For a wiser 2015

Approaching a new year is a wonderful opportunity to look ahead and actually create what we want that year to look like. I would like my 2015 to be a wiser year. I would like it to be a year of honest self-reflection and positive action.

A past teacher once told me that I have no idea how my community sees and listens to me. I don’t know what they love or hate about me, and I don’t know what I’ve done to them in the past that remains incomplete – unless they tell me. And, many don’t volunteer that information until expressly asked for it.

In that spirit, I am asking.

I am putting out an open call to understand how people see and listen to me now and, where those views aren’t so positive, to get your opinions on what I can do to encourage others to see and listen to me in a more positive light.

So, I ask that you please “leave a reply” below with as much brutal honesty as you can stomach. Please indicate if you would like your comment to remain private (that’s the default) or if you allow me to make it public. You can also feel free to contact me directly by e-mail at markonline3 at hotmail dot com if you would like to share that way.

Thank you in advance for your generosity. I see this as a gift.

Why I am leaving social media

I am leaving all social media for one week, effective immediately.

Lately, I have become present to the extremely negative role that social media has on my view of people in general and more importantly, on my mental health.

Waking up this morning to a myriad of comments celebrating (!!!) the murder of 4 Israeli civilians who were just praying in their synagogue, coupled with the complete lack of even the slightest condemnation from any of my non-Jewish friends on the topic, leaves me empty about the future of humanity.

It saddens me to remember Martin Niemoller’s famous quote in times like this:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

We will get the world that we create, and we will deserve that world. And if we only speak out when we have a personal interest, then we should be ready for our society, our morals, and our values, to be taken over by those who have no morals or values at all.

And if you prefer to brush off my fears as irrational or exaggerated, just look at your timeline. It is already happening.

Worse than the silence of not speaking out against this murderous hatred is the fact that global silence from non-Jews is considered tacit support for their hate-filled, destructive tactics. International aide funneled to terrorists who are believed to be among the richest groups in the world, coupled with international condemnation of Israel for simply defending their people’s right to live leaves me shaking my head in disbelief.

But it’s true. Iran openly declares, three times in one week, about their desire to destroy the state of Israel and their plan to do it, and the United States sits quietly, working back channels to make a deal with them that would allow them to pursue their destructive nuclear goals.

I see friends who decide to stay out of these issues telling me that it’s not worth it. I believe it is worth it, but perhaps I’m wrong.

Perhaps the majority is right.

Perhaps ignorance really is bliss.

The Jian Ghomeshi saga

I am disturbed by how the public seems to think it’s okay to weigh in on a situation it has next to no unbiased information about.

It bothers me that people are so quick to confuse their beliefs and feelings with the truth, and publicly claim them as such (not only here… eh?).

I am disgusted by how ALL involved feel it necessary to fight these private matters in the court of public opinion, where the rules are much more lax, the standards are much lower, and the “jurors” more easily influenced by feeling than fact.

Good for all of you. Really mature.

We shouldn’t be surprised, though, that all of this is happening on social media. We do, in fact, live in an era where people communicate through smartphones and websites rather than picking up a phone or ringing a doorbell. And when we do get together, we spend most of our time looking at our devices anyway.

And that is why it is even more important than ever to remind people that just reading something on the internet does not make it true.

Let me be perfectly clear, I categorically condemn anyone who abuses another person. I would like nothing more than to see all forms of abuse disappear. Neither you, nor I, know for sure if this is a case of abuse.

While civil society definitely has a role to play in discussing, searching for and creating and then implementing solutions for eliminating abuse between people, we should not pretend that this case is any of our business.

It would be entirely disingenuous for anyone to suddenly take an interest in the cause of domestic abuse or abusive relationships because of this case, as the only reason we are hearing about it is because Jian Ghomeshi is a public figure. To make Jian Ghomeshi the scapegoat for our anger about abusive relationships would be completely irresponsible given that this story doesn’t hold a candle to the real, damaging, abuse that so many others face on a daily basis that doesn’t get the press it deserves.

Toronto Police Chief (and spotlight stealer extraordinaire) Bill Blair has publicly requested that victims of abuse step forward. Isn’t involving the police a very personal, private decision? (One of Ghomeshi’s accusers provided today a very rational explanation for why she didn’t.) And if Chief Blair is so interested in helping, why has he been so silent up until now? What about all of the unreported abuse at the hands of regular joes who don’t live in the public eye? What is the end game here?

To those standing up for Jian, please remember that there are many reasons why he would release the statement that he did the other day, and not all of them are honourable. A little common sense and critical analysis goes a long way.

