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Glen Pearson

Summer Reflections – How Did We Get Here?

Posted on July 4, 2018

This year especially, summer couldn’t come soon enough.? And not because we endured a long, hard, unpredictable winter – which we certainly did.?No, it’s something more, something almost intangible – a sense that things aren’t great collectively.?Individually we might feel a certain sense of normalcy, but when it comes to our position in the broader world – our sense of hope, promise, dignity, respect, the ability to make change – we aren’t as sure where we stand.

This week our family has been volunteering at a kid’s autism camp, as we do every year.? You could sense the careful disenchantment, the lack of optimism, the worry over our shared state of affairs in most conversations, coffee shops, and idle chatter.? Much of it was about what was left unsaid: the usual banter, summer stories, family relaxation, thoughts on travel, or devouring a good book.? Instead, the subjects revolved around Donald Trump, Doug Ford, economic worries, immigration, possible global conflict.?Citizens always talk about such things, but rarely with such pessimism.

If historic reflections are anything to go by, such a restlessness within the citizenry and stock markets would be similar to the seething tensions throughout Europe in the days just prior to World War One, when alliances were breaking down, new ones being formed, complaints about migrants moving through the continent, and the colossus of America wishing to remain isolated, self-interested and aloof from those problems that were about ready to explode.

But for many these worrisome days would be more like the 1920s – those years just prior to the Great Depression, where fabulous amounts of money were being made by a few while unemployment began its ultimate ascension to record levels, farmers were beginning to lose their family legacies, and poverty, which had always been part of the pre-World War Two landscape, was quickly resulting in massive social dislocation.

It’s likely for most of the troubled conversations this week swirled around the latter trends – economic decline.? But the global turbulence was hardly absent in many of the talks.? We understand that America is probably at the epicentre of this prevalent glumness.? Our friends to the south are going through a difficult season and we feel for them, not just because we’re their neighbours, but since we, too, feel a more muted form of restlessness than they.

Canadian author David Frum publicly stated yesterday that by a margin of 41-37, Americans feel that life is worse than 50 years ago.? That’s 1968!?It does no good to say it isn’t so; the point is they sense in the important aspects of their lives that they are in decline and that sentiment is more important right now than any stock market prediction or optimistic jingoism.? If a nation that has traditionally been one of the most enthusiastic about its destiny – and its past – is that down in the dumps, there more to it than mere loss of perspective.? There’s loss of jobs, loss of collective destiny, loss of progress, loss of hope in their politics, and perhaps worst of all, loss in their sense of the future.

But it’s hardly just the United States.? People living in Britain, Germany, France, Spain, Italy, South Africa, Venezuela, Cuba, the Middle East, the Ukraine, Russia and even China carry similar doubts.?This world doesn’t feel like a safe place to let our hopes go out for a walk at night – too many dangers, threats, even the unknown.

And Canada too?? You bet, if the conversations I’ve heard this week are any indication.? We understand that we have it better than most when it comes to stability, but we also know that we are a global country – and island of relative calm enduring the storm waves of international disruption – and that it won’t just be tariffs that we’ll feel pulling us down.

In short, we aren’t quite sure of just how to live – a question that would prove easier to answer if our global environment was more stable and trustworthy.? It wouldn’t be a stretch today to avow that an increasing number of people are in doubt as to whether our hectic, pressurized, unsustainable, money-centred lives are the highest form of existence that humans can achieve.? Those of us living in affluent countries are confirming in their suspicions that somewhere along the way we took a wrong turn and we can’t get back.? Neither our political or economic leaders have provided that map to restore us to a place of more collective meaning but nevertheless encourage us to place the pedal to the metal in an effort to make up for our lack of purpose and direction.

As we seek sun, solace and serenity this summer, we are doing so in a world seemingly running amok.?We can pretend it’s not there, but that is getting more impossible every day and in every news cycle.? We arrived at this point because we were so busy living our daily lives that we misplaced a joint sense of vision and purpose along the way.? Maybe it’s time this summer to consider, not how we go back or even forward, but how we rediscover our collective and individual abilities to make our lives more purposeful and rescue our futures in the process.

