Re: Promise

“I’ll keep you posted.” A familiar promise heard as two people part ways. Like other promises that may or may not be kept, this one signals an intention. Politicians’ promises are really statements of policy. These promises are intentional too, at least to the extent that candidates want people to know where they stand on the issues. And then hopefully you will vote for them.

When I was a parent of young children my wife and I tried hard not to make promises to them. Any politician will tell you that situations change and decisions must be made with the currently available data. Tell that to a six year old who has been looking forward to going to the beach on Saturday. “But you promised!” Their tears matching the rain that started falling that same morning. Sometimes factors align in such a way that promises can’t be answered in the fashion we would have liked. Yet a promise spoken can also be a signal for hope, showing a direction we would like to go.

“Now that is a promising development.” Might be something said after countries align in their commitment to combat Global Warming. The climate crisis demands that we don’t settle for what looks promising. We must put words into measurable action. My cake making grandmother would comment that the proof will be in the pudding and if there is a failure to act then someone is going back on their promise: The time for ‘half-baked’ ideas is over.

When a promise isn’t kept I feel let down. At every meeting of my Boy Scout pack we promised to ‘do our best’ and I took that seriously. Repeated disappointments, causing erosion of trust, can lead to cynicism, anger or worse; apathy. Every election cycle I get excited (there’s the Charlie Brown in me). I hold out hope that policy & action will be seen. I’m careful to match the incumbent’s rhetoric with his/her record. I try to interpret the validity behind a candidate’s promises. My vote is a response to those promises, but it can’t end there. As a citizen I also promise that I will do what I can to support the programs designed to fulfill those promises.

Financially, a promise can be called an IOU. A contract has been made based on the funds being returned on a given schedule. Depending on who you borrowed the money from, there could be very severe penalties if you default. When it comes to money, I’ve tried hard to stick to the advice of Polonius, ‘Neither a borrower nor a lender be.’, with varying degrees of success.

On my wedding day I made one of the grandest of all promises. A promise so big it is called a vow. It’s a good thing that I wasn’t the only one making a solemn vow that day. With two lovers working to keep their promises, ideally each partner is committed to making the promise a continuous reality. Here is a true example of actions speaking louder than words.

Re: Lifetime

I went to a funeral gathering to honour a champion of our community. It was my first outing involving a collective in a long time due to Covid19 restrictions. The crowd spilled out from the community hall into the adjacent garden where extra chairs and a PA system had been set up so the speakers could be easily heard. It was an event of a lifetime.

The deceased was a lady who had become one of my first friends since retirement. My wife and I would often see her taking an active role in our city. She would always smile as she told her latest news and thoughts. Over my lifetime I have met few who have shown such grace and citizenship. She led by action and demonstrated how an individual can make a difference.

My young niece wants some tips regarding retirement plans. She is focussed on keeping her working lifetime as short as possible. Unlike many in my generation who have spent a lifetime waiting to finally do those dreamed of things, this hard working woman wants to build that future now.

Most of us give our labour with a hope that we can emerge in a better place, with a goal accomplished. Watching athletes compete at the Olympic Games this summer I’m reminded that sometimes the best laid plans sometimes must be deferred. These games were postponed for a year which disturbed the competitors’ schedules, likely causing angst over lifetime achievement plans. When earlier Olympics were boycotted by some countries I remember feeling empathy for those crushed by the reality of years spent training to get in peak form only to be thwarted by a government’s decree. Some may have lost lifesavings in the endeavour. I’m happy to see some of my tax dollars being used as a lifeline to support these determined individuals.

Somethings can be described as lifetime events such as the birth of a child, a death, a career achievement, a sporting medal or an election victory. Imagine the feeling you must have if you are credited with being someone’s lifesaver. We can claim responsibility for some singular lifetime moments yet not all momentous occasions are entirely in our hands. Recently a town close to me had a record breaking heat wave. It was reported as a ‘Once in a Lifetime’ weather event. As a kid these phenomenon might have been called a ‘freak of nature’. Now, as a people, we are realizing that many of these weather anomalies are very much of our own making.

An ad on television added to my train of thought. “Buy a lottery ticket and all your dreams may come true.” boasted the promoter. My niece wouldn’t rely on that advice. My deceased friend saw value in human currency to find a lifetime full of rewards. Luck or misfortune can sometimes sit beside you at life’s card table. Sometimes you’d be wise to walk away to play a different game. In the long game of a lifetime, a dream come true is a yearning that has been answered.

