Wednesday, December 30, 2015

A wish for the new year



A new year always brings the pressure of resolutions designed to make us "happier"-lose ten pounds, go to the gym fourteen times a day, eat healthier, work harder, have a better (read: stricter) schedule for this, that or the other thing. 

We often put so much pressure on ourselves to make drastic change that by March (February?) we’ve already “failed” and fallen back into our old habits.

January 1st is just an arbitrary date on a calendar but the truth is, the energy of a new year can spur positive change if you do it right.

Lately, I’ve begun the habit of creating intentions instead of resolutions. It can take a little more time in the beginning but I find myself more likely to stick to the changes. 

I take stock of the things that make me feel good-when I’m eating right, when I feel connected to something bigger than me, when I’m active or spend time in nature, when I create, when I spend time with friends or family, when I explore a new town-and then I brainstorm ways to make more of that happen in my daily life. 

Likewise for people or things that don’t make me feel good. 

If I can’t get rid of the things that cause me stress (because it’s unlikely I’ll stop getting bills anytime soon), I brainstorm ways that I can change or better the situation from my end. I can’t change everything that happens to me, but I can control how I choose to let it affect me. 

It also helps to have a physical symbol of making space for the new-I throw open the windows, clean out the closets, move the furniture around. 

Changes don’t have to be big to see big results.
 
I like to meditate but I don’t always have the time, so I take five minutes in the shower in the morning to breathe and set intentions for the day. I set a reminder on my phone that pops up randomly through the day and reminds me to breathe. Before I drift off to sleep I think of a few things I am grateful for from that very day. 

Exercising in the morning makes me want to die, so I aim for long walks at night instead of trying to adhere to some schedule I’ll never keep. 

I don’t have a ton of money to travel, but there are some great places I visit in my own province while throwing a few extra bucks into a savings account for bigger travel plans. 

Making positive change in the new year should be fun and gratifying (and realistic!) not a chore. The great thing about being human is that we don’t have to be any one version of ourselves for any particular length of time. We can grow, learn, evolve, expand, contract-whatever takes you closer to your bliss. Have fun with it.

Sure, everything isn’t all gravy all the time-shit happens-life is full of emotions and they are all valid. Expressing emotion in a healthy way is even good for you. But if a particular part of your life is making you sad or angry more than you’re happy and content, then it's a perfect time to find some small steps to change it.

Forget the resolutions that you'll never keep. You may never be perfect, or thin, or fit, a star employee, rich and famous, or even some stereotype of where you think your life should be. Instead focus on small changes, creating a space to exist in that makes you happy or content more than it makes you sad, or bored, or angry. When you focus on being the best version of yourself, most of those other things will fall into place anyway. 

On the days you’re not feeling so good, and those small changes you've made seem far too big, take care of yourself and start again the next day. Don’t be so hard on yourself, and don’t be so hard on the people around you. They’re all fighting a different version of the same battle. 
 
So my wish for you, and indeed for myself, is for 2016 to be the year in which you find little ways to improve the space for yourself-to be happy, a little wild and a little free, to create and learn and laugh and love a little more than you did last year.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Why my Canada welcomes refugees



Like most of the world, I followed the events in Baghdad, Lebanon and Paris last week until my heart couldn’t take anymore. 

While these events have been escalating for several years, when it doesn’t make the suppertime news, it’s easier to push away. 

It’s mind blowing how much control American media has on our perception of what’s going on in the world. No matter how much we hate to admit it, it guides what we see and what we don’t. What we care about and what we don’t. What we see as important and what we don’t. That’s a hefty responsibility. 

There is so much information at our fingertips and yet many people still choose to glean information from headlines alone. 

I also saw stories of compassion and love and bravery and people who refused to stay hidden in their homes. I saw hundreds gather together to mourn, despite warnings not to. 

They refused to be afraid.

Those stories rarely make the biggest headlines. 

This morning I awoke, not surprisingly, to a few people, a few states and a few countries, saying they will not risk allowing refugees into their communities. 

When you live in fear, you are under control. 

When I heard the doors start to close, I thought of the fear on the faces of the refugees. 

They are already running, and have been, for much longer than us. They are pawns, living in limbo, terrified that the world will hand them over and close their doors. 

They are terrified that we will be too afraid to stand up for them, terrified evil will win. 

Aren’t we all. 

