I want to write something uplifting and deeply satisfying here as I look back at 2013 but i can’t. I want to praise the progress I’ve made and shout a joyful YOP with my fellow citizens about how we are well on our way to making our city. country, and the world a better place. But I can’t .
Every year between Christmas and New Years I write down the 100 hundred things I believe in. It’s never an easy exercise but it is worthwhile. I carefully revisit each item on the previous years list and revise when needed and strengthen when what ever I leave. This year though it has been particularly hard. One of the things I wrote on my list was year, as I do every year, is that I have failed. Failure is an important thing for me as it gives me a place to consider from where to improve. But this year that failure has taken on a deeper meaning.
In the car on the way to visit family over the holidays my wife and I were talking about the issues we face locally, nationally, globally and I felt myself become more and more angry. My wife asked “ why are you so angry? What’s the matter?” and I quickly felt myself on the verge of tears. I was emotional because ,as i said to my Wife, that “ we could chose, right now, with the resources we have, to end hunger, to end poverty, to make Peoples lives more fulfilling, to never leave anyone behind again and the only reason we haven’t because we have chosen not to.”
We have chosen not to. And there in five small words is the reason for the environmental, health, education, and economic miseries we continue to visit on one another and continue to not do anything about. We chose not too. Your neighbours, your coworkers, your friends, your fellow citizens, our international brothers and sisters, your family, and I chose not to. I Chose not to.
There is a great, great saying in latin “ Mia Culpa, Mia Culpa, Mia Maxima Cupla” . Through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault. This is what Catholics would say as part of the Confiteor where the faithful would confess their sins. There were two forms of this, the Ordinary and the Extraordinary. I Quote here the extraordinary. I am not Catholic, though I was brought up as one, nor am I a member of any faith. I am not a believer in God nor in any form of spiritualism but for me this phrase is rang or me as I wrote my list.. Through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault.
It is my faulty that I am not a better father, a better husband, a better son. a better friend, a better neighbour, a better citizen, a better human. It is my fault that I don’t work harder to make a better neighbourhood, a better city, a better country, a better world. It is my fault that I am tempted by things that ultimately have no meaning or worth. It is my fault that I am never strong enough, or smart enough, or eloquent enough to make where I live a better place for those around me.
It is a part of my fault that the 465 generous workers of Kellogg’s were laid off. it is a part of my fault that the 455 workers of Electro Motive Diesel lost their jobs more than a year ago. It is a part of my fault that wages are so low and work is precarious. It is a part of my faulty that trees are being cleared and that waters are being polluted and that we are losing more and more of our planets beauty. it a part of my fault that there are children working in horrible conditions in other countries, that women are degraded, that my fellow human beings are sold into suffering. It is a part of my faulty that wars happen and that our indigenous Peoples are left to a life of hopelessness and woe. I own all or some or a part of each of these faults.
Why? Well what are the products I buy? What are the prices I expect to pay? Where is my patience in listening to others? When I have decided to do something easy when I didn’t want to put in the effort? This list goes on and on.
I am very fortunate, very blessed, very grateful for the bounty in my life. I have friends of such depth and passion that they continually lift me everyday. I have family that is deeply loving and giving. I have work that is satisfying and rewarding. I have a home to share with my wife and daughter. I have an abundance of food and shelter, of family and friends, of community and neighbours,. I have a wealth of love and caring; and perhaps this is why am becoming more and more aware of my faults.
I am not asking you, dear friends, to catalogue the worlds pains and suffering with me, I am not asking you to join me on a righteous crusade, I am not asking you to protest or picket or chant or anything. I am not asking you for anything. I am only sharing with you my Confiteor in the hopes that in the next year this will spur me to work harder, to be more loving, be more aware, and to try harder to leave the world, my country, my province, my city, my neighbourhood, or my home a better place.
It’s just room really, where the walls are painted black and a grid of metal pipes run across the ceiling. There is one door for the public to enter and two for the people who lived there. If you were led in blindfolded and then the cloth was quickly snatched away you’d think so what? You’d wonder what was the big deal about a black room in the middle of a shopping mall. But such wonder was made in that room and that’s what i want to help you understand.
