Cleaning Out The Junk Drawer


How Social Isolation Is Leading to Societal Reckoning

I’ve never been an overly social person.  I work in a solo environment, I prefer to be self-directed and self-motivated and have always gravitated to jobs, goals, tasks, and hobbies that are best done alone.  That is why Triathlon is my sport of choice, I would much rather take my bike out, alone, for a 50 km ride than walk around a golf course with 3 other guys for 4 hours.

You could say that makes me an extreme introvert.  But it’s not the whole story.

My work is necessarily social.  I go out and talk to people, listen, and interact on a very personal, some might even say intimate, level.  I’ve never enjoyed live networking events, too loud and superficial, so over the years I have perfected the use of tools like the telephone, email and social media to facilitate the personal connection required while still providing the physical distance I crave.  A certain degree of physical distancing is comfortable for me and serves to make it easier to achieve the level of personal connection required to do my job.   Somehow speaking to a disembodied voice on the phone is less threatening than revealing the particulars of life face to face.

At the beginning of this pandemic I slipped into the new protocols, the elimination of in person meetings in favor of video conferencing and more phone and email interaction etc., like an old shoe.  We all had to learn new ways of doing things and for the most part we’ve done pretty well.  Humans are nothing if not adaptive.  But this prolonged level of isolation and introspection has pushed much of society to consider and examine things in ways that we aren’t used to.  Once the pandemic’s initial shock wore off and we started to settle into a different routine the cracks in our society made up of social, racial, and economic inequality, began to show.  These cracks are not new, it’s just that before we could cover them up with our busyness, now we have to sit with them and ask “what does this mean to me, and to our collective experience?”

Ashlee Eiland, author of the book “Human(Kind); How Reclaiming Human Worth and Embracing Radical Kindness Will Bring Us Back Together” recently likened the experience to cleaning out a junk drawer.  She said that it’s as if the junk drawer of society has been dumped out and we are now being forced to sort through it, deciding what to keep and what to throw away.

Here are a few observations learned listening to her and examining my life these past few months.

1 – We must rethink how we interact with and serve one another. 

Beware of a creeping sense of judgmentalism, it’s one thing to say you respect everyone regardless of race, sexual-orientation or religion, it’s quite another to put into practice especially when those things lead to differences in the way people think and act.  Are you engaging with people through self-righteousness or a genuine desire to value the individual?  Are you open to learning from those with a different perspective?

2 – Much of the work ahead will be conducted in the hidden places.

Real change happens when people of different backgrounds get in proximity with one another and begin working and learning together.  This does not happen on the streets or the television screens, it happens on the shop floors and boardrooms of society.  And it does not happen overnight.  How long does it take to cultivate an authentic relationship?  No one really knows.

3 – We must be willing to move forward without fear.

Someone will say or do the wrong thing, someone will be misunderstood, and someone will be offended.  When people of differing backgrounds get together we can’t avoid these things, but if we act with humility they can be easily addressed and corrected before they cause too much damage.  This will be a long process and we must not grow weary.

The heart of the matter is this; when we allow grace and humility fill us it flows out into the world like a overflowing river quenching the longing of a thirsty world.  We’ve been in the desert for a long time, the world is crying out for water, grace and humility are the eternal spring that we all need to drink from right now.

How do we do that?  Come thirsty but stay humble.

 

Kicking Away the Ladder


(A Lament for Charlottesville, NAFTA and the proper use of Tiki Torches)

It is a very common clever device that when anyone has attained the summit of greatness, he kicks away the ladder by which he has climbed up, in order to deprive others of the means of climbing up after him.  – Friedrich List; The National System of Political Economy

Georg Friedrich List was a German born economist who developed what is known today as the National System of Innovation.  He was a forefather of the German historical school of economics and many of his ideas formed the bases of the European Economic Community, the predecessor of today’s European Union.  His seminal work on the subject of economics and international trade, “The National System of Political Economy” is a three volume set originally published in 1841 which rivals the works of Adam Smith and Karl Marx in terms of lasting influence in the minds of economists the world over.  Sadly List’s ideas were so controversial at the time that he was arrested and exiled to the United States.  He died shortly after the final publication of The National System and never had the opportunity to defend or expand upon his theories.

List’s work focused on a doctrine of national and international management of trade, global collaboration, and supportive interconnectedness.  In sort, Friedrich List was one of the first proponents of comparative advantage and globalization.  The fact that most of his work was completed while living in the United States and the United Kingdom is in no small part responsible for the rise of western domination in international trade over the last century and a half.

In today’s political and economic climate List’s observations regarding protectionism and oppression can be viewed as very timely and prophetic.  Just this past week, behind closed doors in Washington, the United States, Canada and Mexico began the first of several rounds of negotiations aimed at re-writing the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).  No doubt many of List’s ideas will be front and centre throughout the process, even if many of the negotiators aren’t even conscious of them.

