The Maple Leaf Playoffs

If you’re here as a sports enthusiast, I’m sorry if I mis-led you. Read on anyhow. maple1

As I walked through the woods with my family today, we designed a new forest game. It doesn’t take more than walking through the woods to entertain me, but when you’ve got some of the smaller, whinier varieties of human-folk with you, a little game or activity can increase enthusiasm for hiking-time. And so, I introduce:

THE MAPLE LEAF PLAYOFFS

  1. Wait until autumn (in a location where the leaves change colours in the fall).
  2. Visit a forest (one with colourful leaves on the ground – maple trees often work best).
  3. Each person finds the most attractive and colourful leaf they can find.
  4. Repeat until each person has at least three leaves (1st, 2nd and 3rd place). Continue this throughout the walk, comparing new leaves with previous ones, until the three best are selected.
  5. At the end of the walk, place all leaves on the ground and vote for everyone’s favourite.maple3
  6. The winning leaf can be pressed in wax paper for posterity (or at least photographed if you’re (like me) too lazy to get the iron out). (These people look like they know what they’re doing)

My kids were surprisingly engaged in this activity, as was my husband. They continued searching through the entire walk.

BONUS: 

This is an activity in mindfulness!! We spent so much time focusing on the trees and the colours of the leaves that I found myself fully present in the moment (and not worrying about a dozen other things).

 

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Fifty (Billion) Shades of Grey

Now that I have your attention, if you’re here looking for erotic fiction, you’ll have to look elsewhere. If you arrived under false pretenses, I apologize. As interesting as that could be, this blog post is instead going to tackle the dangers of black-or-white thinking.

Shades 1In today’s culture, you could easily forgive a person for developing the tendency to lump everything into two categories. Our earliest word books are based on “opposites” (short and tall, good and bad) and our earliest stories depend on the most basic of binary classifications (Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf, Harry Potter and Voldemort). But don’t make the mistake of thinking that this simplicity falls away after childhood. Binary thinking is prevalent in the way we classify many things as adults. It’s in the way we make health choices (Health fooShades 4d vs Junk food), the way we vote (Liberal vs. Conservative) and in certain religious teachings (Sheep go to heaven, and goats go to hell, right?).

Black or White thinking is probably most obvious in political spheres. Using this kind of classification on people is perhaps one of the most dangerous applications. Some politicians claim that we have to “look after our ‘own,’ before helping immigrants.” Putting people in boxes like this lacks basic empathy and ignores the fact that we are all fundamentally the same and stuck on this planet together.

This type of thinking is also rampant on university campuses, where there is an extreme “if you’re not with us, you’re against us” attitude when it comes to disagreements about speakers on campuses. You can either be a “liberal snowflake” or a “right-wing nut-job.”

The “Us” vs. “Them” mentality is the source for so much Shades 3hate in this world.

What happened to nuance? What happened to the billion shades of grey in every scenario?

If you have studied logic, you might have heard of the “Black-or-White Logical Fallacy.” Despite our insistence on categorizing everything into tidy little boxes, basic logic defies the simplicity of this strategy. Similarly, if you’ve read up on Cognitive Behaviour Shades 5Therapy, you may be familiar with the cognitive distortion “Black-or-White Thinking.” This distortion reveals our tendency to classify situations in a binary manner, and it is recognized as detrimental to mental health.

Today’s political and social climate is very difficult to explain to children. Heck, I find it difficult to explain to myself. In fact, after the 2016 American election, everything looked extremely black and white to me.  It can be incredibly tempting to fall into the trap of framing things in terms of good and evil.

But, if we do see an issue as black or white, right or wrong, an opinion doesn’t define a person’s entire being. When opposing an idea, we can dig deeper. We can try to understand where this challenging idea is coming from, why someone believes what they do, why we believe what we do, and how to find common ground. It’s arguably the best strategy for making the world a more peaceful place.Shades 2

Voldemort did, after all, have a convoluted back story, and Red Riding Hood’s wolf is a carnivore in the food chain and relies on meat to survive.

I want to figure out how to teach my children about the billion shades of grey. Better yet, I want to teach them about the beautiful, rich, colourful tapestry that makes up this fascinating world.

 

 

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Invincibility Nets

Most of us spend a rather ridiculous amount of time worrying about how we look to other people, don’t we? If you really think about it, how much of our economy is based on precisely that? Isn’t it silly? Sometimes this obsession gets in the way of good old-fashioned common sense. I blogged about my relationship with snowpants previously.

I like to hike. I mean, really, really like to hike. But every July, I find myself driven out of the woods by the psychological warfare tactics of the most frustrating of all insects: deerflies. I can handle a certain density of mosquitoes, and I’m not one to typically freak out at bees or (the more innocuous varieties of) spiders. But, deerflies will circle your head incessantly like vultures, then repeatedly dive past your ear, just missing it, with a high-pitched whine. They will follow you for an entire five-kilometre hike, then join you in your car. The more you swat at them, the more determined they get. If you’re lucky enough to find a swarm of them, you’re in for a real treat (well, I really mean THEY are).

