Re: Brave

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.

Re: Excuse

English language words can be hard to teach. Some words may be spelled the same yet have different meanings depending on pronunciation. Take Excuse for example: I may be excused for certain behaviour yet I may decide to make no excuses. In the former there is the Canadian zed sound for the letter s and in the latter Excuse you hear the es sound clearly.

The mental shift that comes about as one hears the word in context can be confusing for an ESL student. I somewhat shamefully admit that the challenges inherent in learning another language frighten me. My other excuse, lame though it may be, is that I am lazy. Language, of course, is more than just vocabulary. Language is a force in communicating culture.

When I was growing up it would be pretty common for someone to say, ‘Excuse my French’. Maybe this xenophobic phrase is still used as someone’s less than polite way of excusing the four letter swear word that had just come out of their mouth. When we endeavour to excuse ourselves it is a way to rationalize our way of thinking and/or to seek forgiveness. There are some among us who would never consider the need to make an excuse, much less an apology. The current President of the United States, Donald Trump, is a daily example of inexcusable behaviour. He once infamously said, “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters”. Many would say he is just speaking his mind. But that, in itself, is another excuse.

Dinnertime, when I was a young father, was pretty formal (for the mores of the 1980’s anyway). We observed as much as possible the 50’s Canadian tradition of all gathering around the table for a meal and conversation. Our excuse was that my wife and I wanted to hang on to customs that we thought were important for raising children. As my boys got older I remember giving permission for them to leave the table if they had finished and had an important place to go by saying, “You’re excused.” I wonder if anyone says that anymore. Reading this over makes me sound so nineteenth century!

Canadians are often dubbed as being over-the-top polite. We are branded as always saying such things as ‘excuse me’ in front of almost anything: Is that seat taken? Are you reading that? Would you pass the salt? I was here first! Often we ask, in our embarrassment, to be excused for sneezes, farts or burps. I haven’t met too many Canadians who wish to make excuses for poor behaviour. Generally we try to own up to our mistakes.

“Excuses, Excuses.” Would be an admonishment from one of my teachers for not following through on a project. If I failed to live up to my parents expectations I would be asked, “What’s your excuse?” My childhood explanations would rarely pass muster. In those cases, I was likely excused to go to my room.

Re: Protocol

I’ve self declared that I’m a formal type fellow so I will also admit that I easily sense the importance of protocol. I need to have a system before I can proceed. I can adopt a protocol that is already there and I enjoy developing my own set of rules to fit the occasion. In politics I prefer a party or candidate with a platform that articulates a clear path. I like to volunteer for an organization that can fill me with confidence with their policies.

I had a woodworking phase in my life. I assembled hand-made picture frames and built original furniture items. Towards the end of this pastime I manufactured bookends. To weight the bookends I used various found objects, sometimes according to a buyer’s particular specifications, thereby creating unique pieces. This artistic ‘bookend period’ was back in the day when everyone I knew had a bookshelf in their home. My dream home still has one room (Library? Den? Study? Conservatory?)that has a full wall of books on display. My most requested bookends were made of mining drill cores. It was a mass-produced gift for family and friends one Christmas. I arranged one side to have a neatly stacked grouping, on the other I glued broken cores arranged all higgledy-piggledy. My statement was that between life’s bookends there is Order and Chaos.

Protocol is designed to maintain order and reduce risk. Protocol suggests consistency through proven success. I can’t imagine enjoying an air flight without the confidence of knowing that the crew follows an exacting procedure. There are protocols in medicine that must be followed for good health; the simplest being, “Wash your hands”. Adjustments have to be made in any system and are certainly required if something within the system breaks down. Normally if protocols are tried and true, their value lies in efficiency. Along with that, a good protocol provides a feeling of security. However, all protocols must be used with underlying compassion. Without kindness in the mix, rules can crush. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CLUZ0Nv7UH4

If protocols break down, confidence flags, confusion and chaos follows. When we no longer count on the protocols we have become used to, then the doors open to pirates, snake-oil pedlars, and other multitudinous conmen. Today we use the word Disrupter in place of my grandmother’s word; Conman. This person, usually male, or corporation, comes into your life for one purpose: To persuade you to buy something. I’m convinced that Trump’s legacy is to be the character in the warning fairytale for our future generation’s bedtime story. Trump is the shyster of our age and he may be used as the very definition of Chaos.

This is not to say that randomness is not important, even welcomed! The great Charles Darwin recognized it was critical for the survival of the species, any species. Yet a measure of consistency is critical for short or longterm protocols. We can accept randomness, even plan for it, as long as the benefits we’ve learned and earned aren’t disregarded.

The basic meal of life comes first, then variety adds the spice.

Re: Disruption

Most people can handle being interrupted. Perhaps you’re a shift worker trying to sleep and a neighbour starts mowing the lawn. You’re on the freeway and your progress is interrupted by some construction. Disruption, however, is another matter. It means your world is turned upside down and will never be the same. We have been faced with this disorientation for several decades as the world of politics, communication, finance, transportation and commerce appear to be working to a different beat, perhaps even a different standard.

Trump was voted in because he promised to “drain the swamp”. As a disruptive force he has few peers. In my lifetime I have no one to compare to his total disrespect for convention. His campaign slogan ‘Make America Great Again’ can be ironic in this context. Comfort can be found in old ways of doing things, even when it’s not healthy. I don’t think of myself as an old fogey, prone to complaining about the way things used to be. I can embrace change and enjoy looking towards the future with hope not trepidation. I think most people can handle change well, especially if they are invited to be part of the change process.

Change makers were once referred to as innovators. Existing technology or infrastructure was modified, not razed. A societal advancement or some new product became brighter, faster, stronger, longer lasting but not foreign to our senses. Now change can be so dramatic it startles. No human cashiers at the 24hr store, what are you talking about? A phone that can take a picture, are you nuts? A transport truck without a driver, are you kidding me? Paying to sleep in someone’s house, you’re joking right? I text for transport to the airport and my neighbour arrives, for a fee, it’s Uber easy! Yet, when the motivation behind disruption appears to be all about the money, cynicism grows while the potential enthusiasm for something new diminishes.

Disruption is like exponential change, like having a baby, like a forest fire that clears acreage making way for fresh growth. Disruption can be beneficial. It can be revolutionary! Yet too much fire can seem apocalyptic, immobilizing and devastating. With manufactured change, those born before this new millennium knew another way, so some of us may feel out of touch.

Power comes from feeling part of the revolution. Hope is knowing in our hearts and minds that things will work out eventually. Humour allows us to all catch a breath from the stress of it all. Poetry has always been a people’s choice and voice when times get messy. I like to be silly with my poems so I’m going to be disruptive and suggest a whole new literary genre: Non-Fiction Poetry. In our present push to challenge existing structures, we must not lose sight of facts. So my poems will be purely factual; not opinions, neither musings nor reflections. Joe Friday used to say: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v4LPkmGO5Cc

Here’s my first, titled, “100%”.

A slice of pie
Is 100%
Pie.