Tuesday, 24 November 2015


You know, this might be the most unimportant blog you ever read. I ask myself what credibility I have to weigh in on the issues of the day. I'm a 33 year old white North American male - about as privileged as it gets. Who DOESN'T know what I'm likely to think? The whole world revolves around the opinions of people just like me. What more could I add to the conversation?  But then I realized that, if you're reading this, it's because YOU came to ME. And now that you're here, the path of least resistance is to keep reading.  Sucker.
If my blog is the measuring stick, it has been about 10 months since I've had a 'theme' emerge from my week. But this week, a theme emerged. It hinged around 3 different things: a school LGBTQ+ policy, an assault commited against a transgendered person here in Red Deer, and the media's handling of the Syrian refugee crisis.

Point 1: My kid goes to a Christian school that exists inside the public school system. Same curriculum as the public school, but taught by Christian teachers, with an extra period each day wherein they learn Bible. The district is currently developing and formalizing its policy on LGBTQ+ students and teachers, and they've asked for feedback from stakeholders. Needless to say, Gateway School has a disproportionate share of those who would not support such policies, and that was made clear in various feedback avenues. I won't go into more detail than that, because it's school business and a lot of my info is second hand. Supporters of the policy didn't engage the way detractors did because it was a non-issue for them. Non-supporters showed up. Prepared.

Point 2: I recently heard a story about a transgendered person who was badly beaten by a few drunk guys as she walked home here in Red Deer.
- SPECIAL NOTE - if you are reading this, and you are the sort of person who may find yourself beating up a transgendered person after having a couple drinks, just go stick a fork in an electrical socket.

Point 3: The tone of the conversation on this Syrian Refugee Crisis. This kinda sums it up:

I mean, holy moley. Mouthpieces like Donald Trump and Maher are giving sound bytes to the whole right wing, and there is a seriously scary school of thought starting to emerge.  These are families, people! Normal folks just like us! Who just can't happen to do life where they used to because, you know, bombs keep exploding all around them.

Okay. Back to what I first said about privilege. If you're like me, these may be hard issues to identify with.

Perhaps you have an idea of how it should be - homosexuality is against the bible's teachings, that transgendered individuals go against some sort of 'way we do things'. That refugees may take jobs, use up scarce resources needed by local poor folks, or hide extremists among them. If you have beliefs like these, I could see it being really hard to support those people who seem so different than the way you feel things should be.

I'll present the other side as a question: Have you ever felt like an outsider?  Sure you have. We all have. Ever started a new job? Moved to a new place? Been the only one who didn't get the joke? Been pulled over by the police? You feel exposed. Most of us expend considerable energy getting our lives as far from that feeling as we can.

Now imagine that you are always never on the inside. Imagine you're 12 (or your kid is 12), and though the school he goes to SAYS it supports the needs of LGBTQ+ students, he knows that the parents were strongly opposed to it, and probably taught their kids the same. But he can't stop being attracted to the boys in his class. Does he feel safe to ask questions in class and explore learning? Or does he feel like he's fundamentally failed his community?

I bet he feels like he failed. Which means we've failed that child.

Imagine being transgendered. Actually no. I won't ask you to go that far. Just imagine that any time you walk anywhere, you always feel at risk of being laughed at, mocked, stared at, or even attacked.

I don't care how you feel about transgendered people. If we are leaving ANYONE to feel that way when they walk around this town, WE HAVE FAILED THEM. And ourselves. And if we are raising kids who would beat a transgendered person up just for being visible, guess what? We've failed our kids too.

And when it comes to refugees, guess what? We have welcomed many Somali, Iraqi, and other refugees to Red Deer in the past. You know what has blown up? Nothing. Except the amount of donair shops. I'd call that a win.

We don't get to choose if it's our kid who comes out of the closet. We don't get to choose who gets displaced and needs our help. We don't get to choose who is walking the streets of Red Deer, or how they choose to dress or present themselves.

But you know what IS up to us? Whether we make this city a SAFE place for all, or whether we don't.

You know what IS up to us? Whether we raise our kids to accept those who look and act differently than us, or whether we don't.

You know what IS up to us? Whether we help our neighbour when they need something, or not. Whether we help the stranger who needs something, or whether we don't.

The people of Red Deer are caring, hard working, no-nonsense people. I have all the faith in the world that we can get this handled - take care of these people. Make people as safe as we 'insiders' feel here.  We just have to decide it's what we want to do.

Friday, 26 December 2014

Do... I know you?

