Everyone has a tale of theft. Either someone has taken something from you or you have stolen from someone else. We rarely feel comfortable admitting the latter but my oh my, don’t we all like to target the other when we have felt robbed.
I’ve never been a train or bank burglar but as a kid I enjoyed the exploits of bandits like Butch Cassidy, the James Brothers, and Bonnie & Clyde. I was so emotionally kidnapped by tales of that Prince of Thieves, Robin Hood, that I visited Sherwood Forest in England when I was an adult. I could never excuse violent acts but I think there are times when theft can be forgiven, if not justified. Looting is a form of theft that can take place after a natural disaster. Studies in the wake of break-ins after Hurricane Katrina suggested that desperate people were seeking food, medicine or shelter. These were acts of survival not of anarchy. I believe that rioting can be a response to societal theft: When one person or group abdicates their part of the social contract (providing government oversight, a living wage, adequate health care, access to education), then that agreement is henceforth non-binding.
As a child I was tempted many times to lift something in the manner of the Artful Dodger. Once I spied a set of magnets in a clear cellophane pack on a display rack at a local five and dime store. I had learned that year in grade three that a magnet has a mysterious ability to attract. In an impulsive moment I pocketed the package. I couldn’t believe I made it street side without sirens or flashing lights. I rushed home and hid my shoplifted booty in the very back of one of my dresser drawers. There it remained for months, unopened. As an adult who should know better, I took a stapler from a teachers’ workroom at the school I worked at, ostensibly to organize some student marking while at home. I soon rationalized that it was mine. While not a moral dilemma equivalent to that fictional loaf of bread stolen by Jean Valjean in the novel Les Misérables, it’s a source of personal regret notwithstanding.
We could use some modern ‘rob from the rich/give to the poor’ stories. I keep struggling with the whole concept of ownership. Our life is so short, so why not share. An equitable tax system would help. Wages based on the common wealth of a nation would benefit everyone. The societal balance sheet is tilted in favour of the wealthy. I feel profit is a form of theft. Intellectual property is a scam. I wonder how Banksy feels about copyright laws. Passive income from tax sheltered corporate shares is also theft. We’re being robbed!
I was once mugged while delivering pizzas but I kept my dignity. Never let anyone steal your sense of who you are, your time, your identity, your future or your opportunities. Keep your true and precious self inviolate.
There is a distinction between being a servant or a slave. A friend of my son once surprised those gathered for a back yard BBQ by stating, “I ain’t nobody’s bitch.” Someone had just asked him how he liked his new job and he was telling us that already he wasn’t getting along with the boss. He worked at a grocery store. He was tasked to keep the floors swept so that customers wouldn’t slip on entry. When he wasn’t doing that he was assigned to bringing in the carts from the parking lot. Basic service work, minimum wage.
Recently deceased Queen Elizabeth II, expressed in speeches and in her actions that she saw her life as service. Her servant salary was quite different to that of a grocery cart boy. As a society, I think most of us place a high value on service to others, even while we underpay the majority. A housewife is a role we take for granted in most of the world. Putting aside the sexual discrimination elements inherent in the title, the job description of a person who makes a home for others is a lengthy list which can cover a number of well paid professions: Cook, Laundry Worker, Psychologist, Teacher, Early Childhood Educator, Personal Care Worker, Financial Planner, Management Coordinator etc. If these services were contracted out separately the monthly expenses for a family of four would be prohibitive. The important role of Homemaker could be supported with a government cheque. A guaranteed wage might resolve this issue, as well as other cases where service goes unsung.
Ironically perhaps, the nobility of being a servant was sensitively portrayed in an episode of the television series The Crown. Sydney Johnson, a real life character who was valet to the abdicated King Edward VIII, was shown as a graciously giving fellow, even though he was only a notch above a slave to every royal whim. I cringed when I saw the Duke make a request for his silver cigarette case. I felt like yelling at the screen, “Get it yourself!”
Full service gas stations used to have lots of employees dashing about checking oil, pumping fuel and washing windshields. DIY is now the language norm in more than just filling up your tank. But I must admit to feeling let down when I can’t find someone to help me when I’m looking for a product in a store I don’t frequent. I get royally indignant wondering why the customer is no longer always right. I can relate to the symbolic Karen in these moments.
My father served with distinction in North Africa during the second world war. Later, through his work in community he taught me by example the value of volunteering. My mother was a Public Servant in the manner of an elected official in her region. Growing up with them, I witnessed how giving service to others is an essential part of being human. Everyone wants to feel a part of something, giving of yourself honours your life as well as those who receive your offerings. Volunteerism builds humanity and humility.