Re: Hospitality

Some words fall out of favour in the English language. I was talking to an inn keeper recently and commented on his facility being so hospitable. He was flattered and said that he and his wife had made it a point, when they bought the place, to make hospitality their number one responsibility. And it showed; not only was the location of the lodge immaculately maintained but the gift of personal service could be felt from the first greeting. I’m in the habit of using the internet travel site Trip Advisor so I gave the hotel a glowing review.

I’ve never travelled extensively in the lower United States, yet I’ve always heard talk of their ‘southern hospitality’. Perhaps the phrase is a boast from the days of rich, White plantation owners. It must have been easier to look after guests due to the prevalence of slave labour. Also ironically, the word Hospitality comes up in several obscenity laced rap songs performed by Black artists. Check out Ludacris: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2QWQVm9J5DM

As an act of service, hospitality is not restricted to hotels and restaurants. I would say our village grocery store provides the highest standard of hospitality from produce managers, butchers through to check-out workers. It’s not an easy job to maintain customer satisfaction, especially when shoppers themselves can be less than hospitable. When coronavirus restrictions were first implemented in our region, I was surprised to see ‘essential workers’, like grocery clerks,  being applauded with banging pots during the evening yet later criticized in newspaper ‘letters to the editor’ for insisting on a fair wage. Some hotel workers in our district actually went on a hunger strike to keep the focus on their plight of being poorly compensated. Many wondered why the cheerleading of these essential workers had receded like the tide. I imagined someone inhospitably suggesting, “OK. Crisis is over. Now get back to work.”

No doubt, the hospitality industry has been hit hard economically with the realities of the Coronavirus Pandemic. Some governments and corporations have recognized the need for financial relief for the workers who have been laid off as a result of closures and health care compliance. I have applauded initiatives where the most needed members of our work force have been provided financial as well as moral encouragement. I believe a guaranteed income for all is a way that governments can show that hospitality works both ways. 

It would be inhospitable of me not to mention hospital workers. When we have the need to go to a hospital we expect a level of care above what even the best parent could provide. Only once have I experienced disappointment at the hands of a medical professional. Every hospital worker throughout the world has faced pressures beyond anything I would normally complain about, pre or post COVID19.  Our society venerates hospital staff but doesn’t always provide the resources necessary for optimal care. This pandemic has reminded us of the importance of caring for others, of being hospitable, as a first response to our neighbours.

Re: Privilege

COVID continues and I’m binge watching the television series The Crown. Talk about privilege eh? I feel lucky to have something to occupy my thoughts amidst the luxury of NOT having coronavirus. The portrayal of the British Royal Family shows characters who are the epitome of privilege. Setting aside their vast wealth for a moment (and I don’t do that lightly), I ranted privately on how someone could be given the right to rule simply because of the circumstance of their birth. The reign of Queen Elizabeth II parallels my time in history since she ascended to the throne the year I was born. My British parents were working class and yet still had an affection for the “goings-on” at Buckingham Palace. My mom thought that Edward VIII did the right thing by abdicating and “leaving all that nonsense behind.” As the episodes of The Crown unfolded I often shook my head in a socially egalitarian way, yet before I got too judgemental about the Windsors I couldn’t help but take stock of the ways I have been privileged.

Firstly, I’m born a white skinned male. Enough said? I’ve had the privilege of a solid education. I held a career with public status and enjoyed an income healthy enough to support a family of five. I can’t help but wonder how others may see what I’ve done with my privileges. I do believe with privilege comes responsibility yet I recognize I have been selfish at times with my talents, my resources and my energy. Someone once told me that I “present well.” I’m sometimes embarrassed by the privileges I have not earned, however it’s been a privilege to help maintain the society within which I have been able to thrive. I try not to abuse the gifts that have been bestowed on me. I sincerely feel that privilege never gives me licence to be rude or disrespectful.

Birthright does not always enter into the success of an individual’s life, hard work and talent can place you in a privileged, enviable position. It’s true, those who work hard deserve something special for their efforts. However I also judge the way the wealthy few exercise their privilege. When I think of today’s 0.1%: Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, for example, it’s clear they represent the new royalty. Their individual wealth gives them privileges far beyond anyone currently entitled to a crown.

When dog walker Amy Cooper famously ranted in Central Park she abused her privilege. When Ted Yoho swore at Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez he assumed his privilege would protect him. Ms. Cortez later stood in Congress on a ‘point of personal privilege’, and gave a moving speech related to human rights.

Sometimes it is clear where the line between privilege and right is drawn. The United Nation Declaration of Human Rights includes 30 rights felt to be essential to human life. They are often disregarded, usurped or dismissed by those who claim privilege, however these rights are inclusive, irremovable and do not depend on where, how or to whom you were entrusted at birth.

