Heather Conn Blogs

spoutin’ about by the sea

Victims of sexual abuse need regulations with teeth — no more silence

In the wake of Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein’s alleged rapes and decades of sexual harassment, I appreciate that one victim is condemning her industry’s culture of silence and revealing a lack of support from her unions.

Canadian actor Mia Kirshner revealed in an Oct. 14 opinion piece in The Globe and Mail that after Weinstein promised her work “in exchange for being his disposable orifice,” managers and agents told her to forget about the incident. Her own reps did nothing. She writes, “Their silence spoke volumes about power and fear within the film industry.”

She acknowledges that she was “far too quiet.” She warned her peers about Weinstein and that’s it. She declares that both her unions, the Screen Actors’ Guild (SAG) and Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists (ACTRA) offered inadequate policies and procedures even if she had launched a complaint. She states, “It is still not safe to speak against sexual harassment and abuse in the film industry.”

Weinstein is only one very public face of a problem that continues across the movie/TV industry. Until we openly challenge sexual harassment and abuse and deal with it seriously and legally, things won’t change. Kirshner says actors have little recourse if they experience sexual harassment or abuse. She suggests that to protect their members, unions need to offer tangible forms of support:

  • Enforce a rule of “No work-related meetings held in hotel rooms”
  • Investigate allegations of wrongdoing using an independent third-party. Currently, following a complaint of alleged abuse, SAG will write a letter and ask a studio or production house to do its own investigation. The fox manages the hen house, so to speak.
  • Maintain a data base that monitors blacklisting activities. If an alleged perpetrator stops hiring an actor after s/he speaks out, the union should impose penalties.

Kirshner says, “Any effort to blacklist an actor who refuses sexual advances . . . should trigger real consequences against the offender. But again, how can the unions produce evidence of blacklisting if no monitoring is in place?”

I am glad that police in New York City and London are investigating the charges of some of Weinstein’s victims. But we all know that the rate of conviction in such cases is tiny. Even if Weinstein ends up in prison, how will that change long-embedded attitudes within the industry?

In the case of Jian Ghomeshi, it was clear that his employer, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, tolerated and maintained the atmosphere of sexual harassment that Ghomeshi created, despite complaints to the union of employees.

We need to get beyond the headlines and do-gooder talk of anti-harassment policies, and implement new rules and laws with teeth. Perpetrators need to see that their actions will have tough consequences. Victims need to feel supported. We need to educate judges, lawmakers, the public, and employers, to recognize and condemn when sexual harassment and abuse occur — and take action against it.

Last year, I worked part-time in the Mentors in Violence Prevention program run by the Sunshine Coast Community Services Society. This program, started in Boston decades ago, uses exercises to teach high school students what is inappropriate behaviour, sexual harassment etc. The overriding message is that silence is not an option. The program advocates: Be more than a bystander. Each one of us must speak out in some form and tell others. We must demand that regulations and laws change. No more silence.

As I wrote in a letter to the editor years ago to The Vancouver Sun: “Our society shows more official outrage and legal condemnation over the maltreatment of pets at home than the sexual abuse of women on the job.”

October 16, 2017 at 8:46 am Comment (1)

India’s Daughter lays bare a cultural indictment of women

For International Women’s Day, it would appear to make more sense to see a documentary that celebrates women’s empowerment, rather than one about a death resulting from a high-profile gang rape. Jyoti Singh, a 23-year-old medical student, died in 2012 as a result of serious internal injuries suffered after she was repeatedly raped on a night bus in New Delhi.

Yet, I am grateful to have watched India’s Daughter last night for many reasons: it took the story out of the headlines and into humanity, onto the victim’s parents and their dignified anguish and the achievements of their daughter; it put faces on both the perpetrators and the thousands who protested, in outrage, against this horrific crime; and it laid bare the raw misogyny not only of a rapist and his defence lawyers, but of cultural attitudes in India that have viewed women as worthless for centuries.

From his Delhi prison where he awaits death by hanging, convicted rapist Mukesh Singh condemned the impact of the documentary itself: he said that it will now encourage rapists to kill their victims, rather than “just” dump them at the side of the road, as he did with his victim and her male companion. He thought the victim deserved what she got, especially since she was out “late” (past 9 p.m.) accompanied by a male who was not a family member or relative. In his view, she should have remained silent while being raped; then things would have been easier for her.