It warmed my heart to see Parisians still bringing food and clothing to refugees. It broke my heart to hear the stories in Lebanon of people throwing themselves in harm’s way to save others. 

What defines you as a country, and as a person, is your ability to stand united, with strength and compassion in the wake of terrible personal tragedy and loss, and your ability to remain human, even when a particular group wants to make you as inhumane as they are. 

You'll  notice I say “particular group”. I won’t give their name that power or that exposure. 

And, while I’m at it, I won’t assign them a religion either. They have no religion. Trying to assign a religion to your atrocities means nothing to me. 

I am not that easily fooled.

We have fought wars since the dawn of time in the name of almost every religion known, but war has nothing to do with religion. It never has. 

I can call myself an elephant all day long. I’m still not an elephant. 

It’s about power, and control and fear. It’s about revenge and anger and hate.

And make no mistake, the hate I have witnessed on comment forums, or worse, from people I know, is no different. 

Hate is hate, yours or theirs. It’s all the same. If you believe refugees will come here and take your job, you don’t understand the term refugee, among other things. 

If you believe that we can’t help others while also helping those in need here, you don’t understand compassion, among other things. 

Last week’s attacks have clearly made the fear surrounding the refugee crisis far greater than it already was.

You’re afraid? 

Ok, well then, fear I understand. I have family and friends and a life. Like many of my generation, I have never had to face the horrors of war. I’ve never fought for another person or country the way so many service men and women do every day. My bravery has never been truly tested. 

So I get it. 

Letting refugees into our country is a risk. Sure, it could potentially open us up to further terrorist attacks.

And it might not. Please remember that hundreds of thousands of refugees have been fleeing for over four years. This isn't a new issue. Perspective is key. 

To believe that Canada is not already at risk is na├»ve. It is no longer “us and them”. Terror is no longer taking place “somewhere else”. We should know that from events in the past few years. 

This is our reality in 2015. 

Do you truly believe that if we refuse to help others, terrorists will look the other way? Pass us over? C’mon. 

I welcome refugees in Canada.

I welcome the Canada that we have always been; peace keepers, protectors, a safe haven. 

Judging by the results of the most recent federal election, I know I am not alone in these beliefs. 

The goal of terrorism is to keep us afraid, divided. Terrorists want us to close our borders.

I keep seeing people asking other groups and countries, “Why aren’t you doing something about this? Why aren’t you standing up as a group and saying no more?”

My question is always, why aren’t you? Why aren’t I? 

I can’t fight terrorists. I can’t fly a fighter jet, or drop a bomb, or plan a military invasion. 

But I can control whether I add more hate into the world or more love. I can control who I choose to be.

Will hope and love alone change the world? Maybe, maybe not. But it’s a whole lot more likely to do it than hate and fear, I can promise you that.

So, what are you going to do as a Canadian? 

Live in fear? Or stand up for something? 

Every time someone spreads hate towards another group of people, we’re losing.

Every time someone sticks their head in the sand, we’re losing. 

Feeling fear is ok. But it’s not ok to let it guide your decisions. Not in day to day life, and not in war. 

Closing our borders and closing our hearts will not make us safer. But it will make us less human. I encourage Canadians to look long and hard at who they want to be. 

I’ve never been good with being told what to do. I like to believe that’s the Canadian in me. 

I will not be told to live in fear. I will not be forced to live in fear. I will not ever live in fear.

I will die before I allow someone to force me to be the type of person that turns my back on another human being.  

When you choose your fear over your humanity, you’re already losing.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Note: this post was previously published on A Plus "a digital media company co-founded by Ashton Kutcher that features stories that make a difference and create positive change."
Visit the site directly at  Ten things I know for sure via A Plus 

Ten things I know for sure

Lessons learned on love, laughter and life


The older I get, the less I seem to know. But after 35 years of bumps and bruises, laughter and love, there are ten things that I know for sure.

1. The most important things in life can't be bought-a glass of wine with good friends, sunsets and sunrises, laughing until tears roll down your cheeks, a perfect day at the beach, family that loves you unconditionally, sitting under a tree on a sunny day, holiday dinners with family and friends, playing with your pets, giggling with your children, giving to others, the list goes on and on. No person will lie on their deathbed and say "I'm really glad I bought that fancy couch to impress my neighbors."

