collective grieving?” After all, not everyone agreed with his politics or his passionate rhetoric during his three decades in politics. I believe there are several reasons for this surprising display of emotion.

The first that come to mind are his patriotism and his “generousity of self,” his willingness to get involved in areas that other politicians chose to ignore. He was approachable and emotionally engaged in every issue he tackled, and was a ray of hope for those struggling with poverty and homelessness. Unlike so many of our politicians, who seem emotionally detached from anything other than heated cabinet debates, he truly seemed to care.

Jack Layton had our back.

For years, there’s been talk of the apathy of today’s youth. Few have faith in politicians and the political process. They’ve “opted out.” They listen with wistfulness to stories recalling the activism and idealism of the sixties, but are often too jaded to believe that can happen again. Jack Layton challenged that belief and inspired so many of our Canadian youth. Years from now, that may be recognized as his greatest legacy.

On a personal level, Jack Layton did even more for me, and I suspect for many others growing up in the sixties and early seventies. He reminded me of who I was forty years ago. His principles, his passion, his belief in a better way, his concern for the disenfranchised and respect for humanity itself – those were the ideals I worked hard to emulate back then. I was young and hopeful and believed I could make a difference.

Somehow, as it does with many people, that idealism and energy faded over the years. Raising a family and working to make ends meet took most of my attention away, but not enough to miss the gradual changes taking place in our country – the focus on finances over people, the hostile and kneejerk response to anyone needing our help. Others set the changes in motion, but some, like Mike Harris, set them in stone. Like many of our youth, I’m afraid I chose to “opt out” rather than remain a teacher under Mike Harris, and with the subsequent election of federal, provincial and municipal politicians, my despair grew.

For a while, Jack Layton changed that. I saw more than a politician. I saw a human being – one who hid his private pain behind a moustached smile so he could lead his party to official opposition status, and who in the days before he died, still reached out and showed concern for others in a letter. As the NDP leader, he reminded his party to forge ahead, saying that the true power was always within them, and that his death wouldn’t change that. As a fellow Canadian, he urged people, young and old, to have hope in Canada’s future, to work to make it happen. As a cancer patient, he protected his fellow sufferers by keeping the details of his illness private, and encouraged them to have hope. His final words will always resonate with me:

“My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.”

How many other politicians have ever spoken to Canadians before dying, and in such a manner? Jack Layton was a remarkable man – a tireless, principled political leader, and patriotic Canadian. And for those of us who felt a familiar fire awaken in ourselves because of his shining example, his loss feels very personal.

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After my last post, I did a lot of thinking. I’ve learned some important lessons. This is what I came up with.

1. Never post an opinion piece in the wee hours of the morning.

2. If you’re putting your opinions out there, you’d better be ready for the fallout.

3. Read, revise, read, revise. One wrong word choice can completely alter the way your piece is perceived.

4. Timing is everything.

5. Realize that many will mistakenly think you’re writing about them, even though you’re not. One event might trigger you to reflect on a bigger picture, but they won’t know that. For example, you might see a mother reprimand her child in a store. Later, you think about similar situations taken to the extreme, and you write about the verbal abuse of children. You aren’t writing about the mother, but her actions caused an idea to snowball in your head.

6. Words are power. They can build up or break down. Exercise caution.

7. On the other hand, making people stop and think about something is worth the risk of making them a little uncomfortable.

8. If I worry all day because I suspect I’ve inadvertently hurt a friend, then perhaps it wasn’t worth writing.

9. Without passion, writing falls flat. Sometimes, we must draw on personal experiences for that passion, no matter how difficult that is.

10. Even the best journalists can recall times when something they’ve written got them in hot water. It might even be said that you can’t be good if you don’t occasionally take people out of their comfort zone. Rosie DiManno at the Toronto Star immediately comes to mind. If I’ve crossed a line, then at least I’m in good company.

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How many times have you heard someone say they bought themselves a certain item because they “deserved it?” How often have you said it yourself?

It’s called “entitlement.” In its most innocent form, it’s the inspiration for occasional things we bestow upon ourselves to reward our accomplishments: the designer purse, the top-notch golf clubs, that rich dessert. At its worst, entitlement becomes demanding. You deserve something simply on the basis of being YOU, not because of anything you’ve earned.

Entitlement is a relatively new phenomena, a by-product of a capitalist society. Our parents never experienced it at all. To them, the only things one could “deserve” in life were punishments brought on by bad decisions; or high marks resulting from good study habits.