It is easy for me to remember Queen Elizabeth’s ascension to the throne of England, since I was born that same year. Her reign has been numerically equivalent to my lifetime. Being born in England has added to my connection with the crown. Yet a royalist I am not.
Just take the word ascension. What a load of codswallop! I cannot believe, let alone condone the thought that HRH is above me. I am a man. She is a woman. We are both citizens of the world. She does not reign over me. I can recognize her existence as a symbol in our government (Canada is a Constitutional Monarchy) while not personally acknowledging her sovereignty or authority over me. I don’t wish to rain on anyone’s parade of pageantry. Idealistically, royalty does not add anything to my life. I don’t need a pyramid system of hierarchal status to rein me in when I wander. The rule of law will suffice.
Like many of my age the singing of God Save the Queen was regular and rote. We were indoctrinated as children in school, each morning declaring with one voice: “Send her victorious/Happy and glorious.” How fortunate we weren’t required to sing words from some of the other verses such as: “Scatter our enemies/And make them fall/Confound their politics/Frustrate their knavish tricks.” As I grew older the singing of Canada’s anthem became more common yet once in a while The Queen was toasted at formal dinners. Recently I went to a New Year’s Day levée at the Provincial Lieutenant Governor’s House where we all sang a tribute to the sovereign and after some speeches of allegiance we all got some fancy free food. My principles seem to vanish when I am treated to some complimentary dainty delectables.
‘The time has come, so sayeth the Walrus, to move on to other things, not kings.’ I boldly paraphrase Lewis Carroll, who satirized the reign of another queen of the realm. As an anti-royalist I wish for a change away from deference to royal trappings. To imagine a King Charles makes me shake my head over the backward step that would be. Admittedly a reigning monarch is merely a symbol yet the symbolism is badly tarnished. Regardless of what you think of this Prince of Wales, surely his entitlement to ascend the throne does not require me to bow to nobility. What an awkward occasion that thought brings, even abstractly.
People once reigned, and now people who are elected to govern must lead. This is political evolution. One of my life principles is that rules must be challenged and often bent. Rules are made by humans, not heaven sent. The ruling class must be of the people, not above them. We may venerate people, but in the honouring of them our actions will rule the present. No statues are required. No forced observance either. Leaders’ efforts will be recorded in books, film and other forms of art for us to educate ourselves, then act currently as a gracious citizen.
“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.
While binge watching the television series The Office I had an awakening: The entire cast act as kids! The writers/creators show humans doing adult jobs, in an adult business, all trying to be adults but they are all just children playing in a sandbox. I kid you not, watching the show with this lens of kid-ness, gave me insight and joy in equal measure. Each actor shows their unique childish pleasure-seeking side: Michael wants attention, Dwight is a warrior knight, Kevin wants to eat, Creed steals, Andy sneaks, Jim teases. And, like kids, they all want to become. We are the camera, watching, judging, cringing at all the examples of how rude, obnoxious, hilarious and immature the characters are behaving. Sometimes I caught myself from wanting to discipline Michael, “Stop kidding around, that’s not how adults are supposed to behave! Be serious. You are supposed to be the Boss!” No wonder when any of the cast stops being selfish for a moment and acts like an adult, we are mystified: Where did that maturity come from?
This masterful work of television offers a chance to put all kidding aside for a moment so that you can recognize aspects of human nature. I don’t think we ever completely outgrow our kid stage. In my family both my dad, mom and sister all followed Peter Pan out the window. I was left to look after the house. I sensed the adult void and assumed the role. I lost out on some parts of being a kid because I had to come to the conclusion, as Wendy did, that we all have to take responsibility for our actions.
Perhaps we are not too different from some insects. We have a larval stage when we eat constantly. We pupate as adolescents going through fundamental chemical changes. Some of us come out of our chrysalides as adults, fully operational. Yet we all know folks who are just barely adults; those with low tolerance levels, still behaving in excess/access mode or perpetually afraid. That immaturity can make us an easy target for manipulation. The wolf in sheep’s clothing could just as easily be the parent poser in a cozy sweater.
As a kid we are used to following instructions as long as we get a treat. As a kid it’s natural to point to the other saying, “He/She did it!” I’m not kidding around if I suggest that maybe a dictator appeals to the kid in us. We expect leaders to show us a safer place. Dictators take care of things. Despots come up with easy answers that don’t need to involve us kids. A despot as a sibling can tempt us to do irresponsible things. Trump may have been an example of a dictator who failed because he was too much like a kid. The adult part of us finally caught on to his disguise. The fun stopped. Perhaps we finally grow up when we realize that truth is fundamental. I hope I’m not kidding myself.
