The Power of Culture

I can’t help but think something is missing in the ongoing gun debate. Sadly, we know well all the tired mantras. We can talk for ever about whether guns kill people or people kill people, how seat belt and air security laws work or how drug laws don’t, whether a good guy with a gun is helpful or just makes things worse, whether we should put money into text books or armaments for teachers (I say “we” because, sadly, there are people out there pushing for us Canadians to have concealed carry and semi-automatic weaponry). The one thing that we rarely hear about is how to change the culture of violence. The very idea that the solution to school shootings is to arm teachers speaks volumes about the degree to which guns are venerated in American culture. Thoughts and prayers won’t make that change. What can help encourage change, and what exists – and needs to be preserved – in Canada, Australia, and much of Europe, are laws and lawmakers that say “this is not okay”. This isn’t about using laws simply to change point-of-purchase decisions but to use legislation as a way of influencing culture and opinion in the long term. “Laws don’t stop bad guys” may be true but it is worth considering whether they might change the culture for the better.

Advertisements

Hopeless Romantic

Apparently I’m a hopeless romantic. I love watching the Winter Olympics. I really enjoy the display of skill. The amazing speeds of the luge, bobsled, and ski events. The strength and grace in speed skating. I love the strategy in curling. The freestyle skiing and boarding events are loads of fun and the mayhem in the snowboard cross is thrilling. For me, however, being invited in to that intimate space in the ice dance is the best four minutes of the Games. Thank you, Virtue and Moir, for your excellence and your passion.

Detachment

I’ve been mulling over detachment today. I am mired in a web of over-attachments. I’m heavily invested emotionally in how my young adults are approaching their lives.  I worry about whether I’m doing too much or too little. I worry about setting boundaries and I worry, a lot, about breaking relationships if I do. I worry and try to control my partner’s response to, well, all these things. It isn’t helpful, it isn’t productive, and it isn’t loving. Detaching, letting go, will free everyone, including me, to live authentically. It is clearly time to stop mulling and start practicing.

The Paragraph

I’ve been considering how I might approach blogging with a more thematic approach. It occurred to me today that I probably write too much. To be more precise, I rarely write but when I take it on, words come pouring out. It is possible that the ideas lose some value when the point gets lost in an avalanche of text. It followed then, that maybe it would be fun to intentionally write only a paragraph in each blog. Short, sweet, focused and hopefully more frequent. So here it, the first paragraph.

Move on, Monday

It has been an on again off again summer in terms of exercise.  I realized while out sailing a couple of weeks ago that I was approaching the sail, we’ll,  delicately.  Because I’m out of shape. I dug in and really started to push and it was the best sail all summer because I started really working the boat and using my body like I’m supposed to.

So today,  I’ve done the first intentional exercise I’ve done in a couple of months.  There are a whole bunch of things that are totally worth maintaining the physical health to do.

Fortunate Friday

Tomorrow, my bandmates and I are about to embark on a week-long gig at a local cultural festival. 29 main shows, 5 half hour sets of our own and 2 sets backing a local choir. It sounds like it could be an exhausting week. But I feel nothing but gratitude for the opportunity to be able to make music and send hundreds of people away each evening happy and satisfied.

It has been a great summer; I’ve spent some fantastic time with my wonderful partner, watched my kids get ready for their own overseas adventure, enjoyed some beautiful weather and lit a few saunas at the lake, which is something new.

I get caught up in work drama and Canadian politics but, really, I have very little to complain about. And, sometimes, when I’m complaining, it is mostly because I know we can do better. 🙂

Why I’m Green

Like most Canadians I’ve done my duty every four or five years to head to the polls to vote in our federal elections. Only about 2% of Canadians are members of political parties; pretty much the standard in most Western countries. So what prompted me to member up with The Green Party of Canada and get involved in my Electoral District Association for the Greens? It is a rather long story.

Developing a Political Mindset

I grew up in a capital C Progressive Conservative household and, of course, like most kids, our only political compass was our parents. There is some evidence that my parents were caught up in Trudeau-mania but, by and large, we were Tory blue.

Lots of people probably remember the standard high school lesson on the political circle with the centre at the bottom and going around right and left to fascism and communism meeting at the top. It was pretty clear that there was a blue dot a little the right and an orange dot a little to the left and a red dot at the bottom. That tangible expression of political orientation had a big impact on me.

The very memorable teacher who taught that Canadian history class went on to be a Canadian Senator. A knowledgeable and inspiring teacher, part of her course required working for a political campaign in the 1979 federal election. She also inspired me to subscribe to Maclean’s magazine for the political content. Within a few years afterwards, I’d read Churchill’s 2nd World War history and his History of the English Speaking Peoples. The last gave me a very wide appreciation for the history of our democratic processes. Of course, I like to read fiction too. Some of the stuff with the biggest impact were books like 1984, Animal Farm, Hard Times, Brave New World, Oliver Twist, and A Christmas Carol. Clearly, the social conscience stuff speaks to me.

