Is guilt a female thing?

I know we all feel guilty about some things some of the time, but it dawns on me that we women truly excel at it. We embrace it. And I’m pretty sure that embracing guilt is not constructive.

I got to thinking about this after reading an interesting piece in the Guardian on the history of focus groups. (OK, I was wasting time and felt guilty about it, but it was an interesting article. Well, more interesting than what I thought I really should have been doing at the time.) It turns out that one of the early focus groups, back in the early 50s, was run by Betty Crocker to find out why housewives weren’t buying more cake mix. Millions of women had gone into the workforce during WW II and many had continued working after the war ended, so it made sense that buyers should gravitate to products that made their lives easier, like using more cake mix (they hadn’t yet figured out just giving up on desserts every night would be even easier). But sales weren’t increasing. So they used this new-fangled marketing tool – a focus group – to try to figure out why. What they found was that women loved the idea, but they felt guilty not making their cakes from scratch, even if the mix would save them time and the result tasted just as good. Do you know what Betty Crocker did with that nugget of information? They changed the mix so that homemakers had to add an egg to the mix. That did it; the lady of the house now felt that she was doing more than just opening a box, and so, by having to add an egg to the mix herself, her guilt diminished. Cake mix sales took off. Betty Crocker just needed to assuage the female guilt first. (Anyone my age will also remember how popular apparently guilt-free Jell-O and pudding mixes became, too!)

In a similar vein, I came across this statement on Facebook this past week that really resonated with me (OK, yes, I felt guilty wasting yet more time on FB, but if I hadn’t been doing that instead of something more constructive I would have missed this quote). Continue reading

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From the personal blog of Canadian Senator Murray Sinclair, former Chair of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, a poem that speaks to the pain felt as we face the failings of our justice system with respect to the acquittal of the farmer who killed Colten Boushie. Everyone should read this poem and reflect on the many inequities in our society. How do we, the “grassroots”, help effect change?

Mizana Gheezhik (Sen. Murray Sinclair)

Today I grieve for my country.
I grieve for a family
that has not yet seen justice
from the moment a handgunned farmer
(why does a farmer need such a gun?)
pulled the trigger and killed their son.
I grieve for a mother
who saw the police
raid her house
and treat her like a criminal
and not the victim she was.
I grieve for other mothers
with empty arms
who now think of their loss
at the hands of others.
and the lack of the answers
that haunt them still.
I grieve for the youth
who now see no hope,
and whose hunger for justice
gives rise to an anger
that more and more turns
from a dangling rope
to a violence directed at them.
I grieve for the children
whose lives have embraced
an unwanted, dangerous, jeopardy.
I grieve for the elders
who’ve seen this before.
And whose…

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Running a marathon with a twist: the inspiring London firefighters

I don’t know how many of you have run a marathon, either competitively or at a very recreational pace (me), but it’s hard. It’s a long distance, very long. It takes a lot out of your body. And that’s when you are kitted out in optimal running gear, streamlined and designed for running comfort. Running gear designed for chafing and blister prevention. Running gear that allows spines, shoulders, and arms to have full freedom of motion. Sounds obvious … and essential. So running a marathon – or even 1K – in full firefighter kit seems like a non-starter. Big time.

But that’s the plan for a remarkable group of London firefighters (see BBC video clip). These amazing men are in training to run the London Marathon in full firefighting gear and breathing apparatus, which amounts to an additional 30 awkward, uncomfortable kilograms (that’s 66 lbs). I can barely imagine walking 500 meters in that kit, more less running 42.2 kilometers (26.2 miles). But on April 22 of this year, a group of 18 firefighters who were first responders at the heartbreakingly tragic Grenfell Tower fire last June will be doing just that. This group of men, from the North Kensington and Paddington Fire Stations, are carrying out this superhuman feat as a way of helping others. They are running to raise money to help local Grenfell victims and also for the Fire Fighters Charity, which provides needed psychological and physical support for firefighters who were part of the Grenfell response team. Continue reading

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If I had a million dollars … or how about $60 million?