Re: System

I find comfort in rules. Rules are part of systems. Systems attempt to address randomness. Right now the systems that have been a large part of my life are breaking down. I welcome the possibility that with this breakdown will come new systems that better serve those who have so often been marginalized in society.

Natural systems are based on science and the physical order of things. For example our bodies have a circulatory system that makes sure our cells are fed and waste products are removed. Photosynthesis is a system in nature whereby plants use carbon dioxide to produce oxygen. Our planet is part of a Solar System that exists as a result of a systematic progression from events beginning with the theorized Big Bang. We are in a climate emergency right now. Humans have interfered to such an extent with natural systems, that problems around the world have become systemic. Radical change in our cultural and governmental systems is required for our planet’s very survival

Human constructed systems are created to keep things moving. They are often based on what is considered the norm. Human behaviour is often considered when constructing systems: Picture a Bell Curve. The majority of the population will be in the middle hump of 80%. Some of the best systems are the ones that have a plan for the fringe elements of the ten percent on either side of the hump. Rules must be kept flexible if the outliers are to survive. This group of people suffer the most when human systems break down. There’s irony here since economically the richest one percent is technically in a fringe zone. The obscenely wealthy hardly need protection from the slanted economic system from which they profit. These folks own and control so much that I would argue that some sort of equalization rules need to be established. Let’s call these rules, fair taxation.

My local hospital recently initiated a system to deal with people entering their emergency wing. They called it a Rapid Assessment and Discharge Unit. This particular system, as in many others, relies on professionals being efficient. My recent experience proved the opposite of the Unit’s intent as the rules were so strict that my assessment depended on a cavalier doctor. My recovery ended up taking longer as a direct result of this medical system failing me.

I once volunteered with my wife as a coat check for a local charity event. We arrived early to the function only to find no system in place to accurately account for the coats. Quickly we made up duplicate tickets from a wheel of paper stubs, organized the coat racks to visually track times of entry, found more hangers and created a secure perimeter. We were ready! We had systematically created and ticked off all the required boxes to success.

We are all responsible to some degree for system failure so we must all find a role to play in resolving issues before they become systemic. That can mean speaking up, acting out or voting in. It’s our world too and we have a part in protecting it and defining it for ourselves and for future generations.

Re: Elect

I had a difficult time voting in this election. It dawned on me that I usually elect a candidate first, and a party second. It’s better if I feel a connection to the individual running for election. I also have to agree with their vision. I take my role as an elector seriously so marking a ballot based on promises is a fool’s game, so is always voting for the same party. I try to acquaint myself with the policy documents that guide the electable political party’s platform.

There was one time when I thought my country was getting it all wrong so I considered a strategic vote. Fortunately we collectively booted the fellow out of office. More times than not though, I feel my vote seems to not count at all since the another side wins. Playing politics can be frustrating in any country. Sometimes it seems that even the idea of democratic action through elections is not possible as a result of gerrymandering, super PACS, electoral colleges, super delegates and other suspicious interferences that conflict with the notion of one person, one vote.

In my university days in Canada, the prospect of voting in an election was exciting. I felt anything was possible. I had trust in a system that enabled me to do things like get an education. Yet even in those naive days, many of my fellow students made an active decision not to vote. One fellow told me that he did go to the polling station, only to spoil his ballot with a graffiti message. I said I couldn’t do that because it would seem like I was letting someone down; perhaps my parents who had less opportunities in their lives or perhaps I felt I was letting my country down, or maybe even myself as a citizen. I didn’t want to void my electoral responsibility. I felt voting was a hopeful act for a future I wanted to be a part of.

Much of the world presently seems in a state of doubt. There is disruption to the status quo everywhere. Perhaps the roots of democracy need a reset. Our country is trying to get the idea of proportional representation into our elections. Rather than a winner take all approach to a final election day tally, the votes are more clearly representative of how electors feel about priorities in government. There is also a movement to create easier voting systems so no one can find an excuse to abstain from casting a ballot. Perhaps a secure digital platform can be a replacement for long line-ups at election centres. Maybe elections can become as routine as filing your income tax.

However our electoral systems change, we all have a role to play. Good citizenship can be a commitment throughout the year rather than merely on election day. We can be active in our desire to inspire and be inspired. Ideology needn’t be a bad word used to describe a radical sect spreading hatred. The gift of ideas can come from each of us, every time we elect a healthy future for all.

