Friday, June 25, 2010

Welcome to Tornado Season

Thoughts on my Greatest Personal Fear

We had our first Tornado warning of the year on Wednesday. According to the Government of Canada peak Tornado season in Southern Ontario are the months of June and July.

When I was a child I was deathly afraid of tornados. The thought that a storm could become so violent that it would whip the wind into a rotating funnel capable of uprooting trees, lifting houses off their foundations and tossing full sized pickup trucks around like toys was terrifying to me.

It all started when I was 8 years old. I grew up in a region of Ontario that the government had dubbed “tornado alley.” Every spring we would have to sit through a slide show and learn drills on what to do should a violent storm hit. It didn’t matter that the so called tornado alley usually only spawned one or two major storms a year or that the actual risk of injury was statistically insignificant (about the same as getting struck by lightning), what mattered, as one of my teachers put it, was that we had a healthy amount of “respect” for the weather.

The result for an 8 year old with a vivid imagination wasn’t a healthy amount of respect, it was complete terror. To this day I have never been able to sit through the opening sequence of the Wizard of Oz without first checking on the weather network.

One year, at the urging of one of my more intuitive teachers, I completed a science project on tornados. You see this teacher knew the key to overcoming fear was knowledge. I did my home-work; I learned everything there was to know about tornados, how they form, how they behave, how to predict them and how to react to them. Through it all a funny thing happened, my fear dissipated considerably.

You see, our imagination is far more powerful than we realize. We are constantly coming up with outrageous scenarios that start with “what if” or “what about”. The whole purpose of those types of questions is to paralyse us with fear and prevent us from taking appropriate action. The truly sinister thing is that businesses and government know this and they want us to be afraid, fearful people are easier to manipulate.

Advertisers play to our fears every day by emphasising the negative result and then hold out a ready-made solution. The entire modern advertising industry is based on fear and politicians are experts at manipulating it. MIT professor Noam Chomsky called the whole phenomenon “Manufacturing Consent.”

Every year, at the start of tornado season I remember my fears but I also remember what they have taught me. They taught me that knowledge is the key to conquering fear and how to recognize when fear is irrational. The only way to get over our fears is to confront them rationally. In doing so we can recognize them for what they are and react appropriately.

So now ask yourself a few questions;

1- What are you most afraid of?
2- When did you first realize you were afraid?
3- Was it something you came by naturally, or where you taught?
4- Who taught you to be afraid?
5- What was their motivation?
6- How did you react?
7- Have you done your home-work?

Remember what Franklin D Roosevelt said at the height of the great depression. “The Only Thing We have to Fear, is Fear itself - nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” I especially like the last half of that quote, most people stop with the first half but it’s important to note that the biggest problem with fear is that it paralyzes us and when that happens the battle is already lost.

The politics of fear and manipulation is a real spicy meatball. I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface of something big here. This might take a while to dig through and honestly I have no idea where I might end up, stick around, we’ll figure it out together.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Your Turn – What do YOU Know To Be True?

Okay to be honest, for the past week I’ve been watching too much World Cup Football to stay focused on my writing. So now’s your chance to write The Earworm!

Last week’s post started some really interesting conversations for me, both on and off line, so I’ve decided to open it up and ask you all the same question.

In 500 words or less, tell me what YOU know to be true. I can’t promise that I will be able to publish everything and if I think your comments need to be edited I’ll send them back for your approval first.

If you don’t want your comments to be published that’s okay too, just say so. But I still want to hear from you.

Just a couple of rules;

1- Keep it brief. I have a really short attention span, especially when England is playing.
2- Please refrain from using explicit language, it’s just common courtesy right?
3- If you`re going to quote scripture or other wisdom writing, please give the appropriate chapter and verse reference so we can all go and look it up for ourselves.
4- No anonymous responses please. You know my name the least you can do is give me yours.

That`s it, rev up your keyboards and have fun.

Now back to The World Cup – GOOOOOOOOOOAAAAAL!

Friday, June 11, 2010

What Do You Know To Be True?

A good friend of mine asked me that question at the beginning of this year. I was taken aback but never one to give knee jerk answers I said, “I’ll get back to you”. It’s been almost 6 months and earlier this week I finally gave him an answer.

I know a lot of things to be true but the real journey in life, for me at least, is learning to accept the truth.

I just finished reading “The Great Divorce” by C.S Lewis. In it Lewis shows us a profound grasp of what the Kingdom of Heaven is like. It is a place so real, so solidly built on truth and goodness that it can be painful for humans to even walk on the grass at first. In this allegorical story, when you first arrive in heaven you are given a guide, someone from your past life to help you. Everything is revealed by your guide, all questions are answered and the truth is laid bare.