In many ways I feel as if I am eulogizing a close friend,which is strange as it’s just a room with black walls. But there are memories in that room. Memories of such depth and scope, memories of such hope and joy, memories of such pain and loss, memories of doing things that most would never have the courage to try, that it no longer becomes just a room with black walls but a room filled with dreams.A room where we created, for just a brief span of time, something greater than ourselves, where we threw our bodies with abandon, where we lifted our voices together in song, and where we held a mirror up to ourselves and our world and created things that words fail to grasp. A room where we changed the world.
Every year 40 or so young and eager human beings would troupe through the door in the mad desire to learn about themselves and about the craft of acting. My own memories are of heroic failures and fantastic sparking successes made manifest in a two-year conversation about theatre and their place in it. We would play the music way too loud and dance together, overcoming our self-imposed limitations and hurl around that room.. We would sing songs, at first in halting timid voices, that would soon grow into full-throated harmonies that still echo there today. They would try to be honest in a dishonest world for just a moment, and I watched these young heroes examine themselves and each other in a quest for that sublime moment of transcendence that happens when you drop into a moment and speak with a voice that is undeniable in its authenticity.
I remember the warms ups, the stretches, the running, the zone of silence, vocal masques, Shakespeare, scene work, and most importantly watching a young actor struggle and then triumph in making real text written by someone in a room far away and years in the past. These moments would come to life in front of us and we’d gasp in reverence at privilege it was to see what just happened. It was an epic undertaking in that room with the black walls. It was a journey, not of miles and feet, but of hearts and belief. Belief that art still meant something in a world focused on dollars and cents. Belief that the act of play was worthwhile in and of itself. Belief that you could choose to be brilliant. Belief that you could change the room with a thought, Belief that for these two years anything was possible if we chose to do it. And finally belief in each other and the potential we each held.
What an honour it was to walk through that door, into that room, and to share my thoughts with people who wanted to do something most would say was not worth the effort. What a privilege it was to watch these young artists persevere through their own struggles and worries in the belief that acting was a noble cause worth giving their time, energy, and the gift of their talent too. With reverence I hold the memories of the heroism of those people, with me, for that small amount of time, close to my heart. Their gift of time and commitment to their craft sustains me today and continues to be an inspiration when things are hard. Now there will be a new room but this rooms remains in our hearts.
So you see friends this room with black walls in not just a room with black walls but it is a place where we came together to test our dreams against the reality outside that room. And so this room, this black box, is a monument to the dreams of these artists and will always hold a special place in my heart for the rest of my life.
Today we learned the harsh news that Kellogg’s was laying off 500 workers in London. This in time for the Christmas holidays and all in the justification of profit at the cost of their workers and the community in which they’ve been for more than nine decades. This, sadly, has been part of a string of all too common and all to devastating events in London. In the end we are left feeling, as we have in the past, powerless to effect any change in the course of this community disaster.
Some in the community blame the unions, some the governments, but what I don’t see is many blaming the company itself. Why is this the case? Have we become so hardened that we implicitly agree with these decisions as the logical consequence of doing business? Is this the way of things that the business case trumps the case for community and the people who live in it? Are we now forever trapped in a cycle of survival of the fittest where the community that will take the lowest wage gets the employment? And will we decide that this is the way of the world or do we have the capability as communities to demand a change in the way business is done?
The fact remains that Kellogg’s made, in the last quarter, $352 million in profit and was troubled they were on track to only make a 5% profit in 2013. In the cold analytic world of dollars and sense this may not seem that great but sadly the real world effect of this cold calculation leaves 500 people out of work while Kellogg’s goes on its way, after many decades of using our community to help fuel its growth, without so much as a look over its shoulder. And yet there are many in our community who would shrug their shoulders as this is the price of doing business and hide behind the “rationale” decision of a transnational corporation.
But how is this rationale decision in the face of the human misery it causes? I think there should be a new condition on companies setting up shop in London or any other Canadian community. That condition should be that they commit to staying the course with their employees and to not take millions in profit ahead of the welfare of those communities that help sustain them. That our governments, at all levels, will not give one more red cent to any corporation that does not commit to staying in a community and that when they are in danger the community will assist. That the people of Canada will finally say to every company in the world that the price of doing business here, and of selling your products here, is that you cannot coldly abandon us while still making billions in profit.
