Sexism lingers too…

Chatting in a café with friends, we traded comments on the predictable verdict in the Jian Gomeshi trial* – along with the eye-rolling you do when you know there’s nothing new to say. How sad is that?

There was an unspoken assumption there: we all tended to believe the ‘complainants’ — that they were in various ways probably sexually abused by him. Is that not presumptuous? Possibly. Maybe even dangerous for the justice system. But — just about all women we’ve known (that’s a lot of women, after many decades of urban living) have experienced some variation of male sexual abuse, and most wouldn’t have even thought of a formal complaint. What’s the point?

That reality hovers around beneath many social relationships, only surfacing on occasion, like a quiet, fluttering sense of unease, under certain circumstances. Like a change in group composition as innocent as a person leaving or entering a room, for example. It has something to do with unpredictability.

I have tiny memories of events long ago that added up to a barely noticeable — but chronic — wariness. A late evening with a few friends at a lodge, chatting by the fire, going off to bed one by one, and finally there were just two – me naively chatting, and the other suddenly grabbing and lunging for a kiss. Shocked and sleepless, I wondered what to do. If I told his wife, would she hate me? Blame me? Ruin my reputation? The friendship was over.

Another time as a guest, I suddenly awakened to the sound of the bedroom door handle being tried. I had suspicions about which guy was on the other side of the door, but was never sure. Luckily I had instinctively locked the door. The rest of my night was filled with nightmares, the morning breakfast uncomfortable.

Once after visiting a friend, her husband drove me to the airport. Suddenly he reached over and put his hand on my knee. I froze, afraid to do anything with the car travelling so fast. Luckily he thought better of it, and I got to my flight. Besides, I thought the move was open to interpretation and didn’t want to believe the worst. That was in the late sixties, when some of us were barely beginning to realize we even had rights. Most of us didn’t yet have a vocabulary to talk about such things. And it was still a “boys will be boys” world.

Those who have not had such experiences might wonder what the problem is, or make assumptions about the victim. I remember as a young office worker being sceptical when another young woman – very upset – told me ‘the boss’ had made a pass at her and she didn’t know what to do. I thought she came to work looking “too sexy”, and I didn’t sympathize. I also thought she was ‘a little neurotic’. Unfortunately, we don’t get to re-do those events based on later insight and understanding. I’d love to have the chance to apologize.

I showed this to a man who said, “So does that mean a guy is never supposed to try anything?” I said yes. Get permission.**

Why have so many men apparently thought nothing of imposing these acts on women? Is it because they know they can count on a woman’s embarrassed silence? Certainly that worked in my generation. So I can identify with these younger, more violently abused women who got it half right at least – they may have waited too long, they may have got their stories (memories) a little mixed up, but damn! They lodged their complaints. That took more guts than I have. And they have the support of possibly millions of women who are inclined to believe them.


** – (print version was titled: Consent is still the key)

Posted in equality, male chauvinism, reflections, Sexism, sexual assault | 3 Comments

Racism, and you and I…

Yesterday — March 21st – was “International Day

for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination”.*

I first began to pay attention to racism as an adolescent. At first, simple things: everyone knew people who used the word “nigger” were racists, and we ‘more civilized’ people used the word “negro”. I think I even felt as long as enough of us said negro rather than ‘the n word’, things were okay. But of course, adolescents are naïve, being at the beginning of everything.

At 12, I had started to read the newspapers and ‘see the world’ as it really was. There was still occasional news of postwar fallout, still horrifying tales of concentration camps, the Korean war – and the “boom” was on.

Then just weeks after I turned 14, a front page story appeared about Emmett Till, an American boy the same age as me who had been lynched for flirting with a white woman. I still remember the shock, how suddenly vulnerable and threatened I felt, as if the same thing might happen to me.

Why did I feel that? No doubt because empathy for those kids had not been erased the way it had been in the south. Living in a relatively new suburb of Montreal (Pointe Claire) we generally didn’t hear much about race. In elementary school I’d had a crush on a black fellow student known as “Junior”, and never heard a racist comment about him. I had so much to learn.