I'm going to try not to think about the correlation between me drinking alcoholic beverages and me writing blog posts.  I gave up drinking for the entire year of 2014.  And also didn't write a single blog post.  This means either a) my amazing intellect runs at such a fast pace that it requires a couple drinks to slow it down to a speed where it can be captured and packaged, or b) my opinions really aren't that profound, but when I'm drunk I think they are.

I'll leave it up to you to decide which one is true.  Either way, the only brew being enjoyed right now is the one my brain is cooking up.  Though I'm a little rusty after a year and two days, I'm just going to put this out there and see what happens.

Do you ever feel like you aren't the same person you were in your youth?  Sure, most of us mature and develop - that's not what I'm talking about.  I mean, do you feel like you aren't as fun-loving, inspired, or passionate?

Sometimes I feel like I trade off little bits of my youth as the years go by.  I have less time for relationships because my evenings aren't spent hosting people or going for coffee - they're spent keeping children alive and fed/rested/changed/disciplined/delivered/etc.  I haven't played my guitar since my son was born nearly seven years ago.  I used to read interesting books.  Now my eyes have a hard time staying open.  I used to have a job I didn't really care about.  Now a ton of my mental energy goes into building something meaningful out of my work.

After a few stressful months, Caryn made it clear to me that I hadn't been myself lately.  I wouldn't tell the story if I held it against her, but one of the things she said is, "the guy I married was one of the most kindhearted people I knew.  I feel like you're losing that."

Wow.  Bombshell.  I mean yeah, I don't feel like the passionate, energetic guy I was a decade ago, but that's a biggie.  I'm losing my kindness!

And you know what?  It's true.  What does it take to be kindhearted?  You have to care about people.  Are you able to take an interest in others when you are always under the gun - behind on deadlines and dayhome pickups?  No.  It's all about how you can get your stuff done - the people around you are an interruption.  They stand between you and your stress relief (a bad place to be standing, cause I usually feel like a bulldozer when I'm stressed).

Other people become extras in the movie of your life - nothing more.  You interact with them just to get something.

Client = Sale
Cashier = Coffee
Co-worker = answer generator to keep your work rolling
Flirtatious stranger = ego booster
Spouse = person who can take things off your plate if you're nice to them
Kids = liabilities, chores.

I asked myself when the last time was that I asked someone about themselves for no reason other than just to get to know them, and I couldn't answer.

This is a pretty bad state to be in for me -  a spot where other people don't matter.  But it gets worse, because I bet I'm not the only one.  In fact, I bet the majority of people are like this to some degree.  And what happens when our whole society starts treating each other like vending machines or ATMs that dispense our own little 'relational' trinket?  Sounds kind of dysfunctional, doesn't it? 

So, my goal (or sure, call it a resolution, since it's that time of year) is to start asking people about themselves, and really taking an interest.  Because it turns out that they've all got complicated, interesting lives too. And just maybe, if I can actually SEE that there's more to them than the role they play, it might make their experience a little less stressful too.  I know that's what it would do for me!

Hopefully we'll SEE each other next year. 

Merry Christmas.

Tuesday, 24 December 2013


So, I'm a nerd, and every year at this time I take inventory of the past 360-some-odd days and do some reflecting. I craft something that's not really new years' resolutions - more of a strategic plan (okay, same thing, but I feel better if I call it a strategic plan).

I try to respect the process and let it speak for itself, so sometimes it results in some action items, and sometimes it's more of a philosophical theme for the year.  Often it's both.

This year a word kind of shot out of the ether and hit me in the chest.  I haven't thought much of it prior to a week ago, but it kind of instantly organized they way I experienced so many things in 2013.


I don't mean that I will stop genocide or prevent people from getting trampled on Black Friday. Noble causes, both, but perhaps a little lofty for a one-year-goal. I'd be happy with the ability to sleep without grinding my teeth down to the nubs.

What does it mean? It's a pretty broad term - bordering on impossible to define. So I'll just give you my take on it. 

I would've never guessed when I was in college 12 years ago that I would actually remember things from the courses I took, but there was a psyc course that spoke about causes of stress, and attributed much of it to a disconnect we have between our perceived self and our actual self.

Your perceived self is the person you like to think of yourself as.  Are you honest? Hard working? A straight talker? Do you see yourself as frugal? Loyal? Logical?  When we think of ourselves in certain situations, we tend to think of the best version of ourselves, acting according to our values and principles in every situation. The perceived self is the sum total of your thoughts about yourself.