Books like “The Secret” promote the philosophy, but the simplicity of the thinking behind “entitlement” scares me. In some ways it infuriates me. It suggests that there is a magic formula to achieving whatever you want, to living the perfect life you want. Let me tell you that the formula is not foolproof, that you can only plan so much in your life; and no matter how deserving you feel, you may not get everything you want. Or, you may acquire them, and lose them in the blink of an eye. You may get knocked clear on your ass, with no hand reaching out to help you up. That, my dear readers, is the way life often plays out.

I’m sorry if that sounds harsh. I guess I’m coming from a bitter place right now. I am disillusioned with those who think they’ve discovered the secret to getting all they deserve and look with scorn at those who haven’t managed the same lifestyle. They imply that others have only failed because they didn’t do enough to “deserve it.”

Once, feeling we “deserved it” was the rationale for a lot of the purchases we made. We deserved them because we worked hard. But financial experts warn that that kind of thinking can lead to problems, and it’s a big part of why we’re in the mess we’re in.

Seriously, should “deserving” even be part of the equation? Do the people born in third world countries deserve to live a life of starvation and sickness? Do children serving in armies deserve to have their innocence robbed from them? Does one person deserve a quick, painless death, while someone else deserves to be systematically tortured, dying piece by piece, hour by hour?

There are certain things everyone deserves. We deserve the love of a spouse and a few good friends. We deserve the right to work, to be paid fairly, and to be able to use those earnings to better our lives. But there are people in countries who work 80 hours a week, just to earn money for the bare necessities. Is that all they deserve?

Life is not simply input equals output. It’s also about luck. Sometimes, it’s about being positioned in the right place. You have to know that somewhere, there’s a big roulette wheel spinning, and wherever we land, that’s our fate. We can have a long run of good luck, and then a sudden drop of bad fortune that we can’t recover from. It’s undeniably there, waiting to knock the wind out of our sails whenever we dare to say “I DESERVE THIS.”

FOOTNOTE I woke up this morning to a comment from Bob Doe (see below), and I realized that the way this blog came across may have offended a lot of people. That wasn’t my intention, and I apologize. Please read my response to Bob for a further explanation.

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I’m angry today, the kind of angry that makes me want to throw on a placard and demonstrate on the busiest street corner I can find. What would the placard say? “I’m over 55, but I’m not dead yet! HIRE ME!”

The month started off so well: an article in the Globe and Mail, a ton of positive feedback, including personal emails, and a guest interview on a CBC news programme where I talked about the difficulties of being out of work. Messages filled my mailbox. People complimented me on my honesty, said I handled myself professionally, wished me well. But a job offer? Not even one – unless you count a couple of people singing the praises of multi-level marketing companies.

I even joined LinkedIn. It wasn’t actually my own idea, but something thrown out at me as more of a taunt during an argument with someone. It was like “Why haven’t YOU tried LinkedIn?” The implication was that I wasn’t trying hard enough to find a job, so I joined, wrote up a profile, included my work experience and links to this blog in case writing opportunities were out there, and joined a few groups. Then I sat and waited, and I realized why I’d never joined before. The problem is that while I’m able to “link” to a few people, I am virtually unable to ask for a reference from anyone there because the people I’m linked to are friends or casual acquaintances, not people who’ve worked with me. What are they going to say about me, other than personal things? Some have never even read my work. They can only guess at my capabilities.

In the meantime, I’ve continued to apply for jobs at all ends of the spectrum. One person who responded to my article suggested I don’t apply for anything “beneath me,” because of the sheer number of applicants for less qualified positions. I understand her point, but it hasn’t stopped me because I can’t pass anything up. I’ve also applied for lots of work that I’d be perfect for, but so far, I seem to be the only one believing that.

And here’s the thing. No matter what anyone says, the longer I go without a job, the more I know that this IS about age. If I’d been twenty or twenty-five, I would have been hired long ago for some of those lesser-paying jobs. If I’d been under forty-five, I’d have at least been called in for interviews for some of the better jobs. I know it as well as I know that underneath this dark brown hair hide grey roots.

So I’m frustrated and furious.