In fact, I often remarked how Churchill’s “if you’re not a liberal at twenty, you have no heart, if you’re not a conservative at forty, you have no brain” comment seemed to work backwards for me. I was starting to see the cracks in the conservative dogma. I still identified with my parents’ anti-union, tough on crime, and responsible money management position. It made so much sense to me. Businesses created jobs. If we didn’t keep the books balanced, how could you do things like fund healthcare or other social programs? I fell for the “poor just have to work harder” ideas that are still, and increasingly, very common on the right.

Reforrrmmm!

Joe Clark came and went. Trudeau came back. Turner. Mulroney. NAFTA seemed like a good idea at the time and, particularly in light of today’s corporations-win-all trade agreements, it was and still is a good thing to open up borders. Like the rest of the country, I wasn’t happy with the rest of Mulroney’s politics. While he sang on stage with Ronald Reagan, it was clear that North America was shifting to the right.

Around this time Preston Manning’s Reform party showed up. I honestly liked Preston Manning. He had some great ideas including much more freedom for MPs and a more grassroots involvement in the political process. I liked his down to earth approach and he seemed to really care about doing what was right and for the good of real people. I felt the shift to the right was, perhaps, a blip, and if more people were contributing to the political process it would moderate that shift. So the promise of Reform, of grassroots participation, of turning control back to the voters, was very attractive.

But the push to unite the right came along, Reform gave way to the Alliance. The bigots started crawling out of the woodwork and the splashy Stockwell Day with his penchant for showy consumerism and shallow talk turned me right off. It was clear, as Harper rose to power, that we had a problem. We could fill books with how the Conservative government has corrupted our democracy, thrown environmental protection to the wind, thrown our scientists under the bus, trashed our reputation in foreign affairs, and made our political landscape dirtier and less democratic. I never have been and never will be a supporter of the Conservative Party of Canada.

Adrift

I was a adrift in the political landscape.

What a great opportunity to shop around! Like many Canadians, I wasn’t impressed with the outcome of Shawinigate. I kind of bought into the propaganda that Martin was as much the problem as Chrétien (although I suspect now he was a victim of dirty politics). I felt the Liberals, sitting solidly in the middle, were often too cautious and, in the name of playing both sides of the political spectrum, didn’t actually do a lot.

The NDP? Hmmm. Jack Layton was pretty impressive, and I’d been voting NDP for some time provincially because I felt they were more centre than they traditionally had been (Manitoba’s Doer was a rather blue shade of orange) and were probably better equipped to deal with social issues. But I wasn’t quite sure that I was ready to go that far left.

All this time I had been facing a growing realization that the old political circle wasn’t working out so well for me. I definitely felt that good fiscal management was important. That problems of crime must be handled with public protection in mind. That our traditions of good government and civil society be maintained. That our military (which I still perceived as peackeepers) should be well supported and equipped. So… right, right? But issues of poverty were not solved by making corporations rich. That social programs such as universal healthcare are a good thing; it is the epitome of the individual contributing to the greater good. That poverty reduction benefiting the less fortunate in our society benefits all of us. That working people need to be treated fairly and with dignity. That the war on drugs was an astounding failure. The conditions under which our indigenous people live were appalling. So… left, right?

And then there was growing concern over global warming, of the end of oil, of environmental degradation.

Oh oh.

I saw myself spread across the traditional political spectrum with little bits of my values over on the right and some over on the left and some in the middle.

Then I saw a Green Party sign while I was driving one day so I went looking at their website.

And… Surprise!

This was not the one-issue party that I thought it was. Yes, the Greens are most definitely environmentalists. But I wouldn’t characterize their platform as being predominantly environmentalist. Perhaps that’s because the environment figures in to almost everything the Green Party talks about. Attempting to remove the environment from any discussion of economy, social programs, resource extraction, healthcare, foreign affairs or any other political topic, is kind of nonsense. Without the environment, we have nothing and we can’t operate outside of it.

If they are a single issue party, it might be more appropriate to call that issue “Sustainability”. The entire Green platform is structured around sustainability in all facets of our political discussion.