It’s a challenge for any gender to hear such hateful opinions, yet they need to be heard. We, as women, need to know and see who holds such views and to learn how widespread they are. Two of the rapists’ defence lawyers (males, of course) shared their own astounding prejudices. One likened a woman to a flower, saying it was a man’s job to protect her, and if she became damaged or soiled in any way, she no longer had value. The other vowed that he would pour acid on his own daughter if she defied or dishonoured him.

Within India’s caste system, these lawyers are among the so-called educated class; most of the rapists were raised in poverty in one of Delhi’s slums. Women’s devalued role spans all castes in India, where female infanticide is common practice. Girl babies are often aborted, undernourished or murdered.

Even the victim’s own brothers questioned their parents’ decision to take money from land reserves, essentially their own inheritance, and apply it to their sister’s education. She was only a girl, after all. And the young wife of one of the convicted rapists, who denied his guilt, said that if her husband was hanged, she’d have to kill herself and her toddler son because she’d have no one to protect and there’d be no reason left for her to live.

Censorship-prone India has banned screenings of this film, which is a gross disservice to all of its citizens, particularly women. I applaud the decision of both the BBC and CBC to screen on International Women’s Day this searing indictment of both a culture and crime that has hatred of women (not just one) at its core. Even while creating this post, I kept writing “India’s Children” instead of “India’s Daughter”; I felt like my subconscious was trying to remind me that this is an archetypal story that affects us all. Its ramifications live far beyond this one rape and murder.

While travelling solo in India for seven months in 1990/91 in my early thirties, I was sexually assaulted numerous times by Indian men. The prevailing attitude was that any western woman travelling alone was a prostitute. This view was heightened when my male Indian companion accompanied me; men from taxi drivers to waiters assumed that I was his hooker and some even denied us a ride for fear of backlash. (I write about some of these encounters in my yet-to-be-published memoir No Letter in Your Pocket.)

Thankfully, laws in India have since changed to help female victims of rape, incest, and similar crimes fight back and win in the courts. Sally Armstrong outlines these successes in her book Ascent of Women (Random House, 2013). At least the rapists in Singh’s gang rape, including a 17-year-old tried as a juvenile, were all arrested and convicted. One of them had reportedly committed hundreds of prior rapes.

For more info on India’s Daughter, see  Arti Patel’s feature “Watch ‘India’s Daughter’ No Matter How Much Pride You Have” on HuffPost Living Canada.

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March 9, 2015 at 10:38 am Comments (0)

Theresa Jeffries was a true treasure

     — Heather Conn photo

Theresa Jeffries with Sunshine Coast NDP MLA Nicholas Simons at last year’s Defend Our Coast rally in Davis Bay, BC.

 

I was deeply saddened by the recent death of sishalh elder Theresa Jeffries (sxixaxy) at age 81.  I had met her at events such as Defend Our Coast in Davis Bay and interviewed her for a documentary that I’ve written, produced, and directed called A New Way: An Organic Garden Changes Lives.

 

Theresa was indeed a special woman, full of grace and humour—her native name translates to “Laughing Princess.” Through public appearances and educational work, she shared her desire to ensure that as many people as possible, both First Nations and non-native, knew the destructive impact of residential schools and how much value one’s heritage holds. (The first sishalh to graduate from grade 12, Theresa entered residential school at age seven, remaining until grade seven.) She received the Queens Diamond Jubilee for her advocacy work and revitalized the sishalh language by helping to create a dictionary and curriculum development.

 

Sechelt chief Garry Feschuk reminded us at Theresa’s Celebration of Life ceremony on March 25: “Theresa lives in all of us. True love lasts forever.” He gestured to the crowd in the Sechelt band hall, filled to capacity with about three hundred of Theresa’s relatives and friends, plus elders, and people in two overflow tents outside, and said: “She was a very, very rich woman. These are her treasures.”

