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.
Like in the film Groundhog Day, perhaps history must repeat before we discover what’s important. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GncQtURdcE4
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.
I’m always on the lookout for great fried potatoes. At least once a week my mom used to cook up a dangerous mess of chips in a stove top pot. She used lard which she kept in a container in the fridge. This fat was never thrown out to my knowledge; she clarified it regularly through a strainer, then cheesecloth. The hand cut potato slices were chilled in the fridge overnight then put in a wire basket which could be clipped to the side of the hot fatpot to drain. The chips were slippery with the oil and ever so tasty with salt, vinegar or ketchup.
When someone refers to fried potatoes as ‘fries’ I immediately think of the McDonald’s variety. However, they are not the ‘chips’ I remember from my childhood. Fast food fries are usually pasty, dry and unappetizing to me. They are probably a long way from the Belgian pommes de terre frites that WWI American soldiers were reported to love. I’ve ordered steak and frites in a fancy restaurant and was underwhelmed with that fried potato version. I’m particular about my chips.
In 2003 there was an amusing international kerfuffle involving the term French fries. A politician in the United States named Bob Ney got himself in a knot over France not agreeing to the Iraq War and took exception to French fries being offered in his cafeteria so he had the item relabelled on the menu as ’Freedom fries’ to make a childish point. Mr. Ney is clearly an example of someone who might walk around with a chip on his shoulder. Here is Lera Boroditsky showing how language and this coined term was used to politicize the event. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YL8cZ6nmWPg .
What I love about the English language is the variety of ways I can use the same word. Wood chips don’t elicit a watery mouth (except perhaps if you are a beaver) yet those kind of chips conjure a smell of resin and the damp basement where my father would create carvings out of pine logs. I’d like to say I’m a chip off the old block but I don’t carve or make potato chips. I content myself with ordering the popular side dish when I’m checking out a dining spot. It’s hard to not think about chips, and get a craving, because the word is used in so many ways. Children of my generation laughed at the adventures of Chip&Dale. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wlmdWP0Y8e4 . Go to a casino and you need a supply of chips. Better keep a chipper attitude because your friends might accuse you of being too ‘chippy’. I try not to let what others think of me to get me down so I just let the chips fall where they may. I even had a childhood friend whose nickname was Chip.
The frequent use of the word chip, in many contexts, makes me hungry. Lately I’ve found the best chips from food trucks, but they’ll never match the batch from me mum’s fryer.
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.
I live in a community where people come out to protest on a regular basis. I join in because I naively see it as a sign of democratic action. Based on the signs people carry to support their outrage/concern, there may be other motivations for their presence in the crowd. For example, at a recent climate change rally, I saw one overweight man sporting a T-shirt that read ‘I love CO2’ while waving another ‘I love fossil fuels’. Was he after sales or just being contrary?
Being somewhat afraid of large crowds and a functional introvert to boot, you can often find me at rallies like this leaning against a tree where I can appreciate the shade or gain some shelter from the drizzle. An activist I’m not. Rather a cheerleader/witness. My sign would probably read; ‘I see what you mean’ or ‘I’m here for you.’ Some protest signs written by a more anarchistic sort can seem like manifestos: small print on corrugated cardboard, begging to be read, to acknowledge the effort that it took to pour out such passionate thoughts. Short form declaration: ‘Pay attention! I mean it!’
Protests I’ve attended clearly allow folk to vent. Quiet self expression is as evident as a collective shout of alarm. At a recent Fridays For Future congregation I was impressed how Greta Thunberg’s leadership had encouraged a diversity of ages, backgrounds and emotions to come together in a harmonious demonstration of concern over the climate crisis. Amidst the speeches, music and cheering a small hole opened in a part of the crowd as a lone middle-aged male removed his clothes and poured a bottle of motor oil over his body, miming his anguish over pipeline leaks. He wasn’t arrested. People gave him space.
In our city protests tend to be peaceful. Marches and rallies offer up chants, poems, speeches and slogans. Some who line the streets join in if they find a friend or are moved by the cause. Sometimes it seems counterproductive to see smiles on the protesters’ faces while they’re shouting to end war. It makes me wonder about the line between protest and carnival. But in Canada it’s true we are polite and, for better or worse, we work hard at trying not to offend others, even those with whom we disagree.
Art lives and thrives in protest settings. Feelings pour out in creative ways. I always feel grateful for the civility expressed at protest gatherings I’ve been to in Canada. I’ve heard bystanders thank the calm looking police officers for just being there. My sons, in contrast, have been witness to protests that have started out civil but have turned violent, often as a result of police being instructed to clamp down on demonstrators.
There is much injustice in our current world. Perhaps there always has been, yet now it’s easier to see. It’s easier to name the wrongs. It’s easier to find something or someone specific to blame. At the same time it seems harder to find someone who will listen. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aHN6AViJAvI
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.
I think our society is overusing the word Brave just the same way we seem to feel compelled to give a standing ovation at every live performance. To call every act of self sacrifice heroic, waters down the understanding of the value of courage. It’s interesting to note that when a so-called hero is interviewed they will deny being brave. They say they acted as if on impulse. They say that anyone would do the same thing given the same set of circumstances. These statements certainly make them humble. But brave? I can’t help but wonder if we call people heroes because it makes US feel better. For example, calling Native North Americans ‘Braves’ can’t possibly absolve us white folks of genocidal behaviour. Can it?
Bravery is often associated with a sudden lack of fear, a compulsion to act without regard to personal safety. I can say I rarely feel fully safe in my life yet I have gone on adventures, weighing the odds. The probability of failure or injury has to be factored in before I will risk what I already have in order to find something I haven’t. In the film Free Solo, Alex Honnold talks about his methodology of meticulous planning and practise. He goes about the task of the climb with such obsessive precision that the outcome becomes more possible even while the risks are clearly tangible.
I was once in a relationship that was failing. I couldn’t muster the courage to say that our being together wasn’t working. I felt so relieved when she said goodbye. That was an act of bravery that set both of us on a course to a better future. I admitted to a friend recently that I ached over the political situation in the USA. The world is looking on at this national level squabble and wondering who will be brave enough to speak against their leader. Living in the ‘land of the free’ doesn’t seem like a great place to be right now. Their national anthem and constitution currently seem at odds with the original intent. If ever there was a time for citizens of America to act as though they were in ‘the home of the brave’ it will be in the next presidential election, 2020.
Hopefully every election, anywhere, is more about service than who is best. Pushing the theme of superlatives rather than making things right for all can’t be sustainable. Most powerful might be okay for superhero movies but not for global harmony. What gives me hope for the future is joining with others in my community to give voice to things that make us better.
I used to belong on the Board of a local arts company who promoted the motto, ‘Be Brave’. It was included in all their handouts. The declaration was for all to practise courage without caring if they were the bravest. This message is an inspiration for actors, supporting workers, volunteers and the audience. It is a call to be intrepid. I’d stand up to clap for that.