My blog postings start with one word. Sometimes I don’t have the foggiest idea what will happen next. Often the idea itself comes easily, putting it into a sensible composition with relatable context is the hard part. To me it is fun to play with ideas and that’s the point because even Einstein said that imagination is more important than knowledge. Ideally, this short essay may have some ideology that will be relevant to your life experience. But, you be the judge.
My parents used to challenge me with “What gave you that idea?” As a young adult, while going about my own business, someone once threatened, “Hey! What’s the big idea?” Of course ideas to be effective must be merged with reality. For example, a former girlfriend liked the idea of me but over time the reality got in her way. We can idealize, running the risk of making someone or something into a precious idol. No one individual can possibly be as perfect as the idea someone has made of them.
Ideology is really just a bunch of ideas that can lend themselves to greater understanding or a better way of living. Ideology has gotten a bad reputation because an ideological person is often prone to frantic rants telling us all how to live. Some ideas I can support, like those found in the song called Imagine. Here, Lennon & Ono work together to ideate a world where people live in peace. I can dig that. I tend to be an idealist, choosing any sunny bit of news to bolster my philosophy that the world is inherently good. I have a set of ideals that help keep me on a path. Which reminds me of a principal I once worked with who loved to have brainstorming sessions, “There are no wrong answers!” He would shout. He was after ideas, which made things seem democratic. Unfortunately he would go away on the weekend and comeback Monday morning with a whole bunch of ‘from now on’ pronouncements that didn’t resemble anything we had written down in our break-out groups. So much for collaboration!
An idea is a creation of thought. Maybe there is no such thing as an original idea. Ideas might come from dreams, be inspired by muses or spring from a collective consciousness. We profit from those who made the first leaps of imaginative thought. It’s not important to me where an idea comes from. One thing I believe; ideas are part of what it means to be human, so they mustn’t be ignored.
When we try to imagine a different world, that’s an ideation. I can form an attachment to an idea and adjust my behaviour accordingly. An idea leads from awareness to making a plan; like treating our environment as though it’s critical to our survival. From that singular notion we can build a set of ideals that we can put into practise to move us closer to a more healthy, sustainable planet. An ideology based on nurturing our planet I will support. In my opinion there is nothing more imperative.
I was musing over U.S. election news telling me how a new ‘soulful’ White House might respond to the crises of our time. Blessedly, without The Donald in charge, there will be less amusement. Much of the world was certainly not amused by Trump’s selfish antics. He was a president who’s only muse was power. He showed no sign of comprehending the Arts as described in Greek Mythology. That ancient culture appointed nine Muses to watch over artistic pursuits: Three styles of poetry were inspired by Calliope, Erato and Polyhymnia, In theatre Melpomene and Thalia teamed up, Euterpe brought music when Terpsichore danced, and Clio kept a record of it all (hopefully an accurate one) for posterity’s sake.
I feel that government’s responsibility is not to entertain the masses. Those we elect are not there for our amusement. By voting we have entered into a contract with our representatives to do good by all. This is so different from what you expect when you purchase an amusement park ticket. You step right up for the greatest show on earth. You come along for the ride. You strap yourself in. You are entertained by the unexpected extravagances. You will be thrilled. You choose to be thrilled! I have fond boyhood memories of going to Toronto’s C.N.E. at the end of every summer. Another more permanent amusement park nearby is called Canada’s Wonderland, once boasting the longest roller coaster in the land while promising to lift all of your adventures to ‘new heights’!
If life is like a circus, relationships can offer these kinds of random experiences too. We may try out a different personality, against our ‘type’. I did that once, anticipating an adventure. Turned out it was not the ride I had imagined. She felt that way too. When your situation is no longer amusing it is time to look elsewhere, maybe try something or someone, who is tamer, more your speed. No shame in choosing a roller coaster or some such gravity defying device that makes us dizzy, it’s how we learn. Just be realistic to the truth that what goes up will at some point come down. It’s inevitable. When we get to the end of the attraction we can choose to move on to something else or ‘go round again’. I’m not a thrill seeker so you’ll find me at the Bumper Cars or maybe if I’m really brave, The Fun House. I’m not entertained by captive animals either. If I want a wild experience I’ll go for a hike in nature.