I know I’m being naive and know that many who read this will shake their heads at my sad ranting but how much longer can we sustain this kind of heartless profit and consumerism before we are collectively left with nothing? How long will we sell our middle class dreams for the short changing return on minimum wage or bargain shopping? Will we ever stand up? Likely not, but I hope we try soon before it’s too late and we are left holding a shopping bag filled with the fools bargain of community for sale at any price.
I have been aware in London of a growing chorus of criticism that seems offered with great thought and careful assignation as to its intent. Criticism is an important part of a public life and public discourse on issues large and small that affect the community around us be it local, regional, national, or international. Benjamin Franklin said ““Critics are our friends, they show us our faults.” and I agree that a person who receives criticism should look at that criticism and sift it for veracity and weight, should careful look at the words expressed and the author of the criticism and understand its intent and direction, and then learn from it. There is often much to learn from criticism both about the person who offers criticism and the person receiving it.
If we are going to think about this idea of the critic and criticism then we should perhaps look at the definition of each and the internet happily provides a definition for each:
1.a person who judges, evaluates, or criticizes: a poor critic of men.
2.a person who judges, evaluates, or analyzes literary or artistic works, dramatic or musical performances, or the like, especially for a newspaper or magazine.
3.a person who tends too readily to make captious, trivial, or harsh judgments; faultfinder.
1.the act of passing judgment as to the merits of anything.
2.the act of passing severe judgment; censure; faultfinding.
3.the act or art of analyzing and evaluating or judging the quality of a literary or artistic work, musical performance, art exhibit, dramatic production, etc.
4.a critical comment, article, or essay; critique.
5.any of various methods of studying texts or documents for the purpose of dating or reconstructing them, evaluating their authenticity, analyzing their content or style, etc.: historical criticism; literary criticism.
So we have Mr. Franklin telling us critics can be our friends and definitions for critic and criticism and all is clear in the world and we can move through content in the knowledge that criticism is offered with good intention from those who offer it with honest intent. But there is something british Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli said about criticism that I think has some merit in the London context. He said “ How much easier it is to be critical than to be correct.”.
That’s a very important point he makes and in London bears some thinking about. I have seen some who have suggested to the face of those they criticize how much they respect them or in what high esteem they hold them or how important their friendship is to them, and turn around and write things that assume the worst about those they just criticized. I have seen some who offer criticism learn the context of an action they are criticizing and still ignore that new information and continue to think the worst. I have observed some who moralize about being open to all questions and defend the questioner regardless of the multiple negative experiences some may have had with that questioner , and there are those that preach this path who are the first to jump off of it when questioned themselves.
It is easy to sit within the comfortable, self reinforcing, arm chairs of intellectual discourse and be seen to be reasonable and open, it is delightful to sit on the outside and to carefully craft criticism that seeks the “truth” and digs for “honesty”, and it is sublime to fire rapid questions with out the critical eye of intent being examined and have those “honest” questions be defended as sober and important. It is often much harder to be in the middle of working on issues and questions and initiatives and see, as Disraeli said, how much easier it is to criticize than be correct.
I have many, many faults and among them I am quick to feel criticism and be hurt by it, I find it hard to forgive, I find it difficult to see criticism offered without context and not respond energetically, I find it hard to move on, and I find the burden to be very heavy when I see criticism or ideas offered without seeing the individual offering them do something about that which they write. I am also at times not the easiest person to get along with but I never do anything with out the best of intentions and never do anything maliciously with an intent to harm. It’s not in my nature despite what some may think. I try to make my community a bit better but know I often fail and I know I am deeply imperfect, but I do try.
I write these words knowing that I may face a hail of criticism for offering them and know some will assign the worst motives to these words. The criticism I will weigh but I suggest it is not enough to criticize publicly without a context and if you know the person you are criticizing I suggest you pick up the phone and find out that context before weighing in. If they are a public figure, and i am not talking about government here, I think the same might apply. This is especially true when the body of their work has been laudable and of benefit to the community. In other words give someone the benefit of the doubt.
I am going to work harder in being more open to criticism and will try to be much less aggressive in my defence and if I am failing then drop me a private note to tell me and i’ll try harder.
Criticism is easier to do than the doing of the something being criticized. To the critics out there i’d ask you to consider the people and actions you criticize carefully before weighing in. Otherwise we will be no closer to their goals or your suggestions in refining those goals. If not then aren’t we all just shouting at brick walls? And don’t we have enough of those walls in London already?