Re: Service

Service can ‘be’ something and it can relate to ‘doing’ something. As a noun: Before I married my first wife it was de rigueur to register at a china shop so you had fancy plates and a proper tea service. A service starts a tennis rally. As a verb: My dad serviced aircraft while in the armed forces during WWII.

Recently I’ve been exposed to different levels of service from various workers who have been part of a renovation in my home. I was aggravated by a salesperson when purchasing a washer/dryer combo who wanted to push the sale of an extra service contract rather than attend to my need for a quality product. My wife and I chose a contractor for the job carefully. We wanted to forecast a high level of quality service to take away the anxiety that comes from a remodelling job. My opinion of tradespeople has always been high. Plumbing and electrical work takes knowledge, skill and care. Some workers at our reno provided service with a smile yet lacked attention to detail. Others have been so proud of their occupation that their service to their task and to their client has been exceptional.

I take my car in for regular servicing. I used to do oil changes and other upkeep stuff myself, but now I wouldn’t know how to do a good job with a modern vehicle. There is a maintenance schedule to follow and I stick to it in order to validate my warrantee. Before I bought the car I checked out their service department. I chose well. Every time I go in I feel like someone who owns Downton Abbey.

We live in a self-serve era yet we still depend on the service of others. Many service jobs are considered too menial. Some service jobs have been eliminated by computer robotics and others have shifted to higher tech. Where would most offices be these days without their IT department? Rarely do we see ‘full-service’ gas stations. As a kid I remember getting a free balloon every time I went with my dad to his favourite petrol pit stop.

Community service has always been important to me. We often hear the phrase, “I want to give back…” when someone feels grateful. I’m part of that club since I wish to pay it forward by volunteering or serving on committees. Many still have the weekly habit of attending a religious service. I used to spend a lot of time helping out at my community church. That was a case of serving at a service. I’m proud to say that sometimes others trusted me to such a degree that I conducted the entire service.

Some say that providing service to others is our highest calling. To be a servant need not suggest being below another. Perhaps the act of serving has more to do with taking the focus off ourselves and applying effort towards the greater whole. Even the powerful and mighty can learn this lesson. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gVjE99phqYk

Re: Rule

The first time I played Scrabble with my future mother-in-law I told her about our modified house rules. She said, “Hmm, I’ll stick to the original ones.” Changing the rules for playing a game brings me pleasure. I’m not a ‘Rules are Meant to be Broken’ advocate yet I think they are meant to be tested. How else do you know it’s a good rule?

On a visit to the Tate Modern Gallery in London, England I was closely watched by the security team after I had been reminded by an official to not touch a statue. I had ignored the sign; ‘Please do not touch the works of art on display. Even clean hands can damage surfaces.’ I felt compelled by the sensuous curve of the metal and stone fabrication. Shame on me.

Making your own set of rules and keeping them consistently can be a difficult proposition. Self imposed rules are hard to make and hard to keep. We all have some personal rules that we keep sacred; like never lie, never cheat etc. I try to keep the special set of rules which I live by in order to feel I can be trusted by others. It is important for me to be dependable so my opinion can have a high level of credibility. A set of rules can enhance my personal authority. But what is authority anyway?

Cultural rules can change quickly. It didn’t take long for cigarette smoking to turn from ‘anywhere, anytime’ to a strictly regulated behaviour. We still use the expression ‘Rule of Thumb’ when we talk about a baseline for behaviour yet the origin of that phrase came from the thickness of wooden rod a husband could legally use to beat his wife. I remember Sadie Hawkins events when I went to high school; making a ceremony out of women choosing who they might date while restricting the amount of female participation in the game of love. Now we have relevant discussions about consent within a #metoo focus.

In democratic countries we elect our Rulers; those who we allow to have authority over us. Previous generations were instructed to have respect for the Ruling Class. To be loyal to their King and Country. ‘Rule Britannia’, as an example of colonialist fervour, was positive for only a few. ‘Make America Great Again’, as a slogan, can also be an expression of a rule of engagement that creates imbalance in the great wide and diverse world that we currently share. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=akbzRuZmqVM .

Often we don’t get a choice in politics. We may choose to believe that we collectively put our leaders on the metaphorical throne but in today’s world it is truer to acknowledge that others behind the scenes really control political outcomes. As a result of this interference with the rules of law, we find ourselves with rulers who may flout what many of us see as important rules of etiquette. Perhaps we collectively need to get better at who we select to be the boss of us.