 

Garry told us that three days before she died, Theresa had appeared to him in a dream, surrounded by a herd of bighorn sheep. In honour of the memory of “our auntie,” as many referred to her during the ceremony, a procession of First Nations drummers carried a bentwood box to the front of the hall. It was made from a 750-year-old cedar from her home community.

 

I hope to receive Garry’s permission to dedicate the documentary A New Way to the memory of Theresa. She appears in the video, wearing her button blanket and ceremonial headdress, with Aaron Joe, CEO of Salish Soils. She expresses her pride and satisfaction in seeing the success of Aaron’s composting company and his long-term vision for the demonstration garden on Sechelt band land. She describes the negative impact of residential schools and how her people used to grow their own food and fruit.

 

Both Ivy Miller, who shot and edited the footage for A New Way, and I felt honoured to have met Theresa and experience her influence in the community and beyond. She was a treasure, indeed, and we will carry her in our hearts.

Read “A remarkable woman,” a tribute to Theresa Jeffries in The Coast Reporter.

Watch for upcoming information regarding the public release and screening of A New Day.

 

 

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April 1, 2013 at 12:26 pm Comments (0)

Code of conduct for federal librarians: Are book-burning parties next?

Prime minister Stephen Harper’s recent decision to muzzle public statements and activities of federal librarians and archivists is indeed a chilling echo of Orwell’s 1984. Controlling freedom of expression is one of the first dictates of a totalitarian regime. For Canada, this is the latest of Harper’s attempts to quash anyone or anything that challenges the actions of his government, whether it’s environmentalists slamming the tar sands or scientists reinforcing the truth of climate change.

 

 

I was appalled to read about the new “code of conduct” for Canada’s federal librarians, which lists “teaching, speaking at conferences, and other personal engagements,” as high-risk behaviours that might conflict with an employee’s “duty of loyalty” to the government. Heaven forbid that a well-educated, informed citizen might exercise his or her fundamental right and speak out against the prime minister and/or his policies!

 

Stay back in your dark stacks, you pesky librarians and archivists. How dare you exercise free speech and provide information that makes people think—and question authority.

 

Within Canada’s democratic process and heritage, Harper’s latest rule is a cringing, cowardly act. Can he control the creative spirit of those who choose to think and act as free individuals? No. Will he continue to try? Yes. Any politician, secure in his or her sense of self and position, invites public discourse as an open avenue of shared ideas, new discoveries, and rich platform for changing or expanding viewpoints. As they say, this is what democracy looks like.

 

This latest mandate continues Harper’s similar trajectory of trying to silence federally paid scientists who haven spoken out against climate change and verified its existence with research data. They, too, cannot speak to reporters or make announcements on their own volition.

 

Not surprisingly, the Writers’ Union of Canada (TWUC), to which I belong, and other organizations, such as the Canadian Association of University Teachers and the Canadian Library Association, have denounced the recent changes to the role of employees at Library and Archives Canada.

 

“We strongly urge Library and Archives Canada to reconsider and rewrite their code,” TWUC chair Merilyn Simonds said in the organization’s March 20 press release. “This kind of chill on free expression reflects very poorly on Canada, and is surely outside the mainstream of Canadian opinion. Canada has a proud history of vigorous public debate. Our national archives should celebrate that tradition, not repress it.”

 

Librarians and archivists are the lifeblood of writers and a free nation. They protect and make available the gamut of knowledge to those people, like me, who seek to learn, grow, teach, and share information with others. Totalitarian governments are the ones that try to make history disappear, rewriting it in ways that extol their ideology. What’s next for Canada —federally sanctioned book-burning parties in front of the Parliament buildings?

 

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March 21, 2013 at 5:40 pm Comments (2)

Idle No More in Sechelt: “It’s the law to consult with First Nations”

— Heather Conn photos

As dozens and dozens of aboriginal drums reverberated in unison outside the Sechelt band office, people thrust “Idle No More” signs upwards. A few woven cedar hats bobbed. About 20 male shishalh band members drummed in a circle, some young, some old. They sang, joined by shishalh women who stood in a smaller circle beside them. In traditional-style dress—button blankets, cedar leggings and headbands, fringed shoulder covers—they all drummed and sang, as supportive local non-aboriginals drummed around them.

