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A Champion for Social Enlightenment

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Enjoy these 90 second condensed versions of Gerry's columns produced and recorded for CFIS radio in Prince George!

August 29th, 2017
'Be not afraid.' Why the words of John Paul II still resonate

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There are many dark pages in the history of the 20th century. Caught between the regimes of Hitler and Stalin was the Poland where Karol Wojtyla came of age.

In 1978, Wojtyla was named Pope John Paul II. Few outside his country knew who he was, but he immediately began using his influence as a global leader to bring about a peaceful revolution.

His message was quite simple. He told people that they are loved and sacred. He told them to embrace their dignity as human beings, and to stand together in peace for justice and freedom.

It did not take long for workers to organize in his native Poland, and “Solidarity” became a powerful force. The government tried in many ways to crush this movement, but it only continued to expand.

By the end of the 1980s, the Iron Curtain had collapsed and the world was changed forever.

While no leader and no institution is perfect, it is clear that John Paul II was the right leader for his time. No one but an Eastern European given a position of global leadership could have championed a movement to overthrow the powerful communist regime.

It is significant to note the similarities of the peaceful movements which overcame oppressive governments in the 20th century and brought about lasting change. Gandhi, King and Mandela also had clear visions, and messages of personal empowerment, forgiveness, courage, acceptance and love.

Looking at the problems facing the world today, it is important to see beyond the issues and apply what has worked in the past. As we move into the future, the words of John Paul II ring clearly, “Be not afraid.”

August 22nd, 2017
Bending the arc of the moral universe towards justice

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When looking at events in the world today, we can rightly be horrified by the racism and violence we see. In such times, it is important to take a step back and look at the wider scope of history. As Martin Luther King Jr. has quoted, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

Perhaps the reason why so many of us are disturbed by the words and actions of racism today is because they are in such sharp contrast to the celebration of diversity that dominates our society. We need to remember, however, that not long ago inclusion was seen as a threatening and radical idea by the majority of our population.

What brought about the current shift in thinking? In essence, it was a realization that love is more powerful than fear. When we look at the history of the world, we see this discovery being made time and again, often in small increments.

In the face of violations of human rights, our past is filled with people who had the courage to speak the truth. Their words resonated in the hearts and minds of those who heard them because there is something good inside each of us that embraces the dignity of humanity. Indeed, when we are able to see beyond the lies of hatred and segregation, we see the power of diversity.

We still have a long way to go in creating a world where every child everywhere is able to achieve her or his potential.

The arc of the moral universe is indeed long, and it is now up to us to bend it toward justice.

August 15th, 2017
Finding grace and hope in the worst of tragedies

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Harold Kushner experienced a parent’s worst nightmare, to see his son Aaron suffer and experience a premature death.

Being a rabbi, Kushner turned to his faith to try to understand what he was experiencing but had difficulty finding the answer. As part of his grieving process, he chronicled his journey in a book that has now become a classic, When Bad Things Happen to Good People, published several years after the death of his son.

The conclusions that Kushner comes to are not necessarily what one would expect from a religious leader. He notes that God never promised a life without pain, God only promised that we would not walk alone.

The key, says Kushner, is to find meaning in our suffering. This, interestingly, is the same advice that Jewish psychiatrist Victor Frankl gave to his fellow inmates in a Nazi concentration camp. By finding meaning, we can find the strength and perseverance to overcome suffering.

There is also tremendous beauty in human empathy and compassion. When we see others suffer, we seek to comfort them, to love them, and to assure them that their suffering does indeed have meaning. We need only look at the continual, inspirational progress in medical science, in human rights and in many other areas for proof of this.

The fact that Aaron Kushner’s life was cut short was tragic, but he touched the world in beautiful, meaningful and amazing ways. The world certainly did become a better place because of his presence among us. He taught his father, and he teaches us, that love and compassion not only make us human, they are powerful forces of positive change.

August 8th, 2017
High grades for Canadian students, high praise for their teachers

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A recent article in the BBC referred to Canada as “An Education Superpower”. They put is in the same echelon as countries like Finland and Singapore.

The article drew primarily from results of the Programme for International Student Assessment, a study performed by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

The results are rather surprising, given that Canada is a vast and varied country where each individual province and territory establishes its own policies and practices.

Several positive aspects of our schools were pointed out, including the fact that we do an amazing job welcoming and integrating new Canadians into our society. Indeed, these students tend to do very well in our schools.

