On Being a Victim

“You can slowly ease into being a victim or you can accept being a victim, the only difference is the level of fight” – Terry Wiens (2018)

I had a very hard time falling asleep last night and was plagued with thoughts regarding victimization.  There’s a twisted irony to a week containing the annual celebration of love, Valentine’s day, ending with the level of tragedy we witnessed in Florida.  What kept me awake was realizing how deep into the wastelands of desensitization we are becoming as a society.  There has been over fifty years of that type of tragedy for us, as a society, to speak up and demand change but our collective silence allows it to continue.

A late night discussion on the pitfalls of stepping forward out of fear of repercussions just highlighted how far we have wandered into the forest of denial out of fear of speaking up.  Social media has just enabled even more vitriol to paralyze public reaction and keeps people in fearful silence.

I have spend my life refusing to be a victim which has made me the activist I am today.  I will not be silent on victimization, repercussions be damned, I will not be silenced towards injustice out of fear of losing friends or services.  It is my responsibility to minimize my own level of victimization and if that means being a dick every now and then, so be it.

I am no Colton Boushie but I do recognize the victimization attached to that case.  Being a victim is not a competition, it is not about the degree of victimization, it’s about the state of the groupthink that allows it to happen.  It’s about attitude.

When a court case can dismiss any potential aboriginal jurists under the guise of a “perceived bias” while twelve white jurist are believed to have no racial bias that says something about our society.  When persons of authority in that community can write on social media that the “only mistake was leaving witnesses” one has to question how balanced the system is for victims.

The biggest victims here are the First Nations community themselves.  Granted none of Colton’s peers sounded like angelic kids but then I was never a fully law abiding teenager either.  That didn’t mean you could shoot me and then walk away unscathed.  People need to speak up before this type of victimization becomes a norm.  Every time we remain silent we desensitize ourselves to the harshness of reality.  When we fail to speak out we become part of the problem and not a contributor to a solution.

These seventeen deaths in Florida were more than victims, they were martyrs.  They died in the name of a cause most of them probably weren’t even aware of.  The true victims are those who now now have to live with the void left in their lives because of inactivity to tackle an issue America has turned a blind eye to for generations.  An issue that has been going on for years in America but protected by the financial strength of one organization, the NRA.

These were mainly kids going on innocently with their life’s at school when the unthinkable happened except it is no longer unthinkable in America.  It is becoming a norm and nobody wants to speak out against it except for the victims.  From the Kent State massacre to Sandy Hook, Columbine and now Stoneman High School in Florida.  America has had over fifty years to address this problem but nobody seems to have the guts to speak out.  Politicians talking about “thoughts and prayers” is just crappy code for “hey NRA how about donating to my election campaign” and it has to stop. Continue reading

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Family Day and Telethon’s

“I didn’t ask anyone to make me a poster boy, because poster boys always end up on a dart board” – Anurag Kashyap 

Today is Family Day in BC.  Yesterday was the 2017 annual Variety Show of Hearts Telethon.  What do they have in common?  They are both family focused however they are designed to address temporary issues that are constantly in flux.  Families change and telethon poster children change.  I have issues with both.

1955 March of Dimes Timmy Winnipeg

Winnipeg 1955 March of Dimes Timmy

I was a poster child many years ago and I had a family many years ago.  However we age and life, like circumstances, change.  Although I do not deny the good intentions of telethon’s they do bring me some grief by becoming more of a vehicle to alleviate social guilt rather than address a growing issue.  Yes they help a handful of families but there are way more families who never see any of that help.

Too many agencies now use cuteness and touching stories to remain in business. Now I must give some credit where credit is due and the Variety Show of Hearts Telethon did raise $5.5 million dollars this year.  I am not saying that the Variety Village does not provide a much needed service but they do set up a series of unrealistic conditions.  What happens when that same cute child outgrows the services provided by an organization like Variety Village by becoming an adult in need of care? Continue reading

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With Fear as the Warden!

“Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear” – Mark Twain

Picture showing the stillness of large Canadian flag hanging limply in the mist

Another foggy day out there and no wind to help dissipate it.  From my window I can see the huge Canadian flag as still and innocuous as a snail trying to avoid the escargot plate.  I know Mount Benson is on the horizon in the fog but unseeable today.  I have a lot of unseen issues on the horizons these days but I know by tomorrow the mist will have lifted and Benson will still be there.

Regardless that doesn’t change that restlessness I’m feeling in my stomach.  A familiar feeling that is my subconsciousness’s way of getting me to acknowledge the fear or dread that is creating my brain fog.  That could be, in part, due to my Residential Tenancy hearing next Tuesday.  That fear is causing a bit of self-doubt but I am prepared and I know I am right.

Frozen in fear, fear is the mind killer, there are all kinds of quotes regarding fear.  We all experience fear and deal with it in our own way.  Too often we let the fear control us rather than mastering that fear.  Fear, like worry, does nothing but capture.  Fear can hold you prisoner and keep you from moving on.  I like to think I control my fears and not the other way around.  It takes some courage to fight fear but I would rather that than succumbing to someone else’s abuse.

The origin of the often used quote “There is nothing to fear but fear itself” is attributed to many starting with a Sir Francis Bacon essay to Franklin D. Roosevelt and later repeated by Winston Churchill.  I prefer to focus on FDR’s since he understood the concept of fear from a disability perspective.  There was a lot of steps taken to hide his polio from the general public out of fear of what they would think.  That was a point in our history when the perception of a disability caused a lot of fear.

In my last article I discussed the differences between “interdependence” and “independence” while attaching the ability to “self-determine” to it.  I consider myself to be living independently.  I have my own apartment, my car, do all of my own personal care and do my best to find those little joys in life.  I really don’t have to be dependent on anything or anybody.  I am discovering with aging that I am becoming a little bit more aware of the need for some supports but I am still able to self-determine and live with the outcome.  I am able to do that because of checks and balances.  A system that was build on policies and regulations designed over the years to provide an even playing field.

Picture of two people in the forest looking in the mountain in the distanceThings like building codes, programs to assist with the hidden costs of disability, residential tenancy protection for persons with disabilities (like having a service dog in a “no pet” building) or human rights protections that so many others take for granted.  As a person living independently I also have the freedom to challenge my fears if I feel my rights are being denied.  I can make that choice, I can take that chance without a lot of fear of repercussions.  As a change-maker I have to be prepared to move past the fear and intimidation of a system depriving me of my rights.

I am now discovering that those systems no longer hold the strength they use to.  Those systems are only as good as there enforcement and I am discovering that aspect has disappeared.  There is no enforcement anymore unless we self-police.  I am now having to actively challenge those who apply whatever initiative they chose at my expense.  My rights are only as safe as my choice to stand up for them.  Right now I can still do that, I am prepared to live with the consequences.  It is more acceptable for me to conquer my fear than to be held a prisoner of intimidation and abuse.  I am lucky but I am also determined.

I know from past experience that many of those who live “interdependently”, in other words are dependent on others for their comforts of life face bigger fears because of the potential of repercussions.  The National Benefits Authority has mountains of documentation on that.  When you are dependent on a system to live which could be taken away from you tomorrow it is hard to be courageous.  Courage doesn’t get you out of bed or prepare your meals and the lack of those are serious repercussions.  Sadly it happens!

Following my Residential Tenancy hearing I fully intend to move on.  It won’t be easy, 70% of rental properties are not accessible so there are challenges to moving on but I have that option.  Fear doesn’t stop me and I can apply my self-determination.  Unfortunately, for so many living interdependently with a disability, it’s not the lack of courage that keeps them from challenging fear but the reality of the repercussions.  Fear is their warden not their motivator.

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Is Being a Pioneer Worth It?