  • Fiscally the Greens may be more conservative than the Conservatives. But Economically they may be the most progressive party on the field. Balanced budgets. Taxation that encourages sustainable economics. Sustainable resource extraction (note: not stopping it, but managing it). Replacing income tax with carbon tax.
  • Justice policies that make sense. Public safety is important; dangerous offenders must be kept off the streets. But we start by keeping people out of prison. Restitution. Reducing Recidivism. Reducing poverty. Increasing Literacy. Rethinking that war on drugs.
  • Foreign Affairs policies that takes back Canada’s reputation as an advocate for the poor and oppressed and rebuilds our status as a trusted negotiating partner and mediator. This is going to be a lot of work to earn back. In the face of increasing environmental degradation, it is critical that we fill this role instead of running off to drop bombs at the heels of the United States.
  • Social Policies that are designed to sustain a free and healthy culture where people’s basic needs are looked after. This is the path to reduced crime, increased prosperity, and security.
  • Democracy. This. People are so fed up with our system. Low voter turnout, especially amongst youth, does not bode well for a sustainable society. If we’ve lost our voice, we surrender it to political, and thus, corporate power.. The Greens are strong advocates for real democratic reform; proportional representation, free votes, more power to MPs and parliamentary committees and less power for the PMO and the “ruling” party.
  • Open, Transparent, and Participatory Most impressively, these policies were right there on their website. In a great deal of detail. They aren’t cooked up prior to every election. They’re spelled out in the Vision Green document that is available for anyone to download. The document is changed over time, by proposals voted on by party members, to reflect ongoing discourse on party policy. It isn’t decided behind closed doors but right out in public for membership to see, judge, and contribute to.

I’ve been a member of the Green Party ever since.

(reblogged to the Green Party of Provencher website)

Falling off the Wagon

I’ve been rather delinquent in my promise to myself to improve my health. I started off well, getting some regular workouts in but a number of things have conspired which have caused me to fall off the wagon in the last couple of weeks.

As I watch the dust from the wagon as it trundles away in the distance, I’m reminded that I’m getting older and there is probably a point of no return where that wagon disappears over the horizon. You hit that point and you’ll never catch up again.

I’m going to pick myself up, dust myself off, get moving and climb back on.

The Enneagram says self-care is a challenge for a Type 9. That self care extends not only to the physical care but also emotional and mental care as well. Heck, maybe more so because if I’m really engaged emotionally with myself, I’ll do the physical care thing with enthusiasm.

If I really dare look inside, when I say there have been things that have caused me to fall off the wagon, that’s a cop-out. I’m looking for a way of disengaging with myself. Or, more precisely, abdicating responsibility for myself. And yet, I can tell that my body is not happy with me; I ache all over, which may be partly a cold coming on but it is likely stress related too. I can tell that my brain isn’t happy either as it takes ages to wake up every day.

So, given two choices, of sitting here in the dust or getting moving, I suppose there is only one choice. 🙂

Politics is Fun. No. Really…

I’ve always been interested in politics. Even before I knew I was.

When I graduated high school, I told my grade 11 Canadian history teacher that I was going in to computer science and she was horrified that I wouldn’t be going in to political studies or something of that nature. I think she knew something that I didn’t know at the time. Many years later… many, many years later. I’m still trying to figure that out. She went on to be a Canadian senator (not the hockey kind) and I went on to be software developer. Sometimes I wonder if I might have served the world better if I’d followed in her footsteps.

So I do what I think is my part. I try to stay reasonably informed. I always get out and vote and I try to vote with an awareness of why I’m voting whatever way I do. I’ve read Churchill’s History of the English Speaking People partly because the development of our democracy and why it works the way it does is so darn interesting. And I’ve recently read Joe Clark’s How We Lead and am working on Elizabeth May’s Losing Confidence.

Recently I’ve upped the ante. I suspect people have noticed. I’ve joined the Green Party. I’ve got involved with Fair Vote Canada and Lead Now. But the most obvious symptom is my almost daily, and sometimes many times daily, posts and shares and comments on social media about current Canadian political issues.

In a social media world of cute cats and (funny?) videos of skateboarding accidents, I often wonder if I’m being a terrible, horrible, awful bore. I can’t help but think a whole host of friends have probably blocked me on their feed because they are sick to death of my rants about our current Dear Leader’s destruction of, well, pretty much everything; from our environment to our democratic system to our social safety net to our international reputation.

But I’m not apologizing.

I think back on the Reform Party and while a lot of their far right agenda worried me, I really appreciated Preston Manning’s honesty and forthrightness. Most of all, I appreciated his desire to remake government to something far more participatory, open and grass roots.

Somewhere that great idea has gone horribly off the rails as Reform’s descendent, the Conservative Party of Canada, has taken power away even from the MPs and has concentrated it in the PMO (The Prime Minister’s Office). A group of party-loyal bureaucrats who now run our country with a tightly controlled message, a dogmatic party policy, and a secrecy beyond anything we’ve known.