2. The only person responsible for your life, is you- While you can't control everything that happens to you, you can control how you react to it, what lessons you learn and whether you allow life to make you weaker or stronger, softer or harder. The world doesn't owe anyone anything, but you do owe it to yourself to create a life you love. Don't be a victim. (Note: some days it's OK to curl under a blanket on the couch, with Netflix, ice cream and wine, and feel like a victim for a few hours. Then get up and dust yourself off).

3. What other people think of you is not your business-Sure, it would be nice to be liked and loved by everyone, but when it comes to making major life decisions, everyone will have an opinion. Politely thank them, and carry on with what is right for you. Those who genuinely like and love you will do so anyway. Those who have nothing nice to say, probably won't regardless of what you do.

4. Nobody likes a complainer-If you don't like something, change it and don't bring problems to the table without bringing potential solutions. We all have good days and bad days, and it's healthy to express emotions. But if you're never able to come up with anything positive to say, or you're angry all the time and attacking others, it may be time to sit down, have some silent time with yourself and look inside to see what's driving your unhappiness. Life is too short to be unhappy.

5. Hate can't be fought with more hate-Responding to hate, with more hate, is a futile struggle. The only cure for hate is love. It's impossible for hate to survive in an environment filled with love. Impossible. Hate spreads like the flu. You can let it engulf you, and spread it to others, or you can be the person that lights up the room. It takes more work to be the light, but it comes with far greater reward.

6. Travel is important-I've done a fair amount of traveling. From watching polar bears stroll through town to watching crocodiles swim down a river; from ocean to mountains; from northern lights to corn fields. Learning about the world, and all that inhabit it first hand, gives you a perspective that you can't learn from a book or in a classroom. Get out and see the world, whether it's two hours away or across the ocean. It will change your life.

7. You have to think for yourself-No matter what you hear, read, see or are told, don't take it at face value. It's almost impossible for humans to be completely objective and everyone has an agenda, no matter how harmless it may be. Check facts, find sources to validate the sources. Question everything and come to your own conclusions. You have a world of information at your fingertips, don't let anyone tell what you should believe, take the time to decide what you believe.

8. Your ego is a dangerous thing-It's what tells you that you're right and someone else is wrong. It's what tells you that one person is better or worse than another. It's what blocks empathy, stops you from saying "I'm sorry", ends relationships. It's that little voice that tells you that you aren't good enough. You can never make it go away completely, but you can make it fade. Meditate, spend time outdoors, do things that you love with people that you love. Don't be afraid to say you're wrong or you're sorry. Don't be afraid to care, to risk, to make mistakes, to get hurt. That is what living is about.

9. Don't take one moment for granted-Time will pass quickly. You will lose people you love. Overuse "I love you".

10. Fear is a useless emotion-when you're fearful, you aren't living in the moment, and this moment is all we have for sure.

Allison Currie is a full time public relations and communications professional who also does freelance writing. She calls Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada home and you can find her on Twitter @AllyLCurrie, on Instagram @ACURRIE34 or on her blog thesilentmajorityrules.blogspot.ca where she writes about this, that and the other thing.

Monday, September 28, 2015

No, I'm sorry, your intolerance isn't "different"



It has been a weird few weeks for me. Coverage of the ongoing Syrian crisis, and the resulting refugees, has plunged me into the unfamiliar waters of having racism and intolerance flooding my safe places. 

Mild, and sometimes not so mild, racist and intolerant propaganda has spread quickly through social media, shared by people I’d least expect it from. 

People I know to be good and kind.

People who would give someone in need the shirt off their back. 

People I know would normally take the time to fact check, to question things. 

More than once, I’ve found myself in strange conversations where sympathy for a child refugee is expressed in the same breath as fear of an adult. 

Conversations in which I think we are sharing our mutual empathy and sympathy, but suddenly, we’re not, and I’m not sure where in the chat the shift happened. 

This isn’t the type of racism I am familiar with. It’s not loud and mean and in your face. It’s a mild undercurrent, wrought with false justifications, by good people. 

Good people who have let fear take over their common sense. 

I suspect this form of racism might be the most dangerous kind.
   
“But we were all immigrants once. We’ve all faced intolerance”, I say.

 “But this is different”, they say.

That’s the kind of thing I keep hearing.

“This is different.”