The actual self isn't quite as glorious.  While I may perceive myself as frugal, my actual self buys a coffee and eats out for lunch almost every day. Maybe you perceive yourself as loyal, but you overlook those times that you passed along a piece of information that was given to you in confidence. The actual self is the sum total of your actual behaviours.

When the perceived self and the actual self are in sync, stress is low. Everything's jiving.  When there is a big differential between who you think you are and what you actually behave like, you have to do a lot more mental acrobatics to feel happy in your own skin.

There's value in telling the truth about yourself to yourself.  Regardless of what you call it, faking it till you make it or pretending you're something you're not is hard on your stress levels.  You are not living up to your expectations for yourself.

So, what's my goal? Be honest about where I am. Don't fight so hard against the fact that I'm JUST where I am. Spend more time making good choices that put me in the right direction - where I want to be.  But stop acting as my own judge, jury, and executioner because I wish I was at this income or that capability of self control. When your actual self is distant from your perceived self, there's a tendency to be in denial about it. And denial - knowing the truth but pretending something else is true - is inherently stressful.

Getting to a goal by pretending to be something you're not is like letting your skin heal over an infected wound.  Yes, it looks healed, but it creates an abscess underneath the surface that eventually surfaces worse than it ever was before.

So, for my purposes at this point in time, peace means acting in accordance with your values, being honest about where you fall short, and then being unapologetic for the way that you are.  Having a clean conscience about who you are and why.

Here's hoping you find peace and perspective on your circumstances as well.

Sunday, 14 July 2013

First World Problems, and the Spoiled Rich Kids Who Have Them: Us.

"What is to give light must endure burning." - Victor Frankl

I'm reading Frankl's book, "Man's Search for Meaning" right now.  He's a psychological theorist who builds his case around his experiences in concentration camps in Auschwitz and Dachau.  A key point of his theory is that the human mind can adapt to the most dire circumstances if it can find a goal or purpose to focus on.  If one has a clear purpose, the fires of hell are no longer a destructive force, but rather are a crucible - clarifying your focus and your desire.  Your purpose is the only thing you have left once your creature comforts, your dignity, your health, and even your concept of an end to your suffering have all been stripped away.  The message resonates a little deeper when it comes from someone who's been through the utter depravity of a death camp.

I was flipping through radio stations today, and I stumbled upon a radio show about lost causes.  The host was interviewing a guy with Huntington's Disease, who was sharing the experience of being diagnosed with a neuro-degenerative disease.  While still in good health, he knew his approximate lifespan, and knew, most likely, what was going to kill him in the end.  He said that he lives his life with purpose every day, because he doesn't get a mid-life crisis and a retirement.  He doesn't get a do-over. Just a 'do'.  The interviewer asked him what he would be like without the disease (which he has become a crusader for), and his answer was that he'd probably be totally boring.

Frankl found his purpose in his ability to describe, first hand, what you have left when you lose everything.  The radio guy, found that the thing that would eventually cause his death was also the thing giving him life.

Suffering.  We fear it, dread it, avoid it.  We spend money to minimize it, dull it, or ignore it.  But what if we're missing it?  What if suffering is actually a thing we NEED?  It teaches us what we're truly made of.  It has a great way of instantly reminding us what things in life are important and what things are unnecessary.  Those two things - finding out your substance and finding out what in your life is unnecessary - are two really valuable things.  And they're extremely hard to uncover without the pressure of suffering.

Now, I'm not saying we need to go out and create some suffering in our lives.  Nor am I saying that suffering is good.  Huntington's disease and time in concentration camps are great examples of how suffering is NOT good.  But neither am I talking about simple discomfort.  I already wrote that blog post a while ago. We SHOULD pursue discomfort.  Suffering, though, finds us.  I guess what I'm saying is, if you're suffering anyway, you may as well take advantage of the opportunity in the pain.  You have the potential to grow, to learn a lot about yourself. To get some direction.  So if you have to do it - if you have to suffer, don't miss the lesson.

How does this play out on a massive scale?  Our generation has never experienced a major outbreak.  Maybe that's why we consider vaccinations optional.  We've never seen war affect us here at home (at least where I come from).  So we take freedom and democracy lightly.  We've never been all that challenged. So we occupy ourselves with the most trivial pursuits.  We obsess over workouts, vacations, restaurants, or cable shows. So we're kind of lost as a group - no purpose. No major rallying points. In one way, we're the luckiest generation.

In another way, we're lost.

Thoughts? Comments?  I'd love to hear them.