“In a word I was a pioneer, and therefore had to blaze my own trail” – Major Taylor 

There’s a light fog out there today, maybe better described as a mist but enough that you know the horizon is there but you can’t quite make it out.  That same fogginess has been clouding my mind of late which has stymied my writing.  So today I have to get some thoughts to paper before I go completely ballistic.  This misty mind is very depressing and when you are socially isolated the only form of expression is my writing.

People have been telling me for most of my life that my activism made me a “pioneer”.  That may be true but in my mind a pioneer has a destination with the plan of arriving at a destination.  My destination has always been an inclusive community which involves minimizing barriers, a society build on policies and regulations designed to eliminate any type of physical, attitudinal or systemic barriers.  A community that protects and supports all members otherwise known as an “inclusive” community.

To fully understand inclusion one needs to recognize three basic concepts.  Inclusion can have numerous forms but are generally defined by three parameters.  Some individuals may need more hands-on supports, which is interdependence.  Some may simply need protections provided through some policy or regulations that just even a playing field, independence.  Those two states are different but related.  The connecting concept, which often gets lost in translation, is the ability of self-determination.  That ability to self-determine contributes deeply to ones dignity and self-esteem.  How important is inclusion if you have to live it without dignity?

If you can’t differentiate between those three concepts you will never really grasp the importance of the “independent living movement“.  Those three terms are the trifecta of an inclusive community.  Without acknowledging all three you are simply creating a “product” for a healthcare system.

As a young polio survivor I was in the perfect demographic to be a pioneer in the coming independent living movement.  I grew up in the shadows of the likes of Robin Cavendish, Doug Mowat (one of the founding members of the BC Canadian Paraplegic Association and first elected disabled MLA), and Judi Chamberlin.  These are but a handful of activists whose mantle I picked up in the late 60’s and forward in my life.  They prepared the pathway that my generation began to pave.

I did my first activist march as an 18 year old hippie in Vancouver.  I got involved, as so many hippies did, protesting the Vietnam war.  It wasn’t due to my crutches but it did introduced me to the world of activism.  I was in Vancouver as a way to outrun the Alberta Eugenics Board.  Sterilizing the disabled was still allowed in Alberta so when I saw that letter show up I was out of Calgary and on my way to Vancouver before my parents even got home from work.  So the seeds of activism were already there, they just hadn’t been nurtured yet.  Vancouver did that and gave me a process.

Picture of a person walking through a field of high grass with caption

Never let them see you bleed

After retuning to Calgary I enrolled at Mount Royal College in 1970 at a time when schools didn’t have to accept students with disabilities.  The old Mount Royal in Calgary was far from accessible and again I was told I was a pioneer.  The students union nurture my activism gene even more and it took off faster than a Japanese Honeysuckle vine.  Continue reading

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Izing the Memories of Life

“Yesterday is but today’s memory, and tomorrow is today’s dream” – Khalil Gibran 

The short-term pain of accepting a truth is much better than the long term pain of believing an illusionJust a quick Friday afternoon feelings article.  A short review of “izing’s” and something that Khalil Gibran made me realize many years ago.  His writings had a major impact on me in the late 60’s and into my college years.  So just a short dedication to him and the attached picture really highlights what I am trying to express.  What are “izing’s” you may be asking, well here we go.

“Romanticizing” is something most of us prefer when it comes to our past.  These people that speak of the “good old days” have often forgot the reality of much of their past.  If one’s past had been that wonderful they wouldn’t have to romanticize and we could ignore the whole current “Make America Great” marketing campaign.  Those that buy into that romantic concept probably weren’t there.  There was nothing romantic about an Anti-Vietnam War march.  Those vets who came back from Vietnam believing they would be accepted back into the community were met with jeers and abandonment by very authorities who had send them there.  They dealt with the trauma of that “Great America”.