The very people and systems that have used things like tariffs and subsidies to increase trade, and were once in favour of immigration to bolster the workforce and create wealth now actively oppose all attempts of others to use those same devices to achieve the same things.  That, in a nutshell is the current state of international relations and trade, especially in the west were populist sentiment and neo-conservative economic thought prevails.  America was built on immigration, subsidies and cheap labour, now they want to prevent Mexico and punish Canada for doing the same kinds of things in order to protect their own dominance on the world stage.

But that’s not all.

Economics isn’t just about money.  It’s about politics and inter-human relationships as well.  Earlier this week I watched in horror as white men marched through the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia with Tiki Torches chanting “White Lives Matter” and calling for a return to white privilege and the establishment of a so called white homeland.  Nothing is more repulsive than privileged men complaining about a loss of privilege in the most heavily skewed white male privileged society the world as ever known.   If only these men really understood what it meant to be persecuted for the color of your skin, religion, level of education or economic status?

At the end of the day all violence is in some way about economics and a loss of privilege.  Even a miniscule loss of privilege is still a loss of economic influence in a rapidly changing world.    But change is necessary and hanging on to privilege while people scratch and claw their way up the economic ladder is simply impossible.  The only way to do it is to deny the basic humanity in those below you on that ladder.

And that’s what it comes down to; Humanity.   That is humanity defined in terms of benevolence, not just a collective description of the human race.

In 1948 the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  At the time it was a progressive document that envisioned a world very similar to the one proclaimed by the founding fathers in the United States Declaration of Independence.  Among the 30 points adopted by the UN are such stalwarts of humanity as;

Article 1 – We are all born Free and Equal.

Article 7 – We are all equal before the law.

Article 12 – The right to privacy.

Article 20 – The right to public assembly.

Article 21 – The right to democracy.

Article 22 – The right to social security.

Article 26 – The right to education.

Article 30 – No one can take away your human rights.

http://www.youthforhumanrights.org/what-are-human-rights/universal-declaration-of-human-rights/articles-1-15.html

Within the laws of western democracy and any country that is signatory to the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, racist rallies like the one that took place in Charlottesville, Virginia on August 13th are an aberration that cannot be tolerated!  Nor can any attempt to restrict trade or curtail immigration.

Freidrich List warned against the potential for both the current contentious NAFTA negotiations and the riots in Charlottesville over 175 years ago.  He could see that at the end of the day, people are selfish and we need institutions like NAFTA and the UN to remind us of our shared humanity.

My prayers are with the victims of racial violence in all its forms and with the men and women tasked with re-negotiating NAFTA.  May we all, first and foremost, remember our shared humanity at times like these.

Lauren C. Sheil is a serial entrepreneur who has been in business for over 25 years. His latest book “Meekoethics: What Happens When Life Gets Messy and the Rules Aren’t Enough” is available on Amazon.com.

He can be reached at themeekonomicsproject@gmail.com or by calling 613-295-4141.

 

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Carefully Taught


You’ve got to be taught
To hate and fear,
You’ve got to be taught
From year to year,
It’s got to be drummed
In your dear little ear
You’ve got to be carefully taught.

You’ve got to be taught to be afraid
Of people whose eyes are oddly made,
And people whose skin is a diff’rent shade,
You’ve got to be carefully taught.

You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late,
Before you are six or seven or eight,
To hate all the people your relatives hate,
You’ve got to be carefully taught! [Oscar Hammerstein; South Pacific]

south pacific

South Pacific first appeared on Broadway in 1949 and ran for 1,925 performances. The Broadway musical and subsequent movie by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein is loosely based on a collection of short stories by James A. Michener called Tales of the South Pacific, published in 1947. I first saw the Broadway version performed at a summer theater in a converted barn near my home town in the 1980s but I was already familiar with many of the songs because my father, who I have mentioned before had been a very progressive Baptist pastor, owned a copy of the movie soundtrack.

Peppered among the upbeat songs and flashy dancing of the musical, one number even features a cross dressing sailor, is a strong and controversial (at least for the 1940s), message on racism.

The story is set on a remote island in the South Pacific during the Second World War and centers on the inter-generational romance between a young American nurse and a middle aged French plantation owner. Tensions arise between the nurse and the plantation owner’s inter-racial children from a previous marriage and she must come to terms with her personal prejudice. The song above is the most poignant moment in the entire play sung, when in a secondary plot, a naval lieutenant by the name of Cable falls in love with a native Tonkinese girl and comes face to face with the prejudices of his American military brethren.

That song has been running through my head all week.

Last Saturday, as I drove in my car I heard the disturbing news that a Japanese citizen had been executed by ISIS followed a few days later with confirmation that a Jordanian pilot had been burned alive by the same terror group. Our immediate response in the face of such brutality is to recoil from the horror and exclaim; “What evil? How could someone do such a thing?” But what Oscar Hammerstein taught us in 1949 and has become painfully clear over the last 70 years is that prejudice, racism and what those fighting terrorism have more recently dubbed ‘evil’ are all manifestations of things each and every one of us have learned from an early age.