But in the U.S. later that year, when Rosa Parks in Montgomery, Alabama, became suddenly famous for refusing to move to the back of the bus, we began to see many more news reports about racism in the south. It was frightening to see the ugly cruelty kids were subjected to every day.

Over the decades, my beliefs about eradicating racism evolved. I became less emotional, more analytical – but perhaps more impatient. In the sixties, my first husband and I would be watching coverage of another violent civil rights demonstration in the U.S.; he (an ex-military man) would comment, “What those kids need is a good kick in the ass”.   Increasingly, I wished I were with them (no doubt a little personal experience would have changed my mind). I thought they were right, and so courageous. They were. That marriage was soon over.

The civil rights movement did achieve significant improvements – and racism today is perhaps subtler in that it seems harder to prove. Most of the demonstrations we see on the news now are reactions to police officers killing an African American, unjustifiably from most perspectives.

As with ‘visible minorities’ in general, blacks on average are poorer, and more tend to live in poverty ghettoes .   But whether this is due to racism is a little harder to demonstrate when an African-American is president of the U.S.A. Some actually use that as proof that there is no racism.

I’ve been thinking about yesterday’s anti-racism day* and wondering how we can make it mean something to “renew our commitment to building a world of justice and equality”. I believe as long as we accept poverty and its ghettoes, we accept racism. So poverty is out. That means we need social + economic policies that encourage integration – like a guaranteed annual income ** and affordable housing. It means ‘sharing the wealth’. And it means giving up blaming the poor for their poverty (the “bad choices” myth.

Integration would reduce these myths of bigotry, replaced by real knowledge of each other. I often say we will eliminate racism when we are all willing to welcome any race into the bosom of our family.

Meanwhile I am trying to accept that progress is never fast enough.

– 30 –


*U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says,

“The International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination is an opportunity to renew our commitment to building a world of justice and equality where xenophobia and bigotry do not exist. We must learn the lessons of history and acknowledge the profound damage caused by racial discrimination.”


More: Someone posted this on Facebook, and I am grateful for that:

Posted in Racism, reflections | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

A handy dandy “Climate Change Kit”

So what’s the big deal?

The “Paris Summit” was about the world’s leaders trying to create a plan that would reduce climate change and move the world toward sustainability.   With scientists and other experts – even indigenous peoples of the world — they worked sometimes through the night, and actually came to an agreement, signed by almost 200 countries! First time in world history.  Then they had to go back to their own country and deal with their own people – figuring out together what has to happen in at every level, from the national, to the municipal, or even to the ‘village’ level, to achieve the goals set in Paris. It’s a slow process.

But sustainability ultimately comes down to us. You and me.   We each have to figure out how we, individually, can change our ways to make it happen. We also need to learn how to influence others to do the same. Here is a collection of links you may find interesting in your journey to knowledge and empowerment. To avoid feeling overwhelmed, try checking out a link a week.  I wish you a happy holiday and a most enriching 2016.

What are we doing about it?

Our “Ways” that need to change:

 Some good signs(“sustainable”) (it’s not all bleak — sometimes even fun!)

This can’t go on(“unsustainable”)

Posted in climate change, climate change links, education, empowerment, reflections | Tagged , , , | 11 Comments

Thinking about democracy & the dinner table

“This is what has to change,” my brain whispered to me one morning.  I had wakened up remembering a dinner the night before, when ten of us managed to eat and drink too much for a whole evening without ever discussing the Paris massacre. It was barely hours since the horror, yet not a word. Or was it only me who wanted to talk about it?

My tentative theory is that we sometimes do things like drinking too much or avoiding serious discussions, for the same reason: avoiding anger and conflict. We’re avoiding discomfort. So the prevailing etiquette in this particular dinner forum for decades has been that serious subject matter is not appropriate here. When it’s mostly family,  the aim is entertainment.