They say that no group is valued less in western society than older women, and more and more, I’m beginning to believe it. We’re past our prime and for many, past our usefulness. We can no longer bear children and our figures aren’t perfect. We go through menopause and have “unsightly” hot flashes in public. If we are emotional, society thinks we are “losing it.” If we are strong, they say we’re “cranky old bitches.” Unless we want to volunteer and run ourselves into the ground (we’re always welcomed when the work’s for free), we are often ignored, even by our male counterparts.

There’s no industry where ageism against women is more evident than in movies and television. Actors are allowed to age but their love interests rarely are. And when we do see an ‘older” actress on the screen, the portrayal is sometimes ridiculous. Case in point: Erica Kane, from All My Children.

I’m a follower of soaps, and recently I’ve found myself more and more insulted and irritated by the way this character is being written. “Erica” is a fashion icon/television star/author/businesswoman/philanthropist, with ten marriages under her 20-inch belt, children in their thirties and a few grandchildren to boot, yet she’s seen as ageless, a tiny slip of a “girl” caught in a permanent time warp. The part has been played for over nearly forty years by Susan Lucci, now sixty-three years of age. Lately, she is batting her eyelashes and tossing her long hair over her shoulder, then finally falling into bed with Ryan, the early 30’s ex-lover of her daughter, the father of Erica’s grandson. Lost yet?

I’m 58, just a few years younger than Erica, and I find the current storyline extremely offensive. In fact, the lack of reality regarding Erica, the way she sees herself and how others view her, is turning me off the show entirely, and that’s after over thirty years as a faithful watcher!

Do the writers forget that people actually GROW in character as they age? Despite the fact that they’ve allowed Erica to develop some better qualities over the years, she is still coming across as a “sweet young thing.”. Her mannerisms are coy, flirtatious and affected. She is a caricature.

The viewers know she is in her sixties. Let her dress a bit more appropriately. Stop shooting her through a soft-focus lens. Don’t insult the viewers’ intelligence. Address the logical concerns that an older woman should be having. Have her worry about the younger women around Ryan. Have her look in the mirror and be concerned about her age. Bring in a storyline where she considers plastic surgery. Viewers know she’s had plenty. Have her talk about her grey roots. Show her having a bloody hot flash. Oh gosh, forget that. She’s long through menopause. Give her osteoporosis!

Why not make her REAL, make her HUMAN? I can’t be the only one who’s offended by the way this is going.

Nothing is as black and white as some employers see it, or as the writers on AMC write it. Women over 50 don’t whither up and die, but neither do they have to act like they did at eighteen to compete. We should be free to be ourselves, confident of our worth and believing that somewhere, someone still recognizes our value.

In the meantime, I need a job.

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On Tuesday of this week, Haiti, long considered the poorest country in the Western hemisphere, was hit by an earthquake measuring 7.0 on the Richter scale. As people gathered to sit down for their evening meal, their world opened up to swallow them whole. Buildings crumbled. Cubans felt the tremors and knew instantly that two hundred miles away, thousands were dying.

Most of us watched, spellbound by the kind of tragedy few people will ever personally experience. Safe in our homes, we cried for the victims and looked for ways we could help, even if only in a small way. Many of us prayed and asked “Why them? Why, once again, is this impoverished country forced to suffer?”

It was a rhetorical question.

Not long after the earthquake, though, someone sought to answer it. Pat Robertson, the host of the “700 Club,” spoke up and declared that just as God had punished Americans with Hurricane Katrina, Haiti was now being punished for having a “pact with the devil.”

He was purposely vague, all the better to suggest to average folk that he was privy to knowledge that was beyond them. According to CNN, Robertson blamed the tragedy on something that “happened a long time ago in Haiti,” adding that “people might not want to talk about it.”

In a couple of brief sentences, Pat Robertson supplied an answer that would make a lot of people sigh with relief – those who need to have every event in life shoved into a box and labelled either “Reward” or ‘Punishment,” those who refuse to accept that there is anything in-between, no bad fortune, no “being in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

Life is simple for them that way, you see. These people live by rules and choose to believe that adherence to those rules assures them of every kind of success in life. It makes them feel safe. Most of all, it helps them to feel superior in mind, body and soul. It allows them to sleep, guilt-free, without thinking of those who suffer.

Remember now, Pat Robertson says that Haiti’s ancestors brought this plague of misfortune down upon themselves. Misery, in the minds of those “holier than thou,” is purely self-induced. That frees the self- righteous from feeling any need to reach out and help.