Tying in with this is what the BBC article refers to as “a common commitment to an equal chance in school.” There is, therefore, a system in place to improve literacy and to help our students who are struggling. As a result, there is a relatively small gap between “advantaged” and “disadvantaged” students (in our school system), especially when compared to other countries.

What drives our schools to be so good? For one thing, there seems to be a high level of professionalism among teachers. The public demands this, as do our own institutions.

As Canadians, we can be proud of our schools, and proud of the investment that we make in our children. We have developed a system which not only works, but is constantly improving to meet the needs of the whole child, and adapting to an ever-changing world.

Though we may have always known that we do excellent work, it is affirming to see our efforts recognized globally.

August 1st, 2017
Love is the most powerful force on Earth

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While struggling to survive in a Nazi death camp, psychologist Victor Frankl began thinking of his wife and came to the realization that,"Love is the ultimate and highest goal to which one can aspire."

The ancient Greeks actually distinguished between several kinds of love, including fraternal love and love for all humanity.

Perhaps the clearest definition of love was given by St. Paul in a passage we so often hear at weddings:
Love is always patient and kind.
It does not take offence and is not resentful.
Love delights in the truth, it is always ready to forgive, to trust, to hope, and to endure whatever comes.

In other words, when we act this way toward those close to us, those we work with, complete strangers, toward ourselves, and even toward our so-called enemies, we are loving.

In Frankl's example, it was in contemplating his beloved that he was able to transcend the horrors that surrounded him. She gave his life meaning and the strength to endure. Though she did not survive Auschwitz, The love they shared was stronger even than death.

Love is indeed the most powerful force on earth.

It was love which freed India from Great Britain.

Weapons did not end the Cold War. It was people who chose love rather than hate, who chose love over fear and walked together through the impenetrable Berlin Wall.

It is love that will end the threat of terrorism, bring peace to the Middle East, and conquer racism.

As Frankl said, "the salvation of humanity is through love and in love.

July 25th, 2017
Becoming our best selves a challenge for each of us

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In the film "The Lion King", young Simba is visited by the spirit of his father Mufasa who tells him, "You have forgotten who you are ... you are more than what you have become."

This is an important message to ponder as we move forward, facing the normal ups and downs of living. We all experience times when we forget who we are and lose our way.

In order to provide guidance, all great religions and philosophies venerate their ancestors. This is why study and celebrate our history. We need to be reminded of the greatness in others because when we embrace their essence, we too become who we are meant to be.

We may ask ourselves, however, if our ancestors really did leave a legacy which we want to follow. In many cases, they did not. They did horrible things which we may be tempted to forget.

We have no control over the past, but we do control how we respond in the present. We do not control the future, but we do determine the legacy that we leave, be it positive or negative.

The question to ask is, "How will history judge us?" Are we doing all that we can to make a better, kinder world, or are we conforming to ignorance and injustice?

We are indeed more than what we have become, and becoming our best selves is not only a challenge for each of us, it is a challenge for all of humanity. The more of us who consciously choose to do good, the better our world becomes.

Greatness is something which lives in each and every one of us.

July 18th, 2017
An open and shut case: how the backfire effect closes minds

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In the world today, we see conservative news programs where hosts shout down the opposing views of their guests. We see liberal audiences disrupting and walking out of auditoriums where more right-wing views are presented. We see online arguments that go on ad nauseam with each side getting more and more entrenched, even as legitimate counter-arguments are presented. 

What is happening in these cases is the "backfire effect". When evidence is presented which contradicts a deeply held belief, we do not change our viewpoint. On the contrary, we tend to become more entrenched and oppositional.

We can choose to respond differently, however.

Stephen Covey, the author of THE 7 HABITS OF HIGHLY EFFECTIVE PEOPLE, tells us to, “Seek first to understand, and then to be understood.” This does not mean that we embrace the views of the other and forget our own. What normally happens when we follow this principle, is that when others feel listened to, they, in turn, become more open to our perspectives.

From here, we can understand and embrace what is good in both points of view, and even celebrate diversity. Covey refers to this as creating synergy. By sharing and brainstorming, we come up with the best possible solutions, where everyone feels respected and everyone wins.

If we become aware of our own tendency to react with the “backfire effect”, we can consciously move beyond it with an open mind.