Which is a shame, when I think about the brainpower that has eaten and drunk and laughed around our table.  Not to mention the stimulating pleasure of a great discussion!  And imagine if all that brainpower had applied itself to important issues affecting our everyday lives – like climate change, or whether to allow more Syrian refugees into the country, or why we should be happy to pay a higher tax rate for a quality national daycare program. Or why serious discussion arouses anger in a predictable few – and discomfort in others.

I wonder how many families across the country are similarly inclined? In our case, I think some of the underlying ‘family sub-culture’  is dominated by the insecure need to win with a “destroy the opposition” approach — and anxiety in the face of aggressiveness or hostility.  And there are just conditioned reactions — which can be triggered by a word or even a mood.

These reactions have not been limited to family dinners. I’m remembering decades ago when I hosted a monthly discussion group at home. I can no longer remember the subjects we debated. What remains with me is those startling moments when all conversation stopped, because one person blurted out the kind of angry comment that attacks the messenger instead of the message.  They may feel something like if I can make you seem like an idiot, you might shut up and stop making me feel threatened… Yet why should anyone have to feel intimidated at a dinner-table discussion?

 These are attacks — not nourishing, not stimulating contributions. Some of the most intelligent people I know have done this. I see it as the by-product of families and schools that bend, fold, mutilate and staple us into something that fits their formula. Authoritarian cultures  reinforce this behaviour.

I’ve found for the most part the people who chronically become angry in discussions have little concern for the impact of their outbursts. Instead, they are completely wrapped up in their own feelings. It’s as if they feel justified or entitled, somehow.  I remember when one such participant left the house in a fit of anger, effectively ending the evening. I eventually ended the discussion groups, with the intention of starting again if I could ever figure out a way to overcome such destructive input. It’s been over 30 years, and I’m finally thinking seriously about it.

There was little emotion expressed around the dining table of my childhood; outbursts were unacceptable, so the tendency was for a family member to occasionally leave the room in a huff. What choice was there? As an adolescent, I was seen as the ‘neurotic one’, with my confused emotional expressions of frustration. Decades of alternative experiences, therapy and learning provided some insight about what was going on back then.

Because I believe passionately in the value and importance of intellectual discussion — that  it’s essential in a democracy — I became preoccupied with understanding how and why this sort of thing happens.

With some people I’ve known, it’s been an obvious case of role modelling: parents who, for example, must be right even at the cost of their child’s curiosity or confidence – in too many cases long-since snuffed out. Sometimes, there’s a family culture of competition – extremely competitive parents encouraging the same in their children.

And then there is the critical-judgmental (often self-righteous) approach – at the root of much fear of public speaking. Of course teachers can have a similar affect, for which there is no excuse. And in my view, English-Canada tends to be a critical-judgmental ‘culture’ at the best of times. If you didn’t get it at home, don’t worry, you’ll pick it up somewhere. In none of these cases is “exploring an idea together” highly valued.

Sounds like I want to change a whole culture and I guess I do. After all, the widespread result seems to be that most people don’t say what they think if it’s at all controversial. So how can I learn from them, if they don’t express their point-of-view? Rather than argue with someone – as my European and French-Canadian friends have done – English-Canadians are more likely to do their ‘arguing’ behind our backs.

In my view avoiding or discouraging argument seriously damages  democracy. For democracies to thrive, we citizens must be able to wonder if we’re wrong. We need to be curious about ideas different from our own and why people hold them. If I stick rigidly to my beliefs, and treat others as idiotic or dangerous for theirs, what impact will that have on our already weak democracy?

Posted in active listening, democracy, dinner table, intellectual discussion, reflections | Tagged , , , , | 11 Comments

They ought to get out more!

Hamilton police sickened by shocking conditions…” said the headline in the Toronto Star.* The story covered an inquest into the death of a developmentally delayed man. That police officers would be shocked made me feel exasperated, thus my sarcasm. But sarcasm or anger change nothing. They use up valuable creative energy. They distract us from focusing on solutions. So I generally try not to let my mind go there, but the headline caught me off guard.

I can partly thank my former real estate career for memories of people living in terrible conditions – upper rooms open to the elements, with racoons and other adorable creatures depositing their bodily waste wherever they pleased. Poverty-stricken immigrants – some elderly – living in crowded basement rooms with water dripping everywhere, parts of the ceiling falling here and there.