A close friend of mine recently exclaimed that the terrorist must know that what they are doing is wrong, that they are making a choice to do it for the shock value and to incite our rage. We have to stamp them out by any means necessary.

While it may be true that they are choosing tactics to get our attention, I believe that the entire notion of choice in this regard has to be re-examined. I no more chose to be born in Canada, son of a progressive Baptist pastor, who taught me to look at the world through Jesus colored glasses as a broken shadow of its potential, than the members of ISIS chose to be born in the time and place they were born and taught to see the world as a corrupted version of their ideal full of infidels.

Children, no matter their nationality or religion are carefully taught to become reflections of the home and society in which they were born.  There is very little in the way of choice presented to any of us until it is too late. The terrorists we see on the nightly news may be making a conscious choice about the way in which they are waging war but their overarching worldview and motivation has been shaped by a lifetime of education at the hands and feet of generations that have gone before them.

So the next time you’re tempted to judge the actions of terrorists on the news or even the dark skinned clerk at your local convenience store remember:

You’ve got to be taught to be afraid
Of people whose eyes are oddly made,
And people whose skin is a diff’rent shade,
You’ve got to be carefully taught.

Oscar Hammerstein knew as early as 1949 that we will not win the war on prejudice, racism and terror until we wage war on education. Whether you want to admit it or not, we have all been carefully taught.

 

I Just Have to Say Something…


I don’t want to write about this topic.  I had hoped, like many that no one would ever have to write about this topic again.  But sadly we still live in a society that is full of ignorant philistines that just can’t understand how things are really supposed to work.

I’m talking about the recent racist uproar caused by, of all things, a Cheerios commercial.

You can view said commercial here;

There are two things that I find disturbing about this story. 

First the obvious, that racism is alive and well in North America.  That’s just sad.  I thought the civil war was over and the civil rights movement accomplished its goal decades ago.  There is a black man in the white house for Pete’s sake!  Get over it!  The constitution clearly declares all men (and women) created equal if you don’t believe that maybe you need to go back to kindergarten because you’re an ignoramus who should have failed the first time!

The second thing I find disturbing is a little more subtle.  According to CTV News, and a few other major news outlets, somehow this story is being spun in a way that makes the advertisers themselves culpable in their own criticism.  As one news anchor put it, this just shows that advertisers haven’t done enough to reflect the way American society really is. 

Huh? 

So what you’re saying is that since TV programs and commercials haven’t shown enough interracial families in the past they should expect a back lash?  That’s almost as dumb as the back lash itself!  I applaud advertisers who make an effort to tell it like it is.  Maybe in this case they are a bit late to the party but that is no excuse for the Neanderthals who insist in vilifying the idea of interracial marriages and families in the first place.   Racists are racists and giving them the excuse that they’ve never been shown this on TV before is bull.  You can’t give them any reason to hide behind their ignorance! 

The civil war is over.  The civil rights movement is over.  You lost.  Move on!

Chick-fil-A, KKK and Bigotry on All Sides – Enough is Enough!


Until know I’ve managed to ignore the whole Chick-Fil-A debate but this week something else happened that I couldn’t ignore and the two incidents stem from the same issue. 

It all started when I saw this story from fellow blogger Kurt Willems on his site, “The Pangea Blog”

Church Refuses to Marry Black Couple in Mississippi, Racism Alive in 2012.

I re-tweeted the link with the simple comment “Shocking” and thought that would be the end of it, until a few hours later when I received this reply on my twitter feed from @jaczaja;

@laurencsheil @KurtWillems That’s shocking? You must not live near Deepswamp, GA. I personally know KKK-“important” citizens.

When I responded that I thought that was just sad I received this further explanation.

@laurencsheil Know a newspaper publisher kept his Klan suit in his office until 2002. The fight is not over.

Add that to the endless Chick-Fil-A debacle and it’s enough to make a Jesus loving, bible study theology nerd like me apoplectic!

 At the end of the day both incidents come down to the same issue.  It’s bigotry plain and simple! 

And it’s not just the so called Christian Right that can claim a monopoly here.  I also follow a group that calls itself The Christian Left (@TheChristianLft) that I am sad to say has only tended to add fuel to the debate with its own brand of left wing bigotry.    Case in point, this photo posted on their facebook page earlier this week;

This kind of thing may seem funny to some but trust me, the people you need to convince aren’t laughing.  We all need to take a step back, collect ourselves and come to the table, with open hearts and bibles in hand willing to enter into a constructive and loving debate and stop posting caricatures and parodies of one other. 

Frankly I don’t know if Jesus hates fags or not, I’ve never had the chance to ask him.  But that’s not the point.  What I do know is that Jesus prayed for the unity of his church and there are about as many versus in the bible that support Christian’s openly slandering one another on any point of theology as there are stories about unicorns!  (I looked it up, there are no unicorns in the bible just incase you were wondering) 

Enough is enough!

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”[John 13:34.35]