Category Archives: Inspiration

Earth Day: Paper not plastic

In honour of Earth Day I’m recycling a post I wrote two years ago after my Habitat for Humanity Global Village trip to Bolivia. My post begins with a futuristic look at our Earth.

___________

The year: 3952

The place: A recently exposed outcrop of shoreline on the Ontario Sea. (Present day Ottawa.)

A team of archaeologists materialize on the flat stretch of loamy soil.

“Ancient maps indicate the location of a settlement here before the Water Age, when the Ontario Sea was still just a river,” says the team leader. At 80 years old, she is one of the youngest on the team.

“Well, let’s see what we find,” says her assistant as he pulls a small spade out of his pack. “Whatever it is, it will tell us what kind of people were here, and how they lived.” He kneels and penetrates the soil with the spade. It stops abruptly when it encounters springy resistance. “Found something already,” he says. He scrapes the earth away with gloved hands. He sighs.

“It’s another one from Giant Tiger he says as he pulls the tattered, bright yellow plastic bag out of the dig site.

In February, 2012 I was part of a Habitat for Humanity team that helped to build a house for a Bolivian family.

We needed to level and grade the site, and we did this using pick-axes and shovels. I and my fellow team members spent several days digging in the dirt. The lot we worked on had been vacant for some time and had become a catch-all for errant plastic bags that wafted to the site on Bolivian breezes. Time after time our shovels penetrated the top layer of soil only to bump into a plastic bag or a plastic bottle. Time after time we stooped and tossed these to the side. This picture is just one small part of the plastic we collected.

paper-not-plastic

The reality about plastic hit home for me.

Plastic doesn’t go away for a long, long time. One carelessly tossed plastic bag becomes part of a mountain of plastic that won’t go away for a long, long time. Plastic is not attractive, historic, meaningful, artistic, or culturally significant. It is ugly, utilitarian, and, most importantly, not necessary. There are other, better options.

I will be more mindful about plastic use from now on, if for no other reason than, in 2000 years, I want my descendants to find beauty, not ugliness.

Good Friday thoughts: Church attendance prevents depression

If you describe yourself as “spiritual but not religious” you might not be doing yourself any favours.

According to a study published in the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, people who attend a religious service at least one a month have a lower risk of depression. People who simply identified as spiritual but didn’t participate in the life of a faith community didn’t enjoy the same benefits.

The study suggests, and I agree, that regular deep connection with people in a way that goes beyond the surface social interactions of, say, a book club or a spin class keeps our spirits up. Many people say they can just as easily feed their spirit during a a walk in the woods, or while painting, or while singing or dancing, and this is true. What you don’t find during those same activities is challenge and growth, and without challenge and growth the spirit connection quickly grows tenuous, and a tenuous spirit connection leaves plenty of room for the dark stuff to creep in.

The Easter story is a challenging one for lots of people. I get that. Many people struggle with the concept of resurrection, so it’s a difficult time to suggest to the “spiritual but not religious” crowd that participation in a faith community might be a good idea. But faith communities need people like that to challenge them and to help them grow. They need people who seek spirit but who choke on the many things that religious groups do wrong to walk in the door and say, “You know what? I like this, this and this, but this, no that’s just not acceptable.”

That way the relationship becomes reciprocal. Faith communities take on the challenge and grow, and the spiritual find the community they need to maintain and grow a strong spiritual connection. If that happens, maybe someday all faith groups will treat women as equals. If that happens, maybe someday all faith groups will honour all love-based marriages. If that happens, maybe someday all faith groups will value questions and doubts as seeds of growth.

Maybe someday.

In fact, maybe the best time to start might be Easter weekend, in memory of a man who was an outstanding example of a religious doubter and questioner.

Jesus dramatically turned the tables on the unacceptable religious practices of his day. Maybe we can, too.

 __________________

Canadian Journal of Psychiatry. http://publications.cpa-apc.org/media.php?mid=1499

 

Celebrating taxes, or at least the right kind of taxes

Grumble, grumble, grumble . . . What a huge chunk of money disappears from my pay cheques. Mutter, mutter, mutter . . . What an inconvenience all these tax forms are.

True. All true. But I don’t have to go far to notice my tax dollars at work.

I watch out my front window as a garbage truck comes right to my door and picks up my garbage. Amazing. When I was a kid on the farm, we had to drive it to a dump.

When I drive to the store, I feel safe on our roads. They are well maintained in Canada. In the winter municipal workers paid by my tax dollars salt the roads and clear them of snow. I know the other drivers on the road have insurance; provincial government workers paid by my tax dollars monitor this. If I do happen to get hurt in an accident, the hospital that receives me won’t cause me to fall into financial ruin. My provincial health care system, paid for by tax dollars, protects me.

When I shower, the water flows away through a municipal water-sewer system.

My son heads to school. How lucky are we Canadians? Our kids receive education. A precious gift. (Read about how I learned to cherish education in my post “Transformative Moments”.)

Our tax-funded societal structures are so integrated into our lives, a day cannot pass without us taking advantage of at least one of them. We take them for granted. We pay for them because we want to build a progressive society. We pay because we want people to have access to clean water, education, and health care.

