Monday, September 16, 2013

This is how it ends...

This is how it ends.
Not with a bang, nor a whimper

No screams of incandescent rage
No liquid steaming moans
No childrens’ cries
snuffed out lives

When no one cares
No one dares
To change

Thursday, May 16, 2013

What is in a Word?

We often hear people talking about how words have power.  How the way in which our thought processes, even our worldview, are shaped and molded by the words we use – the words we have available to us.

In my office we deal with word and word meanings all the time.  What one person calls another in the workplace, and the connotations that can be associated with the word or words used, can be the difference between a peaceful work environment and a poisoned one that drives people to do terrible things.  We all know the words I am talking about, though we never say them in polite company.  The “N-word”, the “F-word”, all manner of racial and ethnic hate rolled up into tiny little words.  And of course it isn’t always just races and ethnicities that are the targets of hateful words, classes, sexes, orientations, you name it, if there is a way to differentiate people based on some trivial or inane characteristic, someone, somewhere has invented a way to mock and ridicule those people.

It isn’t just linked to hateful words either.  We attach tremendous importance to words of our own.  My colleagues and I spent almost two years designing a new process for our office.  We created it, almost completely without managerial interference, and we’ve been using it to tremendous success for over a year now.  There is a great deal of pride in the halls of my office when we talk about it.  But… there’s always a but, isn’t there?  We were recently asked to change the name of the process.  Not how we administer it.  Not where, when, what or how we do it, just its name.  The level of defensiveness that has sprung up, over the name of it alone, took me quite by surprise.  After all, they are just words, right?


The truth is, they aren’t just words.  Words embody our sense of identity.  They give us the framework by which we communicate our sense of justice, our hopes and fears, our prayers and our condemnations.  They define who and what we are.  And when some of these words are used against us, or against those we stand with, they can hurt.

The other day, while walking with my youngest son (now aged four), I was moping my sweating and bald head with a handkerchief.  It happened to be a rainbow handkerchief, a holdover from proudly walking in Halifax’s Pride Parade last year.  I hadn’t given any thought it when I grabbed it from among the others in my drawer, to me it was just a way of keeping the sweat from running down by brow and into my eyes – shaving your head in the summer has a few unintended consequences!

As my son and I walked, sweating, down the path, a young man passing us looked at me with a great deal of disdain and snarled “Fucking faggot” as he passed us.  For a moment, I had no idea where it had even come from, until I realized he had been staring at the handkerchief.  When that realization hit, I was momentarily stunned – it certainly wasn’t the first time someone has assumed I am gay, likely won’t be the last – but what stunned me was the hate in his voice.  This was a complete stranger, someone I had never seen before, and likely will never see again.  And he hated me, for what he thought I was.

I was enraged. Not at what he had called me, because even if it were true I don’t attach any judgement to that and no doubt also because, as a mostly straight person, I don’t have a history with that word being used against me as a weapon.  I was enraged because he saw fit to let that hate show, in front of my four year old son.  My boys are being raised to understand and accept all difference – to acknowledge the truth that we are all human beings, and our differences, as much as our similarities, make us unique, cherished and worthy of basic dignity and respect.  It was fortunate for him that I did have my son with me though, as my first instinct (which I have not felt in a very long time) was to react in a physical manner.

Instead, I reigned in my anger, smiled at him and said “Thank you!” and kept walking.  But I am still fuming over it.

It is not the first time I have been the subject of stereotyping, and won’t be the last.  As a privileged, white (pink really), (over) educated, young(ish), straight (mostly) and able bodied male, it is very rare for me to be the target of an “ism” but it has happened, and no doubt will happen again.  But that hate, that level or disdain - that was new.  Even when I have been (in my misspent youth) beaten up for being the wrong [fill in the blank] - I never felt the level of hate in those actions that this young man held for me on the basis of a brightly colored handkerchief.

Ironically, when these things happen to me, all they do is strengthen my resolve to continue the work I do.  As long as there are bigots out there who hate for no real reason, as long as the insanity that is racism/classism/sexism/etc. exists, I will fight it.  In big ways (my career) and in more important ways (teaching my kids) I will continue to do what is right.

So I hear your hateful word good sir.  I hear your “faggot” and I counter you with “hope”.  Because that word, that idea, is more powerful than your hate will ever be.  It will sustain and nurture a generation raised to know that differences are powerful and that diversity is magnificent.  It will light the way forward, while you and your ideas will cower in dark places and wither. 

Monday, January 28, 2013

Old, White, Christian Men

Yesterday I took my boys out for the afternoon to visit the Nova Scotia Museum of Natural History, one of three “education-type” places that we hold memberships at.  Don’t tell my kids, but the places they love to visit are the same ones that I want them to go to – they’ll learn more if they think they are having fun!  But before we could begin our day of fun at the museum (snakes and lizards and scorpions oh my!) we had to fuel up.  So we stopped at McDonalds for a bite to eat. 