To those taking the side of (a growing number of) the women involved, does it not seem odd to you that while you stand up for “Lucy”, you are stepping on Jian? (I am NOT defending him, I am just pointing out the hypocrisy in defending an alleged victim by creating a real one – with absolutely no proof.)

Again, I do not know anything about what happened between Jian and these women, and I am positive that the stories we are hearing (from both “sides”) are not the complete truth. These kinds of statements allow those involved the opportunity to say what they want us to hear, in the way they want us to hear it. In many cases, much time has passed, and many psychological studies suggest strong proof that, in time, we remember stories the way we wished they happened rather than how they actually did. Could that be happening here? Absolutely. From both sides.

Last I checked, we lived in a society that valued being innocent until proven guilty. And our opinions on Jian’s innocence or guilt, or on the credibility of the women involved, doesn’t make him innocent or guilty, nor do they make the women credible or not.

We are spectators watching a game that should not even be played in the stadium we are sitting in. Our comments on what we are seeing add nothing to the game. Worse, they might even be proving our collective lack of real commitment to ending it.

Down (but not out) at 25,000 feet

Just after midnight on Thursday, I posted a message that only began to explain my mood:

Twitter1016

Little did I know at the time that my Thursday would be a lot more eventful than expected and that I would be running more than one race.

I organize team building events in the format of the TV show The Amazing Race. All of our events are custom designed and personalized. Every race is unique. The finished product is the result of countless hours of work including much logistical planning. The process for designing a race begins weeks before its execution.

When I left my house at 8am for Trudeau airport in Montreal on Thursday morning with a bag of materials and clues for a 3pm race in Toronto, I was excited but very calm. Visibility was poor around Toronto’s City airport but I had time. I knew that my 9:30am flight could be delayed up to 2 full hours and I would still arrive with enough time to set up and get the race going.

At the airport, I learned that the 8:30am flight had not yet left, and along with the 9:30am flight, we were waiting for the fog to lift in Toronto before departing. My previous experience was this this was a morning phenomenon and I was confident that we would leave well before 11:30am. The pilot of the flight, along with the Montreal ground crew, were watching a camera perched at the Toronto airport and were encouraged by what they saw. Obviously, their optimism encouraged me.

I got off on next flight out, just before 10am. I knew my schedule would be tight, but that I had time. In the air, all felt perfectly normal, until the captain took to the PA system and explained that the weather conditions had worsened since we took off and that, though we were approaching Toronto’s Billy Bishop airport, that we would have to “hold up here for a while”. When he said he would update us “every 10 minutes”, we all got the sense that this wouldn’t be a short wait.

10, 20, 30 minutes passed. The captain made an attempt to land. We were at the height of the Rogers Center and part way up the CN Tower. We saw they were virtually engulfed in dark fog. The captain pulled the plane back up.

I was still calm. A few passengers started talking about how we would rather land safely and be late than risk a landing with poor visibility.

10, 20 more minutes passed. The captain then explained that we are going to try again from the other side. We made an approach that allowed me to just barely see the edge of the runway from my seat in row 9. And then we were pulled back up again.

At this point, I am slightly on edge. I reassure myself with the knowledge that we were so close. 300 meters to be precise, confirmed by a handheld GPS and ultimately by the co-pilot later on.  The passengers around me start discussing theories of what might come next. Generally, we are confident this is all coming to an end soon, but the word “Pearson” (as in the airport) has entered the conversation.

5-10 minutes later, and the captain takes the mic again. We are all expecting him to say we’re trying again. I wonder if a “third time’s the charm” comment is forthcoming.

Instead, he says this:

“Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking. As you’ve noticed, we have tried twice to land at Toronto City airport, but the fog is not permitting a safe landing… We will be proceeding to our alternate… (Pause)”

He paused long enough for everyone in the middle of the plane to either mouth, or say aloud, “Pearson.”

Then he continued. “Our alternate is Montreal. Arrival time in Montreal is…”

A collective, audible gasp could be heard. I am confident that what came out of my mouth was a hushed “no!” though the voice inside my head screamed something that sounded more like “no <censored> way!”

I looked around for a flight attendant, probably to get a visual confirmation that the captain said what I thought (feared) he said. Emily and Kathleen,  I quickly learned their names, were being bombarded with questions. We could not believe our ears.

Now headed east, an intense feeling of resignation came over me. I started to rehash and question my decisions. Should I have flown the night before at this time of year? Could I have foreseen such a crazy delay? Did I do everything I needed to do to put myself in a position for success on this race? I was upset but I was taking it out on myself. I wanted to punch a seat. I joked with the flight attendants who asked me not to. I obliged.