I would usually have been seeing this at an open house for agents when the property was on the market. I always found myself wondering where these people would be going after the house was sold.   I certainly wouldn’t have reported them, because who knows what would happen to them as a result?

Mentally ‘incompetent’ people living in group homes, elderly people with dementia, many immigrants and refugees, have one important thing in common: they are powerless – dependent on the good will of others. All too often, that good will is absent. So they live whatever way is possible…

When you ‘don’t get out much’ – have no experience mixing with very poor people — you might not realize for example, that many people have no knowledge about things like stoves, toilets or refrigeration.   And when such things malfunction, as they will, some people have no idea what to do.

Many of our citizens might not have even learned to read or write adequately – or their childhood was so traumatic they can barely function. You have heard of ‘special needs’ have you not? People with such needs are totally dependent on a caring society. Do we want a caring society?

Online, next to the article about the developmentally delayed man, was a link to “The best boozy slushies in Toronto”.** Too many are quite content to sit around sucking on the latest slushy, while those who couldn’t imagine a slushy are suffering. This is an example of how easily we can be distracted from more important things in life – like protecting this boy — essentially —

 ...five years old

…five years old

Yes, they  definitely ought to get out more.



Posted in compassion, consciousness, dependent, poverty, special needs | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

Summer Interruptus…

I know — I was supposed to be ‘getting back to normal’ after my brother’s death . And I had begun to scribble again, without being quite ready for prime time blogging. Then…

Friday July 24 was a lovely evening, and after dinner I walked to the Chocolateria –where both chocolates and ice cream are made on the premises, by neighbours. (In my case it’s almost always the ‘Burnt Caramel’ ice cream cone – though I suppose I really should change to something less threatening to a pre-diabetic 74-year-old!)

Strolling home, totally focused on my luscious ice cream cone, I didn’t notice the sidewalk repair that was about to change my summer. I tripped and flew forward on my ice-cream-cone hand, breaking three knuckles – including my index finger, which was also dislocated.

It’s five weeks later, and what a learning experience it has been! I even learned how to use Dictation – a Mac voice-recognition software that is amazing. But I also learned that my spoken style is quite different from my writing ‘voice’. So – useful, but not a panacea.

Unable to type for the first four weeks I was reminded of how powerlessness and loss of control can provoke depression – something that plagued me for decades. As my typing fingers become stronger (in great leaps this past week), my mood has lightened, and optimism returned. My writing sessions have quadrupled!

Last but not least, there’s nothing like this kind of event to remind us of things we’re grateful for: that “this too shall pass”; a husband who can cook; wonderful family, friends and neighbours; and a good dependable healthcare system that has simply been there for me, from the first shocking evening, through doctor-follow-ups and physiotherapy – with never a dollar mentioned.

Note to self: Work towards ensuring such care exists for everyone – everywhere.

Posted in depression, Interruptions powerlessness healthcare | Tagged , , , | 7 Comments

Things that give us pause…

I haven’t posted here for so long that readers may have assumed I had quit. “Fearless” just couldn’t hack it!

I confess to being distracted since January. On April 1st after a 15 year battle with prostate cancer, my brother Steve died. I can just hear him chuckling over the ‘April Fools’ date.   I started to write about him the next day; but try as I might, for weeks on end, I just couldn’t do it…

Vreni's 'boots'

 Thanks to Vreni for her moving photo

Since the age of 13, I’ve written at the drop of a hat — it’s how I process life.   But since January, in a kind of suspended state, I have written nothing. Truth is I was avoiding my feelings.

One day over coffee with friends, a gentleman I barely knew casually asked how many siblings I had. It was the first time I’d had to answer that question and subtract Steve. It made me cry – which happened often in the first few months.

Now as the days and weeks pass, I am more able to have normal conversations – even speak passionately about an issue without it triggering tears. And now, a little something to post.    I trust more will come. Someday no doubt I’ll even be able to write about Steve. But not yet.

