There are some people you meet in your life that become a kind of reference for the place you live, the times you have, and the triumphs and failures you go through. My friend Steve was one of these people for me.
I had come in contact with Steve before I moved to London. In 1999 my brother and I were talking in that kind of half serious/half joking way of creating an internet service provider company. So when moving to London became a fast reality I reached out to The London Economic Development Corporation ( LEDC) and it was Steve who replied.
Frankly I didn’t know what the hell I was doing or what I was talking about, but with the bravura that comes with being in my 20’s, I bulled ahead. When I arrived in London in December of 1999, Steve, with his usual grace and charm, invited my wife and I over for diner. Fortunately for us Steve, his wife Sharon, and his brilliant son Jeff had some people in common with us. The Longstaff’s. Kip and her sons, Nic and Michael, had a long standing relationship with The Glickman’s and on that December evening my wife and I arrived and began an 18 year relationship with the Glickman’s.
Jeff and I created plays together, had serious long talks about art, and I have had the joy of being a part of his work as a film maker. Sharon has always been generous with her time and expertise in design, and my wife Heather always made sure Sharon got our year end newsletter. But then there is Steve. My reference for my time in London.
Steve was there during the struggles and triumphs we’ve had with our daughter Erynn. Steve was there when , with my gifted friend Jennifer Wigmore, we created the Theatre Arts program at Fanshawe – Steve sat on the first advisory committee. Steve was there to see some of the plays i directed and preformed in. Steve was there during my time with Emerging Leaders, always encouraging me and always supportive. Steve was there with Sharon when we bought our home and quietly suggested i needed a good stereo and helped me choose one at his business, London Audio.
Steve was there with thoughtful advise on the many times I fell flat on my face and had few friends. Steve was there. That’s the point. Steve was there to introduce me to London, to make a family from out west feel welcome in a new town, to show me the good places to eat in town, to introduce me around, to offer his wisdom and insight, to share his sharp and riotous wit when we sat together, and …well …to be Steve.
About a year ago I received an email from Sharon. Steve wasn’t doing to well and things were difficult, but Sharon was very grateful for our year-end newsletter and wanted to let me know how Steve was doing. Steve had Alzheimer’s.
I asked if i could come and spend time with my old friend and over the course of the next year I was blessed by the time I had with him.
Steve was born and grew up and married in Montreal. He went to University there and like many others decided his new family needed to leave that city and find opportunities elsewhere. London is where he came, and with his family, created London Audio. Steve served on many Boards in our community including Kings and at The Grand Theatre. He gave back to his community again and again and in so doing quietly added to the tensile strength of our forested city.
During this last year he memorialized his life in Montreal and London with me. He would tell me again and again of the accomplishments of his sons and how deeply proud he was of them. He told me of his childhood on the streets of Montreal and of his early married life with a brilliant young wife. He would share with me his philosophies of business – you must make sure the customer always gets what’s right for them. He shared his thoughts on politics and religion and the deep admiration and fondness he had for his friends and colleagues.
My most cherished memory of this past year though is sitting quietly, no words needing to be spoken, and listening to music. We would sit for a few hours and listen to his favourite album, K.D. Langs Songs Of The 49th Parallel. Sometimes I would play my ukulele and sing for him and sometimes we would sit and talk. It was…..so very good.
In his last week of life we was hospitalized and I would go and visit him to spell off Sharon or Jeff for a short time. I would sit and play K.D. Lang and just be with him. I was with there the day he died. Jeff and Sharon had left for a quick bite and so I sat and played his favourite music and offered what comfort I could. We spent two hours together . Me holding his hand and him, eyes closed, listening to his music. I left at around 4:30 p.m. that day. Picked up my wife from work, went home and ate some supper. It was 90 minutes later that Sharon let me know he had died with Jeff and her next to him.
His funeral was a triumph of a life well lived. His three sons lionized their father with humour, honesty, and deep love. London came out and marked the passing of someone who made a difference to our little city, not with flash and spectacle, but with quiet service and dignity. And his friends, those of years, and those of his life in business , came and shared the grief of his passing.
For me Steve’s funeral marked something else though. It marked my time in this city and pointed to a way of being and engaging – a way I have often failed at. It pointed to the loyalty of friendships long developed, it pointed to the strength of serving community, and it pointed to the pleasure of living a life well.