“We could be in danger.” “We could let someone into our country that could hurt us.” “Why can’t they be more like us?”   

 “This is different”, they say. 

Really? 

Fearing someone who is not just like you, is different

 Let's recap.

Europeans came to North America and were, for the most part, welcomed, protected and cared for by the First Nations people who had always lived here. 

We repaid them by converting them to our religion, dressing them in our clothes and sharing our diseases.

We did not assimilate to their culture. 

In fact, those First People who didn’t conform to our ways, were slaughtered or kept as slaves. Later, they were stuck them in residential schools or moved to remote areas, onto land we didn't need, where they couldn’t harass us with their different ways. 

African Americans were different, so they became slaves. When slavery was abolished, sharecropping encompassed anyone who was poor, or “lower class”.

Hundreds of thousands of Japanese Americans and Canadians were rounded up and put in internment camps during World War II.

There was too much risk that they could be a spy.  

Six million Jews, along with the disabled, “gypsies”, some Russians and Polish, and various other “supporters”, were persecuted and murdered.

Because the Germans saw their differences as a threat. 

We have lived in fear of communists and we have burned “witches” at the stake. 

War after war after war has been fought over religion.

Women are treated as less than men. 

We have persecuted people from the LGBTQ communities.

At one time or another, people have disliked and distrusted the Irish, the Polish, the Scottish, the British, the Germans, the Mexicans, the Italians, the French, the Greek, the Lebanese, the Hungarian, the Chinese etc. etc. etc. 

If you don’t see yourself, or your parents and grandparents, in the list of persecuted people above, you’re not looking hard enough. Much of it was happening in the last eighty years. Some continues today.

I have no doubt I am leaving pieces out here, but my goal isn’t to give you a comprehensive history lesson on intolerance, it’s to make you see the pattern of intolerance that we exist in. 

There is not one moment in history when we were not persecuting someone who we saw as different.

There is not one moment in history, when we persecuted a person/group of people that we can look back on today, and say “Yes! We were so right to behave that way. Yay us.”

Clearly, we don’t learn from our mistakes. 

You can say “but that was a different time” as many times as you like in order to make yourself feel better.

The first Europeans were just so sure they were doing the right thing by converting and slaughtering the people that they encountered. 

We were just so sure African Americans were less than human and had to be managed.

We were just so sure we were protecting ourselves by sticking Japanese neighbors and friends in internment camps. 

The German’s were just so sure they were doing the right thing by murdering millions of Jews. 

We were just so sure that everyone was a communist. 

We were so sure one group or another posed a threat.

So let me ask you, how sure are you when you say that your intolerance is different? 

Kim Davis, a county clerk in Kentucky has recently come under fire for refusing to issue gay marriage licenses. Because she is just so sure that she is doing God’s work. 

I don’t know about you, but I don’t know of any God that promotes hate and intolerance. People do that. 

Ironically, many of the same people sharing memes attacking Davis for her intolerance are the same people sharing xenophobic and racist memes or stories about Syrian refugees and/or Muslims. 

So please, when you share this incorrect, misspelled, racist garbage, do not tell yourself that you are different from Davis. 

When you say that you don’t mind immigrants as long as they mold to “our” ways, do not tell yourself that you are different from any other group in history that persecuted another. Groups that, at one time, would have persecuted you. 

When you say you are just being realistic about the "threat", do not tell yourself that you are different from those who found threat in Jews, or Japanese, or African Americans. 

Please, stop telling yourself, this is different

Because it is not. 

It is intolerance. It is racism. It is fear of someone who is different than you. That’s what it was then, and that's what it is now. 

Not one thing about your intolerance is different. 

The only thing that would be different is if we all decided to embrace our differences instead of fearing them. 

The only thing that would be different is if we realized that all life is important, all the time.

The only thing that would be different is recognizing how alike we all are, not how different.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Curing the hate flu



One day last winter I stopped at a drug store. It was early morning. 

A lone cashier was working, moving slowly. The man ahead of me was getting increasingly irritated and the line was getting increasingly longer. As tension built, the cashier fumbled more.

When the man got to the cashier, he exploded as she rang in his purchase. The only line I remember, as he walked out, was “I can see why you work such a crap job, you’re barely even qualified for that.”

Silence.

I was next in line, and the cashier, hurt, and clearly embarrassed by the long line of people watching, leaned on the counter and began to cry. I didn't know what to do. I don’t deal well with much before my first cup of coffee.