Re: Reward

I’ve been on several non-profit Boards serving a membership as well as clients. A question that often comes up is how to encourage involvement. In most cases you would think that the reward would be self-evident: A volunteer would feel that supporting the organization is satisfaction enough. A ticket buyer gets pleasure out of the fundraising event and that is pleasure enough. A donor is getting a tax receipt. A member is happy to be part of something important within the community. ‘Virtue is its own reward,’ so sayeth theologian J.H. Newman.

Yet we live in a time of perks, value added, frequent flyer, loyalty punch card carrying, ‘what’s in it for me’ sense of privilege. It’s a bit ironic I suppose that often these benefits are there for the already privileged. We can believe that what goes around comes around, as long as the good stuff comes around to us with regularity.

One of my current volunteer gigs is at a Therapeutic Riding stable. The best perk is nuzzling with the horses. I was a bit nervous at first since these beasts are large! After a time they got used to me and I felt less intimidated as I cleaned their stall and tacked them up for their riders. The volunteer coordinator keeps my interest up by offering a variety of jobs. Coffee is in the kitchen as well as a cookie jar labelled ‘Volunteer Diet’. Like most non-profits who value their volunteers highly I am invited to appreciation BBQs, pizza nights and discounted sales tables. Communities large or small owe a debt to those who serve without payment and within a meaningful context a hearty ‘Thank You’ is often enough compensation for my hard work.

Playing with the word Reward by examining its levidrome Drawer, I can see what I get in a general sense from volunteering: I Draw on my skills to help out. I’m a Drawer, a Creator who gives time, energy and experience and looking backward this act is its own Reward. Fun!

I no longer feel I want a reward for its own sake. Achieving something that I have worked hard at has brought an expectation for recognition. As a boy I would have been disappointed if I didn’t receive that trophy, ribbon or certificate to attest to my brilliance. Now that I’m an adult I am less ambitious for a tangible outcome. I’m enjoying the journey of discovery. I can witness my own pleasure and be glad in it.

Many old folks (especially white, rich ones) feel entitled. Back in 2005, Canadian Government bureaucrat David Dingwall famously fought for his perceived entitlements. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UIo-bEsoMgA

A recent Saturday Night Live skit with Idris Elba as an ‘Impossible Hulk’ showed us what entitlement can look like when placed in a superhero context.
https://www.cbr.com/idris-elba-impossible-hulk-saturday-night-live/

The horses I’m caring for, love an apple after work. I’m still a sucker for a free cookie.

Re: Identity

Each of us have had a Big Bang moment in our lives. Probably several: There is that seminal moment of our birth as we are pushed out into the world gasping, reaching, spreading ourselves outward into the unknown. That explosive moment when we discover that our actions get a reaction, when we make a gesture that gets a smile, or our first words bring delight and feedback. That first urge that helps us define our sexuality leading us to tentatively explore with others. As the universe within us expands we get a chance to define ourselves.

Some moments are pivotal. External factors sometimes lay out the timeline of development yet it’s your internal response to these life suggestions that will craft the person you will always be. These are the foundations of your central character.

Discovering our personal identity is the most important and exciting thing that we do as we grow. We define ourselves by our experiences. We can overcome harsh beginnings. We sometimes shoulder these realities as a cross we’ve had to bare. Actors must enjoy the temporary thrill of inhabiting another identity. They can choose a role that helps them display a weaker persona or they may get to play the part of an evil manipulator. The spectrum of human behaviours is limited only by their imagination.

I enjoy taking stock of the parts of me which make me whole. I like shuffling this deck of characteristics when I look in my metaphorical mirror. I wonder when I let one aspect of me dominate the other; does that make me more, or less? After suffering through a bout of depression in my forties I had to restore my identity step by step. I consciously rebuilt myself based on the memory of what I thought I had lost in my journey into adulthood. I recovered my birth name and created the story that was Robert. This identity wasn’t so totally new that others didn’t recognize me, but as I broadcast my newest self I felt a confidence that my message was being accepted and appreciated.

Canada’s Residential School system has left a huge scar on our collective identity. The policy was specifically intended to erase the identity of a whole race of people. Reconciliation will take time. Hopefully all of us, as individuals, will find new parts of ourselves. We have a daily opportunity to reshape our identities in grace and harmony.

Groups work hard at creating a communal identity. This is easy to spot in the sporting world as teams encourage support by inviting you to belong. Consider attempts made in communities to build identity: We are Marshall, We are Boston. We are Humboldt. Some feel they belong to a national ethos. I am Canadian! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pASE_TgeVg8

Clearly in the present U.S. political climate many may feel, “I don’t recognize my country anymore.” Part of a search for a collective identity has to include the varieties of the membership otherwise it will be hard on those who have felt left out.