I paused for awhile; and life does go on.

Posted in blogging, crying, grieving, loss | Tagged , , , , , | 9 Comments

Charlie Hebdo + Ideas…

I’m still thinking about the Charlie Hebdo tragedy. I tend to do that when I have conflicting feelings about something — unresolved internal issues.

By the time we’re 14 or so, most of us have realized that ridiculing someone — another student, a little brother, a parent, a friend — is not the best choice. Same with their point of view, or their belief system. Would you ridicule those? Whether in a personal conflict, or a competition, or an attempt to influence someone (a parent?) we’ve figured out by then that it’s more likely to make things worse, and not at all likely to influence positive change. We see it for what it is: an attack.

Unfortunately, some of our less civilized fellow humanoids will not react well. A friend may “un-friend” us. A parent may actually smack a face — regardless of how much we wiser parents (in our view) may disapprove. It’s pretty much guaranteed nothing good will happen.

But some people do it anyway. Some teachers even do it to young students. For some reason they haven’t realized that will discourage a youngster — make him feel stupid or embarrassed. He’s likely to avoid speaking in class.

Through my decades, I’ve come to feel that people who use ridicule are doing it because they’re not very articulate, or they lack even a handful of facts to toss into a decent argument. Deep down, they know ridicule doesn’t work — but they just don’t have the skills that might have made a difference. It may be a lazy habit. Or they just don’t have the heart for it. I see it as similar to anger and violence which are so often the only tools of the powerless. They’ve been reinforced in that behaviour, by friends, parents, teachers. Some become very sophisticated at it. They grow up to make fun of ridiculous things (yes, sometimes ridicule is aimed at ridiculous things.) It can also be called ‘satire’.

I hadn’t spent a lot of time thinking about this. It’s just a part of life. Then suddenly, a handful of people famous for using “satire”/(ridicule?), are killed by two well-trained gunmen. Men who would likely be counted among the politically powerless, had they not been given the training and the guns. They may even have seen themselves as victims. Now, they are simply awful. They are dead — and the horrified focus of a billion people. Including me. For a brief moment in time, I don’t give a damn why the shooters did this.

For me, it’s a shocking end of 14 life stories; two ‘bad guys’, 12 ‘good guys’, and in between, some ideas about ‘sacredness’ and ‘satire’.  The Sacred vs. Satire.  Just ideas.

Some reading:!demo_height&link=ibaf&q=&esrc=s

Posted in beliefs, extremism, free speech, ridicule, sacred, terrorism | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Sam won’t have to face this winter…

I haven’t managed to shake my sadness, since I learned of Sam’s death — by drowning. I heard he left a note saying he’d had a good life. I could say ‘I’m not sure why I’m sad’ — but that would be a lie. I’m not alone in that sadness — he was well-liked by a lot of people. But for me it’s at least partly about aging. Sam Sueshi Miya was 84. I thought he was “only” my age — 73.

Sam was cool. He was what some would call “a character”. Witty, and very observant. An artist. You could see a certain sensitivity in his glance. He was not above a little flirtation. And he was not enjoying aging.

We had talked about a few things that most young people don’t talk about, like fearing the approaching winter: “those damn Toronto sidewalks”, for one. This is urban Toronto, and they don’t clear the sidewalks. It bugs me, because I’m from Montreal where they do. It’s easy there to walk in the winter.

It’s challenging to walk in winter here, if you’re “elderly” — or if you have a lot to lose by a fall. Like me, with my beloved stainless steel hip — the best thing since the internet. But if my wondrous mechanical joint breaks, that’s major surgery, lots of pain, and months of recovery. Or like Sam, with his difficulty in walking, his “previously mended” body — He had already been through long recovery from some pretty significant accidents. Walking was difficult for him in the best of weather. It was getting harder every year to face Toronto’s winter.

When a young person falls on an icy sidewalk, it might become an anecdote. If an elderly person falls, it can mean the end of life.

Trying to arouse interest or concern on the subject makes me feel old and tired. I think the only people under 60 at all interested are those who use wheelchairs, for example, or those who’ve experienced a temporary vulnerability, like a broken leg — or someone pushing a stroller.