It was a privilege to know Steve. From my first moments in this city to his last moments among us. It was an honour to spend time with him in his last year. It was a joy to hear him telling me the stories of his life and it was with pride I watched his family, friends, and community honour his life. Thank you Steve for your generosity of spirit, your warm and joyful wit, and for allowing me to be a small part of your life for the last 18 years. I have been marked by our time together and will carry your examples with me in my heart.
Thank you dear friend
Rest In Peace.
You are a caring person, aren’t you? Sure you are! You give to charity, you volunteer in your community, you post encouraging things on facebook to people who are having a hard time, and you show your love to your friends and family. You are a good person.
But if I put you together with a group say the size of a city are you still caring? With a group the size of a province or state? How about as a country? The reality is is that while you show many excellent qualities as an individual when we become a collective, we are not nearly so nice.
What are you talking about you ask? Well in my little city there is a 20% child poverty rate. In Sri Lanka, there are thousands of Rohingya killed. In Europe and In North America there is a growing exclusion of immigrants. In the UK between 2011 and 2017 homelessness shot up 60%. There is a shrinking middle class as a small number sit comfortably amongst the elite or much more likely in the ballooning serving classes. Thousands of children are starving to death in Yemen, and South Sudan and the planet is warming to such an extent that unless we cut out world emissions by half, then the world will descend into climate chaos that will make millions homeless and kills hundreds of thousands.
So while YOU are a kind person WE, collectively, are so cruel that we allow these crimes against our fellow humans to happen unimpeded.
Well fine, you think, but what the hell am I supposed to do about that? I’m only one person. I don’t have any power.
But this is where you’re wrong. Every 2 to 4 years you vote for people that allow this to happen. Every 2 to 4 years you vote for lower taxes for yourself. Every 2 to 4 years you vote for those who are suffering to receive less, for corporations to receive more, and for the service that would alleviate many of the worlds problems get fewer and fewer dollars.
“Well, I give to charity!” I hear you saying. Well yes, you do but charities, both global and local, are a way for you to do a little to ease your guilt or to reinforce your good impulses. Charities are the single best way to justify governments ( which you voted in) to not pay for the service we need in our nations. We donate to charities so we don’t have to pay increased taxes for poverty, education, mental health, homelessness, or refuge services. Charities are a stop gap, a cheap, ineffective fix, that allows us as citizens to avoid our responsibleness to our fellow citizens.
Governments should pay for poverty, for refugees, for health, for education, for end of life care, for infrastructure, for all the services that charities or private businesses have no business being in because that business is our collective responsibility. Let business sell us phones and cars and presents to put under our Christmas trees, but take them out of the care of our fellow citizens. In a world of governments that take care of its citizens we don’t need charities. They become irrelevant.
“But we can’t afford all that,” you say. Well, more wealth is traveling across our globe now than in the history of our entire planet combined. Yet we, as citizens, chose not to pay for these issues to become solved once and for all. We as the wealthy, middle class, the poor, decide not to pay to address the growing needs of our fellow citizens or our planet. We choose to allow corporations to pay as little toward the well being of our fellow citizens as possible. We decided to enable the Über wealthy not to pay; we chose as the middle class to spend as little as possible, we decided to do this every time we go to the ballot box to vote. We decided to allow this growth in suffering to keep growing.
But I thought you said I was a nice person? You are. As an individual, you are a very thoughtful and kind person. But once I put you into a group that votes then you’re not very nice at all. You’re selfish. You, collectively, chose to turn your backs on your fellow citizens and allow suffering across the globe to increases.
So during this time of good will on earth and people of good will I wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy, kinder, and more thoughtful New Year.
We are labeled or we label ourselves:
Visible Minority Millennial Conservative
Women Addict Urban
Man Asian Poor
LGBTQ Conservative Handicapped
Old White Guy Unemployed Canadian
Boomer Progressive Fat
Indigenous Artist Middle-Class
The list of identities can go on forever. These labels give us a sense of belonging, a sense of injustice, a sense of our place in the world, a sense of what makes us different from others. Identity helps us find others like us, and because we are human, we all want to belong. We are social animals.