Friday, 31 May 2013

Success Rate, Implied Hate, and Disembodied Fate

-The people who work the hardest deserve the greatest reward.
-If you set your mind to it, you can accomplish anything.
-You can't change everything, but if you change yourself, everything changes.

Sounds about right, right?  Heck, if you're like me, you might've been standing up by the last sentence, looking around for a flag to wave!  Anyone? No? Me neither, I was just checking.

I learned something the other day from Alain de Botton that stood me up in my tracks.Watch it if you'd like. We first world western civilization types live in a world with a unique philosophy.  Never before in history have humans, individuals, had so much power.  If you want, go be the next Steve Jobs.  What's stopping you?  If you find that sweet spot where your passion and your skill work in harmony, and you can harness your full potential, it could happen to you.  Or me. Anyone. When in history has that ever been the case? No lords and dukes. No privileged birth, no caste system.  Yes, if mom and dad are loaded, you might have a headstart, but that could be a curse as easily as a blessing in our new philosophy, if it means you don't learn the value of hard work, or the threat of running out of money.

If you are willing to work for it, you can accomplish anything you want. In the words of Jim Rohn, there's lot's of room at the top of the ladder - it's the bottom that's crowded!

I've spent the last 5 or so years internalizing that lesson - trying to increase my knowledge and capacity, trying to improve myself and become the sort of person who is ready to attack when opportunity strikes.

Then 2 days ago I realized this: If you believe that you can earn your way to the top, and that personal effort is the cost of admission, does that not also imply that you think those at the bottom have 'earned' their way to the bottom, and deserve to be there?  In the past, they called the poor Unfortunate.  These days, you might be more likely to hear them called bums.

I've lived enough days on this planet to know that there are indeed people on the top of the ladder who have not earned their way there.  And I've learned that the momentum of a downward spiral can be crushing.  And if my philosophy lends itself to telling people who are mired in addiction and poverty to stop being poor and start being awesome instead, then my philosophy sucks.

See, when it's your own effort and personality that is the cause of your success or your demise, wins and losses can become an intensely painful and personal thing. Your wins or losses are not circumstantial.  They're a reflection of your character.  You brought it on yourself.

It's called meritocracy - a civilization where your effort determines your status.  And if all factors were equal, then sure, maybe, over a long enough timeline, life could arrange itself this way, right from the hardest worker to the laziest bum.  But what happens when a young family loses their father in a tragic accident?  Or when someone gets abused during a very impressionable time - leaving emotional baggage that is extremely difficult to take in stride? The fact is, there is an element of randomness to the world.  Just when things start getting predictable - BAM. Tornado. Start over.

Back when societies identified with religions, it was a lot easier to categorize.  Blame God, or the gods, or the sprites, or the demons, or the forces, or the... whatever.  Fate.  But today, society doesn't believe that there is a higher being or power involved. In this world, MAN is the highest power.  And we don't really have much of an explanation for the randomness, other than just to say, well, it's random.

I'm pretty sure this is why, though we have the best beds in the world, Western societies also have such high incidences of insomnia.  It's our job.  It's all our job.  It's up to us, and we believe that we have the power to change the fates.  And when the fates aren't friendly, we double down and push harder, because our personal effort is the only tool we have.

There are many parts in the world where people don't have the luxury we have of feeling like they're in control.  There's never enough food, they're always under threat - whether it's war, sickness, or a wild animal jumping out of the trees and dragging away a weak member of the community, and they can't do anything to stop it. So they lean on eachother and lean on God.  They have a healthy relationship with fate, because they know they're subject to it.

Your effort still does have value. It gets going you in the right direction.  Like, if you practice rolling dice often enough, maybe you'll get good enough to beat the odds and roll more high numbers. But even then, you still might land on a snake or a ladder.

So, how do we reconcile fate and effort? How do you believe you have the power to change outcomes, and yet remain flexible to the randomness of life?  How much stress could we deflate from our lives if we made a healthy respect for fate part of our story again?  How do we let ourselves off the hook a little, without 'giving up'?  Maybe it was easier to accept when random had a name, and was part of our story of how we got here.  We could say, "maybe there's a higher reason for this random thing having happened, because the gods got involved.  I don't know why, but lets keep our eyes open for the silver lining." We could outsource the blame.

And if you don't believe that chance plays a strong role, play 5 games of snakes and ladders with a 5 year old, and see how much good your strategy does.

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Don't leave it to the superstars!

Leave it to Daylight Saving Time to create the state of mind where you're sitting in church and what the pastor says reminds you of the Harlem Shake.