Recently, I experienced the vitriol of the self-righteous firsthand. I wrote about the difficulties of unemployment after fifty-five, and the turn our lives had taken since then. I was warned that the piece would elicit little sympathy, but I was fine with that. After all, sympathy wasn’t my motivation. I simply wanted the public to know that the problem existed, even though it was often hidden.

Over a week, the online essay generated 189 responses, and I was amazed at those that were not only critical of my husband and me, but self-exalting. I fully admitted mistakes, but some people only felt the need to expand on where I went wrong and where they went right. And I politely answered with, “how wonderful that you made such good choices and you’re now financially secure,” but I wanted to add, “but what’s your success got to do with the high number of older workers who despite their experience, are being passed over for jobs?”

I didn’t have to argue my point. Others rushed in to do it for me. But it got me thinking about some people and what motivates their responses to those who are less successful, whether it’s in regard to finances, careers, health, marriages, or family. And what occurred to me is this. Those who work so hard to appear superior are actually petrified. Way down, deep inside, so deep that they can’t even admit it exists, there is the fear that they don’t have things under control as much as they think they do. Admitting any past mistake, or learning that their perfect plan could possibly fall apart, is more than their egos can handle.

They tell themselves that they are at a good point in their lives because they have adhered to the rules of “good living,” that they’ve worked hard, been frugal, planned carefully, eaten well, gone to church, prayed for wealth and success, paid their tithe, and exercised regularly. It allows them to hold their head high and ignore the homeless person on the street. It keeps them guilt-free as they vote against every government programme that suggests a “hand-up” or “handout.”

And while tens of thousands in Haiti are buried under buildings and dying in the streets, it frees the self-righteous to look out their front window and say, with all confidence, “This is what I deserve.”

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sadness-anger1My good friend Tony May began a discussion today in our writing group on the subject of “global anger.” He voiced his concern over the way violence seemed to be escalating, even in small towns that up until now, were simple sleepy hollows. He asked for ideas on why we thought it was happening, and I was surprised at the response that poured out of me.

I wanted to share it here (with apologies to Tony for running with his idea):

If there’s a cause of the escalating violence in our world, it has more to do with the isolation people feel in their anger, rather than any particular thing that’s causing their anger. People are losing their sense of community, and with that comes a fear of losing control and a lack of trust. Individual rights to vent anger freely, have taken over the rights of others who are the target of that anger, or simply witnesses to it. Everyone is affected by it.

Too few people are willing to cut anyone any slack these days. They want to be angry because it makes them feel in control, or superior, or powerful, and most definitely, righteous. They’ve learned to take pleasure in cutting others down to size. They are more eager to believe the worst of people than they are to give them the benefit of the doubt. It explains the success of tabloids. People are more afraid of looking like fools for being “too kind” than looking unkind for judging too hardshly or unjustly. Suspicion and paranoia reign supreme, and the media has caused it to spread like a disease.

When we see educated people looking down their noses at the undereducated, or people hating another ethnic group simply because they’ve congregated in large numbers in one area and opened businesses selling their own ethnic food, food, and clothing; when you have religious groups who believe that prayer brings personal and financial success, so anyone who fails in that area must deserve it because they can’t be living as God intended; when you have older people resenting younger ones because they lack the life experience to appear so self-assured, or when you have people thinking less of you because somewhere along the line you failed at the big “American Dream;” when you have people ask you 1. what you do for a living? 2. where you live? 3. and what college and college team your kids have made it into? and you’re keenly aware that if your answers aren’t right, they stop listening; when your success or failure is measured by your children’s success or failure, and kids value their parents on the basis of “what they’ve achieved,” or “what they own;” and parenthood becomes just one more area where you feel you have to compete; when the “have nots” are assumed to be lazy and undeserving; when people are so effing scared to be honest about their feelings for fear of how others will judge them, well, that’s when you end up with the mess you see right now.

Eventually, it won’t necessarily be the anger behind a gun that will cause deaths. It will be the anger we hold onto that may as well kill us outright. It can become the reason for some people’s existence – a way to stand their ground, their swords drawn and ready for dangers they perceive will come their way. Letting that anger fester and build is a conscious choice, just as they say being happy is a conscious choice.

In the final analysis, all we can control is our own reactions to the shit life hands us. If we can’t learn to put things into perspective, and hope the next generation follows our lead, then I fear that someday, Mad Max’s world won’t seem all that far-fetched.

 

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