More than 500 residents on B.C.’s Sunshine Coast, led by shishalh members, marched Jan. 4 across Highway 101 as part of a nation-wide Idle No More initiative. They gathered by a ceremonial fire across from Sechelt’s Raven’s Cry Theatre to show support for Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence of northern Ontario and to condemn prime minister Stephen Harper’s omnibus bill C-45. (Spence has been on a hunger strike for 29 days, demanding a meeting with Harper to discuss treaty issues and conditions on her reserve. The prime minister has since agreed to meet with the Assembly of First Nations and chiefs on Jan. 11.)

Bill C-45 reduces the number of waterways protected by the Navigable Waters Protection Act from three million to 96. It also weakens or removes industry requirements to protect fish habitat or compensate for its loss or damage. Besides directly attacking the heritage and livelihood of Canada’s First Nations communities, the bill ignores treaties signed by our European and Aboriginal ancestors. It will also serve to destroy land, water, soil, and ecosystems. It eliminates legislation that would have otherwise slowed down or prevented the building of pipelines such as Enbridge’s Northern Gateway project.

“Bill C-45 is going to affect everybody,” shishalh member Robert Joe told the group through a megaphone. “It gives free rein to come into our territories and take our resources. We need to protect our fresh water.”

Donna Shugar, Sunshine Coast Regional District director

Throughout last Friday’s event, shishalh nation members reinforced that their vision of Canada’s Idle No More movement was inclusive, equally welcoming non-natives, environmentalists, First Nations, and anyone opposed to Harper’s dismantling of Canada’s democratic process and structures.

shishalh elder Barb Higgins (Xwu’p’a’lich)

“Let’s all join together and show Canada that we are one,” said shishalh elder Barb Higgins (Xwu’p’a’lich), to cheering and drumming. Locally, Higgins has condemned destruction of forests on the Sunshine Coast and was recently arrested for trying to save 27 hectares of trees and habitat in Wilson Creek.

“We have got to stand up for our rights,” said shishalh chief Garry Feschuk. “This omnibus bill is destructive of our issues in every community across Canada. There has been no consultation. It’s the law to consult with First Nations.”

This last comment brought applause and supportive drumming. Feschuk said that Canada’s current Idle No More rallies, part of a grassroots movement, are only a beginning. Although Harper has agreed to meet with chiefs, Feschuk said: “It’s got to be more than words. Things will escalate if there’s no action behind those words.”

shishalh ancestral chief Calvin Craigan said that the First Nations struggle to achieve rights and recognition in Canada has continued for 200 years. “Finally, nations are going to stand together,” he told the group around the fire. “We’re going to continue until the suppression is no longer.”

After the event, sishalh band council member Ashley Joe wrote: “My heart is so happy to see our people unite for such an important cause. . . Let’s pray that Harper listens to our voices and meets with our leaders in good faith, [in a] Nation-to-Nation manner to address our concerns. We are a powerful people and must be reckoned with.”

The Idle No More movement began when four women in Saskatchewan, indigenous and non-indigenous, organized teach-ins to educate people about the impact of Bill C-45. Since then, indigenous communities across Canada have embraced it as a grassroots initiative and held related roadblocks, protests, flash mobs, and more.

How can you help?

  • Stay informed by reading grassroots websites such as idlenomore1.blogspot.ca/
  • Join Idle No More rallies and demonstrations
  • Write to your local MP
  • Contact Stephen Harper at pm@pm.gc.ca or 613-992-4211
  • Write to the Governor-General of Canada, Rideau Hall, 1 Sussex Drive, Ottawa, ON, K1A 0A1
  • Join your local Idle No More Facebook page
  • Join Twitter @IdleNoMore4 or Idle No More

Think of new, engaging ways to bring these issues to a broader audience in a respectful, peaceful way.

 

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January 8, 2013 at 3:14 pm Comments (3)

How green are London’s 2012 Olympic Games?

In all of the 2012 Olympics media coverage so far, I have heard nothing on TV or in print about the environmental impact of the Games. The construction and operations of the London Games, combined with the associated travel of athletes from 200+ countries, are expected to generate more than two million tons of carbon dioxide, according to University of B.C. associate professor James Tansey.