 

1-800 – 0-Canada

Posted on July 1, 2018

In an increasingly globalized world, where we’re increasingly pressured to become more alike – buy the same products, eat the same fast foods, visit the same travel destinations – there’s a lot to be said for living in a country that has its own sense of uniqueness.? On this Canada Day, let’s celebrate some of our county’s oddities.

  • We existed for about a hundred years before we got our own flag in 1965.
  • Over 75% of the world’s maple syrup supplies come from Quebec.
  • We are so proficient at using the word “eh” that it appears as a valid term in the Canadian Oxford Dictionary.
  • You can write a letter to Santa Claus in any language and send it to the postal code H0H oHo and you’ll get a letter back from Santa personally.Pretty cool.
  • We share the largest demilitarized border in the world (with the United States)
  • In a world increasingly infatuated with superheroes, it’s good to remember that many of the most famous, like Superman and Wolverine, were created by Canadians.
  • We have 20% of the world’s fresh water and more lakes than any other nation – something we’re about to enjoy again and again this summer.
  • The most common last name in Canada is “Li” – a wonderful fact that celebrates our multicultural family.
  • We’re hockey fanatics in this country, but it’s not our official national sport.That’s reserved for lacrosse – a First Nations sport.
  • Hawaiian pizza was invented in Ottawa, not the idyllic group of islands in the ocean far away.
  • Some 30% of this beautiful land is covered in trees and heavy forests.
  • We’ve been invaded twice by the Americans and yet enjoy a peaceful and prosperous friendship.
  • We eat more mac and cheese than any other nation on earth.
  • Canada is special enough in this world that we have our own official phone number – 1-800-O-CANADA.

Well-known pop singer Bono is famous for once saying, “The world needs more Canada” – and we believe it.? But there are some things we enjoy that can only be found here. Let’s treasure our uniqueness this summer and affirm the sentiment of Wilfred Laurier: “Canada First.? Canada Last.?Canada Forever.”

 

The post above was a contribution of mine to the Wortley Villager magazine in celebration of Canada Day 2018. ?It’s a tribute to our marvellous uniqueness as a country.

How Do You Measure Grief?

Posted on June 28, 2018

I spent some of morning yesterday speaking to a remarkable group of global academics, psychologists and numerous knowledgeable leaders from a variety of fields and who get together every two years in various locations around the world two discuss the implications of some of humanity’s greatest sadness.? This year they were in Canada.

Officially titled the International Work Group on Death, Dying and Bereavement, I realized I was standing before a gathering of activists who seek to not only understand grief but to influence policymakers who hold the responsibility of improving the global conditions that lead to such earthly pain.? It was a challenge just to be in their midst; to address them was more than a little intimidating.

If we desired to understand just how the effects of grief and dying play out in our world, this group would be a good place to start.? We talked about how the world is becoming more grief-stricken in recent years due to our inability to overcome those challenges that result in tragedy – climate change, refugees, war and conflict, economic and gender inequities, and just plain bad and ineffective politics.? Some of us talked after my presentation, wondering that, if there was a way to measure the grief our present world was bearing, what would we find??There seemed to be a consensus emerging that it would be heavier and far more tragic that we might imagine.

It’s impossible to speak of such things without searching for solutions, and it’s virtually impossible to talk about answers without talking public policy – and that brings us naturally to our politics.? Right now, politics and governing structures around the world are facing imposing challenges that could sooner rather than later see everything spinning out of control.?Prosperity, peace, global agreement – such things are never a given and must be fought for.? For that we require a political leadership of the highest order.?We are still waiting for it.

And maybe that’s the problem: instead of waiting around for leadership we should be providing it ourselves – taking the kind of collective action that forces the political order to get out into the real world in ways that connect with suffering and humanity.?All this will require that we greatly improve our capacity to connect with one another and show the maturity required to work together to bring the “grief threshold” down substantially.

Those best to make their mark on a grieving world are not the politicians, nor the bureaucrats, nor the bankers or academics, but those who know grief, still have it in their bones, carry it around all day and have had their life reshaped by it.? Only when they, motivated by their own deep sense of loss reach out to those suffering collective grief at unimaginable levels, ?will we see the results.? As Washington Irving put it:

“I should know enough about loss to realize that you never really stop missing someone-you just learn to live around the huge gaping hole of their absence. There is a sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues.”