One of the most profound moments in the story comes when a man who prided himself in on having an open mind in life meets his guide and continues to ask questions while refusing to accept the answers, every answer, no matter how plain only leads to another question. Finally his guide becomes frustrated and responds;

Thirst was made for water; inquiry for truth. What you now call the free play of inquiry has neither more nor less to do with the ends for which intelligence was given you than masturbation has to do with marriage.

How many times have you heard someone comment that truth is all in the interpretation, or that there are kernels of truth in all things? That’s just poppycock! Truth is the absence of falsehood. A kernel of truth is not enough to make something right which is otherwise wrong. Conversely, all it takes is a tiny bit of falsehood to spoil the truth.

When I was a boy my father attempted to make fruit wine, goose berry I think. He did everything himself, harvested the fruit, squeezed out the juice, added the yeast and carefully sealed it up in the bottle. Everything was going well until one day he noticed something floating on top of the liquid, barely visible to the naked eye, it was a vinegar fly. Somehow the seal had been broken and the entire batch, months of work, had been spoiled by something no bigger than a speck of dust.

That’s what a kernel of falsehood does to truth. But if we take an eye dropper and place a drop of fine wine into a vat of vinegar we don’t suddenly get wine do we? To get at the truth you first have to eliminate all that is wrong. To take the analogy further rather than drop that fine wine into the vat of vinegar, you remove it, as far away as possible from any potential corruption. You protect that drop of wine like the precious and vulnerable commodity that it is.

Jesus said that the kingdom of heaven is like a “pearl of great price”, something to be cherished at the exclusion of all else.

Again the kingdom of heaven is like a man who is a dealer in search of fine and precious pearls, who, on finding a single pearl of great price, went and sold all he had and bought it. [Matthew 13: 45,46]

Lewis makes it very clear that no questions remain in heaven all you have to do is accept the answers. To continue to question, after you’ve found the truth would be like dropping fine wine into a vat of vinegar.

So what do I know to be true? Jesus said it best...

"If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." [John 8:31,32]

It all comes down to the things He taught.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

The G20

In just a few weeks Toronto will play host to the world when the G20 economic summit comes to town. City officials and federal politicians are desperate to show the best that Canada has to offer but I’m afraid that all anyone will see is a tightly choreographed event full of hand-shakes and photo ops.

That’s not Canada’s fault, the whole idea that the leaders of the world’s 20 largest economies would be able to sit down and agree on anything of substance in just 48 hours is ludicrous. We already have a long standing system in place where the world can come together and discuss issues of real consequence, negotiate settlements and adopt resolutions given the time and attention to detail that they deserve, we call it the UN. Of course the UN is a paper tiger that nobody pays attention to anymore and nobody really pays attention to the G20 either, but that’s a posting for another time. What is Canada’s fault, and the fault of every other host country in recent memory, is the way they are handling dissenting voices.

Last week the story broke that the bill to Canadian taxpayers for security alone at the summit will be nearly $1 billion. The lion’s share of that is not for security inside the venue, it’s for the crowd control required for the protestors outside.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) has defined a security perimeter of 50 blocks resulting in widespread displacement of citizens and the cancellation of passenger rail service into the city. No ordinary citizen is going to be able to get close enough to even smell the venue, let alone disrupt anything. I work downtown and am considering taking a few days off just so that I don’t have to run the gauntlet of security check points to and from my middle class job.

You would think that by now some politician somewhere would start to wonder why these protestors keep showing up. There must be something going on that they feel strongly enough about to risk arrest and permanent hearing loss, (the city of Toronto bought three noise cannons capable of blasting 143 decibels in order to help disperse crowds), but thanks to the security personnel the world leaders won’t see or hear the protestors and will be able to remain blissfully ignorant to their cries.

It used to be that politics was local. You could call your MP or Congressman and be heard. Nowadays more and more of the decisions that affect ordinary citizens are made in corporate board rooms on the other side of the world. Not only are the politicians not listening, they have abdicated their power and they couldn’t save us even if they wanted to. (See British Petroleum)

Of course, when the big corporations get into trouble they turn to government for bailouts claiming that if they fail they’ll take the whole economy down with them. The sad fact is; that’s not far from the truth so government caves and the bill trickles down to the ordinary citizen. (See Wall Street Banks, and General Motors)

At the end of the day government mortgages our future to pay for a bankrupt past. Huddling for two days in a posh Toronto hotel isn’t going to solve anything. Sooner or later the loans will be due and the people who are going to have to pay are sitting behind a billion dollar fence over a mile away.