How we amuse or entertain ourselves can make a difference to our well being. I’ve enjoyed the cotton candy of a carnival yet I prefer to be edified through the study of Art and Science. I’m so lucky since my food, housing and relationship needs are all being met during these Pandemic times. I am sheltering in place with someone whom I refer to as my muse. We currently work on jigsaw puzzles while inspiring each other to know.
I’m right handed so that means my left brain is dominant too. Left brainers are logical and enjoy using language to solve problems. Our left brain also holds the controlling functions, which drives my family crazy since I am constantly weighing the odds, reducing the risk and planning strategies for comfort and continuity. I do however, feel the rightness of this approach.
Yet, I encourage my right brain. The right hemisphere thinks spatially and is usually not aware of the passage of time. This side sometimes corresponds to left handedness and is therefore often associated with artists. I once purchased a workbook to tease this creative side; Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. Written, a while back, by Betty Edwards, this book is a classic treatise that unlocks this poorly used hemisphere while helping many people to draw and think in a right-sided way. I believe there is an artist in all of us and sometimes we have to tell our left brain to stop being so bossy.
It may seem contradictory but you can be left handed and still have a right wing ideology. This notion of politically being left or right came about after the French Revolution, when the more conservative thinkers (think aristocrats) sat on the right side of the appointed leader of the assembly. Left wing thinkers are generally considered to be more inclusive and progressive when assessing policy. I feel sort of strangled when simplistic labels are tossed about. We can hinder dialogue and even promote division when rushing to call someone out, purely based on their political position. Folks on either side of this dividing line can spout self-righteous dogma. Everyone wants to feel like they are on the right side of an argument. Trouble is, we are rarely right all of the time.
Currently the United States of America is locked in a right/left ideological campaign that will be tested, thankfully, hopefully, by an election. I don’t quite understand how the Republican Party has become synonymous with Right Wing Rednecks any more than I fathom how some think all Democrats are Tree Hugging Commies. Voices on both sides have shouted over each other claiming Constitutional priority. It’s been astonishing to watch so much pain and passion literally spilling out onto the streets. All the world over is tense about the outcome of who will be in charge of the planet’s most powerful country, once this extraordinary year is over.
I admit that I am left leaning yet I can appreciate that, logically, a bird needs both wings to fly straight. My conservative nature used to drive my sister nuts. I can thank my love of the arts for bringing me to mental landscapes of inclusivity often enough to be able to empathize with leftist behaviour. I feel anger when conservative governments claim they have the answers. A government is not a business. Jobs are not the most important thing. I look forward to a time when our society recognizes the value of each individual life. It’s the right thing to do.
At the beginning of every decision making process I ask myself a question: What’s important? Those who wish to defund the police have likely asked that question. If they have, I hope their answer is less about police and more about the wider desire for more appropriate care for the members of the community. I believe policing is important in a community yet so is adequate mental health services, affordable housing and well funded schools. When it comes to a healthy world many things are important.
Everyone believes in causes. We feel it is socially important to give to something. Sometimes we don’t think of ourselves as a good cause. Deciding what’s important is really personal; requiring observation, a solid evaluation and then judgement. We can agree that human lives are important. But which lives? Here is the question for our age and every other through history. BLM highlights not just the importance of one race of people, just as Feminism is not only about the importance of one gender. During COVD19 times some politicians have actually decided that the economy is more important than the lives of a ‘few’ elderly folks. We all are important, to the economy, to our community, to our families, to ourselves.
I’m cursed with these thoughts that everything is important, when sometimes nothing really matters. Aristotle once commented; “Poetry is something more philosophic and of graver import than history.” In my philosophy I’m a forest person so every tree matters. A range of people; Ani DiFranco, Oscar Wilde, artists mostly, have a history of promoting equality in their work. A view that all people and things have import to the world at large is gaining strength, particularly as societies navigate a climate crisis. There is some truth to the poetic notion that a butterfly’s behaviour has consequences far beyond a flight to find nectar. More importantly, human’s must be earnest about their impact on the environment. The question of what’s important doesn’t have to be an either/or listing. Individually and collectively we can create priorities, then set a timeline for action that can have a graded outcome.
The heading for a series of columns I once wrote for a daily newspaper was called ‘Just Because’. The title came to me when I was walking for no real reason on a circular nature trail. William James, sometimes referred to as the Father of American Psychology, once said,”We never fully grasp the import of any true statement until we have a clear notion of what the opposite untrue statement would be.” At the time of my short hike, stuck in the mire of self importance, I surprisingly needed to find out what wasn’t important, before I could see what was. I could write, for ‘no real reason’ because sometimes it feels important to write without any expectation of outcome. Sometimes the importance of things can only be determined after the event.
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.