How to retain – or regain – a sense of community during a pandemic

In the past few weeks I’ve heard some distressing comments from former colleagues, younger colleagues who have been working through the strains and constraints of COVID.  The COVID work world, complete with rapidly switching to Zoom, teaching by Zoom, having meetings only by Zoom, and communicating with colleagues and/or students electronically night and day, non-stop.  The observations I’ve heard include sadness at the loss of community and the feeling of no longer being appreciated.  I can’t help but think that this rings true for many, many people working in a vast array of occupations, including healthcare and education at all levels, but so much more.

The reality is that finding ways to show appreciation for everyone going the extra mile – employees, students, supervisors, etc. – has never been more important than during COVID.

I’m one of the lucky ones: I’m retired.

I’m not a student who’s trying to navigate the world of adolescence and the beginning of independence while confined to my bedroom, studying and socializing by Zoom.

I’m not a teacher or professor who’s now teaching students both online and in-class, with never-ending online demands and little ability to provide everything my students really need.

I’m not a new employee who’s trying to learn how to do a good job while working remotely, with no-one down the hall to ask for advice or assistance, and with no clear way of absorbing an office culture or figuring out how to fit in or do the job I’m meant to do.

I’m not a supervisor or administrator who’s trying to guide/lead employees to do their best in a nearly impossible, continually changing environment where there are no obvious right or wrong decisions as to how to proceed.  And all the while, I’m unable to engage with my employees or my administrative colleagues face to face; it’s all by Zoom.

I’ve been in all of those roles at some point in my life, but never in these trying circumstances.  And I can’t imagine how difficult this is for everyone.  What I enjoyed most about working, regardless of position, was the sense of community.  The sense that I was part of something bigger than myself and that my work was making a contribution to the success of the organization.  I liked being part of a development team or a department.  I liked being part of groups where people worked collaboratively together to tackle problems.  Working collaboratively towards common goals brings feelings of appreciation a well as accomplishment.  It builds community. Continue reading

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Thoughtful Thursday: how well is the world doing by this measure of leadership?

I suppose it depends on what “making everyone else better” means to each of us. Maybe thinking in terms of how we’re doing in protecting our planet, fighting racism, and overcoming inequality?! What works for you?

1378CD97-47EF-4F62-9978-45577855DC13

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Breaking news: doing housework helps you age well!

Say what?! As you might imagine, I did a double take when I read this headline in the Guardian last week: Housework may promote health in old age, study suggests.  I’m definitely someone “in old age”, and I wasn’t sure if I wanted to read further or not.  My first thought was, “What the …, that’s the last thing I want to hear.”

I’m happy to report that the results of this study haven’t been embraced by everyone, although the authors did have some ‘interesting’ observations to report.

First of all, I know you will all be surprised to learn that … ta da … most housework is done by, wait for it, women!!  I hope these researchers weren’t awarded too large a grant for this work; most women could have told them this.  According to my husband, it’s because only women see dust!

HappyMopper

While most of us are aware that, as the study reminds us, regular physical activity “improves physical and mental health, mitigates the risks and effects of chronic diseases, and reduces falls, immobility, dependency and mortality among older adults”, I don’t think it has to follow that “… tasks like dusting, scrubbing floors and washing the windows …” need be the go-to regular physical activity.  I am only guessing, but I think these researchers must have been young … and mostly male! Continue reading

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Lessons from a “gift economy”

Braiding Sweetgrass, an engaging book by botanist Robin Wall Kimmerer that marries the science of plants and nature with Indigenous teachings, gives its readers insight into two polar-opposite ways of viewing the world in which we live. Beautifully and compellingly written, she presents a philosophy of living more responsibly and respectfully with nature – and with each other – that we would each do well to take to heart.

I had known from previous reading that Indigenous communities have always, for millennia, shared the bounty of nature with each other and have always paid respect to nature and its plants and animals for providing their gifts.  Gratefulness is part of accepting these gifts, as is sharing.  Kimmerer describes this approach, a “gift economy”, with understanding and grace. It’s a concept that, put in practice, can only add value to our lives.  Think of it as a philosophy for living.

In Kimmerer’s own words, getting at the difference between a gift economy and a commodity-based economy:

It’s funny how the nature of an object – let’s say a strawberry or a pair of socks – is so changed by the way it comes into your hands, as a gift or as a commodity.  The pair of wool socks I buy at the store, red and gray striped, are warm and cozy.  I might feel grateful for the sheep that made the wool and the worker who ran the knitting machine. I hope so. But I have no inherent obligation to those socks as a commodity, as private property. There is no bond beyond the politely exchanged “thank yous” with the clerk.  I have paid for them and our reciprocity ended the minute I handed her the money.  The exchange ends once parity has been established, an equal exchange.  They become my property.  I don’t write a thank-you note to JC Penney.