Standing at the back of the plane, trapped without communication at 25,000 feet, I felt helpless. I tried to ignore that I would need to explain this to my client by getting into a conversation with the flight attendants. They were in good spirits. My inner voice explained their calmness as being “on the clock” and that they wouldn’t have to deal with the same consequences I would. I started to try to justify my bad mood.

And then, my feeling of helplessness bothered me more than the circumstances I found myself in. I became defiant. I looked at the flight attendants and said: “forget this! I’m going to make this work!” (Ummm..  the f-word I used wasn’t “forget”.)

I went back to my seat and pulled out my laptop and started preparing emails with the clues and instructions for my staff on the ground in Toronto. The clues would need to be reprinted and materials would need to be delivered, but I certainly wasn’t going to accomplish anything useful by brooding or feeling sorry for myself.

As soon as we landed, I took the front seat of the plane, connected to the airport’s Wi-Fi and sent the e-mails. I called my awesome staff and race partners and explained what they needed to do to make this work. We were on the ground for about 35 minutes, and I used every single one of them to be in productive communication. I was committed to making this work regardless of the circumstances.

I called my client (interrupting his presentation at his company meeting), explained the situation and reiterated my commitment to making this work. We agreed to postpone the race start by an hour. Bolstered by his flexibility and generous understanding, I got right back to making the necessary adjustments.

By the time we were up in the air again, this time with a very confident confirmation from the pilot that we would not be back in Montreal, I was cautiously optimistic. This was a freaky, unexpected situation that forced me to let go of the reins, relinquish control, and put my trust and faith in my partners. Though I absolutely love what I do for a living, I have had a lot of trouble doing this in the past. This company is my proverbial “baby” and I have been meticulous about making sure that nothing bad happens to it.

In this situation, it was absolutely clear that if we were to see success in this event, I would need to lean on others rather than do it all on my own. There was only so much I could do over the next 55 minutes in the sky and I did all of it, just in case. Ultimately, though, it was my staff and partners who came through and made this race happen.

I could not be more grateful for their listening, partnership, and can-do attitude. Thank you to Lee, Willard, Debby, and Frances for helping turn a very unfortunate situation into a wonderful learning experience. Through Amazing Race Canada, I have designed engaging challenges to teach effective problem solving skills, but this one was more challenging than any I have dreamed up.

I was recently told that “attitude is altitude”. Looking back, I will not soon forget how a change of attitude at an altitude of 25,000 feet changed the course of this fateful day. Sure, our circumstances have an effect on our lives, but having (and keeping) a positive attitude can overcome some of the most challenging situations we might encounter.

Ron MacLean, French referees, and public outrage

First of all, GO HABS GO! Great series, boys!

If you’re a fan like me, you watched games 1-4 attentively, with excitement. You would have seen a young French referee in Game 3 named Francis Charron make a very gutsy call to disallow a Tampa Bay goal. You would have seen the shock that followed from the Tampa bench. You would have expected, from experience, that the fact that this referee and the Montreal coach and GM spoke the same first language would be brought up. Sadly.

You’d have been right.

Then, in Game 4, another French referee, Francois St. Laurent, is involved in another goalmouth decision. This time, he decides in favour of Tampa Bay. Phew. Crisis averted, right?

Nope.

At the intermission, CBC’s Ron MacLean opines that the NHL should not have assigned a French referee to this game, given what happened in the last game.

Okay. Interesting.

Then, within hours, outrage from people in various parts of the country at this comment.

The Montreal Gazette, in its typical habit of promoting controversy to sell “papers”, publishes a letter to the editor written at lightning-fast speed (so fast he didn’t even care to check facts or understand context) by Calgary native Kevin O’Connor, who criticizes, well, everyone at the CBC, saying this:

Ron MacLean’s comments regarding the inappropriate use of French referees in the Montreal Canadiens vs. Tampa Bay game was insulting to all Canadians who respect diversity and who live in a country that claims this as a value.

To think our so-called national broadcaster allows such divisive rhetoric is deplorable and just reinforces the fact that the CBC should have its funding cut (even though I do not support the political reasons the government uses to justify its cuts).

The CBC should be ashamed of itself! I know my family and I are.

I would love to have someone from CBC provide an explanation to my 6-year-old son, who asked “why is Mr. MacLean saying they should not have French referees?”

(…)

Once again, shame on the CBC. Hopefully Rogers will provide a more balanced coverage and keep divisive ignorant behaviour to a minimum.

A soon to be RDS customer …

Kevin O’Connor, Calgary

Since he asks so nicely for someone to provide an explanation to his 6-year old son, and since I love to help, here’s one I wrote just for him. I invite him to share this with his young child.