But these labels can, and do, move us to exclude people as much include. If I’m a low-income white male who has been told his entire life that he can work hard, go to school or get a trade, I’ll get a family, home, vacation, car, and retire comfortably. When that doesn’t happen, I can feel cheated and look for someone to blame. If I am an indigenous woman who has been told that I’m a drunk, worthless, have heard the stories of my parents taken to residential school against the will of my grandparents, had traditional land stolen and destroyed, then I can feel angry with the colonials who own everything and exclude me.
If I am an immigrant from India who worked hard to bring my family with me, who saved, and studied, struggled, and finally got to a country where I thought the opportunities were greater for my children, landed a job, can feel proud. But then had my child comes home crying because another child called my child a terrorist while the teacher looked on and did nothing, then I justifiably feel I am not welcome and not wanted. If I am a woman who sees a man raised to highest office for life despite credible allegations of sexual assault or I make less than a man with the same job then, I will rightly feel the world is unjust and that patriarchy is an unspoken law.
Yet despite these real and justified grievances we try to work together, difficult as it is, to achieve greater goals. Government is the greatest example of this. We vote and chose the party or individual to represent our interests at the tables where laws are created, and decisions on where to spend our collective taxes are made. Education, health care, infrastructure, social services, fire and police, environment, zoning, natural resources, business, and a host of other decisions on an infinite list of areas. In principle, these are a collective effort for the collective good done within the framework of institutions.
Institutions are defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as ” An organization founded for a religious, educational, professional, or social purpose.”. So courts, governments, business associations, non-profits, foundations, universities and colleges, cooperatives, all fall into this category of institutions.
But if the institution is organized and led by someone who’s identity does not recognize mine then we have a severe crisis of belief in the goals of institutions. If they don’t recognize the inequalities in my life or my interests, then are they a credible institution? Many religious organizations felt the anger of indigenous communities for their participation in the nightmare of the residential schools. Many left-leaning individuals see the conservative parties as institutions that enrich the wealthy while encouraging a lack of tolerance. Many conservatives feel the left is spending our children inheritance at the cost of paying for wastefulness now.
Our identity clashes with the needs of the greater whole within the framework of institutions.
We often do not have the faith necessary in the leadership of these institutions to moderate our disbelief in the goals they set. So we oppose or disengage. There may be a good historical reason for this, but we have to ask what form of justice or what form of reconciliation is needed to strengthen the institutions that help individuals arrive at a collective action that strengthens, rather than divides us collectively? Is this even possible given the justifiable level of cynicism many populations around the world have? And if it is possible who is credible enough to begin this process?
I want to write “yet despite this I believe we can….” but I’m not sure I can say that right now. I am not convinced that we can come together and reconcile these differences. I friend told me he believed the only thing that could reconcile us was an existential threat so great that it threatened the entire planet. But I’m not sure this is even the case.
Today I read in the New Yorker Magazine about a United Nations climate report saying that “Ten million more people would be exposed to permanent inundation ( flooding), and several hundred million more to “climate-related risks and susceptible to poverty.” Malaria and dengue fever will be more widespread, and crops like maize, rice, and wheat will have smaller and smaller yields—particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, Southeast Asia, and Central and South America. Security and economic growth will be that much more imperilled. “. All of this because the governments of the world could not collaborate to ensure global warming stays under 2 degrees Celsius this century, despite the global catastrophic results. The individual needs of counties could not be reconciled to the collective good of the global community.
I am sure you, as do I, find all of this heavy to think about and very depressing to dwell on yet, as I said in the previous posting, you have to understand where you are to see where can go. And where we are is complex and changes in the space of moments. Where we are is as individual effects the collective, and all this leaves the mechanism of action, our institutions, unable to meet our needs. So do our institutions need reform or do we as individuals need to reform ourselves first? I’m not sure. But we have to chose because the consequences have left us frozen in inaction in a moment of crisis.
In the next post I will talk about religion and business
I was talking with a Doctor friend of mine recently, and they said something extraordinary. My friend said that the system in which they worked was worse now that it was 30 years ago when they started practice. This lead to discussing the issues with the health system, which lead to the issues with the mental health system, which led to issues with the government, which led to issues with our province, country, & world. At the end of the conversation we were both defeated by the enormity of the issues spiderwebbing out from local to international levels. Defeated by how jagged and broken our systems seems to be.