GraySocks

But what if those very same socks, red and gray striped, were knitted by my grandmother and given to me as a gift?  That changes everything.  A gift creates an ongoing relationship.  I will write a thank-you note.  I will take good care of them and if I am a very gracious grandchild I’ll wear them when she visits even if I don’t like them.  When it’s her birthday I will surely make her a gift in return.  As the scholar and writer Lewis Hyde notes, “It is the cardinal difference between gift and commodity exchange that a gift establishes a feeling-bond between two people.

Lewis Hyde wonderfully illustrates this dissonance in his exploration of the “Indian giver.” This expression, used negatively today as a pejorative for someone who gives something and then wants it back, actually derives from a fascinating cross-cultural misinterpretation between an Indigenous culture operating in a gift economy and a colonial culture predicated on the concept of private property.  When gifts were given to the settlers by the Native inhabitants, the recipients understood that they were valuable ad intended to be retained.  But the Indigenous people understood the value of the gift to be based in reciprocity and would be affronted if the gifts did not circulate back to them.  Many of our ancient teachings counsel that whatever we have been given is supposed to be given away.

From the viewpoint of a private property economy, the “gift” is deemed to be “free” because we obtain it free of charge, at no cost. But in the gift economy, gifts are not free. The essence of the gift is that it creates a set of relationships. The currency of a gift economy is, at the root, reciprocity. In Western thinking, private property is understood to be a “bundle of rights,” whereas in a gift economy property has a ‘bundle of responsibilities” attached.

Lots to think about, right?  Now let’s take a look at a related reading I came across this week, a story one might consider an example of people who live the philosophy of the gift economy … and a few who don’t. Continue reading

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How we choose to spend our time …

Penticton, BC blogger David Folstad’s recent blog post, Daily Choices and Math, got me thinking not only about what’s really important in life, but also how we might measure our success at living our personal values in that regard.  It’s all about the daily choices we make, big and small. He starts by reminding his readers of how much time we spend on the Internet these days compared to a decade or more ago, and how many of us are never far removed from work thanks to the same Internet that provides so many hours of “entertainment”.  The Internet is soaking up a frightening amount of our time.

He poses these thought-provoking questions:

What time and money will I look back on in one year or five and wish I had spent differently? What choices will I wish I had made? and you?

He then provides a simple, intriguing way we can each first identify what we engage in of a positive nature and not so positive nature and then cost-justify it.  This chart illustrates the kind of items and actions an individual might come up with.  Isn’t it interesting to see how much simple acts of kindness – and those actions we don’t give much thought to – can add up over a full year, and especially over 5 years?  The first step is to decide what actions you think should go in your personalized chart.  That’s what I’m working on at the moment.  After that come the numbers!

M-SampleCalculations

Of course, as a happily retired old person, I have far more time to waste/misuse than when work took up most of my time.  And being a happily retired old person with no responsibilities for small children, I have even more free time to waste or misuse.  So my chart will look far different than it would have 15 years ago, or 40 years ago.  Everyone will have their own list of items that they (want to) attend to, one way or the other.  As someone who lives by to-do lists, making a chart is a step beyond, kind of like a to-do list 2.0! Continue reading

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How to be an ally when we just aren’t sure what to do

In Canada, aside from the urgent threats from climate change (witness this week’s devastating floods and landslides in heat- and fire-ravaged British Columbia) and never-ending COVID, ensuring that the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Report are acted upon in timely, meaningful ways is essential.  The rub is that most of us don’t know how we can help make a difference, how we can be an ally to our Indigenous neighbours in their pursuit of dignity, respect, and justice. We care, but what next?

Yesterday when I was downtown I came across a pamphlet that addresses that very question.  How can we be allies to Indigenous peoples in Canada?  This pamphlet, developed and distributed by the Wolastoqey Nation in New Brunswick, provides some very helpful advice.  For those of you anywhere in the world outside of Canada where Indigenous peoples and their languages, cultures, ways of life, and pride have been victims of colonization, these points may be useful to you as well.

The website mentioned in the pamphlet, https://native-land.ca/, actually shows the traditional territory on which settlers live all over the world. You might be surprised at what you find. And think about how some of the points raised in the sections What is an Ally, How to Educate, and How to Advocate below can also apply to ways in which one could be an ally to other marginalized groups in our countries who face discrimination and/or racism. Please give some though to how you can be an ally.

And now to let this helpful pamphlet speak for itself.