“Traumatizing” is the harmful aspect of our past that we would prefer to forget but can’t.  We can bury them and perhaps try romanticizing them but that is what leads to PTSD (now being referred to as PTSS I believe).  It’s a way to pave over that rough spot in our road of life and bury our personal trauma.  Of course there is also societal trauma which has more to do with societal events rather than personal ones.  That doesn’t mean a societal trauma didn’t have a personal aspect but it may not have been view as such a personal issue.  Ask anybody who was involved in the “civil rights movement” and you will probably get a very different response from someone in Selma than you would from someone in Seattle.  Those two groups would also have a very different view of what “Make America Great” again means.

“Marginalizing” our past will certainly make our dreams for the future look differently.

Privilege

Your own privilege can create storms

Those who grew up as a “marginalize” individual or group won’t be as quick to romanticize their past if they spend all of their time denying the trauma.  If they were adaptive surviver they will be able to move forward.  It’s how they survived that will help determine their dreams for the future and I highly doubt they are chomping at the bit to “Make America Great” again.  To many the America they live in today is as good as it has ever been and it is only through “hope” that life will get better.

“Fantasizing” is a strong motivator.  It’s by fantasizing that we generate hope.  Fantasizing is what helps us move past the traumatizing moments of our life.  Fantasizing feeds our romanticizing and helps us get over our marginalization.  Fantasizing helps drive our hopes and dreams for the future. Fantasy is what drives television ratings.  Fantasy is what feeds award shows.  It’s the shows we watch or the books we read that feed our fantasies.

To me “izing’s” are like the “ism’s” of Ferris Bueller, food for thought, have a good day…

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Stereotyping Through Stigma

“The whole idea of a stereotype is to simplify. Instead of going through the problem of all this great diversity – that it’s this or maybe that – you have just one large statement; it is this.” – Chinua Achebe

I have spend the better part of my adult life fighting stereotypes and continue to this day.  To often stereotypes are based on first impressions and grow from there.  As a person in a wheelchair I already know when I enter a room the first thing people recognize is the “wheelchair”.  It then becomes my responsibility to work them past that and recognize me as the person in the chair, that I am not the “chair”.  I have been doing that for so long it is just second nature to me.  There has always been a stigma attached to a disability which leads to stereotyping.

Growing up in a children’s hospital, in its own way, sheltered me from stigma.  We all had disabilities and we didn’t have a ranking system so one wasn’t worse or better than another.  That sheltered me from being stereotyped.  We were a family and we had continual activities provided by well meaning people.  Monday’s were arts and crafts provided by the forerunners of the new profession of the occupational therapy.  Tuesday’s was guides/brownies and the boys had that one night to just veg out with the on TV, games or reading.  Laid back.

Thursday’s was the girls night off while the boys attended scouts/cubs.  Wednesday’s was the nigh that a cross section of religions would come in to sing hymn’s or do readings from a cross section of faith.  Church service (Catholic or Protestant) were always held on Sunday morning so I had a good cross section of exposure to many religions.  We saw little examples of stereotyping because we were the audience and all of these activities were being conducted by well meaning people.

The stereotyping didn’t really start to impact me until I left the commonality of the hospital.  It was when I started my voyage as a contributing member of the community that I started to recognize “stereotyping” hidden behind the stigma of the word “disabled”.  Having grown up with my condition I never saw myself disabled, I just saw it as normal.  Disability was a stereotypical condition imposed on me by a society that couldn’t see past the concept of “normalcy”.  It wasn’t until my body began to fail me restricting me to a wheelchair that I began to understand the stereotype.

Black and white picture of women on what appears to be barren country side

Understanding the details

I had a very good friend by this past weekend and we had an excellent Saturday evening visit.  He is one of those rare friends that is such a privilege to have.  One of the topics we discussed was the young girl who reportedly had someone try to cut her niqab off her face.  Of course that has now proven to be a false story with a system to quick to jump on it however for my purposes that’s irrelevant now.