Another friend thinks this has happened because as individuals we are so concerned with expressing our own opinions, especially on social media, that the institution that generally hold us together can no longer bear the load. There is some truth in this.
But these institutions that drew us together began failing in the 1980’s and through the 90’s – well before the advent of facebook, twitter, and the red stripe of rage that runs through them. We were losing faith when governments, religions, trade organizations, unions, and community organizations became proxies in the war of economics and capitalism, dressed in the robes of politics, that launched when President Regan, Prime Minister Thatcher, and Milton Friedman began their ascendancy. Its a war that continues today and now uses the mask of populism as a prop.
The centre has shattered and the pieces left are so sharp that we cut ourselves by trying to pick them up and fit them back together. Identity politics further shatters what was blown apart by partisan hand grenades. You cannot speak publicly without being labelled with a tag that reinforces your worldview or has you attacked.
In the midst of this we hear the plaintive calls for us to reach back to a more civil form of public discourse. This comes from those who in the past chose not to rock any boats but fought quiet battles in back halls of power.
I don’t think it is possible for us to fit the pieces back together. To rebuild faith in institutions, political parties, churches, the media, or any other organs of society. We can’t do this because we don’t care about reforming institutions as a means to moderate us as much as we care about winning or being right.
We care more about making sure we get our piece of a tax cut. The result is we will not stand up for the poor or elderly than we will act for the addict or the mentally ill or those who feel the sting of prejudice. These may be a cause to add your voice to while in the moment, but to act to change these pandemics in any meaningful way? No. We don’t want to pay that tax or risk the wrath of corporations removing jobs to pay for the mechanisms of well-being.
So the middle class shrinks rather than stand up for itself and instead we complain about property taxes or how much teachers get paid. The middle class is self-involved and self-serving with the result that it dismantlements itself while the 1% cheers. We do this to ourselves using governments we elect.
I have a bleak view of things, and I understand that it is difficult to hear or consider. But you have to admit where you are before you can make any change and “innovation” or “ efficiency” or “going back to the good old days” will not save us. We must honestly see the enormity of our dysfunction before any change can be made and then, even if we do, it’s unlikely we have the will to do anything to change it.
We are, each one of us, shattered on the aspirations of our egos. We demand and demand and demand but only for ourselves and not for others who need our voices added to theirs. The end of the middle class will not come with a bang, but as Elliot said, with a whimper.
In the next post I’ll expand this by talking about personal vs. collective actions.
When threatened we withdraw. We look at the world in terms of us and them. We look for someone, or a group of someones, to blame.We sense the sharks are circling. Why do we feel this way and why are we turning our backs on the world more and more?
In 2008 a crisis that hit us, our families, and our friends very personally. In months trillions of dollars were lost after banking and insurance corporations fell to the sub-prime mortgage crisis. Some very wealthy people wanted to make even more money than they had and their recklessness caused a catastrophe that resulted in millions of people losing jobs in manufacturing, construction, and threw huge numbers of our workforce into work that was temporary and precarious.
In Sierra a government refused to acknowledge the demands from it’s citizens for reform and that led to a civil war that killed hundreds of thousands of civilians and caused a tsunami of refugees that numbered in the millions. In countries on the Continent of Africa we have seen the stories of genocide, religious persecutions ,girls being abducted to serve as slaves to marauding war lords, child soldiers drugged and sent out to kill, famine on a scale that is biblical, and death in numbers that beggars the imagination. In South and Central America narco traffickers and warlords enslaved women and girls as sex slaves, killed men and boys in horrific public ways, created an economic crisis that threatened the ability of people to feed themselves and their families. And to add insult to injury when they escaped to a country that proclaims the dignity of human life to the world, their children were taken away from them in a cruel game of political advantage. We have seen acts of terrorism in places we thought we never thought we would often by people who look like the majority.
During his election campaign, and his term so far as President of he United Staes, Donald Trump has continually pointed at Mexicans, Hispanics, and Muslims as a threat. In Canada’s last federal elections The Progressive Conservative Party pointed to the threat of muslims and the need to have anonymous hot lines to call authorities and report suspicious behaviour. We see in the recent news that the Mayor of Toronto and London are complaining to the federal government about the need for more money for refugees and on facebook there are posts, by partisan organizations, that we worry more about immigrants than veterans.