The result will be a better way, one that embraces and celebrates our differences. More effort is required, but it is worth it. As Maya Angelou says, “In diversity there is beauty and there is strength.”

July 11th, 2017
Satisfaction comes with sharing other people's joy

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Having worked in education for over 30 years, I consider myself to be one of the luckiest people on the planet, and I look forward to continuing my work until I am in my 70s.

What is it about what I am doing that gives me such joy? How does one achieve this kind of professional satisfaction?

Stanford University psychologist Kelly McGonigal may have found the answer in her study of positive empathy, which is basically sharing other people's good feelings.

As a teacher, this is actually very easy to do. Children are full of joy, laughter, and curiosity. When we share these with them, we feel happy as well.

One of the greatest satisfactions in teaching is running into former students who tell me about what they are doing in life and about their accomplishments.

In addition, I witness the good in my students on a regular basis, and I have learned to point it out. They do so many kind things for each other. They admit when they make mistakes. They persevere when dealing with challenges. They are truly inspirational, and I allow myself to be inspired.

McGonigal points out that "positive empathy" generally needs to be cultivated.

We can do so by enjoying the playfulness of children and even of animals. We can appreciate the beauty of art and athletics. We can allow others to do nice things for us because this brings joy to them. Finally, we can make a conscious effort to see good in people. Giving compliments also makes us feel good.

As the English proverb states, "A joy that is shared is a joy made double."

July 4th, 2017
Charting an inclusive, nurturing future for all Canadians

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As Canada celebrated 150 years as a country, it became very clear that not everyone believed the festivities were justified. While some may have found these actions unpatriotic, our willingness to examine weaknesses is actually one of the keys to our greatness.

In her classic book MINDSET, psychologist Carol Dweck explains how a person with a “growth mindset” knows that their talents are just the starting point. Ability develops through dedication and hard work. As a result, life and learning become exciting adventures.

Perhaps the same can be said for countries. In celebrating our history, we not only recognize our accomplishments, we acknowledge our challenges. If we can work together to overcome these, our future becomes a growth filled journey.

In a UNICEF study of children in the Developed World, Canada ranked only 25th out of 41 countries.

We are far behind countries like Norway and Germany, and even behind several countries which have emerged from behind the Iron Curtain. The conditions for our Aboriginal children especially are simply unacceptable.

How does a nation with a growth mindset respond to these facts? We seek improvement.

This is achieved by holding our elected officials accountable. It is also vital that those of us in positions of service become mindful of our own prejudices, and treat each person we work with like the most important person in the world.

Yes, Canada is a great country. What makes us great, however, is our willingness to look honestly at the needs around us and to respond in creative and effective ways.

With this growth mindset, our country will continue to thrive as we move into an uncharted and exciting future.

June 20th, 2017
Coming clean about the crimes of colonialism, at home and abroad

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When we look at wars and poverty in the world, we need to remember that the wounds of colonialism are hindering the growth and advancement of humanity. If we can demonstrate that healing is possible, we establish a powerful precedent, a protocol that can promote global peace and development.

In 2008, Prime Minister Stephen Harper apologized to the Aboriginal peoples of Canada for the crimes committed in the residential schools. In 2015, a government-appointed Truth and Reconciliation Commission declared that this was indeed cultural genocide. There is no more denial. There is no more whitewashing of history.

Since 2008, we have established educational programs which teach our children the truth. We are now seeing these efforts begin to bear fruit. Aboriginal graduation rates, for example, are on the rise in many school districts.

We still have a long way to go. There is still tremendous disparity in Canada.

When we are truly honest with ourselves, we can find ways to heal our society. This is the lesson that we must live, and this is the lesson that we must share on a global level.

If we want to see world peace, if we want to see the end of conflict and the beginning of prosperity in war-torn countries, we need to be honest regarding the crimes of colonialism. We need to speak the truth, and we need to make reparations.

By healing Canada we demonstrate that progress is possible. Others can then adapt and improve what we have done to fit their own cultural contexts. In doing so, we not only make our country better, we bring lasting peace to the world.

May 23rd, 2017
Truth will triumph – but not without our help

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There is a Hindu saying, "Truthfulness alone constitutes the spiritual discipline of the Kali Yuga."

As we study the beliefs of our sisters and brothers, we realize how universal wisdom always points to truth.