If you’Deerfly.jpgre not familiar with deerflies, you can identify them by their triangular body/wing shape and the stripes on their wings. (Also, by their unquenchable thirst for human blood and their derisive attitude towards bug spray.)

This year, I bought bug nets. Just some small $5 nets from Canadian tire, to be worn over a cap. It was a total game changer. Maybe I look ridiculous. Don’t care. In fact, here, I’ll put a picture up.

Bug net

I got two nets, and my son and I went for a hike last week to try them out. The clouds of deerflies were thick and hungry. But, you know in certain video games when you pick up a star, and it makes you invincible, and none of the other characters can hurt you for a while? That’s how I felt. With my net and my long sleeves, nothing was getting me.

Unbelievable! Why didn’t I do this before?

#facepalm

 

 

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Meeting as Equals

Learning Cultural Humility in the Social Services

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Kitchener-Waterloo Multicultural Centre.

For those of you who follow this blog, it has been about half a year since I last CUltureal 4posted. I have been back at graduate school, pursuing a Master of Social Work degree. It has been a fascinating and engaging experience (and at times exhausting and frustrating), and I wanted to share a piece of it here. This is a little off-topic from my usual posts, but it was a significant experience for me.

When I stepped through the doors of the KW Multicultural Centre on the first day of my internship, I had no idea what to expect. Is there any experience as humbling as starting a new job? The idea of taking on the label of “intern” in my late thirties is humbling itself, but I quickly found out that I know next to nothing about anything. But, I soon came to realize that the people at the KWMC would approach me the same way they approach everyone who comes through the doors, with a warm smile, with loads of patience, and as an equal. Cultural 1

KWMC provides settlement services, employment services, English-learning opportunities, interpretation and translation services, networking opportunities and more. People sometimes come to Canada bewildered, afraid and not knowing what to do. Often, they come with language barriers and struggle to communicate with service providers who have no patience or tolerance for newcomers. KWMC is a place where people can come to find a friendly face, answers, connections to community services, and someone to guide them (free of charge) through some of the torturous bureaucratic processes the government puts newcomers through.

At the beginning, it was difficult to understand how to help people who came through the door. I remember one of the first days being asked about two different languages I had never even heard of: Tigrinya and Amharic. It turns out they are incredibly common in our community. Sometimes a lack of knowledge is embarrassing, but admitting it is important. By taking that stance, we put ourselves on a level playing field with clients. In social work, they call this “Cultural Humility.” This varies from previous approaches like “Cultural Competence” which carries a certain level of arrogance (as if one could ever become “competent” in someone else’s culture).

The Multicultural Centre was a place where I would learn my most valuable lessons in my social work journey so far:

  • Don’t make assumptions.
  • Meet people as equals.
  • Listen.
  • Repeat.

Some stereotypes and assumptions are necessary shortcuts for living. Without them, we would never get anything done. They help us make decisions quickly and efficiently, and judgments about the right way to go about doing things. BUT, they can also be incredibly dangerous. When we make unfair assumptions about people, we reduce them to the little boxes they tick of on their application forms and eliminate their humanity.

The people who come to Canada are sometimes fleeing war, or human trafficking, or torture. Some come from better circumstances than others. Some are here looking for opportunities for their families. Some are trying desperately to be reunited with their families. Some have no families. The KWMC meets them all as equals. We are all humans, and when it comes down to it, we all want generally the same things.

Cultural 2Countries and borders are human constructs. While our society places immense meaning and power on these constructs, they strike me as inherently unfair. In a world where we watch ignorant populist despots rant about “building walls” and listen to them attribute a country’s problems to immigration, the future of an immigrant in North America becomes precarious. In Canada, we like to pretend we are above this kind of nonsense, yet our newly elected premier states that we must first “take care of our own” when asked about immigration. Who are “our own??” We’re all in this together. Just because I was born where I was, when I was, I have a vast array of privileges and opportunities that people from all over the world yearn for. I didn’t do anything to earn this.CUltural 3

And so, as I continued my term at the KWMC, I met wonderful people from all over the world. I worked in an English language learning program, connecting newcomers and English-speaking volunteers. I worked in settlement services, helping people navigate the maze of applications and forms that run our country. I also worked at the front desk, and that proved to be one of the most difficult challenges I faced there.

As I prepared to leave the centre for the last time, I realized that I was feeling like I had started reading the first few chapters of dozens of books. I met so many people on such difficult paths, and I feel privileged to be one small part of their journey. I wish there was a way to find out about all of them.

By the time I left, I felt like I had just started my learning journey. It was an incredibly rich learning experience, with a remarkably warm and caring team of people who taught me a great deal. I will always be grateful for my time there, and I sincerely hope that I will have the opportunity to work with many of them again.

 

 

 

 

 

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I See You

Last summer I attended a conference. One of the speakers had us all stand up and slowly walk around the room. At random intervals, she would stop us, and ask us to make contact with a random nearby stranger. 

iseeyou4

We were instructed to silently gaze into the other person’s eyes, while the speaker led us through a variety of meditations. This was simultaneously one of the most awkward and most profound moments of my life. With each new stranger, it became more comfortable. By the end, many of us were crying and hugging (at least those of us who hadn’t slipped out the back door).

