Monday, June 1, 2009

On Everything

There are some nights when I am overcome with an overwhelming sensation of relaxation and calm, and I just know everything is going to be all right with the world. Depending on how you were trained, schooled, or your beliefs, you probably have a different explanation for why this is. Science will tell us that we some how trigger a release of excess serotonin in our brain, which gives us an emotional high. Religion will attribute this same sensation to a divine power flowing through us. We will tell ourselves that we are in love or that we feel the love of our friends and family, and politicians will tell us that this feeling is exactly why we should vote for them. The thing is that every one of those answers is correct and valid. The thing we are describing is a feeling: it is a personal experience and interpretation of the world around us. Who cares what we call it, changing its name doesn’t make it any less real.

Everyone wants to be right. I understand this want, in fact, there are times I’m sure that my friends and loved ones would say I view it more as a ‘need’ than as a desire. Being right makes you feel important, it makes you feel validated, and fundamentally it makes you feel alive. No one wants to feel like their life has no meaning, and being right is how we can see our life directly impacting another person. It is a cheap and fleeting rose-coloured lens through which to view the world.

The problem occurs when our feelings of right directly oppose another person’s. Or, put more painfully, when one person’s beliefs directly hinder or conflict with another’s: Science Vs. Religion or Progress Vs. Nature (to name some well traveled examples). Do you allow an indigenous culture to continue their traditional hunting patterns even if the species is endangered? What if the tribe was binding young women’s feet or sewing their vaginas shut, is it ok then? When do the needs of the many really out weight the needs of the few?

As a society, nay, a species, sooner or later we are going to have to stop dodging these issues and actually tackle them head on. We are going to have to step out side of our comfort zones and actually be ready to be wrong. More than that, we are going to have to accept the fact that everything we know now may be proven totally and absolutely erroneous one day, and people are going to look back at our ‘modern’ society and remark, “what were they thinking”?

Being wrong is not a fun sensation; in fact it can be downright humiliating. It can also be extremely freeing. If you are not afraid to be wrong then you can throw out a far-fetched idea that seems absolutely absurd and maybe it will be the thing that changes the world. To get to this place however we have to be willing to accept other people’s opinions as well. People’s feelings are not stupid, they come from exactly the same place our feelings do and are often triggered by the same reasons. The only difference here is the language used to describe them. There will be some points that we will never be able to agree upon, and in the end one side will simply have to acknowledge that for the betterment of the human race, a practice will have to stop. I do believe however that these instances are far fewer than we are willing to admit, and that we often stop listening as soon as key words leave someone’s mouth.

We need to learn to get beyond the words being said and into feelings that caused their saying. This is where the core ideas are held, and where ultimately both sides will have to make sacrifices. Once we get to this place we have to have the courage to be wrong and to allow ourselves to say whatever comes to our mind. Only then can we determine how humanity can work with our planet to create a future worth living in. These decisions will not be easy and may cause initial hardship, but lasting change has never come easily, and it is a better way to feel alive.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Mind numbing disbelief: Or how the NDP lost an easy election

Does anyone remember the 2004 Presidential election in the US? The country was divided by the War in Iraq, and all of the voices of dissent on the left were uniting together to vote a democrat back into power. It seemed all of the stars were aligning for once and there actually wasn’t going to be a vote split. Then something went horribly wrong: Bush won again, and the left cried out in fear and agony over what would become of their country.

Clearly the BC NDP party is not are not students of history. Or for that matter, even recent memory. The NDP disregarded what actually worked in the Obama campaign – honestly and integrity – and instead tried to sling mud and flip-flop on every issue they could. We, as voters, didn’t know what the NDP actually stood for, or how they planned to fix our current problems. Instead, all we heard was how they were going to reverse everything the Liberals did while they were in power even if it made sense. They attempted to get a social media campaign off the ground by creating twitter accounts for their MLAs, but they didn’t actually respond to anything you sent to them. Even Oprah can figure out how to work twitter, and if you can’t manage that, am I really supposed to believe you are capable of running a province in an economic recession?