He’s executive director of the ISIS Research Centre at the university’s Sauder School of Business. The centre focuses on using business tools to create a low-carbon economy. Tansey was involved with the organizing committee of the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, which were the first Games to be carbon neutral.

 

Tansey’s company Offsetters partnered with the 2012 Canadian Olympic team to offset its travel to London. The team is offsetting around 1,500 tons of greenhouse gas emissions, which is roughly the same volume as 300 Olympic-size swimming pools. The team’s related carbon credits are invested in four organizations: two landfill gas ventures in Canada, a bio-gas project in Thailand, and a wind farm in Turkey.

 

Some people think that carbon offsets are little more than scams, allowing people to continue to pollute, then appease their guilt by investing in dubious projects branded “green.” Like any businesses, the standards and ethics of carbon-offset companies vary dramatically.

 

You can find out more about carbon offsets from the downloadable guide Purchasing Carbon Offsets, prepared by the David Suzuki Foundation and the Pembina Institute. A few questions to consider regarding carbon offsets include:

  •  Have your carbon offsets been certified to a recognized standard?
  • How do you ensure that the greenhouse gas reductions that your carbon offsets represent are quantified accurately?
  • Are 100 per cent of your offsets validated and verified by accredited third parties?

 

As the David Suzuki Foundation points out on its website: “[V]oluntary offset programs should not be seen as a substitute for comprehensive government regulations to reduce greenhouse gases.” The Foundation calls them a step in the right direction, and an opportunity to demonstrate leadership on climate change.

 

Find out more at Go Carbon Neutral on the David Suzuki Foundation website.

 

 

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August 5, 2012 at 12:24 pm Comments (0)

What kind of change agent are you?

Awareness. Commitment. Action. One person alone can’t alter an entire economic system, but working with others who are committed to take action to change it can make a difference. That’s one of the messages of The Story of Change, the latest in environmental activist Annie Leonard’s animated video series The Story of Stuff.

 

In this six-minute short, Leonard blames bad policies and business practices for our current western economy, which values profits over people and the planet, and creates enormous inequities in taxation and income. It’s not enough, she says, to be a smart shopper and stop buying stuff that you don’t need that will end up in a landfill. We need to demand changes from politicians, regulators, and manufacturers.

 

The movie explores what effective change-making has looked like over time, presenting two world examples of successful mass change: the U.S. civil rights movement under Martin Luther King Jr., and India’s shift to independence, spurred by Mahatma Gandhi. Neither of these pivotal events of social transformation would have happened, Leonard says, if the respective leaders, King and Gandhi, had pursued their quest as loners.

Annie Leonard

She emphasizes that any significant effort to build a better future shares three key factors: a big idea, a commitment to work together, and the ability to turn the big idea and commitment into action.

 

I wholly agree, and yet the movie fails to acknowledge the value and power of inner growth and change, which often creates the launching pad for external action. The spiritual beliefs of both King and Gandhi were major influences behind their desire for change and their commitment to peaceful resistance. If King and Gandhi were themselves violent people, they could not have inspired and led others towards peace and dramatic social change. Their inner change had to come first.

 

That’s one reason, in my view, why many collective attempts at change fail. The so-called leaders haven’t done enough inner growth work (whether it’s in aid of maturity, anger management, compassion, forgiveness, love etc) to walk the talk and inspire others without creating emotional meltdowns, hatred, resentments, and disillusionment. The resulting hypocrisy and contradictions between their espoused views and goals and their daily behavior become too discordant for many followers, who often quit in disgust.

 

 

As they say: Never underestimate the power of one human being to make a difference. As Gandhi said: “We must be the change we want to see in the world.” Someone’s presence, demeanour, and attitude, even with no words spoken, can alter any atmosphere or group.

 

I believe in the approach Heal Yourself, Heal the World. Yet, as Leonard points out, it’s not enough to remain isolated after changing yourself for the good. Only when you join with like-minded others for a larger cause can widespread change take place.

 

What kind of change agent are you — networker or nurturer, builder or resister? Discover your “changemaker personality type” (communicator, builder, networker, nurturer, investigator or resister) in the short quiz following the video.

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July 23, 2012 at 8:15 pm Comment (1)

Are you helping to shape Roberts Creek’s future?

