If you are at all a follower of my blogs, you’d have noticed I haven’t written one since July 1st to celebrate Canada Day and our 150th Anniversary. Lots of people know we are at our cottage at Crystal Lake, Saskatchewan and since I can see the entire lake from my living room, I prefer it’s view to CNN or CBC. Last time I wrote, I wanted to celebrate our country and I did, but I was also annoyed by some angry native groups proclaiming their belief we have nothing to celebrate! I suppose that’s a choice, huh? How we see things depends on our view, doesn’t it?
I am annoyed today too, as I’m sure many of you are as we follow the insanity in Charlottesville, Virginia and it is exactly that! What part of sane happened there? Well, I guess if you were wearing a pointy hat covering your face or sporting a swastika tattoo, you’d see it as a fun outing with your friends! Groups like that should be banned, shouldn’t they. But not in the good old United States of Rights! They call it free speech? Wow! Let’s do the disclaimer now:
* Note: Not all Americans hate, not all Americans kill, not all Americans support these groups, etc. And indeed, I have countless American friends and colleagues and I work there all the time.
* Note: This is not just an “Amercan” problem! Absolutely concur. Racism, Bigotry, Mysogony, Religious Extremism…hell, Extremism of any kind…Global! Oh, and it’s Canadian too, eh!
That is, in fact, my point of this blog today. As usual, I am not trying to just rant and this subject is complicated to say the least. But please consider what I believe may be the answer to this issue because it’s what I was taught, what I learned and what I want to share today.
I grew up in White Canada! Yorkton, Saskatchewan was primarily white skinned. We had several local reserves so darker skin was around, mostly Cree or Metis. Funny thing is, and I’ve told this before, I didn’t dislike Aboriginals at all. One of my best friends was a guy named Nelson Brazeau. Honestly, he was the “Indian” when we played “Cowboys & Indians” and if that term offends you, get over it! We were kids and I’m sorry, I don’t believe that game created racism like some Aboroginal activists would have you believe. Our parents taught us racism. Or they taught us tolerance. Again, the opinion began with the view!
Jack and Hilda Law were most definitely “old school” because as you may or may not know, they took me in to their foster home in Yorkton in 1960 when I was given up at five days of age and they were in their mid 50’s. They were not racist. In fact, until I came along, they took in several Aboriginal children who had been removed from their homes on the reserves by Social Services due to severe Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. Oh, by the way, that reference is not racist, it’s a fact! Mom in particular tried not to judge. I remember our conversations about it, which is how I was taught.
“Why does everyone stare?” That was me at three years old! Mom had a different answer than Dad. Mom would say, “Honey, they don’t mean to be rude, but having no arms isn’t something people see everyday. They also aren’t used to seeing someone use their feet like you do and for some people, feet are dirty too so they just don’t know any better. Just smile and try not to be hurt, okay?” Dad’s answer? “Some people are just stupid son. Ignore them and they’ll just go away!”
Isnt that fascinating? Both awesome answers and when I combined them, they gave me my formula. I added some of my own perspective. If there is one thing that I believe we underestimate in humanity worldwide it’s “Insecurity”. It knows no country of origin because it’s a serious human flaw. Insecurity makes people do things they normally wouldn’t do. I’m not surprised people didn’t like me when I was growing up. What actually surprised me is when some did! I have a line in my talk about being abandoned at birth. “I was never shocked my own birth family didn’t want me. What shocked me is somebody did!” Please read that line again. I actually didn’t realize it but what I was learning, first from my parents, then through my own observations and responses, was race isn’t about colour. It’s not about language. It’s not about religion or politics. It’s about ignorance! Period.
i started calling it “The Filter!” Please focus on this next observation. “There are no differences. We are all normal! How we see others starts with how we see ourselves. We are all normal”!
Let’s let that sink in! Now, I’d like to add the genius for me. When I finally stopped being a dweeb, and I was a dweeb, I had a huge “Ah Ha” moment. If people don’t like that I have no arms and I use my feet, that’s their problem, not mine!” In fact, if they don’t like to be around me, what’s wrong with that. In fact, that’s good for me. It’s like a “filter” that prevents the dirt from entering my system. Imagine that? Only people who are tolerant, accepting, open minded, and non-prejudiced get through! Brilliant! I started working with this in high school, then college, then life. In fact, and this goes for both of us, I believe my first marriage ended because my ex and I had different filters. I could suggest mine was better but there begins the problem. Not for me, for them. Not to make this about my ex but when we split up in 1988, all we had in common was our son, Vance, who was born in 1985. People are often surprised when I tell them this. After moving out into my own place, I spent a Sunday phoning everyone we had become new friends with. Most of my old friends deserted me simply because they didn’t much like who I married, and I married, frankly because of Vance. I phoned them to say goodbye. I wanted them to know I needed a different crowd, mostly my old crowd and I would be deleting them from my life. I didn’t actually use that word because social media wasn’t invented yet, but the essence was the same. In fact, that element alone has become a huge downside of the new technologies. Don’t like someone? “Unfriend Them!” Don’t like a person’s blog? Unsubscribe! Don’t like your new President? Have a denial protest! Actually, why was everyone so surprised when Trump didn’t speak against the white supremacist march immediately? That’s part of who elected him!
The point is, it has become so easy to deal with our Human Insecurity by only hanging with those who believe the same thing we believe that growth as a human being isn’t necessary anymore. Obviously, I am hugely generalizing. In fact, j believe the large majority of people around the planet would pass through “My Filter” and how do they pass? Simple. Golden Rule we all learned as children. Just treat me like you want to be treated….let’s go have a beer! Is that too simple? My work has taken me to every corner of planet Earth. I can easily state that one of my most educational and life affirming experiences was in Uganda a few years ago. I was the opening Keynote for the Uganda/Kenya District Rotary International Conference. Darlene and I and a dude from Toronto were the only white folk in the middle of three thousand human beings. I’d never been there. I was uncomfortable going there. I listened to a radio documentary about how they throw gay people in jail there! That’s not good! I’m not gay, but if Uganda does that, what kind of country is it? What kind of people will I meet? Will I be “categorized” too, and shunnned and treated with ignorance? I didn’t know. Then I learned. I’ve never been so accepted, so appreciated, so loved. I’ve never had more hugs, and not the polite ones that last less than a second. These were full-on “I Love You Brother!” hugs. This was a huge lesson for me, but not one I had just learned. It was how I was taught. It was yet another affirmation that for me, being born without arms was the greatest gift I was ever given. It is not a “curse”, it is, in fact, a blessing. It gave me my filter that has taught me so much. Most important, it has presented to me the honour of trying to teach what I have learned, not so I can be “right” but because I absolutely hate how we are becoming more divided, and that is not good!
So to wrap up, what’s your “Human Filter?” Who do you spend time with? Who do you hate? Are you insecure? What makes you uncomfortable? What have you done to grow? What are you prepared to do to be a better person? By the way, when we have a party at our house or cottage, why does it look like the United Nations? Because the filter works, and it knows no colour, or religion, or language or country or origin. The filter asks one simple question. Are you glad to be alive? My answer? A resounding “YES!” What’s yours?