The Kali Yuga, the age of the goddess Kali, is a time of death and destruction, but also a time of rebirth and renewal. As we embrace the truth of the most horrific actions of humanity, hateful lies lose their power. We become enlightened, and the path to a better world becomes clear.

When we study genocide, for example, we always see the same message, "They are a threat to us. They must be destroyed." The truth, of course, is that there is no us or them, we are all people.

Truth really does set us free. When we embrace it, we can clearly see the wrongs that have been done, as well as the challenge of healing that lies before us.

Those who hold fast to lies end up destroying themselves. One only needs to look at the lives of Adolf Hitler and other cruel dictators.

In the world today, truth remains under assault. "Fake news" has taken on a life of its own.

It has become quite evident that it is important to take the time to check the so-called "facts" we are being given. It is also very clear that teaching critical thinking in our schools is even more vital.

What can we do then to heal the world?

By being consciously aware and living with integrity, we challenge others to do the same. We become a powerful force, working together with truth, leading our world into peace and enlightenment.

May 16th, 2017
Shaping our future through public education

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The twenty-first century is a fascinating time to be a teacher, and there are amazing things happening in British Columbia schools for many reasons.

First of all, funding for schools does not vary from one neighbourhood to another. The result is that some of our best teachers are drawn to schools with children with high needs because they love that kind of work and are rewarded equally for it.

Secondly, there has been tremendous progress in curriculum development.

As we look honestly at where we are and where we want to go, we see the growing needs of young people, and we see the caring and competent leaders that they need to be when they leave our institutions.

The great challenge is in figuring out how to best serve our children in achieving these goals, and the key to overcoming this challenge is to allow the time for teachers and administrators to problem solve and perfect new approaches to teaching together.

Looking at the world around me, I know how fortunate I am to work in a school where our aim is to meet the needs of each child in helping them to achieve their potential. I also know how fortunate I am to work in a school system that shares this vision. This is ultimately why the Canadian educational institution is one of the best in the world.

As we move forward as a society, we need to believe in our children. It is also essential that we invest our time, energy and resources in our young people as they are leading us into a bright and exciting future.

May 9th, 2017
Laughing in the face of despair and tragedy

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Humourist Paul Lowney said, “Laughter has no foreign accent.”

Humour is a beautiful thing, and it really does sound the same, no matter what language we speak. It breaks down the walls that divide us and brings us together, building empathy and understanding.

Preliminary research is also demonstrating that laughter has tremendous health benefits. It reduces stress, causes the release of positive endorphins and promotes healing. Even a smile has a positive impact.

As humans, of course, we are indeed meant to feel a full gamut of emotions. There is a time to feel upset, and we are just beginning to understand negative feelings as well.

Holocaust survivor and psychologist Vikor Frankl tells us, “I never would have made it if I could not have laughed. It lifted me momentarily out of this horrible situation, just enough to make it livable.”

British musician Elvis Costello once asked, “What’s so funny about peace, love and understanding?” But maybe that is the key. Humour could well be the path to developing care and compassion for our neighbours, and building a more peaceful and joyful world.

April 25th, 2017
Violence, retaliation not the only solution

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Pope John Paul II said, “Another name for peace is development.”

How does this statement hold up when tested against the current global state of affairs? For nearly 20 years, our world has been in an almost constant state of emergency, and it seems to be getting worse.

American scholar Noam Chomsky points out that before 9/11, Al-Qaeda was a fairly insignificant, marginal group operating primarily in remote and isolated regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan. They have now morphed into even more extremist organizations and mushroomed all over the world. Each time one of these groups commits a crime, the west responds with a greater act of violence, and radical Islam is strengthened.

There are indeed times when armed intervention is necessary, as was demonstrated in World War II. We need to keep in mind, however, that this war happened largely because of the failure of the Treaty of Versailles, which sought to punish Germany at the end of World War I.

Lasting peace was finally established at the end of World War II largely because the victorious Allies changed tactics and invested in the rebuilding and development of both Germany and Japan.

Though the current political climate may inhibit efforts to bring effective aid to certain nations, there is still a great deal that can be done. Instead of exporting weapons, for example, we can build schools, and invest in other projects which benefit local populations.

We will always need armed forces in place to ensure our safety. If we want lasting peace and true security, however, we need see beyond our own fears and prejudices and invest in global development which promotes a just progression for all humanity.