Woliwon.  Wela’lin.  Thank you.

Ally1 Continue reading

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Map Monday: COP26, outcomes, a few maps and lots of charts

As of this past weekend, the much anticipated COP26 has wrapped up its deliberations.  Wrapped up are the presentations, pleas, protests, political posturing, and final compromise agreement.  Sorry, folks, but compromises and grand talk with insufficient action is too little, too late.  We’re prevaricating at our peril.

Something approaching 200 countries participated in these gatherings, consuming vast quantities of fossil-fuel burning conveyances to get there and back.  The President of the United States, who proudly proclaimed that American leadership on tackling climate change was back, brought with him 85 limousines and a few helicopters – all brought by plane – because, hey, security is important.  Not a reassuring start.

Tens of thousands of people came together in one place in the middle of a pandemic – I won’t go into whether that was a sound idea or not – because most of them understood that the world must address the multiple causes of climate change now.  Not because it’s a nice idea, although it is.  Not because the world has nothing else to worry about; we know it does.  No, it’s because if we do not address it NOW we won’t have a world left in a few generations.  At least not one in which human beings can exist. This is the ultimate definition of an existential crisis. When will we wrap our heads around that?

While we’re waiting to self-annihilate – because, hey, jobs (and profits) in the fossil fuel industries are at stake – we can watch as the sea rises and wipes out entire island nations.  We can watch while more and more wildfires burn out of control, destroying more homes, towns, forests, and even Arctic tundra.  We can watch while some parts of the world experience historic droughts and others experience historic flooding, over and over and over again.  We can watch increased worldwide migration from people who, through no fault of their own, are no longer able to survive in their native lands because it is too hot, the water has dried up, and food can no longer grow there. Or it’s been swallowed up by the sea. Climate refugees.  All because our political and business leaders haven’t had the intestinal fortitude to do what’s been staring us in the face for several years now. They’ve refused – or have been unable – to take the necessary long view, and now it’s become the short view.  We must change the way we do many, many things.  NOW.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the excellent political satirist The Out And Abouter, he summed up his view of the COP26 final agreement in this tweet today:

OutAndAbouter

There’s a reason why the hard-working president of COP26, Alok Sharma, became emotional  as he presented the final, disappointingly weakened agreement.  His tears said it all.  Let us at the very least hope that the words that have been agreed to are actioned as quickly and thoroughly as possible.  Our political and business leaders need to be walking the talk from day 1 after COP26. Continue reading

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Another Remembrance Day. Please let us not forget.

Another Remembrance Day.  Most allied nations have been honouring Remembrance Day for 103 years now.  That’s a long time.  How are we doing in faithfully remembering and being grateful for those who sacrificed for our freedoms and safety?  Do we ever stop to consider the millions of innocent civilians who were and are the ultimate victims of all wars?  How are we doing as a world in deciding that war is not an answer, that killing each other and laying waste to people’s homelands is a cruel, costly, lose-lose business?

As I have written on many Remembrance Days, remembering is something that our town does pretty well. We live near the largest training base in Canada, with a strong military presence and much pride in that fact. People of all generations turn out in droves to remember the sacrifices of those who gave their lives for our freedoms and those who have fought and returned, some more safely than others. This year, for the second year in a row thanks to COVID, there will only be restricted gatherings to honour the fallen soldiers. No parade of troops from past wars and presently serving, no speeches, no prayers, no singing of Abide With Me, no laying of wreaths, no leaving your red poppy at the cenotaph. We will truly miss this moving and meaningful event.

Because I don’t think I can say it any better and the messages are so important, I am reposting my words from three years ago, written on the 100th anniversary of the Armistice. Please be sure to read the second part, called What we forget.  The past three years have not lessened my concerns about the never-ending evidence of mankind’s unfailing ability to put power, money, and self-interest above so much that is important, from waging wars that destroy lives to destroying the planet on which we live.  Our only planet.

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November 11, 2018. One hundred years since the signing of the Armistice that ended World War I. One hundred years of remembering the many, many sacrifices made by millions upon millions of people. Horrific sacrifices. Heartbreaking sacrifices. For far too many, the ultimate sacrifice. Sacrifices made by countless young people – on both “sides” – who had little or nothing to do with the decisions that led to the war in the first place.