The idea under discussion was that no gifts or skills are higher-ranked than other ones.  There are always people out there who are very impressive and high profile in their humanitarianism. 

The unfortunate reality is that, when we see people out there making a big deal of their good acts, we have a tendency to stand back and leave it to the 'pros.'

As an aside, once you have the Harlem Shake in your head, don't expect to continue tracking with the topic at hand.  It kind of doesn't lend itself to that.

This is really random, and I totally blame a crazy weekend and sleep deprivation for this - but here's the thing:

Who's the one who starts the Harlem Shake?  Always the guy in the helmet.  I won't say he's concerned with fading into the background, but he has no name and no face.  And next thing you know, everyone's doing their own freaky dance. 

One guy dancing does not an internet meme make.  Okay, well other than this. And this.  The point is, it doesn't get real till everyone buys in.  No one's going for the spotlight.  Everyone's doing their own crazy dance.

You don't have to look far to find pain and stress in our world.  Most of us don't have to look past ourselves!  If hurt and struggle is that prevalent, how could we think the solution could be found by relying on the handful of do-gooders who have dedicated their lives to it?  They don't have our eyes.  They don't see the needs that we see.  They have their own crazy dance, and they're doing it.  Like crazy.

I live in Red Deer - I'm in the same boat with everyone else in my community.  When people are struggling, WE ARE STRUGGLING.  If I'm in the boat, I need to put my oar in the water and pull a little too.  Not because people might notice and think I'm amazing.  But because if I think everyone should be doing it, that obviously includes me.

I have an acquaintance who recently watched a friend lose her husband prematurely.  She and a few others organized an online social media auction and raised, like, $14,000 for a trust fund for her young kids.  I have another acquaintance who was moved by a recent suicide in a local high school, and is now making a documentary with the hopes of being honest and real with teenagers about the reality of mental illness, because most tools we use for awareness are cheesy and don't hit home.  These are people who were happy to be nameless and faceless.  They threw on their helmet and started dancing like crazy, even though nobody else was.  And now everyone else is.

So, consider me the guy yelling in spanish at the beginning of the video.  Now let's throw on our helmets and spandex, and do our little, anonymous part to make our community a place of healing, care, and wellness!

Sunday, 3 March 2013


I want more.
I've had enough.

How do these two phrases make you feel?  Do you prefer one to the other?

In our culture, we look at these two words as a progression.  You're finished wanting more when you've had enough.  Although actually, 'enough' tends to be a pretty elusive concept.  We chase it like happiness - every time you think you're getting close to it, it moves off to the horizon again.

In fact, usually when I think of the phrase, "I've had enough," I hear it in exasperation - when things pile on at a rate we can't tolerate.  We only say "Enough" when we actually mean "TOO MUCH".

I actually think we don't understand the meaning of the word 'enough.'  I think it should be more closely associated with the word 'satisfied.' That word doesn't suggest that you're getting all you can handle.  It has more of a connotation that, though there's capacity for more, the current amount will work just fine.

Our culture doesn't really get equilibrium.  We tip the scale all the way forward, like a sprinter about to charge out of the starting blocks.  We're always pushing, striving, struggling.  Always expending.  That's as healthy as always exhaling.  Our access to easy energy means that we have amazing leverage to expand and increase our wealth and profile, but if 6-7 billion people all tried to only ever accumulate, we would very quickly find ourselves in a huge problem.  Heck, we're on our way there now!

The earth doesn't constantly expand.  What we have is what we have (unless an asteroid lands).  It's the law of conservation of mass. Natural principles are wired around taking what you need and leaving behind something someone else can use.  Trees absorb CO2. They provide oxygen.  Their lost leaves degrade into soil.  No waste.  Why do we think that constant expansion, constant accumulation, and infinite growth is a good idea?  Where's the precedent for that?
This for example, is what it looks like to sell more computer monitors year over year.

I think we need to turn down the "more" talk, and start asking ourselves what 'enough' looks like.

I'm not talking about redistribution of wealth here.  A lot of people take this to that next step.  But that's the step where you lose people.  Fact is, if you knew what it was that made you satisfied, and that's what you went for and no more, nobody would need to re-distribute your wealth!  More isn't a thing to want.

If we never feel like we have enough, we will never feel peace.  Satisfaction is a great feeling.  It feels like a good night's sleep.  It feels like equilibrium.  And when your needs are met and you're satisfied, you'll find yourself with a lot more time to help others reach their 'enough' too.

What does 'enough' look like for you?