April 18th, 2017
The Looking Glass Self

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In the early 20th century, sociologist Charles Horton Cooley came up with the concept of “the looking glass self”, meaning that we humans have a tendency to see ourselves in the way that we believe others see us.

If we think that other people like us, we will think that we are likeable. If we think that they consider us flawed in some way, we will have a tendency to see ourselves in the same light.

There are several difficulties that can arise when we live our lives in this manner. First of all, we do not control what other people think.

Secondly, we do not know what other people are thinking. We are therefore basing our concept of ourselves on what is often an errant and negative assumption.

We can also be very hard on ourselves. The world around us is also constantly bombarding us with images of what it means to be beautiful, intelligent and successful, and if we do not “measure up”, we think that there is something wrong with us.

As humans, we all have a tendency to be impacted by “the looking glass self.” When we are mindful of this, we are able to ask ourselves whether or not we really know the opinions of others, whether or not their opinions are important, and whether or not they align with our own ideas of what is right. From there we can make the choices that bring us the greatest peace.

When we live our lives this way, we find that we are able to be our best selves, regardless of how others may see us.

April 11th, 2017
The Abundance Paradox

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There is a quote in the Quran which states, “Any who is grateful does so to the profit of his own soul.”

Research shows that those who practice gratitude have stronger immune systems, lower blood pressure, demonstrate greater compassion, experience more optimism and happiness, feel more connected, and experience numerous other benefits.

One of the dangers of living in an affluent society is that we come to expect things to be a certain way, and we get very upset at minor inconveniences. Sociologist Christine Carter refers to this as “the abundance paradox”. The more that we have, the more we are disappointed when we don’t get what we want, rather than being grateful when we do.

How do we then learn to be grateful for what we have?

There are many techniques we can use, but the key is to foster an “attitude of gratitude”, to be continually aware that we have so much to be thankful for.

A recent study conducted at the University of Limerick in Ireland found that the people who experienced the greatest benefits were those who expressed gratitude to others.

This is consistent with research that shows that managers who express gratitude to their employees are not only more effective, their employees express greater job satisfaction, and the managers themselves experience less burnout.

Gratitude is contagious. When we feel appreciated, we naturally express gratitude to others. After time, gratitude becomes a positive habit.

We all have a tendency to feel entitled, and annoyed with inconveniences. When we can take a step back and express reasons to be grateful, however, we find that the world becomes just a little brighter.

April 4th, 2017
Building Global Understanding in the Digital Age

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In his classic book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey tells us that we should "seek first to understand and then to be understood."

This is one of the key elements in building global understanding. How do we achieve it, however, living in the digital age?

Megan Phelps-Roper grew up as a member of the controversial Westboro Baptist Church. As a young adult, she became an online crusader for her church through social media. In her recent Ted-Talk, she discusses how this eventually led to her questioning her beliefs and leaving this community. Much of the change she experienced had to do with the online friends she developed who exemplified Covey’s principle.

In her Ted-Talk, Phelps-Roper presented the four point formula these people had unconsciously followed.

First, don't assume bad intent. As Phelps-Roper says, "When we assume good or neutral intent, we give our minds a much stronger framework for dialogue."

The second guideline is ask questions. This makes a person feel heard, and they also begin to naturally ask questions as well.

The third point is to stay calm. Do not lash out and say something that one may regret later. In social media we can take a break, walk away, change the subject, and come back to the topic when we are calmer.

The final point is make your argument. Our views are important, and others need to hear them. They may challenge them, but that too is an important part of this process.

In many ways the world is becoming smaller. When we keep in mind these principles for building understanding, it is clear that there is room for all of us.

March 28th, 2017
Helping the homeless helps everyone

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Former American president Jimmy Carter said, "The measure of a society is found in how they treat their weakest and most helpless citizens."

A new idea is emerging in Canada which is as innovative and revolutionary as public education and socialized medicine were in their day.

In 2009, the city of Medicine Hat, Alberta established the goal to eliminate homelessness. Today, people in need spend no more than 10 days in temporary shelters before they are assessed and on their way to find a home.

Housing and care for these vulnerable individuals has reduced the crime rate, reduced the workload of first responders, reduced the number of hospital emergency room visits, and eased pressure on the courts. While it can cost over $100,000 a year to service a person living on the streets, it costs roughly $35,000 a year to give a person a permanent roof over their heads and provide them with the services they need.

Not only does this program make financial sense, it improves the quality of life for everyone. Many people living on the street suffer from addictions and mental health issues. The fact of the matter is that we all need help from time to time.

Homelessness is a long-standing social challenge. The leaders in Medicine Hat have implemented a solution that respects people's humanity and developed a prototype that other cities are beginning to emulate.

It is not unrealistic to conclude that the Medicine Hat model will continue to spread across Canada and throughout the world. This will improve the quality of life for not only the most vulnerable but for all citizens.

March 21st, 2017
Meeting the needs of our youth

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Children's rights advocate Marian Wright Edelman said, "The question is not whether we can afford to invest in every child; the question is whether we can afford not to."

When young people, especially young men, feel like outsiders on a societal level, that their families do not understand them, that they have no future and no purpose, they easily fall prey to the lies of hatred and violence, and join gangs and other extremist groups.

How do we keep this from happening?

Education is key. Young people need to be made aware of the dangers of these lifestyles and how they will be used and exploited by the very people who pretend to accept them and care for them.

In order for these programs to be effective, however, we need to meet the more basic needs of our youth. We need to accept them for who they are, celebrate their giftedness, and give them hope.

As our schools improve to meet the needs of individual children in an ever changing world, our young men especially are no longer drawn to violence.

Some may call me an idealist, but I have been working in the trenches with our at ­risk youth long enough to see that we are making a difference.

The key, therefore, to making our countries safer, to significantly reducing the threat of terror in an increasingly multi-cultural world, is not greater security. It is not in keeping out entire groups.

The key is to invest in an educational system that strives to celebrate our diversity and make sure that young people know that they are significant.

When we invest in every child, we all benefit.

March 14th, 2017
Standing together to fight racism

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The Vancouver Jewish Community Centre experienced two bomb threats, one on March 8 and the other on March 12. This coincides with anti-Semitic and other racist acts happening across Canada, in the United States and around the world in recent months.

Just when we thought we had advanced so far as a society, when we thought that we had put such disgraceful deeds of intolerance behind us, we realize that we still have such a long way to go.

What is bitterly ironic about this particular threat is that this building also houses the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre. There is no other institution in British Columbia that has done more to promote awareness of crimes against humanity and advance cultural understanding than they have. When I began developing curriculum for a course in genocide studies, they were my greatest resource. They not only shared materials, they helped me to network with other teachers doing similar work and with other ethnic communities who had experienced similar atrocities.

What is true in Vancouver is true all over the world.

Threats like those made against the Jewish Cultural Centre are made out of ignorance and with malicious intent. The way to combat them is to speak truth, and to speak it persistently in a loud and unified voice.

As Holocaust survivor Lillian Nemetz recently shared with me, “In this hour of our damaged world, we sorely need people to help us heal.”

Let us stand in solidarity with our Jewish sisters and brothers in their time of need as we join in their fight to not only end genocide, but to make all forms of racism a thing of the past.

March 7th, 2017
Practicing mindfulness can reap benefits

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One of the fruits of regular meditation is something called "mindfulness", meaning basically that we are more aware, aware primarily of our own thoughts and feelings, but also aware of the world around us and the task at hand.

A number of leading corporations have begun using mindfulness training with their employees, top athletes use it, and studies have also found that teachers who use if are more effective in the classroom.

How does one achieve mindfulness? Historically, this has been done through forms of meditation. Today techniques are taught which are not part of any religion. It has also been found that technology can be used to enhance and even accelerate the benefits of meditation.

I tried one of the technologically assisted forms a number of years ago. I listened to sounds which brought me to deeper and deeper levels of meditation. I was astounded at the benefits. Every aspect of my life, including my teaching, improved.

I recall an incident in my classroom with at-risk students. One young man was acting up and another student found that quite annoying. He said, “Chidiac! How can you stay so calm when he’s acting that way?” I turned to him, and replied, “I meditate.” Then we all had a chuckle.

What is beautiful about the age that we live in is that we are not only aware of the benefits of developing mindfulness, we are also aware that there are many ways to achieve it.

When we find what works best for us, we can use mindfulness to not only improve our lives but to change the world in ways that we never thought possible.

February 21st, 2017
Let's give electoral reform a chance

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In the last federal election, Justin Trudeau expressed the need for electoral reform in Canada. He recently announced, however, that he would not follow through on this promise.

Trudeau stated that this is not an important issue to Canadians. However, 44% of Canadians support electoral reform, while 32% do not have an opinion one way or the other.

It is interesting to note that the greatest opposition to electoral reform comes from the larger political parties. If Canada were to choose to reform using proportional representation, it is very unlikely that two major parties would take turns dominating parliament, as is the case today. Countries that use this system normally have coalition governments.

While majority governments are more efficient, coalition governments tend to be more democratic. When we take time to listen respectfully to each other everyone benefits. It is significant to note that 14 of the 19 other G20 countries are already using some form of proportional representation.

Some fear that electoral reform will result in the loss of local representation in parliament. Yes, we will likely end up with larger constituencies, but we will also each have more parliamentarians speaking for us.

Others argue that proportional representation is too complicated. Yes, it is more complex than our current “first past the post” system, but Canadians are intelligent people who are capable of learning.

We do not know yet what electoral reform will look like in Canada. What is clear, however, is that we need to pressure our government to improve our outdated system in order for parliament to reflect the values of our diverse population and for Canada to remain competitive in the 21st century.

February 14th, 2017
Aboriginal pride shining through in school system

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In 2008, Prime Minister Stephen Harper apologized to the Aboriginal peoples of Canada for the crimes committed against them in the residential school system, but it is sometimes difficult to see where this has made any difference.

Prince George has more Aboriginal students than any other school district in British Columbia. Our administrators have been working with the Aboriginal leaders in our region to establish an innovative program which is having a tremendously positive impact, not only on our Aboriginal children but on all students in the Prince George School District.

Today the Aboriginal graduation rate us up to 61%, and the next goal is to reach 80%.

Other areas of success are not as measurable, but certainly as significant. One Metis teacher remarked how refreshing it is to see students taking pride in their Aboriginal heritage, something that she didn’t do until she was in her 30s.

What are some of the things that are making a difference?

Aboriginal culture is taking a prominent place in our schools. There are celebrations involving art and music. There are also numerous curricular supports with Aboriginal content permeating all areas of study.

What is most thrilling about this entire journey is that it takes us back to the way things used to be, and the way they are meant to be. Aboriginal and European cultures lived in symbiosis in this part of the world for generations during the fur trade.

In a world that is just beginning to become aware of the devastating and lasting impact of colonialism, we are a beacon of hope. As we come together and improve our system, we demonstrate that positive change really is possible.

February 7th, 2017
Seeing beyond the lies of racism

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In the months before the start of World War II, over 900 Jews boarded the SS St. Louis in Hamburg harbour in hopes of escaping the racism of Nazi Germany.

The ship was destined for Cuba, but once it arrived, passengers were not allowed to disembark. Efforts to land in the Dominican Republic, the United States, Canada and several other countries also failed.

The SS St. Louis had no choice but to return to Europe; however, all of its passengers were able to obtain visas to other European countries. Most of them soon found themselves living in Nazi held territories, and the vast majority of them died during the war.

The tragedy of the SS St. Louis is a tragedy for all of us. Here we had a ship full of gifted souls, ready and willing to use their talents for the betterment of humanity. Imagine where Canadian society would be today had we been able to see beyond the lies of racism.

A recent study done at Stanford University attests to this speculation, noting that German Jewish émigrés (after 1933) had a hugely positive effect on U.S. innovation.

What was true of Jewish refugees from Nazi German is true of refugees and immigrants coming to Canada today. These people are very heavily screened, and immigration officials make sure that we only get the best of the best. Statistics on the children of immigrants show that they have education and income levels higher than those of the general population.

The bottom line is that we all benefit from immigration. Efforts to keep out entire groups of people based on religion and ethnicity are not only morally reprehensible, they are foolish.

January 31st, 2017
Greatness within the grasp of all of us

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Irena Sendler, when asked about the thousands of Jewish children she had saved during World War II, said, “I was no hero. I just did a regular thing.”

This is a common sentiment of rescuers. In many ways, they are absolutely right. Greatness is within the grasp of all of us. We just need to take the necessary actions to bring it about.

Irena Sendler was a member of the Polish underground and a nurse living in Warsaw. Working with a group of other women she smuggled roughly 2500 children from the Warsaw ghetto to safety, using whatever means was necessary.

At one point Sendler was discovered by the Nazis and severely tortured, but she never betrayed her collaborators or the children. In the end her life was miraculously spared.

It is interesting to note that Sendler lived in obscurity for most of her life. Even a number of child survivors of the Warsaw ghetto only found out about her shortly before her death. They visited her and tried to make her life more comfortable, but one of the survivors, Vancouver author and teacher Lillian Boraks-Nemetz, noted to me that, “She was very poor but only financially, not in spirit.”

There is a peace that comes in taking the courage to act, in knowing that we did not turn away. It is also something that is available to every one of us. We can all be heroes. We can all be rescuers. By studying the lives of people like Irena Sendler, we come to recognize this truth, and as more and more of us embrace it, we bring the world to a brighter future than we can even imagine.

January 24th, 2017
Turning anger into purpose

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According to an article published by Greater Good at the University of California Berkeley, those with the best physical and emotional health are those who have “emodiversity”, people who experience the full range of emotions. Though I do tend to be a very positive person, I decided to try to become aware of my own anger.

I recently watching the film “Shake Hands with the Devil”, the story of the Rwandan Genocide. I found myself getting very angry. Having lived through this period in history, it brought up many memories.

First of all, in the early 90’s, I was working at a home for street children in the Congo. I had regular dealings and even accepted generous donations from the French embassy, the same diplomats who, at the very least, knew about the genocide brewing in neighbouring Rwanda, and chose to let it happen.

Rwanda erupted after I had returned to Canada. To this day I am embarrassed to admit to my students that I knew it was happening and I was not able to do anything significant to stop it.

Holding on to negative emotions can lead to serious health issues. How does one then deal with them in an effective manner?

Righteous anger comes because we see things that we know are wrong. It is a voice inside of us that tells us to be an agent of change.

This is the source of the passion that moves me to teach about genocide. In doing so I know that I am a part of something much larger than myself.

Yes, I am angry, but that anger moves me to purpose, and in that purpose, I find joy.

January 17th, 2017
Progression a key to happiness

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Miguel de Cervantes, the author of DON QUIXOTE, said, “The road is better than the inn.”

This seems counterintuitive. Isn’t it in achieving our goal that we find satisfaction and joy? The road is long and tedious. How could that be better than arriving at our destination?

Happiness researchers Shawn Achor and Michelle Gielan have found that Cervantes is indeed correct.

Their research has shown that there are several things we need to do then if we want to be truly happy. The first is to set goals that we feel good about.

The second thing we need to do is to foster a spirit of gratitude. It takes time to achieve our goals, and we will certainly experience setbacks. It is therefore important each day to take time to write down or to talk about what we are thankful for. In doing so, we realize that we are indeed progressing, and that even the smallest step has meaning.

When fostering this attitude, we will likely find that we become reflective in achieving our goals and set further targets as we move forward.

Professional football player Aaron Rodgers, for example, found that after winning the Super Bowl in 2011, he was not satisfied. Today he is using his fame to bring positive change in the world as a spokesperson for Raise Hope for Congo, fostering awareness of horrible crimes against humanity happening in a place that we seem to have forgotten.

Have meaningful goals and be thankful for every step along the way. The key to a happy life really is that simple.

As Shawn Achor says, “Happiness is the joy we feel as we’re moving toward our potential.”

January 3rd, 2017
Always look on the bright side of life

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A song popularized by Monty Python tells us to “Always look on the bright side of life.” Is this always the best advice, however?

According to a recent study published by the Association for Psychological Science, this only helps to bring happiness if we are dealing with a situation that we have no control over. In situations where we do have control, we are much better off looking at the situation as an opportunity for learning and self-improvement.

It goes back to the serenity prayer, popularized by twelve-step recovery programs:

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.

The challenge comes in knowing the difference. What can we change?

Stephen Covey, in THE 7 HABITS OF HIGHLY EFFECTIVE PEOPLE discusses the “circle of control” surrounded by the “circle of no control”. There are many things in life that we have no control over. What we always control, however, is how we respond to any given situation.

There is much in life that we have direct control over as well. We control whether we are going to form healthy habits. We control how much effort we are going to put into any given project.

The challenge in life is to develop “the wisdom to know the difference,” and accepting that sometimes we need help in doing so.

Maybe “looking on the bright side of life” isn’t such bad advice, as long as we realize that “the bright side” is the one that not only embraces our goodness, but offers us the greatest opportunity for achieving our potential.