Poppies

What we remember

Every year in most towns and cities in Canada, and I assume most places in the western world, people of all generations come together to honour those who have served and those who have laid down their lives in past wars, especially WWI. Our town happens to be located in close proximity to Base Gagetown, the largest military training base in Canada, and as a result we have an extremely impressive and moving parade of service men and women marching in our Remembrance Day ceremony each year. It’s a sight that stays with you. The few remaining WWII veterans leading the way, with fewer and fewer each year. Then of course there are a few vets from the Korean War and the Vietnam War, and many who have served in Afghanistan, sometimes several times. Not to mention many dangerous peace-keeping missions. To watch all those soldiers, probably spanning three generations or even four, marching proudly in uniform, is to be reminded in a profoundly moving way of just what our service men and women sacrifice in taking on the role of protecting our country and our freedoms. The applause for the men and women in uniform as they march past all the spectators is loud and heartfelt.

It’s not warm in these parts this time of year – we even have some early mushy snow on the ground today – but I’m proud to say that there’s always a large crowd at our Remembrance Day ceremony. I love the mix of families who bring small children, people my age whose fathers served in WWII, and those in between. When I see the young families there each year I’m heartened by the family tradition they’re establishing. By attending, despite the cold and sometimes the cold rain or worse, and by explaining to their small children why they’ve come, who the soldiers are who are marching, and how they are serving their country on our behalf, they are fulfilling the mandate of Remembrance Day. They are helping make sure that we don’t forget.

It is so important that we remember and honour our military service men and women. (As it is that we honour those who serve in any first responder capacity.) These people put their lives on the line so that we may be safe and live in peace.

Cenotaph

Remembrance Day ceremony 2014, my home town

What we forget

But surely, Remembrance Day should be about both honouring those who’ve sacrificed for us and learning from the lessons of that brutal and ultimately futile war. November 11, 2018 marks the 100th anniversary of the “war to end all wars”. That doesn’t seem to have worked out so well; wars aren’t ended. Aren’t we supposed to remember that part, too? Aren’t we supposed to stop and think about why we have all these wars anyway and try to put a stop to them? It appears that there were virtually no lessons learned from the “war to end all wars”, which took something in the order of 16 million lives (possibly up to 37 million when deaths from disease and infection in both military and civilians are included). One of the deadliest conflicts in all of history. In fact, knowing that, one might question why it’s called the Great War. There was nothing great about it.

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Battlefield of Passchendaele WWI, Credit: Time-Life

Following WWI and a decade of recovery, the world plunged into depression, followed by another catastrophic war, World War II. Clearly no lessons that one might have learned from the “war to end all wars” had held any sway whatsoever. Nationalism, tribalism, high levels of income inequality, sowing seeds of hate and fear … these were aspects of what had allowed WWI to start, and even more so WWII. People hear what they want to hear, believe what they want to believe, and the next thing you know all the young people are being sent to kill each other again. This time, a mere 21 years – 21 short years – after WWI ended, 60,000,000 people were killed. Sixty million, let that sink in. It didn’t take long for the “war to end all wars” to be overtaken in terms of death toll. In spades.

Were any lessons learned this time? Well, to a degree. The U.S., European allies, Canada and others started working together. Importantly, the United Nations was formed. Despite of course working to protect self-interest, there was some recognition of the need and desirability of trying to work out problems together; to listen to each other, and to collaborate and compromise rather than go to war. There was even an understanding that helping the disadvantaged in the world could be a win-win, doing good and making the world safer for your own country at the same time.

That, of course, didn’t stop the wars. There have been more recent wars in Europe, a lingering effect of republics having been brought together within one border without addressing ethnic and cultural differences. Then there have been wars fought on foreign soil, killing not only young (mostly American) soldiers but also millions of Vietnamese, Iraqi, Afghani, and other soldiers and civilians. For what purpose? Self-interest.

What happened to lessons learned? Why aren’t we remembering any of these lessons on Remembrance Day? Why are we honouring the sacrifices of all these young people through generations, and yet not even having the discussion about how to prevent further sacrifices?

This is the 100th anniversary of the Armistice the ended the fighting of World War I. Remembrance Day. And yet, the 70 years of the “post-war” seems to be unraveling.  Nationalism is returning. Highly-charged public rhetoric about “them” versus “us” is ramping up. Militarization of countries is ramping up. Incitement of fear and hatred is ramping up. Cooperation and collaboration seems to be weakening. Trust between countries is sadly declining.

Western countries sell military supplies to Saudi Arabia, which they then use to suppress opposition at home and kill, maim and otherwise destroy the lives of millions of Yemeni. This is justified as protecting jobs at home (and staying on the good side of the Saudis). Are these really the jobs we want for our citizens? Is this really the kind of foreign policy we want? Is this what we learned from the “war to end all wars”? I weep.

Yemen

Saudi strike in Yemen, Credit: economist.com

We must not forget the lessons of the horror and futility of war, so poorly learned. Lest we forget.

Poppy

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