Now, I won’t shove aside or ignore the long history of tax resistance in our country and around the world. Taxes are not always so wonderful. Check out the long list of incidences of tax resistance on Wikipedia. Whoa. Clearly we need to be vigilant. But with checks and balances in place to ensure governments are good stewards of our money, what we end up with is a pool of money with which to administer large, complex systems that would be too large and complex to administer on an individual level.

No tax system or the government that runs it is perfect, but even with some wrinkles, tax money remains the most efficient way for a country to take care of its citizens.

One of the most celebrated happy taxpayers is J.K. Rowling. The British billionaire author received welfare payments in the past. She now willingly pays taxes to her government to help out her fellow citizens.

When my life hit rock bottom, that safety net, threadbare though it had become under John Major’s Government, was there to break the fall.” —J.K. Rowling

At tax time we’re often so busy grumbling about what we disappears from us, we forget to celebrate what, so effortlessly, comes back our way. 

Tax money disappears from us and then reappears in a different form. 

 

Thermostat or thermometer: Martin Luther King III

The 16,000 enthusiastic kids at National We Day saw video excerpts from the famous “I have a dream” speech by Martin Luther King, Jr. The speech is moving anytime, anywhere, but on a big screen in a big venue with big sound and a big audience, well, it was hair-raisingly powerful.

His son, Martin Luther King III, then took the stage to share lessons learned from his father. One lesson was: Do you want to be a thermostat or a thermometer?

Do you want to report on conditions around you, or do you want to regulate what happens? Do you want to do nothing more than sit back and observe, or do you want to take action to make things more comfortable for everyone?

Good questions.

________________

 

National We Day: http://www.weday.com/2014/04/national-we-day-rocked/

 

 

No “can’t’; No “won’t”; Only “how”: Spencer West

I’ll be volunteering at National We Day here in Ottawa, Canada tomorrow. We Day, an event affiliated with Free The Children and Me to We, is a music and inspiration-filled concert that energizes kids and inspires them to shift their view of the world from “me” to “‘we.” Craig and Marc Kielburger, founders of Free the Children, want to free children locally and internationally from poverty and oppression, and they want to free children from the belief that they are powerless to effect change.

I attended a training session last night along with hundreds of other volunteers. If we held any lingering doubts about our abilities to handle our assigned tasks, out guest speaker put those doubts to rest.

Spencer West climbed the stairs to speak to us. That one simple act inspired us, for Spencer West has no legs. But no matter. He has done outreach work in Africa, he has climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, and he travels the world speaking and encouraging people to effect change. One of speaking topics is: No Can’t, No Won’t, Only How: Overcoming Obstacles to Make a Difference.

It’s easy to imagine that Spencer West heard the words “can’t” or “won’t” many times in his life. His ability to climb over those words to get to the word “how” inspires the rest of us to climb over our own surmountable obstacles.

The kids attending the concert tomorrow couldn’t buy a ticket to attend; they had to earn it. Schools and groups commit to taking one local and one global action to earn their way.

Perhaps we can take a cue from them: one local and one global action. If “can’t” or “won’t” pop into your head, brush those words aside and look for “how.” It’s easy. Certainly easier than climbing Mount Kilimanjaro without legs.

Life questions from a hockey great: Bobby Orr

9780670066971HNear the end of Orr: My Story, Bobby Orr lists some questions hockey prospects need to ask themselves before they pursue the elusive and improbable goal of becoming an NHL hockey player. When I read the questions first, I considered them in terms of hockey. But my son is a competitive baseball player, so I read them a second time from an “any competitive sport” perspective. Then I read them a third time as life questions that apply to everyone.

His questions touch on our willingness to take risks, persevere, make mature decisions, maintain self-confidence, accept responsibility and live with injustice. They don’t just apply to young people starting out; they apply to everyone, everywhere.

His original questions have a hockey slant. I paraphrase them to apply to life in general:

  • Are you willing to move away from home? If your life dream requires you to leave safety and security and venture out on your own, could you do it?
  • Are you prepared to work hard each and every day and always give your best effort no matter how those efforts are rewarded?
  • Are you willing to pick up after yourself and your teammates, load and unload and do other physical work for the good of everyone?
  • Are you prepared to get little recognition or be excluded from some projects early on because you’re the newest member of the team?
  • Are you prepared to deal with bosses who are angry because your team lost or performed poorly? You may find yourself punished without any clear communication from the boss. This could make it appear you are the cause of the loss or poor performance. Are you prepared for that?
  • Are you able to remain positive and work hard when you make a mistake?
  • Are you prepared to move to another team with a new boss if circumstances change?
  • Will you be able to disregard any negative remarks made toward you by co-workers or others?
  • Will you have the courage to tell friends or co-workers that you are tired or have work to do if they want you to go to a party or for a beer when you know it’s not where you should be?
  • Will you have the courage to say no to any form of drug offered to you?
  • If a teammate or friend is doing something wrong, will you have the courage to tell them and to distance yourself from them?
  • When you succeed, there will be people who resent your success. Will you be able to stay away from people who are jealous of you and want you to fail?

No matter how old we are or what job we do, we face questions and circumstances like these.

How we respond makes the difference between success and failure.

 

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