Human beings crave to be seen. Even the most introverted introverts need other people (even if just a few friends or family members) to acknowledge their value as iseeyou5humans. This is why some people desire fame, why some people are loud and obnoxious, why so many people live for Facebook “likes” (*guilty*), and why some people write blogs (*clearly also guilty*). We all have our own ways of fighting invisibility.

In the movie, Avatar, the phrase “I see you” is a greeting that roughly means “I understand who you are.” In his book, Stranger in a Strange Land, Robert Heinlein uses the phrase “I grok you” to mean that I “understand intuitively or by empathy, establish rapport with you.” I find a simple beauty in these ideas. 

Sometimes, we get wrapped up so much in our own heads, our own goals and our own responsibilities, iseeyou1that we forget to truly see the other people in our lives. We forget to stop and give our full attention. Too often we jump in with our own stories before fully listening and understanding the other person. Our silent construction of responses or our rush to find parallels in our own lives often takes the place of actual listening. This is a habit I am desperately trying to break. 

Maybe you have people in your life who can truly see you. I am fortunate to be married to someone who can. I have also had other people at various points in my life who have done this for me, and a short list of close friends and family who do. I believe that one of the most valuable gifts we can give someone is the attention that lets them know that they are actually being seen. I offer my warmest and deepest thanks to the people in my life, now and in the past, who have given me this gift.

iseeyou2My 2018 New Year’s wish for you, is that you will see and be seen. May your year be filled with family and friends who will share in your own unique and weird journey, and let you know how special you are. 

Happy New Year Everyone!

 

 

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Sledding: A Haiku

We bring four sleds now

Who says kids get all the fun?

See you on the hill!

 

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#SelfCare or not #SelfCare? That is the question.

It took me about thirty seconds to hunt down the following random tweets:

  • I’m about to get sloppy drunk off straight tequila and take a really nice long bubble bath #selfcare
  • Weekends are for binge watching….. #outlander #bestshow #favoritebook #weekends #selfcare
  • #gradschool friends, can you tell i’m ignoring my school work hard core? #procrastination #selfcare

“Self-Care” is a hot topic right now. In my circles (mostly parents, teachers and grad students), the concept of self-care is important. By now, most have heard the metaphor of putting our own oxygen mask on before attending to our children on an airplane. But, selfcare1like many things, “self-care” has gone too far. It has become an excuse for selfish, and ultimately self-destructive behaviour and it is disturbingly reminiscent of the “America First” sentiment circulating south of the Canadian border.

I’m reading “The Sunday Philosophy Club” by Alexander McCall Smith and found this passage: “…the word “conscience” was not one which one heard very much anymore, which was strange, and ultimately worrying” (p. 94).

On social media, “Self-Care” has taken precedence over “conscience.” There are people patting themselves on the back for sabotaging healthy lifestyles, neglecting commitments, and ultimately letting other people and themselves down. #SelfCare is the sticker that people are slapping on top of bad behaviour in order to justify it and get approval from their friends. Will the next generation even understand what IS bad behaviour?

“Retail therapy,” coined in the 1980s was intended as a “tongue-in-cheek” term for how people try to use shopping to make themselves happy. The runaway culture of mass consumerism indicates that people are actually trying to self-medicate this way. I like Aziz Ansari as much as the next person, but I find the #TreatYoSelf movement inspired by his character on Parks and Recreation disturbing.

More actual tweets:

  • A little shopping on my break won’t hurt today #treatyoself
  • Munching down on this gigantic Oreo crunch bar with no shame #treatyoself
  • Planning my graduation slash bday present. Oh, this is gonna be good. #treatyoself

Even the stores are getting in on the trend:

  • On our twelfth day of Happiness, we are going all out and giving you gelato for a YEAR!! To win this sweet prize, follow us, then retweet this post! #TreatYoSelf

I’m not anti-indulgence. Let’s just call it what it is. Indulgences are part of the fun of life. But, if we are honest, we know most of them come at a cost. Let’s not slap a #selfcare sticker on something so we can feel good about it.

Self-care is not:selfcare2

  • Spending the day scrolling through Instagram
  • Getting black-out drunk with your buddies
  • Eating an entire cheesecake while binge-watching Netflix and neglecting a group project

A friend posted a link to this brilliant article: This Is What ‘Self-Care’ REALLY Means, Because It’s Not All Salt Baths And Chocolate Cake

Ultimately, as noted in the above article, “Self-Care” is about making mature decisions that help you to be a better, healthier, kinder, more capable human being. It is about making room in your life to care for yourself, so your needs are not lost in the process of caring for others. It is absolutely not about putting yourself first in all things or engaging in harmful activities.

Let’s put the word “conscience” back in our social media vocabulary, before the kids start to notice, because I think we all want them to believe the following:

Kindness matters.selfcare3

Generosity matters.

Being responsible matters.

Taking care of other people matters.

And….

You matter.

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