It is when these tongues, deeply acquainted with the personal torment of loss, speak for the world of the grieving that humanity closes the loop, bringing people of understanding together.? In carrying on our own grief with an eye towards a broader humanity we bring to a hurting world the kind of healing that no law, legislator, diplomat or researcher can hope to provide.? It is in empowering the grieving within civil society to reach out in understanding to a broader dimension that we can begin the process of better dealing with the world’s trauma.

Can we measure the world’s grief?? Likely not.?But we can pull alongside it, bringing companionship and a sense of justice for those thrust into loss through political events not of their own making but that still require consolation and action ?Perhaps some commentators are correct in saying the grief the world is bearing today is unlike anything in recent memory, but it’s time to speak up for those who have tragedy thrust upon them by politics, injustice and evil.?And there’s no one better to lead that charge than an army of citizens who have endured personal grief and been empowered through the process to reach out and heal a broader world struggling in its own sense of unimaginable loss.

Is An Ethical Economy No Longer Possible?

Posted on June 26, 2018

Soon enough we’ll be entering into an economic period where we’ll be informed that we can no longer afford those things we believe important.? Climate change, poverty, affordable housing, mental health, effective employment, post-secondary education, investments in home-grown businesses – these cost too much, we will be informed, and to create a competitive economy we must learn to let such aspirations ?go.? Which is kind of funny, since Canada has more wealth running through than at any time in our history.

These aren’t merely aspirational desires but fundamental necessities for any modern society to flourish and to be told we can no longer afford them is both a lie and an insult.?These are investments – down payments on our present capacity and our future promise for our children.? To rip such things out of citizen vocabulary is to close a promise on a democracy that we supposedly cherish and still wish to live by.

There was a time when such things were seen as moral and ethical pursuits for both governments and economies alike.? That was before the rationale of bottom-line economies transcended societal necessity and we’ve been falling farther behind ever since.

We’ve tossed “morality” aside as a word or even as a concept because it reminds us of a preachy kind of past when things like religion or dogmatism got too involved in telling us how to live.? The trouble is that we have little to replace the term.? We speak of ethics, corporate social responsibility, social justice – these are noble in themselves, but still lack the connection between misbehaving and punishment.? That hesitancy has permitted economic decisions to be made that wreak havoc on the social order with no accountability.? Economics has become increasingly about efficiency, supply and demand, and, above all, the profit margin instead of human good, environmental sustainability and public accountability.

We have permitted ourselves to sink into a kind of existence where morality has become passé?just as our economics results in immoral behaviours and outcomes. ?How much longer will we just accept the imperatives of economic growth over the general welfare of society?? Should we continue to tolerate a financial management style that maintains that the loss of good jobs is the price we must all accept if we want future prosperity?

We’ve been at this long enough now to discern that it’s not working out for us, or anybody else, except for the very few.? It isn’t merely a trade-off between jobs and wealth, but rather what is best for humanity versus what is crushing it.? In the end, it is only humanity that we hold that is our greatest possession.

It might be interesting to note that the term “moral” is working its way back into our language, largely because the damage created by our modern economies is harmful enough since it repeatedly crosses the line between what’s tolerable and what is simply wrong.? Something that serious – a practice so pernicious that leaves such dysfunction in its wake – warrants an historic term upon which to be measured against.? Moral or immoral fills that need.

A moral economy or an ethical financial architecture could never turn its back on the loss of jobs or place its own benefit over that of billions of others.? Most vital of all, an economy linked to human and not just economic progress would recognize climate change for what it is: an all-too-common condition created by corporations and citizens alike.? The action of voters electing immoral leaders in order to achieve moral outcomes can only end in chaos.

No political or financial leader should ever compel societies to sacrifice those things they value most – education, healthcare, ecological balance, desire for an affluent existence – in order to achieve economic benefit.? Any other field of interest would term such an imposition as immoral.

Michelle Obama noted a short while ago that, “I have learned that as long as I hold fast to my beliefs and values – and follow my own moral compass – then the only expectations I need to live up to are my own.”? But that’s just the problem: what about everyone else’s hopes and expectations??Those personal values must be joined with those of others if a just society is to be won and held.