The issue in our conversation was my buddies belief that facial coverings should be banned.  His expressed fear was the “slippery slope” that could bring Sharia law into Canada.  I don’t share those fears but I do share his sentiment that people immigrating or living in Canada live by the laws of this country.  We are the envy of the world for our diversity in culture but that shouldn’t mean trading away “laws”.  We can maintain our laws without giving up cultural diversity.

The great thing about a close and open minded friend is that it is not about getting either to adopt the others philosophy but more importantly to respect the differing of opinions.  We know each other well enough and have found ourselves here before were we move onto the next topic of discussion.  There was no verbal agreement to agree to disagree, we just know internally that it was time to move onto the next topic.  One trait that defines a close friendship is the unspoken ability to be accepting of the other persons beliefs rather than demanding they accept your perspective.  That kind of acceptance is about avoiding stereotypes by understanding stigma.

To me wearing a niqab speaks to culture, not religion.  Sharia law is about religion, not culture.  Canada may be a multicultural country but we shouldn’t be adopting legal processes that are counter-productive to our own culture.  That “slippery slope” my buddy spoke of is already here and it is manifesting itself in issues like “faith based hospitals” refusing the newly adopted Canadian laws around dying with dignity.  Tax dollars should go to the healthcare guaranteed to all and not some ideology that is acceptable where it should be, a persons place of worship.

I do my best not stereotype individuals or cultures based on the stigma created by the most extreme of those sectors.  Despite the residential schools I don’t brand every priest a pedophile.  I don’t paint every Mormon with the same brush because of the activities of Winston Blackmore in Bountiful.  Again there is a particular stigma attached to that type of stereotyping.

So ask yourself, are you responding to a stereotype or a stigma?  In closing I would like to highlight that the opening quote was from Chinua Achebe, an author and scholar from Nigeria, a country recently stereotyped by the President of the United States…

 

 

 

 

 

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Generational Gaps Killed Sears

Most people don’t grow up.  Most people age.  They find parking spaces, honour their credit cards, get married, have children, and call that maturity.  What that is, is aging.” – Maya Angelou

Growing up as a baby-boomer the arrival of the Sears Christmas Wish catalogue was one of the simple joys of the time.  The Sears closure not only marks the end of a Canadian business icon but emphasizes the importance of understanding your demographics.  If you continue to focus only on the core of your business, your base, eventually you will lose.  Demographics are very fluid, relying on your core is like preaching to the choir.  You will probably always have them behind you but the seats in the hall start getting pretty thin.

A popular mantra of my generation was “never trust anyone over thirty”.  It was attributed to Jack Weinberg, an early environmentalist and one of the founders of the “Free Speech Movement” (FSM).  The FSM, incubated in the mid 60’s helped feed the growing civil rights movement while laying the foundations of the baby-boomer generation.  The average life expectancy at that time was 73 which made policy makers of the day the 30+ age group.  These were the staples of the Sears wish-book and represented everything many baby-boomers were rebelling against.

Picture of small rocks with the inscription "Inside every senior citizen is a young person wondering what the #$%# happened!!

The rock garden of age

The generation that grew up embracing that mantra now make up the bulk of the very age group they were rebelling over.  However that mantra, buried deep in the foundation of their belief system, now makes it easier to deny aging.  We have modified that mantra to justify our own aging while abandoning the Sears approach to commerce.  Sears lived in a state of denial regarding their shrinking share of the market while baby-boomers live in a state of denying our own aging.

Sears is now the corporate poster child of what denial of demographics can do and no where is recognition of differing demographics more apparent than the adoption of technology.  On that Sears not only failed but dropped the ball on the bulk of their demographics, those the least likely to make the transition to e-commerce.  Not only is technology making a major impact on commerce but is also changing the face of FSM.  Technology and social media has thoroughly blurred the lines between free speech and effective communication.  In todays business world marketing is all about social media and if you don’t understand you will go the way of Sears, both as a consumer and a business. Continue reading

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