Friday, August 15, 2014

Freedom to not Speak?

2. Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms:
     (a) freedom of conscience and religion;
     (b) freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication;
     (c) freedom of peaceful assembly; and
     (d) freedom of association.

I want to be clear about one thing – I am a huge proponent of freedom of speech.  Not just because it is enshrined in our Charter (you can see section 2 of that above) but because of what I perceive as the necessity of such a freedom.  When a government limits what people can say and when they can say it, they are suppressing change.  Governments generally fear change and try to take steps to limit it at the best of times, and no method of suppression is more effective than taking away citizens' ability to communicate.  So all people need this basic and fundamental right.

I love to quote Evelyn Beatrice Hall , when she wrote “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it” in her work on Voltaire, himself a victim of censorship.  I think that sums it up far better than I ever could. The very basis of the freedom of speech ideal is that I have the right to say things that others disagree with, just as they have the same right toward me.

So when my fantastic wife and I were driving down a main street on our way to work earlier this week and saw a group of anti-abortion protesters lining the road with their pictures of dead fetuses, I accepted their right to do this.  It was appalling, disgusting and completely inappropriate.  The pictures probably gave little children (far too young to understand what the posters stood for) nightmares – hell they probably gave some of the drivers the same!  But I believed then, and still do, that they had a right to do what they were doing.

Wait for it… here it comes… BUT.  But just because you have a constitutionally protected right to do something does not mean that you should do that thing.  Raising awareness of your view can be accomplished in a fashion that does not disgust and alarm the rest of us.  Sure a bit of shock value can be a big eye opener.  Possibly being shocking will get you more air time, and get you more notice.  Maybe you will start an intelligent dialogue on the subject when people start talking about you. That’s a lot of maybes.  One too many for me.

The way to have a rational discourse is to have a rationale discourse.  The way to get attention to your cause is to show the benefits of your cause. Showing disgusting images to people on their way to work does none of that. I can’t imagine any person, driving in to work on that morning and seeing that display said to themselves, “Golly, I never thought about the blood and the bodies before. I may have been pro-choice or on-the-fence on this issue now, but by gosh now I am against it.”

I have to commend the great folks from who arranged what can loosely be called a counter-rally.  They did not try to stop the pro-life/anti-choice/terrible-picture-holders from having their say.  They didn’t even go out in support of choice.  They went out with placards covered in hearts and support with the message that people should not be intimidated or made to feel ashamed by bullies.  Their message of acceptance, respect and tolerance was a breath of fresh air in this ongoing debate.

FULL DISCLOSURE:  I am personally against abortion.  I don’t think that I would ever even consider an abortion should I become pregnant.  Of course, I am biologically male, so the likelihood that I would ever be in a position to consider having one is very small indeed.  The likelihood that I even have the most rudimentary understanding of what it is like to be pregnant, or how hard the associated choices are, is as small.  Additionally, as a believer in the rule of law and something of a legal aficionado, I understand that abortion is legal in Canada, and our highest court made that decision almost thirty years ago. These factors, and my ultimately libertarian feminist views on things, make me firmly pro-choice.  I don’t think that reproductive rights are issues that the state, or anyone, should impose upon an individual – their body, their choice, plain and simple.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

O Captain! My Captain!

I have idolized Robin Williams for years.  Since I first saw him as the irrepressible Mork from Ork, I have reveled in his zany antics and loved him from afar.  He was one of the rare comedians who was able to make me laugh despite anything happening in my life.  Even now, knowing that he is gone, I am smiling while I think of his performances.

He was not as recognized for his more serious work, though the Academy did give him an Oscar for his work in Good Will Hunting.  But it was here that the real depth of his acting abilities shone through.  Good Morning Vietnam, What Dreams May Come and The Fisher King are all fantastic movies, where we see a small glimpse into the other side of this zany man. 

Dead Poets Society is one of the most inspiring movies of all time.  His role as John Keating made me want to be a teacher when I saw it, and still makes me wish I had chosen that as my career.  To this day, the wisdom and hope that movie provided remains profound and on target – use your brain to think critically, don’t let life pass you by, find and never let go of your passions, carpe diem.

I have always rather immodestly felt that I was a lot like Robin.  No, I don’t pretend to be nearly as funny or smart as he was, but we seemed to have a lot of similarities.  Hell, even physically – we’re both short, hairy and heavyset guys.  But above that, we’re both recovering addicts - from the same drug of choice even (“Cocaine is god’s way of telling you you are making too much money”).  And we both struggle with depression. 

It’s the last part that is tearing me up right now.  Just like Robin, I have spent a large part of my life hiding my feelings and confusing people by being the joker and the funny guy.  I turned to cocaine and alcohol to self-medicate, and it worked… for a while.  It wasn’t until my son died that I was forced to take a long, hard look at my emotions.  It wasn’t until my behaviour started to affect my relationships with my other children that I sought medical help.  And like millions of people, I learned that my life-long battle just to stay alive was not my imagination – it was severe clinical depression.  And I finally started to look for solutions.

That’s when I learned the truth that no one wants to talk about, there is no solution. Nothing really works with depression, you can’t make it go away – it is a part of you.  A sly, dark little part that sits in the back of your brain with long, dull claws dug in and draping everything you do and think with a fog of pain.  You can smother that little fucker with the best prescription medication that money can buy. You can talk about him with trained professionals, and keep him at bay, feeling better most of the time.  Every day though, he waits.  He’s patient and he’ll live with you for the rest of your life.  He’s an insidious little prick and all he wants is to kill you.  And if you listen to him long enough, he will win.  Just like he did with Robin.

There is a significant stigma attached to clinical depression.  So many of us hide it, and hide it well, because we have heard the old mantras a thousand times:  “You’ll get over it”, “It’s just a bad day”, “Pull up your boots!”, “Put on your big girl panties!” and my all-time favorite “But you don’t seem depressed.”  We do pull up our boots and tie on our big girl panties.  That is how we get out of bed in the morning – though even that isn’t possible some days.  We don’t ever get over it and we certainly can’t just shake it off, any more than an epileptic can ‘get over’ their seizures – it is a chemical imbalance in the brain – a purely physical issue that causes these reactions.  Of course, it is hidden away, that little bastard is clever.  If we could point to the wheelchair or the crutch there would be no question that we were living with something that had tremendous impact on our lives.

If there is one thing positive to come out of Robin’s suicide, I hope it is this – that people will start to recognize that laughter can be just a mask and that emotional pain, the kind that drives our friends and family to such despair that the only way out is the peace of death, is real. 

O Captain! My Captain! Be at peace now.  And thank you for brightening our lives with your laugh and your smile.