It’s hard (at least for me) to hear the question “what would you do if you suddenly had a million dollars?” without thinking of the Barenaked Ladies perennial favourite, “If I Had $1,000,000”. And if you don’t know it (gasp) or haven’t heard it for some time, try listening to this YouTube recording; I guarantee you will be humming it for days afterwards. Try it and see if you don’t succumb!

Legend has it that the Barenaked Ladies, one of Canada’s most beloved of bands, came up with this very Canadian ditty back in 1988, asking themselves the same question many Canadians were asking themselves, captivated by the possibility of winning Lottery 6/49, which started in 1982. Sure, there had always been lotteries of one kind of another, but now Canadians were (and still are) actually encouraged to buy lotteries from government-sponsored agencies on a weekly (and then twice a week) basis. All those chances to win a million dollars simply by buying a $1 (and eventually $3) lottery ticket, choosing your own favourite 6 numbers. And, gosh, even if you didn’t win you were still contributing to sports, culture, and other government programs. How can you lose?!

I will admit to being a weekly 6/49 devotee. My husband and I have bought tickets for both Wednesday and Friday draws for years now. After all, once you have used the same 6 numbers for a long time, how can you stop? How would you feel if your numbers came up right after you stopped buying your ticket?! And so, naturally, we have played the remarkably engaging game of “what would you do if you won the lottery” several times. What would you do if you suddenly had an unexpected $1,000,000? To be honest, we usually only play that game when the pot has grown to an unusually high number. Just so you can see what I mean, what if you suddenly found yourself accepting a cheque for $17,000,000? Tax-free. One humungous tax-free cheque. One million is spendable. Depending on your time of life and circumstance, you can pay off your mortgage and car, help out others in your family, go on a few fancy trips, and then you’re pretty well done. Maybe you can slip in some university tuition and braces for kids or grandchildren, but that’s about it. Scary, eh? If you live in an expensive place like Toronto or Vancouver, just paying off your mortgage may or may not be doable with $1 million. But $17 million or more, which does indeed show up in the 6/49 every once in a while, is a different story. Continue reading

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Writing through grief

Journal writing as therapy has been long accepted and encouraged for dealing with grief, trauma, pain, depression, addictions and other challenges we face as human beings.  Psychotherapists use journal therapy as one of their tools, and specialists give workshops in self-reflective journaling.  The idea is for people overwhelmed by pain or grief to develop a personal writing habit, whereby they can explore their feelings privately, reflectively, without judgment.  Journal therapy has been recognized as being cathartic and effective in helping someone move towards the light again.  Journal writing can provide a voyage of self-discovery in a time of great need.

Bloggers have a head start in embracing writing as therapy.  People blog for many reasons, but with few exceptions they blog because they enjoy writing. They write to share their passion for what matters most to them, everything from travel, photography, and poetry to farming, running, and advocacy, to just whatever’s on their mind at the moment. But I will hazard a guess that above all bloggers write for personal fulfillment. And so it would not be a surprise to find that many bloggers use writing to work through personal tragedy.

One of the unanticipated rewards of blogging is forming “virtual” friendships with fellow bloggers around the world. We make personal connections through our writing: mutual appreciation of a topic, a similar sense of humour or turn of phrase, or perhaps by reading a description of an experience that evokes memories of a similar one you’ve had yourself. In the process of following individual bloggers for a few years, occasionally a blogger will experience and write about personal loss or trauma. This happens more often than one would hope, just as it does in our everyday world of family and friends. One of the blogs I follow, Waking up on the wrong side of 50, shared a post recently called “What can I say?”, where she wondered about whether to and/or how to respond or reach out to someone you only know through the blogosphere who has experienced a personal tragedy. This blog post engendered 85 comments, in which the general consensus was that it is always better to reach out to someone in pain, that reaching out is always appreciated and is far more important than worrying about finding the perfect words. Yes, just as is the case with all such painful situations in our lives. Continue reading

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Nuclear attacks and drop-down menus

Show of hands, how many of you have inadvertently clicked on a screen (aka interface) and done something by mistake?