This makes us feel unsafe and unsure. We’re already worried about keeping a job and putting food on the table while across the world we are seeing the largest refugee crisis since World War Two. We hear public statements by some in the media about refugees and immigrants being a threat. We see governments in the west close their borders and become more insular. And we see the heartache and strife of people fleeing death and famine used as a political football. We grow fearful, feel threatened, and turn away.
Why did a Toronto Police Officer recently say to someone if you can’t drive properly then go back to you own country. Some ask why are these people coming here? Why are they taking our jobs? Why don’t they fix their own countries? Why do we see fake stories on facebook about veterans ( or seniors in some cases) not getting the help they need yet refugees get free houses? More and more , in coffee shops, the media , and amongst some people In my own family I hear ”Why can’t they just go back to their own countries?”
Warsan Shire, in her book Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth, wrote “No one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark.” Refugees who flee to Europe, The United States, and Canada do so for a powerful reason. Survival and the hope of a life for their children and loved ones beyond the teeth of the shark.
I know things are tough and people are getting more and more worried. But if your neighbours house has burned down and they need a place to stay do you turn out the lights and pretend your not home? Ask for a credit card and payment? Of course not. So why are we acting this way when whole countries are in flames? Why are we drawing away from those in desperate need when they have never needed our help more? Why are we turning out the lights and locking the door when our niegahbours house has burned down?
Ralph Waldo Emerson said “You cannot do a kindness too soon because you never know how soon it will be too late.” For so many across the globe it’s already too late. But for families that are seeking a life free from fear, starvation, oppression, and death we need to turn the lights back on and answer the knock at the door. Otherwise we leave them to the sharks and we’re better than that. Aren’t we?\
So the morning after the night before and all I feel..…well what I feel is complicated. Ontario took the time to think it through and then choose Doug Ford and a Progressive Conservative Majority Government. I am not mad at Mr.Ford for his campaign. He took the time to judge what Ontarian’s were really about and what they really wanted and then ran a campaign that shot him to a convincing majority win. No Mr.Ford and team played this election brilliantly.
But my fellow Ontarian’s? What does this election say about us as a province? Well I think it is absolutely clear. What this election says about the majority of Ontarian’s who cast a ballot and elected Mr.Ford is that we are selfish, inward looking, and spiteful. Ontario the small minded . Ontario the indifferent. Ontario the Province of “it’s all about me!”
Ontario elected a Premiere who will hack the funding for the services for the most vulnerable amongst us. Claw back funding for the homeless, the addicted, those with a mental illness, those with a physical disability, and those in precarious work. The majority of Ontario’s would rather elect a leader and look past the very serious questions about his suitability for the Office and focus on the tax cuts, what they will get, and throwing a tantrum over the Liberals. Because in Ontario it’s all about me.
Now some might say “ we needed to do this to kick start our economy!” Ontario’s economy s the strongest n the G7 and even stronger than California’s,. So nope – that’s a lie. “We have to help the average Ontarian that’s why we needed to elect the Conservatives! “. Well no that can’t possible be true since the majority of employment in Ontario are those who work in the service industry and are precariously employed. Mr.Ford has said he doesn’t support minimum wage increases so – thats a lie as well. Someone might say “Our taxes are too high and the average person can’t get by so we need a PC government.” Well the “average person” will see a tax decrease of $18 dollars and for that $18 your going to have to stand there and watch as Mr.Ford cuts 6 billion dollars from government services , and when that happens it’s always the most vulnerable that feel that effects . So enjoy your $18 – but that’s a lie. And there’s always the old chestnut “we have a huge deficit and we need to get our finances under control”. Well let me tell you that I have yet to find a single example of a Canadian or G7 conservative government that “got it’s finances under control”. So nope – that’s a lie.
No this election was a temper tantrum over Kathleen Wynne who was either a radical lesbian lefty or was selling our public assets down the river in a right wing power move. When Ontario had the choice they don’t go for the other progressive candidate. No, Ontario chose to be selfish and grab that $18 dollars over the needs of the most vulnerable all while stamping their feet to punish the liberals. So we are Ontario the small minded. Ontario the indifferent. Ontario the selfish.