This past weekend, Global TV highlighted Roberts Creek on its weekly Saturday morning news feature Small Town BC. The station shared photos sent in by Creekers, showcasing some of what makes our community such a glorious place to live: the beach at sunset; the mandala and pier; the Gumboot Café; the Hall; the Roberts Creek Daze parade; and creative ingenuity, like the person who filled a local pothole with wood chips, daffodils, and other flowers.

 

Yet, we don’t need to see the Creek celebrated on television to know what a special place this is – all you have to do is live here. A friend who’s writing a feature on Roberts Creek for a newspaper in Germany told me this morning: “Doing this article has reinforced all the more to me what a great place this is.”

 

For me, the attraction of our community lies in its outstanding beauty and social/cultural values: tolerance; honouring the earth with organic gardens and markets and food security; private and public creativity; a laid-back lifestyle; independence and self-sufficiency; political and environmental activism; and the talent and expertise of our residents.

 

We need to protect these values to prevent the Creek from becoming an over-crowded, over-extended place without sufficient infrastructure and agricultural land to maintain a high quality of life for its current and future residents. That’s why I was glad to attend the recent open house regarding the Roberts Creek Official Community Plan (OCP) review. (An OCP, drafted by volunteer residents, uses a long-term view to outline goals and policies for the community, to guide decisions on planning and land-use management.)

 

The Sunshine Coast Regional District invited local residents to provide feedback on various aspects of the OCP vision, including transportation, the town core, density, and agricultural land. Many people shared passionate comments, criticisms, and suggestions at the microphone while others wrote feedback on large sheets at a series of display tables.

 

Such public process is a vital part of community participation, democracy, and collaborative decision-making. If you don’t share your views with those who have the power to effect change, then don’t complain if and when your vision never happens. Act now. Be part of the future you want to create.

 

Send your comments to David Rafael, Senior Planner at the Sunshine Coast Regional District: 604-885-6804, ext. 4 or david.rafael@scrd.ca.

April 9, 2012 at 5:27 pm Comments (0)

How much do you fear death?

I recently added a folder on death and dying to my filing cabinet. It’s not that I’m morbid, but I’ve faced the subject a lot in recent months through a variety of workshops, presentations, and the death of people I know. And I’ve learned about the Sage-ing® Guild, a group for whom I facilitated several workshops at a conference. They positively affirm the elder years and encourage creating piece of mind by making “legal, medical, fiscal and spiritual preparation as a way of facing one’s mortality.”

 

By not fearing death, I believe that we make a conscious choice to live life to the utmost, not shrinking from the reality of a demise that we will all share.

 

Someone recently sent me a list of the top five regrets of the dying, based on a book written by Bronnie Ware, who worked in palliative care. These are the most frequent comments she heard from people who were in the last three to twelve weeks of their life:

 

  • I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me. Ware says: “It is very important to try and honour at least some of your dreams along the way.” I agree completely.

 

  • I wish I didn’t work so hard. In Ware’s words: “By simplifying your lifestyle and making conscious choices along the way, it is possible to not need the income that you think you do. And by creating more space in your life, you become happier and more open to new opportunities, ones more suited to your new lifestyle.” Again, I wholeheartedly agree.

 

  • I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings. How many people suppress their feelings to keep peace with others? This can result in bitterness, resentment, and even illness.

 

  • I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends. Ware says: “It all comes down to love and relationships in the end. That is all that remains in the final weeks.”

 

  • I wish that I had let myself be happier. “Many did not realize until the end that happiness is a choice,” says Ware. “When you are on your deathbed, what others think of you is a long way from your mind. How wonderful to be able to let go and smile again, long before you are dying.

 

“Life is a choice. It is your life. Choose consciously, choose wisely, choose honestly. Choose happiness.”

 

A woman on Orcas Island, Wa. named Alana chose to die on her own terms. She died in the woods on a bed created by her friends, who sang to her as she was dying. She wrote a prose death poem, which includes the following: “How can we know how to live if we don’t know how to die? . . .[M]aybe we could find a little appreciation for the miracle that eventually the spirit and the body separate. Is that so awful? How is it that we get so attached to all of this gross matter? . . . .