  • Maybe you’ve sent a message with a typo that you only noticed as you were clicking “Send”. Whoops, too late.
  • Maybe you’ve sent a message with an embarrassing/misleading/error-promoting typo without noticing it at all. You had to clarify what you really meant after being questioned/confronted about it.
  • Maybe you chose the wrong item from a drop-down menu because the wording of the items weren’t clear enough, or because your cursor moved slightly while you were clicking. Did you even realize there was a problem?
  • Maybe you robotically clicked “OK” on a confirming text box without really reading the accompanying text carefully?

It turns out that the recent 38 minutes of panic in Hawaii due to a false emergency warning of an immediate incoming missile threat was not caused by someone pressing the “wrong button”. It was caused by someone choosing the wrong item on a drop-down menu. That’s right, the emergency warning message that sent hundreds of thousands of people into a panic – fearing for their lives – was a choice on a drop-down menu. Right below the item “Test missile alert”. An item on a drop-down menu, a drop-down menu that included several alarm options, although none for “False Alarm”! The mind boggles.

Continue reading

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Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission: one man’s efforts to make a difference

For readers who are not familiar with Canada, in 2015 the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), established by the federal government, completed 6 years of an extensive and gut-wrenching inquiry into the impact of 120 years of the residential school system on our indigenous peoples (First Nations, Metis, and Inuit). The TRC followed an official government official apology for the devastating impact of this egregious system, as well as payments made to victims directly affected. The Commission concluded its process with a report that included a Call to Action with 94 wide-ranging recommendations, intended to “redress the legacy of the residential schools” and promote a path to reconciliation among residential school survivors, within indigenous communities, and among all Canadians.

The many recommendations lay out an urgent need for improvements in healthcare, education, and availability of essentials like sanitation and clean water in indigenous areas (a federal government responsibility). They include requiring access to teaching their own languages and cultural traditions within their schools. And, importantly, they include recommendations for mitigating the “inaccuracies” of prior teaching of the history of Canada, re-establishing truth in the history of indigenous people in Canada over millennia and ensuring that all children are taught of the many injustices perpetrated against our indigenous peoples, especially since the arrival of the British in the 1700s (just ask the Acadians).

How do we ensure that the work of the TRC does not go for naught? Certainly, awareness has been raised, and that is a very good thing. But broad-brush-strokes awareness and good intentions don’t do enough to change the lives of a nation’s first peoples, people who continue to live the legacy of the residential schools, general discrimination, and inadequate housing, education, and healthcare. People who often live in locations not of their own making, “resettled” by the federal government with no regard for the suitability of the location for hunting or trapping for self-sufficiency, or for being near their ancestors. The list of “challenges” is endless. The hope must be that a new awareness – and respect – on the part of non-indigenous Canadians can allow indigenous groups to reclaim and take pride in their cultural and spiritual traditions … and develop their own voice, determining a future that works for them within the Canadian mosaic.

Many of us who are not indigenous struggle with how we can help. There don’t seem to be easy answers, beyond showing respect, learning the history, and helping to raise awareness. But at least one person I know has found a way to make a tangible difference. A tangible difference in helping indigenous Canadians find their dignity and their voice. Dignity through work.

Keith McIntosh is the founder of a successful software testing company, PQA Testing, headquartered here in my hometown of Fredericton. [Full disclosure: I have known Keith since he was a first-year student in my computer science class many, many moons ago.] One of the points included in the TRC was Corporate Canada’s responsibility to help in bringing positive change for our indigenous communities. Keith took this to heart. He saw a win-win opportunity and, unlike so many of us who have some great ideas we don’t act on, he walked the talk in spades.

Keith talks about work as an agent of social change. Work brings us the money we need to lead our lives, raise our kids, and pay our bills. Thought of more broadly, though, work also provides us with independence and pride in self. It gives us a reason to get up in the morning; it cements our role as a contributor to our community. Losing your job means more than just losing your paycheck (although that is right up there). In many cases, you lose your self-esteem (maybe not so much if you don’t need the money and hated your job!). Satisfying, sustainable employment would seem to be an important component of helping indigenous people to control their own destiny. However, how easy is that when the population we’re talking about may live anywhere from inner Vancouver or Regina to remote northern Canada, from rural Nova Scotia to a First Nation in the middle of the Prairies? That challenge got Keith thinking even more. Continue reading

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