To Kevin O’Connor, outraged Habs fan:

As a proud Habs fan myself, I watched last night’s Game 4 with interest and excitement, and heard the comment that Ron MacLean made about French referees during the intermission.

As a parent, aware of my child being a proverbial “sponge”, soaking in comments from all around, and her being very inquisitive, I am sensitive to your call for “someone from CBC provide an explanation to my 6-year-old son, who asked “why is Mr. MacLean saying they should not have French referees?””

Since I doubt that the CBC would take the time to provide such an answer to you, please accept mine.

First, I would tell your son that Mr. MacLean did not actually say they should not have French referees. I would tell him that it is important to listen carefully before criticizing. What Mr. MacLean actually said was that he doesn’t think the league should have assigned a French referee for Game 4, the game following one where a French referee made a marginal call in favour of the Habs that had a huge impact on the game.

You could use this opportunity to teach your son the meaning of the term “unfortunate coincidence” given that you must, like all reasonable people, understand that professional hockey referees do not stand to gain anything by calling a game in favour of one team or the other.

You could further teach your son that whether we like it or not, people will judge. They won’t take the time to understand the context of the thing they are complaining about, to get the full story, or even make sure that the story they tell is true. They will judge anyway.

Oh, wait. You did teach your son that. You proved to him that his own father is the worst example of that, by writing this letter.

Now that you have received my explanation, Mr. O’Connor, I would ask you to provide me with an explanation of why you are so outraged by MacLean’s so-called generalization of “French referees” (that you have wildly misinterpreted, by the way) while finding it completely acceptable to generalize MacLean’s personal comment to be representative of the entire CBC. I actually read what you wrote (“The CBC should be ashamed of itself!) and again later (Once again, shame on the CBC!) before criticizing. Why should an entire network be ashamed because of a singular comment made by one person during a live broadcast?

Finally, you could teach your son that people make mistakes, and that the honourable ones take responsibility and apologize, just like Ron MacLean did. The sad part, here, is that you criticized so quickly that you didn’t give him the time to teach your son the most important lesson of all – that when you do wrong, or might have, to ultimately do what is right.

Mark (Unleashed)

Good riddance, ex-Premier Marois

I understand that politically correct offers of thanks to outgoing Premier Pauline Marois for her “service” to Quebec will happen. Still, I am confused when I hear them, given that Marois’ version of “service” was to divide Quebecers, sow hatred, and create space for people to “not be afraid to be intolerant” (her words).

However, reading Gazette columnist Jillian Page’s “appreciation” is simply shocking. To attempt to credit Marois for “putting herself in the line of fire,” literally, is to re-write what happened on the night of the 2012 election and what led up to it.

Let me be clear: I am not condoning shooting people one doesn’t agree with. We should not be surprised, however, that when someone runs a campaign meant on creating animosity between people and exploiting cultural and religious differences, and for what – personal, political gain – that someone would resort to extreme measures to stop it.

While die-hard Pequistes will claim that Premier Marois dedicated herself to Quebec, Monday night’s result shows clearly that most Quebecers understand that Marois’ only service was to her own narrow self-interest, at the expense of everyone who did not think like her or want what she wants. Rather than congratulate her, let us get right to the difficult work of building the bridges she destroyed and undoing the vast damage she caused to our communities and to our province.

Celebrity with a Deadly Past

As we approach the Paralympics, I find myself conflicted.

I witnessed much of the 2002 Paralympic Winter Games first hand as an employee of the the Salt Lake Organizing Committee, and can attest to the remarkable nature of and perseverance shown by these athletes in overcoming their physical limitations in order to excel in sport, and for some, in life.

That being said, some of the disabilities are not as unexpected as others. This story talks about how former Canadian Paralympic sledge hockey player Herve Lord admitted that on the night he lost his right leg in a car accident, he was driving drunk. The accident killed 2 parents and left 2 kids orphaned.

At the end of the video, this reporter calls Lord “an incredible guy” who has “been through an awful lot”.

  • Do you think he is incredible?
  • Does “being through an awful lot” count for as much when the hardship is of your own irresponsible causing?
  • Does someone like this deserve to be celebrated (in a report, as a representative of a country, in a session with the country’s leader) after what he did?
  • Does the fact that he served 16 months in prison make up for killing 2 people and leaving 2 others without their parents, AND allow him to live a normal life within his new context, an opportunity not afforded at all to the two he killed?
  • Does his remorse affect your opinion at all? How?

I am having a hard time forgiving this action and justifying cheering this guy on. Thankfully, he’s no longer part of the team, so I will be excitedly cheering on Canada these Paralympics in hopes of Triple Hockey Gold in Sochi. But I would love your opinions on how this guy’s past actions affect how you see him, and people like him, today.