But you’ll always hear the objections to the costs (tax dollars). I wonder if a ‘big picture’ analysis might help. How much might be saved by fewer falls, fewer emergency room visits, fewer deaths in hospital from pneumonia — resulting from those falls. Are these recorded in studies? Does “StatsCan” analyze such data? Does anyone under 60 ever think about it? Not in Toronto, apparently.

There were 27,415 Toronto emergency department visits by seniors in the 2004-5 period. The peak period: December and January. How many tax dollars might we save by doing the sidewalks?

And Sam. I can’t say for sure he killed himself because of the sidewalks. But I know clearing them would have made life more livable. For me too.

Posted in aging, Montreal, Sam Sueshi Miya, suicide, Toronto, winter | Tagged , , , , , | 6 Comments

Paris – a tragedy of religion?

They are new and different enemies, these Paris shooters. Militarily trained, they are murderous religious zealots, with all the benefits of modern technology, the internet, and a vast but almost invisible support system. Their attack was clearly a military action, stirred by irrational, enflamed religious views, motivated by other factors: perhaps an underlying sense of powerlessness; perhaps poverty; or violent family life. And so what?

As I reflect on the horrible events in Paris*— it slowly dawns on me that this is a new religious war. Seriously. I’m reminded of The Crusades. But this new enemy can’t be dealt with by conventional methods. Not bombs, not tanks, not drones. Well-equipped and severely conditioned, they function like sophisticated robots. And they could live next door or in the next town. But they are neighbours we don’t understand. We need to sharpen up, leave behind our assumptions, naïveté, and political correctness. We need to be learning about all of it, and openly debating about it. What are we dealing with here?

Much of English Canada avoids this kind of conversation because of discomfort, defensiveness, fear. Often they simply don’t know how, which I attribute to our somewhat authoritarian culture, with its judgmental tendency to discourage argument. So we have some learning to do. Could we start with an introduction to the art of discussion — in grade six?

If I may generalize, les Quebecois are different. And this difference between the two cultures appears once again in the media coverage of the Paris massacre. Eleven French-language newspapers all published a cartoon with a half-hidden, grimacing face of the Prophet Muhammad, saying, “It’s tough to be loved by idiots.”  But not Quebec’s English-language Gazette — nor the rest of English Canada.

Denise Bombardier, a columnist for Journal de Montréal: “I’m sad that the Gazette refused to do this, because I think that this is the war of the 21st century, and if we don’t react the way we did in our newspapers this morning, and in many newspapers around the world and in Europe, then this war is lost.” I think she’s right.

Patrick Lagacé of La Presse said concern for political correctness is much stronger in English-speaking countries, such as Canada and the United States, compared to French-language media in Quebec or France.  He thinks English Canadians “are prisoners to political correctness” While I agree with this perspective, I feel the cartoon is only the beginning of what needs to happen.

Publishing ‘offensive’ cartoons is a little like thumbing our noses at someone. Of course we shouldn’t be killed or even threatened for this. But much more than this, we really need to talk. We need to welcome debate — with a willingness to be changed by it. I didn’t learn this until my early twenties, with Quebecois friends, on subjects like Quebec sovereignty. It took a few years for me to understand the issues, and to have my point of view changed. And in the process, I came to value healthy debate as an essential element in democracy.

The purpose of argument is not to put down your opponent or to rigidly defend an opinion; it’s to learn, and to share and to grow. All Canadians need to be able to do this, regardless of religious persuasion or ethnicity.

Religion scares me. The Paris event illustrates why. As I see it, what happened in Paris is merely one extreme end of a religious spectrum. The spectrum begins with the willingness to believe in something for which there is no evidence. And if it’s rigid enough, the other end of the spectrum could mean living a perpetual nightmare of violence and terror. So, let’s talk.

*(the killing of 10 people connected to the satirical Charlie Hebdo)
Food for thought:

Posted in Charlie Hebdo, debate, democracy, fundamentalism, Paris massacre, religion | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments