Episode 46: An Undesired Journey Through the U.S. Prison System

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to speak to someone who had personally experienced the U.S. prison system as an inmate. It was an emotional story about how one choice forever changed the life of an individual. His journey reveals the culture of the United States Prison system, focusing on racial and cultural segregation of communities as well as the financial investments of corporations on prison labor. It is a fantastic episode that you are sure to enjoy, providing listeners with a raw look at what life is like inside the U.S. prison system.

People Do Not Change…

Unless They Want to Change

This is an important rule in life. Remember it.

I know I haven’t written a blog post in a while and that is due in large part to focusing on further developing our podcast. However, my wonderful daughter woke up early this morning (loudly) and after cajoling her back to sleep, I decided it would be a great time to work on an article (thanks Sophia). Today’s article is about a very simple rule that will bring you a lot more freedom in your life. The rule goes as follows: people do not change, unless they want to change.

Remember Newton’s Laws of Motion? (I don’t, in fact, I had to Google it before continuing any further). In 1687, Isaac Newton (then not yet referred to as “Sir” until he was knighted in 1705, thanks Google) proposed his three laws of motion in his ground breaking work the Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy. His theories on motion, which eventually became laws (the highest order of the Scientific Method), revolutionized the way we see the world today. Well, some of us anyways (I won’t drop any specific names but they see the world as non-spherical).

Thanks for inventing gravity, bro!

Now, obviously, I haven’t read his book but from what I gather it can be summarized as didactically exploring the three different Laws of Motion. The three laws are as follows: #1 “without resistance: objects in motion, stay in motion”; #2 “the greater the force, the greater the acceleration”; and #3 “for every action, there is a reaction”.  I am no physics teacher (so definitely don’t quote me on the 2nd law) but for the purposes of this article we are going to extrapolate the theories of momentum and motion into human behaviour. That is that people who act a certain way are not going to change unless they either A) have to or B) want to. No amount of wishful thinking or mindforcework is going to make a person change. You can encourage change, you can even be the model of said changes but in the end: the individual is the ultimate decider, the force and the accelerator, of change in their life.

I have heard it said that a majority of the world’s mental frustration and angst is based upon trying to control things that are simply out of their control. When I work with children (and clients of all ages for that matter), I always tell them that the only person they can control is themselves. Not nature. Not animals (especially not cats). And not others. So stop trying. If there is a behavior that you do not like about someone, you have choices to make. You can either tell them about it and hope they decide to change their behavior or you stop worrying about it altogether. Notice how both of these choices are under your control.

If you have a friend who is chronologically challenged (they are late for everything, and I’m not talking 15 minutes here, I mean an hour) and/or has extremely poor communication skills (perhaps they were raised by Carthusian monks on a lifelong monastic silence) and it drives you bonkers. Stop. Reflect. Is any of this behavior yours to control? No. It isn’t. So stop trying. These people will not change unless they have to or want to. Now, that is not to say that you say nothing or do nothing with this sheepish individual. Again, go back to your self-agency. You can make choices for yourself. Ask yourself: what do I want? If you want your friend to improve on quality x,y, or z, then tell them. But do not text them. We shirk from conflict enough as it is these days and texting, being the new form of human communication that it is (even angry letters sent from Popes and contemporaries of the Middle Ages typically took time to put a level of thought into their diatribes), is simply not an effective method of having a constructive discussion. If you want people to change, you need to tell them and then they can decided whether or not they want to.

The other version of change is when people have to. But really, nobody has to do anything if they don’t want something of it. Take for example the case of the “hopeless alcoholic” (I borrow this character  from Bill W’s Alcoholic Anonymous) who can’t stop drinking. Indeed, the compulsive drinking of this reprobate seems to suggest that they are afflicted with something not dissimilar from a disease. It is killing them yet they cannot stop. They are addicted. They are powerless to the drink. Yet we hear of so many people with similar tales of addiction that are able to successfully become sober and remain that way the rest of their lives. But how? Because they want to. They want to be clean. For their families, their friends, themselves. They are proud of their success and their choices (and damn proud they should be). Even if an individual is arrested and told that they can’t, say, have a drink. They still could do it. But if they look at themselves and realize: I am not proud of the fact that I physically assaulted a newspaper box and soiled myself at a bus stop, I need to get myself together here. That is not them having to do anything, that is them wanting to do something. They want to change themselves. These are lasting changes. Not when the wife says do this or I’ll leave. Not when the police say do this or you’re going to prison. Only when the individual says, I need to do this for [insert reason, clause, ultimatum here].

I could write a lot more on this. I have decided that I will and put them into a book to be lost in the oversaturated market that is self-help books. But that is enough for right now. If you like this, then comment on it and ask for more. Share it with your friends. Print it. Frame it. Or burn it. Whatever you do, realize it is your choice. Realize that no one has control over you. That you are the most important voice and decider in your life. That is not to say you should be a selfish individual but rather that you do things because you want to. Not because you feel like you have to. If someone really cares about you, they will want you to do what you want to do. They will not pressure you, they will encourage you. So make good choices and remember that you can’t control anyone, so stop trying to force it. People do not change, unless they want to.

R.G.

Image taken from: https://en.dopl3r.com/memes/dank/how-people-fixed-lightbulbs-before-isaac-newton-invented-gravity/792013

Priority, Not Priorities

Photo by Spencer Selover on Pexels.com

I recently checked out the audiobook version of Essentialism by Greg McKeown and while I am not yet finished, there has already been much to think about. The book itself is a proposal for a better life, a self-help book of sorts but with practical application. It is not about giving you another set of rules to follow for success, romance, or finance but rather a way of decluttering your life and tailoring it to your needs, wants and interests.

In our society, we are constantly inundated with expectations that, for the most part, are not our own. We are expected to go to another board meeting despite the high chance that it will have nothing to do with us. We are expected to go to random social events because, well, the more people there the better they probably look. We don’t want to hurt peoples feelings, so we sacrifice our own. For what? To keep good social standing? So that we have that many more people at our funeral? Why are we so caught up doing the things we don’t want to be doing? This is the thesis of McKeown’s book: what is it that is of highest importance to you? And if you are not already doing it, then why not?

Early on in the book, McKeown talks about the word ‘priorities’ and why this is a corruption of the word ‘priority’. The word ‘priority’ was introduced around the 14th century and meant the most important point or goal taking place above all else. It wasn’t until the early 20th century that we pluralized this word.[1] As many of us have come to find out, we are not effective at multitasking. The human brain is not meant to take on several tasks at once, should this happen, you are doing several tasks at various degrees of effort.[2] It is said that we only have so much cognitive bandwidth and to divide this among multiple tasks means that none of the tasks will be done to our maximum capacity and efficiency. The more you divide, the less cognitive bandwidth you have to put into a separate task. Take me for example, I am currently writing this article while watching my ten month old play with toys. I simply can not do both at the same time, so I am constantly jumping between the activity of writing and watching my child. The result? Probably the formation of sentences that aren’t as clear as they could be had I only been writing this (I appreciate your understanding).

You are probably saying to yourself, well that’s great but we live in a world that is meant to multitask. Very true, which is why we need to give ourselves a long hard look and examine what needs to stay and what needs to go. We must identify our priority not our priorities. What is essential? What is the number 1 focus and let’s just stop there. Imagine your brain as a computer, on any given moment you might have several applications open: listening to music, three different social media apps, two different emails, four different word documents, whatever randomness you are searching on the internet and, just for a cherry on top, the latest “free-to-play” game that’s out.[3] All these different activities result in your computer running slowly. Your brain is no different. When you have multiple things on the go, you simply cannot think or focus clearly. While you might not be able to close all your applications down and just run one (I know I can’t stop watching my daughter), you can close down most of the other ones. With particular emphasis on the ones you don’t need.

This returns to my original point, there is so much unnecessary distraction in our lives. I say this because I used to be a willing victim of it all. I had all the social media accounts and all the time eating games out there. My life was one big distraction. I couldn’t focus on anything because I had something else burning in the back of my brain. I couldn’t enjoy the moment because there was another moment to think about or enjoy. While I am in no sense a master of the practice of essentialism, it is something that I want to incorporate and something that I truly believe will benefit you as well. So look at your life and ask yourself, what windows can I start closing down? Do I need this? Is this a good use of my time? Because time is the ultimate resource and it is not renewable. How you choose to spend your time is what makes you a free person. So choose wisely. Cut the distraction out of your life and I promise you, you will feel happier and more fulfilled.

There is a reason why people lose faith in politicians and leaders in general. Their goals are too vast, too numerous. They lack singular focus. They lack priority in favor of priorities. This is usually done to appease as many people as possible and ‘win them over’ but the results are often that everyone becomes equally dissatisfied (unless they are superheroes and able to achieve everything they promise). Perhaps this happens to you? You make so many promises but end up disappointing someone or worse yet, you spread yourself out so thin you don’t have time for you and you can’t give anything your full potential if you are not at 100 percent to begin with.

So ask yourself, right now, what is your top priority? What is the first thing you need to do today before you do anything else? Once you complete that, then you move onto your next objective. Give this one thing your most attention, effort and presence instead of completing multiple goals at once. If you can achieve this, then you are on your way to being an essentialist.

-R.G.


[1] McKeown, Greg. Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less (2014).

[2] See Salvucci, Dario D. & Taatgen, Niels A. The Multitasking Mind (2011) for further information and research on why the human brain can only effectively do one task well at a time.

[3] Don’t get me started on “free-to-play” games.

3 Books To Check Out

Hi everyone,

As some of you may know, I have started to become a more frequent reader this year. Since January, I have completed 14 books, which is unheard of for me (I think on average, I read half a book a year in my twenties). It won’t shock you to hear that reading is a great exercise for you. It benefits not only your mind but your body as well. The act of reading can help calm your mind. This is because you have to focus on what you are doing and actively process the information you are decoding. So it is a great way to both start your day and end your night.

These are three of the books I am currently reading that are helping me to expand my perspective:

Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams by Matthew Walker

This is a great book that explains the science behind sleep in a way that is easily approachable. We live in a society that is constant and full of stress. For many of us, we have to intentionally add “down time” to our lives be it meditation, exercise or reducing our screen time. One of the best ways to reduce stress is to get a good night of sleep. This book goes on to provide why sleep is so important and why many of us should consider rekindling our relationship with the most ancient form of self-care. I highly recommend giving this book a read, it makes for excellent night time reading.

The Choice: Embrace the Possible by Dr. Edith Eva Eger

When I was in university, I read a book that changed my life. It was called Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. The book details the true story of a survivor who was imprisoned in the brutal concentration camps of Auschwitz during the Holocaust. One thing that is so incredible about this book is how the author describes his mentality behind his survival, he simply never gave up believing in a higher purpose, a deeper meaning. In Dr. Eger’s memoir, she provides a similar account of not only how she survived but why she survived. She also describes her life after surviving the camps and her process of healing. While reading this book, I could not help but draw connections to the late Frankl’s life affirming work (these connections are also mentioned throughout the book). While her experiences are unimaginable, she illustrates them in such a way that we can see ourselves in her, reminding us that no matter how difficult life is (or seems), we always have the power to choose how we see things. If we choose to feel powerless over our life’s circumstances, we will remain powerless; if we choose to heal ourselves and accept responsibility for our wellness, we will live our most full life.

Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge

Contrary to what the title may suggest, this is a book that is very insightful to the aforementioned race mentioned. Yes, white people. If you have questions about what is going on (or if you have opinions about what is going on) in terms of race relations, then I highly encourage you to give this a read. While Eddo-Lodge is British and focuses on race relations within the UK, these are but examples to a larger narrative. She explains things like White Privilege, Anti-Racism, Educational Reform and the importance of talking about race in ways that challenge the post-colonial narrative. It is not about shaming you if you are white for being white, but about rethinking how the various systems of society (political and otherwise) have constructed asymmetrical opportunities based on race. The conversation around race is a difficult one and may even make you feel uncomfortable (it probably should); however, it is one that we need to be having.

Take A Nap

No seriously. Take a nap. It is good for you.

Lately I have started reading up on the circadian rhythm which is the cycle our bodies go through during the day. This also explains what times we feel sleepy and when we should be sleeping. Have you ever noticed about midday, usually after lunch that you start to feel a little drowsy? That is connected to the circadian rhythm and is suggesting to your body that you need a rest. The problem is that our industrious society and culture doesn’t like to take breaks. Many of us Nine-to-Fivers are left to “power through” these energy doldrums and not take the rest that we need.

Showing great Cat Nap form! Photo by Mike on Pexels.com

In the book Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker, he talks about monophasic (one concentrated bout of rest) and biphasic (a large rest with a small rest in the middle of the day) sleeping structures. He mentions how many human cultures engaged in biphasic sleep structures including the west until the early modern period (16th century onwards). Now in our industrialized societies that are constantly left alert and awake by technology, we struggle to get one good night of sleep let alone a midday rest. We need to correct this. Our very health depends on it!

As a new parent, I am quickly understanding why my father was always caught napping on the couch. He was likely exhausted by antics (I was a busy kid). I say this because I am often exhausted and my daughter isn’t even ten months old yet. Therefore, it really helps to boost my energy and my mood when I have a quick thirty minute nap. Not only do I feel refreshed but I feel happier. Sleep and hunger have a stronger connection to our well-being than we oft give credit (you’ve heard of hangry to denote someone who is irritable due to hunger, well how about tangry for tired and angry?). In our very busy lives, we need more quality rest. I believe that naps will help with this.

In conclusion, this article serves as a quick public service announcement to bring back the siesta! Doesn’t have to be long either, in fact thirty minutes is optimal (having more than this could affect the quality of your night time sleep). Not only will you feel the immediate health benefits of an improved mood and feeling refreshed but it can also help in reducing the risk of heart disease and premature death.[1] This is because sleep is the bodies way of repairing itself. So take my word for it, instead of having an afternoon latte to jolt you back up- try looking for a place to take a snooze.

Thanks for reading!

R.G.


[1] Based on a study done at Harvard University on communities that take afternoon naps versus ones that do not. Of the volunteers, those that participated in not taking naps were 37 percent more likely to develop heart disease and die than those that had naps. These numbers were even higher in individuals in labour intensive occupations. Matthew Walker, Why We Sleep, Pg.71.

Perspectives with Kaamil Salojee

Yesterday evening I did a podcast with my good friend Kaamil Salojee. Kaamil is from South Africa and moved to Canada from Johannesburg in 2011. Whenever we got together, he didn’t always share much about his life back in South Africa. I attribute this mostly due to my hesitation in asking about his home country for fear of sounding nosy but also because we were usually preoccupied with parting and imbibing ourselves or snowboarding. Now with Kaamil preparing to return back to his mother country of South Africa, I decided to do a podcast with him in where he shares his experiences growing up in a different continent.

I have included the link to the podcast below. I hope you enjoy. Our conversation definitely taught me much about the interesting history of this country, from Apartheid to post-Apartheid and what the country is like today. From his sharing, I trust that there is something every listener can take from our conversation.

Thank you for listening.

R.G.

The Importance of Teachers

Summer vacation has started in most parts of North America for millions of teachers and students. Usually this is a time of immense joy. The pay off for a long hard year of academic pursuit; however, this break feels noticeably (and understandably) different. Due to the impact of COVID-19, the connection between teachers and students has been greatly affected with much of the learning taking place online. With everything taking place through chat groups, video conferencing, online calendars and a myriad of other digital tools- the very face of education change. In a very brief period of time. We went from going to places of education (schools), to transforming our living spaces into schools. Now, I am not the person to measure or assess the level of success that this had; however, I can tell you that this had mixed results. I believe it has much to do with the relationship between the teacher and the student.

Looking ready to tear up the afternoon Monday Math Meeting on Zoom. Photo by Julia M Cameron on Pexels.com

I should begin by stating my bias and why I have immense respect for teachers. I started my career as an elementary teacher before becoming a counselor and am still an employee of a school district. I work alongside teachers, students and families every day. I see the importance that a positive connection can have on an individual. (I also see the consequences of what a negative connection can have with a young learner). Connections are best established and maintained in person not online. That is not to say that you can not do this successfully online, it is just much more difficult and requires a lot more work and time. Something that we don’t have readily available in our ever increasingly busy lives. I have seen amazing examples of thriving online classrooms with lively conversations among teachers and pupils. I have also seen teachers provide tutorials for students who are struggling with specific concepts or one-on-one support for students who request it. The potential is there but there is still something missing.

Humans are hard wired for connections. Read any book on evolutionary biology or behavior. We got to where we are today by cooperation and competition. We did not enter the 21st century through isolation; however, there is growing concern that this is the direction we are heading. I am not against technology (I am using a blog to communicate this) but I do have concerns. I have previously written about the importance of positive adults in the lives of children and I believe that schools are wonderful places for this. I admit I am an optimist as schools can also be places that inhibit individuality and happiness. Buildings full of people but no personality, where “weaker” kids become easy targets for bullies. However, this has much to do with school culture and community that impacts the overall environment. Having a healthy school ethos or philosophy that encourages individuality as well as social-togetherness will develop happy and healthier minds (more on this on another time). The point is that environment, that is the setting and the place, plays a huge role not just in the learning of young minds but also in their well-being. Being stuck at home all day and trying to remember you have a math lesson at 10 is not easy for adolescent minds [1]. They need someone to be there to help them navigate the routine and the daily structure. This is what teachers do.

The focus on 21st century education isn’t on the “what to think” (or the acquirement of information) but rather on “how to think” (strategies that will help us decode, determine, argue, and acquire our own information based on the vast amount of information available). This is why we need teachers. It isn’t so much about memorizing information or facts anymore because anyone can do a google search. The focus is rather on developing the strategies and tools to think critically and openly as well as to express information constructively. It doesn’t take much researching to find that conversations on internet forums are often lacking in their ability for democratic discourse in many participants. We need teachers to help us develop the skill-set to navigate the world ahead. A world of information overload.

There is also a second major avenue that teachers help and that is in the well-being of the individual. What other profession can have such a profound social-emotional impact (either negatively or positively) on an individual? Almost everyone can recount either an uplifting story and/or a Dickensian archetype (the evil Grade [insert number here] teacher) of an educator at some point in their lives. I wonder/worry about those who can’t recall a memorable teacher. My success, not just in terms of career path but also in perspective, I owe in large part to a teacher who was there for me when I was a troubled teenager. Teachers make a difference especially the ones who develop a connection with their students. Humans are hard wired for connection but to establish connection you need presence.[2] It is much easier to do this when you have everyone in the room rather than individually seeking them out (I hear it also makes attendance a lot easier). Research also shows that the more involved a student feels, the more successful they become.[3] It is a lot easier to feel involved in something when you are already there and have someone to help you be accountable than sitting at home on a computer.

In conclusion, teachers make a difference in the lives of children and adolescents. It is difficult to argue otherwise. Contemporary education is not perfect. [4] And while there is much room for growth, it does provide an environment for many individuals to thrive, if used appropriately. I believe that school is not a place to do menial work, it is a place to develop the hearts and minds of the future. Yes, I know I am an optimist. I said that already.

R.G.

Please feel free to comment on this thread with additional insights. This was a very brief article and I know there is a lot more to this subject. My aim is not to do it harm but to hopefully do it some small semblance of justice. Thank you for reading.


[1]Individuals benefit greatly from routine. The establishment of routines is associated to executive functioning which occurs predominately in the prefrontal-cortex of the brain. This part of the brain is not yet fully develop in children and adolescents until their early twenties. Thereby making self-directed accountability very difficult for many young minds. For more information see Behave by Robert Sapolsky.

[2] Think Wilson in the Tom Hanks classic Castaway. He had to give an inanimate object sentience so that he kept his sanity. Therefore, we are hardwired for connection.

[3] There is much research available on this. I gathered this information from John Shindler’s Transformative Classrooms: Positive Strategies to Engage All Learners (2010).

[4] It is important to note that I am talking about Western 21st century education here. A system that like many others has historical and cultural associations and implications, often negative ones. Look no further than the impact of Residential Schooling on First Peoples (Inuit, First Nations and Métis) in Canada to see how education has caused cultural, often labeled genocidal, harm.


The Philosophy Behind I’m Probably Wrong About Everything

In today’s post: I decided to write a brief explanation on the title of my project: I Am Probably Wrong About Everything. Since developing this idea in early 2020, I have found myself becoming more and more interested in the pursuits of asking questions I never asked and expanding my understanding. Questioning everything rather than just accepting my reality. The big question I wonder is what do I really know?

When I tell people the name of my blog/podcast/whatever this is, I often get a good chuckle. Perhaps that was the original intent. To develop something that made humour from its own self-deprecation. Admission to the fact that, well, I probably have no idea what I am talking about but I want to talk about it. And the more I think about it, the more I begin to believe that there is a lot more to this title than I give credit. I see the world through a lens. My lens. You do too. Only it is your lens. Our lenses are based in part through experience and relationship. You learn what you learn through practice and whoever is around you. This develops the building blocks or foundation of your understanding. Then come the abstracts. Things like events happening in other parts of the world, seemingly worlds away and of no immediate proximity to your world. As you learn through reading, watching, imagining and other means, this information is filtered through your lens of your understanding and thus shapes your perspective.

What makes this problematic is that I have so often found myself gravitating towards those who agree with me. Those who think like me. Perhaps even those who look like me. And when we choose to identify and associate ourselves with people like ourselves, we run the risk of developing a myopic view of the world. Of only seeing and understanding the world through our lens thereby becoming completely out of touch with the rest of the world. For example (and perhaps not the best one), we hear of celebrities being jerks to their rabid fans and think: What’s their problem? They are rich and famous? They shouldn’t treat people like that! Especially not their fans. But we have no idea what it feels like to be a celebrity and just how annoying it is to not be able to go anywhere without being recognized. Have you ever wanted to buy one item at a grocery store after a long and exhausting day (maybe, say, ice cream?) hoping to get in and out as quickly as possible only to be obstructed by one your annoying cousins or any acquaintance for that matter? Yea, well, I imagine that is what a celebrity goes through. Only it is every day, every where and all of the time. Makes me very glad I never got into movies.

My point is, is that we really don’t know what goes on in the minds of others. We have a hard enough time as it is keeping track of our own. At least I do (I won’t speak for you). Therefore, by definition of us not being able to think and speak for others then we have no idea what goes on for other cultures, races, religions, nations, genders, sexualities, etc. Especially ones that are not our own. So when we see things happening around the world on the news and think: Gee that must be how “they” do it down there. We should probably give that a second thought and ask ourselves: who is they? Do I know a they? Shouldn’t I be asking they instead of thinking that this is what they does all day? But I know two theys and they have different answers!?! My point exactly.

Therefore, the purpose of this project is to seek to understand as much as I can and always be open to differences of opinion. The truth being that I haven’t always been open to different opinions. This is especially true around politics. I see myself as I fairly liberal minded person but what does the other side have to say? Do I have to commit myself to one side of some strange tribalist political feud? Or can I be more open? What is it that this person is saying? What are other people saying? My point is that once we stop being open, we close the ability to change our minds and thus get ourselves closer to the truth. Whatever the truth is. And a lot of what we are currently living under is a collection of assumptions and historical consequences that are worth reexamining. Which is why I want to admit that I am probably wrong about everything but that I want to learn. So maybe you too can help me.

Thank you for reading. Please feel free to subscribe or comment on my posts. Have a wonderful day.

R.G.

Anti-Racism vs Multiculturalism

To say that the current protesting in the United States and the Black Lives Matter movement is trending right now would be an absolute understatement. This humanitarian pursuit (also known as Civil Rights Movement) is not new, nor is it reserved for the United States. Blacks and browns have experienced systemic racism all over the world and my country of Canada is not exempt. In speaking with various peoples of various backgrounds (including people of colour or POC), they express concerns about this movement losing steam and popularity only to reignite several years later after another case of police brutality against a minority. By my understanding, this is the second wave of mass protest of the BLM movement. The burning question is: how can we create lasting change?

The conversation around racial equality is an incredibly complex and sensitive one. For good reason, the inequality that groups such as BLM speak of have been around for a very long time. This history of racial injustice sometimes only receives a few paragraphs in educational textbooks. Why? I imagine this is because no one wants to focus on the crimes committed by first world nations. It is not easy to admit to the state sponsored genocide of American First Peoples. Nor is it easy to discuss how millions of African peoples were kidnapped as slaves and brought to various colonies around the world (Britain, Caribbean, America, Latin America, etc.) with extreme violence and oppression.* By admitting to guilt and therefore responsibility for these crimes and their contemporary consequences, there would need to be reparation. Admitting guilt would admit that there is a problem and a problem requires a solution. A solution that the state must come up with. What state wants to do that? Which is why we, as individuals, can no longer look away from what is going on. Not just in the United States, but around the world. We must demand change if we want to see change. Therefore, this can’t be just a fad. Something we post once on our various social media handles and sit back and relax believing that we did our part. It has to be a constant and it needs to be consistent.

I want to identify that I would fall under the category of white privileged and therefore, am unfit to answer this question. This is largely due to the fact that I can’t answer what the solution is, I can only speculate. I also know that by not saying anything at all is to be borderline complicit in the further continuation of systemic inequity and racism against blacks. So, I will write about this, full knowing that I am not the person to solve this problem but that I want to be part of the solution. I believe that the biggest contribution that I can provide is to continue to educate myself on racial inequity both historical and present as well as share my learnings with others- especially my children. I want to learn and hear more stories so I can bring them to light. I don’t want to be part of the fad, I want to be part of the change.

As mentioned, I believe that education is one method of changing the narrative and the systems of prejudice in various countries. In a book I have recently begun reading about the experiences of Blacks in Britain, Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge, she mentions a bit on a black sociology professor trying to put together a ” race-based” educational program for the police in the 1980s. The reason for which, was that Britain at the time was experiencing an influx in racial tension and “rioting”. The professor first wants to see what the general understanding on British Blacks is and sends out an open survey to police officers. Depending on his findings, he will be able to see whether or not the program should be anti-racist or multicultural in approach. The results of his survey provide ample evidence of racist beliefs held throughout the sample. It is important to note that the responses yielded similar themes associated to Blacks ranging from decreasing property value to increasing crime. This information encouraged the sociologist to pursue an anti-racist approach, rather than a multicultural approach to his program. However, this decision for an anti-racist program was turned down by the police department and the educational program was closed altogether as a result. This was a big a-ha moment to me, that there is a difference between multiculturalism and anti-racism.

But what is the difference between these two?

First let me briefly touch on my cultural lens. I am a heterosexual white male. Does this matter? Yes. I realize I am what is perhaps the poster child of what so many movements are going against. Typically speaking, when you think of racists who run the country and the agenda, who comes to mind? Straight white men who are rich and powerful. The only thing I am lacking is the mass influence and wealth. But maybe that does make me a good candidate to speak up. Maybe I can influence the other straight white men to have a different opinion? Or at least give their long held beliefs a second thought. Hence the whole purpose behind my blog and podcast, that we are probably wrong about everything. So why not try and get it right? Why not give it a second look? Why not hear someone else who has a different opinion or perspective than the ones we constantly surround ourselves with? Well, generally speaking, people don’t like doing this because it makes them feel uncomfortable. No one likes to be wrong. Which is problematic because at some point we are all wrong and until we challenge what we believe we could never be right. Phew, that was an aside but I believe it to be important… my point is, I have no clue what it is like to be a minority in a western nation, so how can I answer the question of what a different group than my own (read minority) needs? I can’t. All I can do is ask questions, shut up and listen. Which is very very hard for us (yes, I am talking about “us” white people) because we have been talking for so very long. It is time to listen to other voices.

This is where the difference between multiculturalism and anti-racism comes in. Multiculturalism is an interesting concept. It suggests that you have a country or place that is accepting of all different cultures and peoples. Everyone is included but not necessarily everyone gets along, or has to. However, there is a bit of a hidden piece to this. Where are all these cultures gathering? Usually in a place where they are the minority and there is a dominant culture. Usually, countries that are multicultural are also democratic, which means that decisions are made based on votes. Every individual gets a vote. So if you have a dominant culture and a bunch of different minority groups, it is likely that the majority will be making the decisions. If you are able to get the dominant culture or majority to think a certain way, then it its likely that they will be swayed to vote or direct their countries decisions in a certain way. Democracy isn’t perfect; however, it certainly beats the alternative of living in a fascist or communist country. At this moment in history, utopians don’t exist. Therefore, democracy is our safest choice. But, as one can easily deduce from this explanation, democratic countries and the voting power of the people can easily be exploited. I won’t name drop any current political leaders or explicitly list any of their tactics but by using emotive power of fear, you can be sure to convince anyone to think a certain way. Especially the uneducated. Therefore, multiculturalism, or the inclusion of different peoples and different groups is not enough to create a flourish democratic and egalitarian nation.

You need something more. You need to be honest. You need to be open. This is all a part of anti-racism. Which is the act of understanding the prejudicial views of others and then trying to educate them to thinking alternatively. It’s trying to figure out the x,y,z of why this individual or group dislikes this other group and then exploring the absurdity of these claims. You can do this by shaming people to think a certain way. But this can have mixed, often polarizing results. For example, calling someone who says they don’t care about BLM a racist is likely to make them oppositional rather than supportive. So this is definitely a tactic to avoid. Instead, I think it is good to listen to the views of the individual and go from there. In returning to our example of the person who doesn’t care about BLM, ask them why? Perhaps they have good reasons that have never been validated. Maybe they have been told their opinions don’t matter. We don’t know until we ask the questions. You may notice that people have some very searing opinions on the matter. As a white person, I know I have heard some things that I highly doubt would be shared with a person of colour. All the more reason for me to listen first and then ask questions. I won’t win anyone over by calling them a racist asshole. Maybe they say that this group is more prone to end up in prisons. Okay, but why is that? Start by talking about the legacy of how there came to be a disproportionate number of blacks in American prisons. You win people over by making them think. Maybe not immediately but eventually.

This is why anti-racist education is a strong medium for combating prejudice in our society and why the British sociologist wanted to go this direction rather than the multicultural approach. However, it is uncomfortable to openly discuss our own bias and prejudice. However, it is there. Anyone who says “I don’t see colour” is guilty of naivety. Anyone who says “all lives matter” is clearly missing the point. We are talking about Black lives. So you better start to see colour and understand that it has been misrepresented in historically and contemporary. We all have much to learn and we are all part of this conversation. The only way we are going to make change in our democratic society is by having the courage to be a part of this conversation. In conclusion, I am talking to white people: we have no idea what it is like to be a visible minority in Euro-western centric country because we are the majority. That might make you feel uneasy and if so good, it’s the truth. So we need to have these conversations but we need to do a lot more listening than speaking. White people have been doing most of the speaking for a long damn time (again, understatement), so it’s time to be quiet and listen. Trust me on this, you are going to want to be a part of the change.

Thank you for reading,

R.G.

*That is not to say that these two examples are the only cases of oppression committed by colonizers, in fact, the list is rather exhaustive; however, the focus is on the impacts of systemic racism against blacks.

I like to think of my articles as an open dialogue. If you have questions, concerns, comments or if you think I am completely out to lunch- please do not hesitate to write in the comments below. Your thoughts will help me and they could help others see a different point.

Father’s Day: A Day for All Positive Male Role Models

I know. I know. Father’s Day was yesterday; however, I decided to allow said day to come to an end before writing on the topic. Why? Well, for starters, why does it matter when you write on a topic, especially one as meaningful and timeless as fatherhood? The other main reason is that this was my first Father’s Day as a father myself and felt a lot different than previous ones. Also, it was Sunday and I have decided to make that a day to take a break from writing. Therefore, we find ourselves at the beginning of a new week with fresh thoughts on the invaluable subject of parenting. And to be specific: male parenting.

You see, Father’s Day used to be something I avoided. This is largely due to my father passing when I was fourteen years old. Ever since that event, I found myself routinely distracted on this day. When I was lost in my rebel rousing and anger, I called it Fatherless Day. Due in part to the absence of a paternal figure. But looking back, I couldn’t have been more wrong. I have had many positive male figures in my life, it was just my perception that was turning this event from something worth celebrating to something I detested. But now that I have a child of my own, I am able to breathe deeply and be thankful for all of the positive men in my life that shared their narratives, perspectives, beliefs and virtues but most importantly their presence. One could easily fill a book on the lasting impact of finding your own “father figures” in the absence of a biological one or the importance of providing this role in someone else’s life, but this is an article and thus calls for something far more brief. So I will do my best to do just that.

Life is an incredibly difficult landscape to navigate. The requirements and expectations on our young are demanding and constantly changing. If we think it is difficult to adapt and understand things like pandemics as adults, then imagine what must be going on in the minds of children and adolescents. They can barely understand their own biological functioning let alone the sociological intricacies of the Earth. Then of course comes puberty, where things really get out of whack. We need someone to help us understand these phenomenon and our mothers and other maternal figures do a fine job of that; however, we also need the insight of our males. We need, and will likely always need, a balance in parental leadership. You need dads and you need moms. Doesn’t matter if you have two dads or two moms. Or a single parent. An individual will always develop optimally with the influence of the opposite gender. Provided they are a mentally healthy individual. In my years of experience in education, I have of course, seen the impact of not-healthy parent(s) on the lives of children. Not unlike a plant that requires both sunlight and water to grow, a child needs a healthy adult male and a female to grow up confident and emotionally strong.

But what if a parental figure is missing? According to a 2019 stat, there are about 1.71 million single parent families living in Canada.* This is an increase from 1.56 million in 2010. This mean that there are thousands of children growing up without a biological mother or father in their lives.** This suggests that we are raising more and more children in single parent families. What will they grow up to become? According to one article, children with two parents reportedly have better success not just at school and childhood but later in life.*** But is this true? Are children doomed to failure and to repeat the cycle of becoming single-parents themselves? Absolutely not (nor did the article conclude this). But for their best chances and optimal mental and emotional development, they need a positive role model in their lives. Both male and female. This doesn’t have to be a biological father or mother. Why? Because these two different individuals can teach us not only how to be and how to act but also that we are valued, we are important and we are cared for. In my experiences, children with active male and female role models in their lives are far less likely to develop issues regarding mental health or at-risk behaviours. That is not to say that individuals with these role models will never suffer from these problems; however, it seems they are far less likely for this to occur.

So what is the solution? Like anything complex, the solution is far more simple in writing than in practice. We simply need more positive role models in the lives of children and adolescents. The reality is that there are not a lot of them out there, especially males. Which returns us to the focus of this article: paternal figures. I work in the field of elementary education, and let me tell you, there are not a lot of young males in my field. At least based on my experiences. I honestly don’t have the stats to back this information up but anyone who has a child who has been through the elementary gamut can likely attest: male teachers are an anomaly. Or, ask anyone who has tried to find a mentor through Big Brothers. Not a lot of them out there. At least, not enough to meet the rising demands. Therefore, we need more positive males out there. We need more paternal figures.

Take it from me. When my father passed, a void was created. Now I could have filled that void with anger, sadness and all kinds of bad decision making. And to some extent I did, or eventually did, but a lot of that was delayed. This is large part in due to the positive male role models I had in my life. Teachers, uncles, family friends. I was very fortunate for these people who tried to best guide me and help me navigate and understand being a man (which has a myriad of different meanings and definitions influenced by culture, sexuality, etc.). Unfortunately, I didn’t always listen to the advice and wavered between accepting guidance and leadership and outright rejecting these values in exchange for polluting my mind with negativity. Again, I was fortunate enough to not get consumed in my self-destruction and pity. It would not be an exaggeration for me to say that a teacher saved my life when I was a teenager because he was there for me and he cared.

Who knows how many others are out there waiting to be saved? Waiting to be cared for? I am not saying that it is your job to help all the orphans out there. No, but what you can do is be there for one. And that one can one day, hopefully, be there for somebody else. Again, that isn’t your job but it could be your influence. And your influence could be the difference between a child who succeeds and a child who grows up angry at the world and her environment. I know times are busy and we all know they are not getting any quieter. Therefore, we need to make time and effort to achieve this. Maybe it’s taking your nephew to their theatre practice. Or watching your friend’s daughter play her first baseball game. Trust me when I say this, there are lots of opportunities to make a massive impact in a child’s life that they could likely never forget their entire lives. And really, all it took was you sacrificing one afternoon of your life. In being with my own daughter, I have come to know what children want the most in the world: you. They want a loving parent. They don’t care about a trip to Mali or getting a PS5 for Christmas nearly as much as they want you to be there. They will remember playing Halo 15 on their new xbox a lot more vividly with you than by themselves.

I want to end this article by saying thank you to you. For starters, if you are reading this, then it is very likely that you are a positive role model in someones life. You are being part of the change. A change our society demands. You can help explain and explore the need to re-evaluate the problems of racism in our society. Be the example of how to treat others regardless of who they love, how they live, or how they look. You can be the difference in a person’s life and chances are, you already are. So cheers to parents. But especially thank you to all the fathers. Everywhere.

I also want to thank and dedicate this piece to all those who helped me become the father I am today.

Thank you.


Sincerely,

R.G.

* Statista. “Number of Single Parent Families in Canada from 2006 to 2019” https://www.statista.com/statistics/443342/single-parent-families-in-canada/

**The study defines a Two Parent Family as “a married couple (with or without children of either and/or both spouses), [or] a common-law couple (with or without children of either and/or partners)”. This stat doesn’t tell us if the child is split between two homes with a single parent at each or is strictly being raised in one home by one parent. Therefore, it suggests that a divorced family with two very involved parents could fall into the category of single parent family based on the definition.

*** Jeffreys, Branwen. “Do Children in Two-Parent Families Do Better?” https://www.bbc.com/news/education-47057787