As we sat, munching our way through the communal pile of tasty french fries (we always just pile all our fries together and share them all), I could not help but overhear the conversation between two older gentlemen.  They started off their conversation talking about the “ladies auxiliary"  at their church, and went on at length about how things were going in the church.  They veered to hockey and football for a time, before one of them pushed the newspaper across the table to his friend, with a gruff “You seen this yet?”  What follows is their conversation, not quite verbatim, but close.

“Nah, what’s it about?”

“New premier of Ontario is a woman.  And she’s gay.”

“Damn.  Pretty soon, we’re going to be the minority around here.”

At this point, I was almost set to interject into their conversation.  That statement, coming from the mouths of able bodied, straight, educated, white males always gets my goat.  But I bit down on another fry and tried to mind my own business.  Partly because I was having a great time with my boys and didn't want to ruin it, but partly because I just did not have the energy to engage in that debate all over again. Either way,  I am damned glad I did keep my mouth chewing instead of talking...

“Maybe that’s a good thing.  We had our chance, and we really screwed things up.”

“Yeah, you’re right.  Time to give the lesbians a chance.”

“Yup.  Don’t understand what everyone is so upset about – it’s just about giving everyone the same equality.”

“Exactly.  People get too worked up about stuff that shouldn’t matter to them.  Hey, you heard that Mike’s kid is going to school…”

I nearly hugged them.  It reminded me of my own prejudices; based on their chatting about their church, their patterns of speech and their age, I had already put them in the “old white Christian bigot” category – a form of discrimination all its own.  It reminded me that we all need to revisit our stereotyping constantly – we all do it, and it’s not a bad thing in and of itself, so long as it doesn’t lead to value judgements.

So to all you old white Christian males out there, I’m sorry for sticking you in a box.  I promise to try and remember that you aren’t all the same, and that many (most) of you are good and decent people, who care about people and their human rights just as much (and often more) as me and my young, atheist, “liberal” friends.  We have a lot more in common than we think, and we have to remember that from time to time.

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

You spin me right round baby, right round...

Here in Halifax, we recently decided - wait... "we" in this case means the elected officials of our fair city, and "recently" means two years ago (we Haligonians consider anything that happened after the 1917 Halifax Explosion to be recent) - to make the temporary skating oval that was designed for the 2011 Canada Games into a permanent winter fixture.  Tubing and cooling equipment, far to complicated to go into great detail on here (and because I don't have the faintest idea how it works, I think it uses science), make the Oval usable even in slightly above zero weather, which is good, because Halifax "winters" are rarely consistent.

The nicest part about the Oval is that it was kept alive due to the public response to it.  You see, when it was originally constructed back in 2011 for that year's Canada Games, it was left open for public skating for the rest of that winter season, but was due to be dismantled and turned back into the vacant park field that it came from.  But the public responded so positively to its existence, and put so much pressure on HRM's city council, that it was decided to keep it open, and even to slowly upgrade it.

The other nicest part about the Oval is that the city has managed, so far, to keep it free to use.  Despite the assuredly high costs of running it every year, it is free for anyone to head out and skate upon.  It is maintained, and kept in very good shape, throughout its open period by tax dollars and corporate sponsorship (note the name after all, our power company hard at work spending its obscene profits).  So anyone with a pair of skates (and a CSA approved hockey helmet if you are under 12 years of age) can head on down and skate at will (during public skates times of course).

But wait!  The other nicest part about the Oval is that if you don't own those aforementioned skates and helmet (see, I used aforementioned in a sentence, that law degree is totally worth the $40K I paid!), then they will lend you a pair of skates and / or the helmet you need.  Just turn over a piece of government issued picture ID, and the very efficient staff members will get you the gear you need - for free!  And they do it quickly too - a line of about sixty people can be processed in as little ten minutes.

OK, the last nicest part about the Oval though is the sense of community that it inspires.  There is a real sense of small town community, an almost Rockwellian vision.  People are all there to skate and to be part of the larger Halifax community - they help each other up, there are few collisions (and being Canadian, more apologies than strictly necessary), people look out for each other and each other's kids.

But the real nicest part about the Oval is that it gave me the chance to take my boys skating for the very first time today.  They had a blast.  The first lap took about thirty minutes, and Doc wiped out about forty times.  But he kept getting up, kept trying.  Even when I could see he was getting frustrated, he didn't throw in the towel.  Gee on the other hand, rarely fell, due in part to his very low center of gravity, but even more to the bob-skates he was wearing.

Both boys had the time of their lives, red cheeked and covered in snow.  They laughed and grinned with each fall, and Gee made a point of trying to get as far ahead of me as he could.  Doc just kept going, and he swears that many of his falls were not due to trying to impress the pretty girls.  I suppose their proximity was just a coincidence, twenty six times.  What?  It could totally happen.

I had the best day I have had in a really long time (and that is out of some pretty damned good days!) watching them, coaching them, and just being their dad.

Thanks for taking me skating boys.  We'll do it again, very soon.