Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Ignite the Mandela in us all

Celebrating International Human Rights Day 

My younger son has been fuelling a recent obsession of creating elastic bracelets using a loom. “Everyone’s doing it at school,” he tells me. A couple of weekends ago his teacher encouraged the students in his class to disconnect from all electronic devices – TVs, tablets, computers, iPods. My son managed to stay disconnected the whole time and indulge his new passion of bracelet-making.

Late last week he came up to me after school. “Daddy, I want to make bracelets and sell them at school for a dollar each. I want to raise money for the people who are victims of the typhoon in the Philippines.”

I wasn’t quite sure how to respond. “Uh, well OK. Did somebody ask you to do this?”

He shook his head. “No,” he replied. It’s my own idea.” He told me he’d ask a good friend to see if he could help too. His friend agreed, and my son wrote a letter to his principal asking permission to sell the bracelets.

His principal has yet to get back to him, but after telling his story to a couple of my friends, the friends have already pledged to purchase a few bracelets. Each bracelet he makes takes anywhere upwards of 15 minutes depending on its complexity. His enthusiasm at getting up well before sunrise or staying up late to create these bracelets is admirable, and I’m not just saying that because I’m his father. I didn’t give him this idea of raising funds, neither did his mother, and I’ll be the first to admit that an act like this was never an idea I would have thought of at his age. Like, ever.
The Mandela bracelet.

So whatever amount raised by December 23 will be donated to UNICEF Canada, with the Canadian government matching the donation. With the news of Nelson Mandela’s passing last week, and having learned a little more about his life over the past few days, my son’s been working on “The Mandela,” a bracelet with the six colours of South Africa’s flag. As we mourn such a tremendous loss, the impact of Mandela’s legacy for generations to follow will only be strengthened if we demonstrate a selfless kindness and willingness to help others, commit to treat everyone with the respect and dignity they deserve, and unhesitatingly attempt to brighten anyone’s day. As we celebrate International Human Rights Day December 10, I can’t think of any better way to hope that our collective future holds much promise if we all put a little Mandela in our words, our actions, and our hearts.

Happy International Human Rights Day to one and all.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The unavoidance of new bad words - a parent's perspective

I’m driving my younger son home and I ask him how his day went. He hesitates for a moment and tells me, “Why do they keep inventing more bad words, Daddy?”

Crap I know where this is going.

“What do you mean?” I ask him.

“You know,” he says, “the people who make up bad words. They keep coming up with new ones I’ve never heard of before.”

“So you heard a new one today at school?” He nods and says yes. Two kids were calling each other a name during recess and laughing about it. I know he doesn’t like saying bad words out loud, so I ask him to spell it out for me. He misspells it.

“That’s the name of a country in Africa,” I tell him. “But I know the word you’re talking about. It’s an old word that we shouldn’t be using anymore. It was used long ago to make people feel inferior and it was really bad.” I told him a little about the book on slavery I’d finished reading the week before.

“So it didn’t exist when you were young?” he asks me.

I told him it did. It’s the kind of discussion that catches me off-guard as a parent but I know I have to face these kinds of conversations whether I want to or not. As much as I want to protect my children from a world around them that is insulting, uncaring, rude, arrogant, stupid, shameful, discriminatory, racist, and sexist, there will be more and more times when I’m not around to shield them from any of it. My mother’s approach was one of avoidance: we never talked about kids swearing, doing drugs, drinking or having sex. None of that existed once I entered my home. She didn’t want to talk about it and neither did I. So when I have my son come up to me and tell me a swear word that’s new to him, I can’t fall back on my own experience to guide me on a proper response.

But despite this I’m glad he’s comfortable enough to talk to me about it, and however uncomfortable it is for me to answer him, I have to respond. As my children mature and learn more about the world around them, I realize they’re exposed to a lot more crap than I want them to be, but at the same time I need to realize that they are capable of making decisions about what to say or not say, how to be kind and respectful rather than mean-spirited, and how to speak up for what’s right. And talking to them about the stuff that was taboo when I was a kid is one way I hope will help.

“When the kids during recess were using that word, did you say anything to them?” I ask him.

He tells me no. “Maybe next time you hear that word you can tell them it’s not nice to say it. Like, ever.” He nods. I know he’s a good kid.

I drive down our street and pull into the driveway.

“There was another word I heard today, Daddy.”

Oh crap.

November 20 is Universal Children’s Day. This year UNICEF is focusing on putting hidden violence and abuse of children in the spotlight. Let's talk about it end violence against children in all its forms.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

International Peace Day, Shattered

September 21 marks the International Day of Peace. UN Secretary-General marked the occasion today by saying "Let us fight for peace and defend it with all our might."

The devastating violence in the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi is a heartbreaking reminder that we are so far away from such peace.

Among the images of the violence today, one of love and strength: a woman holding on to a young boy and placing a comforting hand on another's elbow.

I won't let go.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

My Own Quebec Values

--> My values are clear. I believe in the respect of all human rights, no matter who you are.

I believe in equality between men and women, because it’s the right thing to do. I believe in fighting for this equality and denouncing instances of inequality, and such instances continue to exist because no one can point to me anywhere on a map of the world and say, “There you go, they’ve got equality right there.” I believe in equality in all its forms, and denounce discrimination on the basis of race, sex, age, nationality, religion, sexual orientation or any other grounds.

I believe in respecting each other, because that’s what my mother taught me and that’s what I’m teaching my children and that’s what I expect from others and that’s what I want to give everyone too. Even though sometimes, some people really piss me off.

I believe in a multicultural, pluralistic society where we can all work together to live in harmony, however cheesy that sounds. But the harmony is not assumed, it’s not a given, it has to be achieved together, and I recognize that such work demands open discussions about how people feel and what their beliefs, attitudes, and values are. Such discussions require the importance of empathy and an openness to listen to others. Just as importantly, they require a willingness to question and revise our own attitudes and values, to make sure that no one fully compromises their beliefs for the sake of someone else’s, and to recognize that any values that shape a vibrant society will change over time.

I don’t believe in God, but I respect others who have beliefs in their faiths and who express their beliefs in whichever way they want to – through their dress, or symbols, or how they wear or cover up their hair, or anything else, because it’s their right. And besides, knowing that so many people of different beliefs (or non-belief) can live together in harmony gives me hope that we’re not doomed as a race.

I believe in realizing the full potential of every person, and that means, among other things,  creating and sustaining a viable education system with committed educators who are capable of tapping the energy of our youth so that they may not be as disenchanted as some of us old people later in life.

I believe in living a life of value that extends beyond helping those I know and opening an eye to the world by recognizing both the immense suffering we inflict and tremendous joy we bestow on each other. And I believe, however possible, on lending out a hand to strangers in need.

I believe in all this stuff and I’m content (not overjoyed, not immensely happy, but merely content) with paying ever-increasing taxes each year to the Quebec government. Yet the government takes my money and turns around and wastes its time creating a charter of values that is only serving to hurt those most eager and willing to live in a pluralistic society.

Quebec is my home, and it’s deeply upsetting that the government is pushing a charter of values it believes is in the best interests of our society. This charter inherently discriminates against those it purports to include, and for that reason it has no place in our society. Let us define our own values as a society and let the government get on with the job of governing, assuming it can.