She tried to pull herself together and began to ring in my purchases. I, and others, told her to take a moment if she needed to, glaring at the rest of the people in line, daring anyone to argue.

But everyone looked as hurt by it as I felt. One man made roughly ten people feel awful in less than twenty seconds.

She thanked us, telling us that her husband of forty three years had passed away unexpectedly the previous week. The doctors had told them he was improving, there was hope and then he was gone. She had decided to come to work because she couldn’t sit in an empty house any longer, but thought maybe she’d made the wrong decision because she was having trouble focusing.

She got through my purchase, I gave her my condolences and, as I left, others in line were doing the same.

When I got outside, the man was pacing outside his car having a loud conversation on his cell phone. I put my stuff in the back seat and he hung up as I was about to get into the car.

I couldn’t help myself.

“Hey, that lady is in there crying because you acted like an ass. Her husband just passed away. Maybe you should try giving people a break once in a while.”

I was so angry in the moment that I don’t even remember how he responded as I got in my car. But I do remember the pained look on his face. I have no idea if he went back inside or drove away.

After the fact, I felt pretty good about myself. I mean, I stuck up for this poor lady, to the big, bad man who couldn’t be bothered to show some consideration or empathy to another person.

It’s totally OK to be an ass to someone who just acted like an ass, right?

Yay me.

It wasn’t until much later in the year that something I read reminded me of that day. I realized that no matter what I had told myself at the time about how much more “honourable” I was than him, the truth was, I was angry and I wanted to hurt him. I wanted to make him feel the way he made her feel. The way the rest of us in the line felt.

His anger that morning didn’t just impact him. Or her. They impacted everyone around him.
But not once did I question why he was so angry, what kind of day he was having that lead him to treat the cashier like that. Not once did I show him the exact compassion that I expected him to show her.

But that’s what we do when we allow hate, or anger or fear to take over. We generously share it. We hurt people. And when we hurt people, they in turn hurt people, and hurt people hurt more people.

See where I’m going with this?

We’ve all had experiences that demonstrate how quickly our energy spreads. You walk into a meeting in a great mood, and by the time it’s over, you’re drained of all happy thoughts or feelings, even though nothing identifiable as "bad" has happened.

There is that one person that you dread spending time with because by the time it’s over, you feel sad, angry and frustrated.

We also all know that one person that can light up an entire room. You can’t take their eyes off of them. You leave feeling happier and lighter when you’ve been in their presence.

We must treat hate and anger as contagious illnesses, like the flu. They spread quickly and easily between as we interact throughout the day. They cloud our judgment and our compassion and our ability to empathize.

They make us so wrapped up in ourselves that we can't see beyond our own problems. We can't see the impact our words or our actions are having on someone else.

Emotions are healthy when shared respectfully, but that line is often blurred.

In my life, I’ve seen hate that has knocked the breath out of me at times. The irony of attacking someone, for attacking someone, for attacking someone, is lost on many.

I can’t say it enough, and I can't say it any clearer than this:

It does not matter how small or great of a crime is committed through hate or anger, if you respond in kind, you are no better than the person you are raging against. Hate will never, ever, put an end to hate.

What does stop hate in its tracks? Love. Compassion. Empathy. A sense of humor. Light heartedness.

Hate and anger cannot live in an environment filled with love. It’s impossible. IMPOSSIBLE.

Spend time doing something that lifts you up. Imagine someone you truly love in the face of everyone you don’t know. Would you be more patient and kind with them? Imagine all the times you screwed up, all the mistakes you’ve made, and were forgiven.

I truly believe that if every single one of us spent more time working on the energy that we give off, dealing with our own shit, developing empathy, teaching empathy to our children, taking responsibility for our lives, leading by example, the world we live in would begin to heal.

People are inherently good. Bad deeds are rarely isolated incidents. It is a culmination of life experiences, and what we are taught, that determines what road someone will go down.

And all of us are responsible for what that road is paved with. Every last one of us.

Maybe you’re so angry that you just want others around you to hurt, so for now, that’s fair. That’s where you are. You can’t see past it right now.

Maybe you're mostly friendly and kind but, like anyone, you can be driven to anger and hate. You’re working on it.

Maybe you are always kind. There are people out there who just are.