Now here’s where things get particularly telling, most people I know didn’t actually want to vote for the Liberals. They HATE – yes full capital letter HATE – Gordon Campbell. I, and most people I know, wanted nothing more than to oust him. What the NDP just didn’t seem to get was that all we needed to know is what they were actually planning to do. We just wanted to hear well thought out, innovative ideas. We knew Gordon Campbell screwed up all over the place, shoving that down our throat was just insulting our intelligence. And in the end I just couldn’t vote for the NDP… I just couldn’t do it. No bone in my body could imagine Carol James in power, the thought made my physically ill.

In my mind, the most important thing about a party leader, Canadian, American, doesn’t matter, is that they inspire hope. They have to look like they genuinely care about the world, and have the guts to make the tough decisions. I have to feel like I am in good hands. Actual policy work can be done by advisors, brilliant MLAs and civil servants, but the leader HAS to inspire the people he or she is leading. Not once during the campaign did I feel that from Carol James. I don’t feel that way about Gordon Campbell either, but at least I know he’s not to be trusted. So, in the end, I voted Green and the NDP candidate in my riding lost to the Liberal by 800 votes. For those keeping score at home the Green candidate got 1300.

Yes, in the last election the NDP faced a vote split that the Liberals didn’t because there is no conservative party in the province. But most people I know wanted to vote NDP and simply could not bring themselves to do it. It was the NDP’s election to win and they completely blew, what in my mind, should have been an easy victory. Now it feels like 2004 all over again, and all we can hope for now is a better 2013.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

So you want to save the world...

ello my non-existent lovelies,

They say tone means much in this lavish world of dots and dashes that we all spend far too much time living in so let me invoke the spring zephyr to whirl me into the zeitgeist of your collective unconscious. Potential run-on sentences and smug post-modern self-awareness aside, I feel the need to rave about the daze we currently find ourselves in.

The world is going to hell in a rather distastefully purchased Prada handbag and, we, being the good Millennials that we are, are actually stepping up to do something about it. Much to the shock of the previous generations we are engaged and in tune with the world in ways and numbers never been seen before. And this is a wonderful phenomenon that shouldn’t be discouraged but it does need to be directed. It seems now that everyone I know is working for a non-profit, myself included. Every day on Facebook I get invited to fundraising events that my friends are throwing for their cause and dutifully attend to support them, but in the back of my mind I can’t help but think, yes, but what about “my cause”?

Now don’t get me wrong, this isn’t some new-aged-social-responsibility-pissing-contest we’ve all engaged in. Having ‘a cause’ isn’t just the best new single’s bar in town – although on a side note it isn’t half bad - it comes from a real place and a drive to change the world because we don’t have another choice. If we don’t change it now we won’t be able to later; that message has been clearly etched in our head from masturbating to an inconvenient truth until we chaffed.

The problem is that social responsibility is going to become the new green-washing as anarchy activism becomes the new black. The result of course is that we get death by pilot project, or in this case charity burnout. No one will want to give any more because it doesn’t seem like it is actually doing anything, which is fair, because it probably won’t be.

I may not have done very well in my microeconomics class, but I seem to remember a theory about marginal value going down the more businesses enter the market. The more non-profits that get in the game the less money there is to go around, and it’s not like the pool of money to draw from is going to get magically bigger. We are not, after all, the US Federal Reserve.

So now then, my fellow riled up bedmates who now wish to bludgeon me with a blunt object because I’ve popped your ability to sleep at night, what shall we do? Well, for starters, we have to actually dig deep and do our research. I know it feels like we are already giving more time than we have by volunteering in record numbers but that actually isn’t enough. We need to take a step back and ask ourselves why are we actually volunteering? What does this non-profit tangibly contribute to the world, and is the non-profit itself sustainable? We need to stop creating new non-profits just because we can, and only create them when we must. Make no mistake, I am not simply advocating that we go out and join the biggest organization, many of them are bloated and would be more useful to us if they folded, but we actually have to look behind the curtain to see truth.

In some cases, we also need to not join with non-profits. This is not to say we should do nothing, but there are many advocacy groups and governmental organizations that could use the skills and tools that we bring can bring them. After all, if the end goal of this movement is to change the world for the better someone is going to have to write the new laws. Someone is going to have to get the message out to the public as to why this is in our best interest, even if it means knocking on all the doors in your neighborhood.

So, you want to change the world, that’s great, come help us out. But don’t do it blindly, do it because you know in your heart that you have to, and do it with a group of people who are actually going to create a better sustainable future for us all.