 

“If we are not feeling love and gratitude for who we are and what we have, then we are not living, we’re merely existing. If we do not live with love and joy, I am certain death will not contain them either. So now is your chance, here is the secret: Live every moment as if there was nothing more important than joy, than gratitude, than love. Put these wonders into everything you do . . .your finances, your chores, your work, your friends and family. And I promise you will never fear death or anything else and your love will be returned a thousandfold.” Amen.

 

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April 1, 2012 at 4:32 pm Comments (2)

Anti-bullying Day: How much do we value women and children?

I never thought that I’d write a post that promotes Lady Gaga, but I love the dance that Sunshine Coast elementary students did this week to her song Born This Way. (Click here to see it on YouTube.) What a tremendous way for kids to learn self-acceptance and to celebrate Anti-bullying Day!

 

More than a hundred children from Roberts Creek Elementary, Churchill and David Lloyd George schools gathered at the mandala at Roberts Creek pier in a choreographed dance, wearing T-shirts that read “ACCEPTANCE Born This Way.”

 

With the youngest kids in front, the group giggled and gyrated, arms skyward and hips jiggling, to lyrics like

 

Don’t hide yourself in regret

Just love yourself and you’re set . . .

 

In the religion of the insecure

I must be myself, respect my youth . . .

 

Whether you’re broke or evergreen

You’re black, white, beige, chola descent

You’re Lebanese, You’re orient

Whether life’s disabilities

Left you outcast, bullied or teased

Rejoice and love yourself today

’Cause baby you were born this way

Lesbian, transgendered life

I’m on the right track baby

I was born to survive

 

Whether you think Lady Gaga is an appropriate role model or not, you can’t argue the overwhelming impact that today’s popular culture has on young minds. This song and its message will reach far more children than any self-help book or class on self-esteem. Yet every effort, big or small, that gives kids the sense that they’re lovable and worthy just the way they are is invaluable.

 

Where has childhood gone in today’s world? Bullied kids, gay or straight, are committing suicide. Mothers are pushing their tots to compete as mini-sexpots in so-called beauty and talent pageants. Advertising is sexualizing young girls as more and more get anorexia at a younger age and struggle with a poor sense of body image. Increasingly, children must face their self-esteem issues on their own, as their parents bow to the influences of sex-sells media, the image-is-everything credo, and neoconservative, traditional values that make being gay or “different” an abomination.

 

At the extreme, we face the exploitation of children across the globe, including in North America, as sex and domestic slaves, child brides, and prostitutes. Whether they’re waving weapons, ordered to kill or maim their loved ones to prove their loyalty to sadistic ethnic and rebel causes, or facing death and torture as helpless pawns in the political wars of adult greed and power, children need the support of healthy and courageous adults who will help them thrive and survive, not suffer and die. They need to feel valued and loved, as we all do. (Groups such as Free the Children and Me to We are serving a vital role of support in this area across the globe. I’m not going to get into the recent Invisible Children debate.)

 

Children around the world are dying without access to basic medical care. Here in B.C., with the highest child poverty rate in Canada, we have kids going hungry and getting sick in families who can’t afford specialized medical or dental care. We have babies born with AIDS and fetal alcohol syndrome. How much do we really value children in the West?

 

Originally, I was going to write this week about International Women’s Day and the attempt by neocon yahoos like Rush Limbaugh and U.S. Republican candidates like Rick Santorum to keep women in domestic slave status. Their efforts to thwart women’s self-determination regarding birth control, reproductive rights, family and career roles are truly appalling. How far have we truly come in a half-century, since feminism gained a popular voice in the late 1960s?

 

Then I realized that the power and rights of women and children are deeply interconnected. As long as patriarchal values and controls determine laws and social customs at all levels, from the family to the world, the rights of women and children will remain devalued. Heck, it’s been 83 years since women were legally declared people in Canada. How long will it take before they have true equality with men, and most adults recognize children as our future, worthy in their own right? The young and the female have stayed invisible and silent for too long.

 

I’m glad that in Roberts Creek this week, at least, educators and parents gave children a public voice.

 

 

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March 11, 2012 at 2:43 pm Comments (0)

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