The longer we take to press for a more equitable economy the longer our politics will dominate us. ?The result of our tardiness is now becoming apparent and our governing forces won’t press for the changes required unless we do. ? That’s how democracy works and is meant to function.

Morality is a societal resource just as it is a personal one.? It is only when we recognize that reality and gather together around those shared values that a moral economy can be achieved.? Stay independent and separate and the only economic order we will ever know or live under will lead to a future of diminished returns.

 

 

 

 

 

Wounded Warrior

Posted on June 24, 2018

I caught his stare as I was brought into the House of Commons for the first time and just couldn’t read it.? It was late-2006, shortly after I had won a by-election as a Liberal in London, Ontario.? Paul Dewar had entered the House as a newcomer for the NDP only a few months before.? I had known of him prior to my political tenure, but seeing his face that day left me with no doubt that he was a fighter of some kind.

A couple of hours later we passed one another in the Opposition Lobby and he introduced himself.? Taller than me, he looked vigorous, contained, and somewhat intense.? We sat on the same side of the House and frequently voted the same way on various bills before us.

Dewar was on a mission – one that didn’t begin with his election but had fueled him for years prior to political tenure.? His mother, Marion, had been well-known as both the Mayor of Ottawa and MP for the NDP.? Paul’s fighting spirit emerged early, when in Grade Three he had troubled reading and writing due to dyslexia.? He worked his way through those challenges, eventually earning a Bachelor of Arts degree from Carleton University and Bachelor of Education degree from Queens, becoming a teacher.

He discovered a deep sense of purpose when volunteering as an aid worker in Nicaragua.? Returning to teaching, he was eventually awarded by Queens for his dedication to working with special needs students.? His list of activities following that point is long and impressive, but what they all had in common was a spirit of advocacy.? He was a battler and it was only a matter of time until he ended up in Parliament.

To our delight, Paul and I worked well together on the Foreign Affairs and International Trade Committee.? We shared a keen interest in Africa and supported one another in various initiatives to assist that troubled continent.? At one point the committee had reached a stalemate and we both exited into the hallway and attempted to hammer out a compromise between our positions.? It worked and the motion was passed.? I came to trust in that instinct of Paul’s, that he could find compromise if it was fair and also came from a place of honest endeavour.

At one point I had a light lunch with NDP leader Jack Layton in the fifth-floor restaurant in Centre Block and he shared with me that his party was always full of fighters, but that Paul Dewar brought in a kind of international expertise and commitment that the party occasionally lacked.? “Help him when you can, Glen,” he offered.? “He’s totally committed to his work.”

And that’s just how it turned out.? When he ran for the NDP leadership after we both had left the House, I send word to him that I would be glad to see him in London and supported what he was trying to accomplish, especially in overseas matters.? Though he said we’d grab a coffee, we didn’t get to hook up because of his heavy schedule, but did communicate by email.

It was with a real and deep sadness that I learned of Paul’s diagnosis of terminal grade 4 glioblastoma cancer – the same cancer that took Gord Downey not long ago.? In typical fashion, he announced the prognosis to the world and affirmed that he would spend his remaining time supporting grassroots youth movements.

All of this has been deeply moving for me, as I continue to reflect on his activism and his fitting role as critic for Foreign Affairs in the House while he was there.? He was always struggling, always railing against injustice, always attempting to bring voices into the political system that otherwise might have remained isolated without such a champion.? He will forever remain in my memory as a wounded warrior – bearing the scars of those who history had frequently marginalized and who politics refused to engage.

And now he bears the final wounds of his own.? He faces his own departure by focusing on newly arrived young minds and spirits who need to know that public service is worth the effort and that a better world must be created by better policies.? He is like many other politicians in that he cares for his country and the place of the marginalized within it.? But he is more than that.? His years in the House were preceded by a lifetime of struggle for social justice and he brought that experience to the centre of the nation’s political interest.? He was never my foe, but always my friend.? I was 13 years his senior, but he was the better, more mature person and I learned from him.

In those seasons when we’re increasingly tempted to tear down politicians and their actions, we should remember people like Paul Dewar – public servants who brought a deep humanity to politics and who seamlessly carried on with that essence long after politics has ended.? Fight on, Paul.? More is yet to be done and we still require champions for a more equitable world.

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