This is not good for Canada. This isn’t good for taxpayers (although we might pay slightly less tax, we’re going to pay for this in loads of other ways that are not good), this isn’t good for the environment, for social justice, for children, for the sick, the poor, the middle class, the illiterate, the refugees, the military and servicemen. It isn’t good for anybody except the Conservative Party of Canada and some elite oil barons.

So maybe I’m boring and dull and interrupting a few cute cat videos but I’m pretty sure that the powerful elite would like to keep everyone doped up on the cute cats so we can all be herded around like the sheep we have become.

The worst thing we can do is be complacent.

Oh wait, when do we get to the fun part? That was all kinda depressing, you say.

The fun part is, that despite all the talk about all politicians being dirty and untrustworthy, I don’t buy it.

Remember my high school teacher? She cared passionately about this country and felt she could contribute something valuable. And she did introduce some very positive legislation. Preston Manning is still out there working hard for positive change in this country and has even, quietly, stated some disappointment with the current government. Joe Clark, another honest, forthright man who, more than probably any current politician, deserves to be called a statesman. Elizabeth May who cares passionately about environmental issues; so much so she took up politics precisely because of her concern for the environment and has now picked up the cause of social justice and good government as well.

There are caring, compassionate, interesting, optimistic, and inspiring people in politics. I want to share their passion and optimism and be inspired by new ideas and a positive vision for our country and society.

So, if you’re not inspired, or just plain bored, I hope I’m not getting on your nerves. But if you’re interested and want a good chat, let me know. 🙂

From Years to Days. Rethinking the Resolution.

A friend of mine posted an apologetic, or perhaps, defiant, New Year’s resolution blog yesterday. I think she was reluctant because of the possible backlash from those resolution nay-sayers who feel that we never keep our resolutions or that there’s no point or that the “New Year” is a totally arbitrary point in time.

I pointed out that I felt it was a perfect time. We go through this period of time around Christmas with intensity. A frenzy of commercialism followed by a day or two of calm with family and friends is like nothing else that we experience throughout the year. It gets you thinking. About stuff. About commercialism and food and family and community.

Of course, Christmas and New Year’s, the artificial constructs that we put up trees and wear funny hats and drink bubbly for are evolutionary offshoots of something very real and concrete. The Winter Solstice is an undeniably physical event. Its coming can be measured down precisely so that we know that at a given moment, we turn around and head back toward days of light and sun and warmth. Where trees turn green and water runs free and we can shed the layers of clothes that keep the winter chill out.

As someone who loves the change of seasons (all of them), I love this one the best because it is so amazingly tangible to see the days get longer and to feel the hope that, yes, winter will be over. I think it is a great time to do some bellybutton gazing. To look within at what we need and want for ourselves for the coming year.

I’ve had a bit of a challenging fall and I’m not even sure what to put it down to; mild depression, overwhelmed at work, self neglect, and maybe a bit of not being sure what to do with myself after being used to a sustained level of hurtful and brain-rotting drama over the last few years. I’m ready to accept that some work needs to be done for me to climb back up on the path that I want to follow so this season seems like the time to make such commitments.

There is a lot of interesting stuff happening. One child is hitting 20 years old this year while another will become an adult. We’ve got some fun renovations going on at home. Our band had probably our most successful year effort in terms of the quality of the gigs we’re getting and the quality of the performances we’re putting out with more good stuff on the horizon. I’m reaching out to new friendships after hiding away for years (due to aforementioned drama trauma). And we have an important election coming up in 2015 which I’m interested in because of my involvement with the Green Party and Fair Vote Canada.

So I want to be present for these things. I want to be there for my kids and help them along their path. I want to learn new music and learn more about being an entertainer. I want to be re-engaged with my work and enjoy it, or at least appreciate it, without burning out and letting it consume me.  I want to be able to contribute my time to the Green Party campaign and to Fair Vote’s initiatives. I want to revitalize old friendships and make new ones. Oh, and I want to get in better shape. I think that getting in better shape is a mandatory component of the NYR thing, right?

Lofty ambitions.

And yet, I feel I’ve had a reasonable amount of success in my life. So all that I want isn’t necessarily just wishful thinking.

Some of that success is dumb luck. Some of that is amazing opportunities provided by parents, teachers, friends, and employers. Mostly importantly, much of that is because I get out of bed each morning and figure out what the next best right thing to do is. Even if, occasionally, the next best right thing to do is to fall back in to bed.

This thought brings me to a place of clarity and intent. I know what I want to do and what is important. Having reviewed those things as part of the whole New Year’s process, I’m clearer on that now.

So the only real resolution that I have for this year is to get up every morning with an increased awareness of what I need and want for myself and an awareness that I can make choices, every day, to be who I want to be.