The Parallel Parliament

Glen Pearson

For 2018, Boring is Better

Posted on December 26, 2017

Journalists can be forgiven for growing jaded over time. Covering politics can prove to be a deep struggle of getting facts from those seeking to shelter them. More often than not journalists know they are being played. “The media are less a window on reality, than a stage on which officials perform self-scripted, self-serving functions,” wrote Thomas Sowell, and there’s a strong element of truth in it.

Given what’s going on in places like America, Venezuela, Russia, Britain, Spain and China, Canadian news at times can seem outright boring. Yet it says something about this country – our politics, our citizenry, our economy, our institutions.

Closing out 2017, we as Canadians understand that our pliability is a blessing. There are numerous challenges existing at a dysfunctional level in our society and, left unaddressed, could fester into open wounds that appear with regularity across the globe. For all our divisions, our bickering, our politics, our language, our origins, our discontent – our weather – we have remained together despite all those forces pulling troubled nations to the extremes.

Just a cursory Google search reminds us that we continue to place high in numerous rankings of “best country” in the world – a position we have maintained for a remarkable amount of time. Others have ducked in and out of such lists, but Canada is always in the running. Anyone who travels extensively knows this to be true. We are often respected globally for those things we are not: war-like, relentlessly angry, overtly partisan, severely nationalistic, hotbeds of hatred. And, yes, we confess to tolerating a subtle racism, an abiding inequality of gender, historic injustices towards indigenous people, and far too much poverty, but none of these challenges have risen to the level where our country will be torn apart by their presence. There is great work to be done in these fields, but the reality is that we know it and are working slowly to correct our historic unfairness.

Our number one strength? Opinions are divided at home, but to the rest of the world the answer is almost universal – somehow we are unified by our diversity. Our lack of crisis culture is a marvel when seen through a global lens. The reality that our great differences can abide among us over decades without pulling us into regional, cultural or racial enclaves seems almost impossible for conflicted societies around the world to envision.

It remains hard to concede to this somewhat rosy picture for those among us struggling to achieve the hope that Canada offers yet still fails to achieve. It is easy for our country to preen itself when considering global rankings, but great nations compare themselves not to other countries, but to their own ideals. Canadians reflect these ideals in their response to polls, registering solid concurrence when it comes to ending child poverty, resolving historic disputes with our indigenous people, and ultimately the desire for effective climate change action.

But we aren’t there yet, and, in some cases, not even close. Still, we live in a land where such things remain possible when a people and their political representatives place their resources behind the values they supposedly profess and not just their aspirations. Our ability to come together, though fraught with historic hurdles, remains Canada’s greatest asset and a genial commodity to a troubled world. The essence of a good people, journalist Richard Bernstein would write, “is to represent something beyond themselves, to light up the world, to glow with the torch of civilization itself.” This we are already undertaking, in ways that remain remarkably enduring and impressive. Our task before us in 2018 is to press for even greater social justice, equality, and a thankful people worthy of their land – to become even better versions of ourselves for the sake of our heritage and our influence in a disjointed world.

Rudolph – More Than Just a Jingle

Posted on December 23, 2017

A man named Robert L. May, depressed and broken-hearted, stared out his drafty apartment window into the chilling December night.  His 4-year-old daughter Barbara sat on his lap quietly sobbing.  Bob’s wife, Evelyn, was dying of cancer.   Little Barbara couldn’t understand why her mommy could never come home. Barbara looked up into her dad’s eyes and asked, “Why isn’t Mommy just like everybody else’s Mommy?” Bob’s jaw tightened and his eyes welled with tears.  Her question brought waves of grief, but also of anger. It had been the story of Bob’s life.

Life always had to be different for Bob.  When he was a kid, Bob was often bullied by other boys.  He was too little at the time to compete in sports. He was often called names he’d rather not remember.  From childhood, Bob was different and never seemed to fit in.

After completing college, he had married his loving wife Evelyn and was grateful to get a job as a copywriter at the Montgomery Ward Department Store, in Chicago, during the Great Depression. Then he was blessed with his little girl. But it was all short-lived. Evelyn’s bout with cancer stripped them of all their savings and now Bob and his daughter were forced to live in a two-room apartment in the poorer area of Chicago.  Evelyn died just days before Christmas in 1938.

Bob struggled to give hope to his child, for whom he couldn’t even afford to buy a Christmas gift.  So he determined a make one – a storybook!  Bob had created an animal character in his own mind and told the animal’s story to little Barbara to give her comfort and hope.  Again and again, Bob told the story, embellishing it more with each telling.

Who was the character? What was the story all about?

The story Bob May created was his own autobiography in fable form. The character he created was a misfit outcast like he was.  The name of the character?  A little reindeer named Rudolph, with a big shiny nose.  He had considered the names, Reginald, Romeo or Rollo before landing on Rudolph.

He finished the book just in time to give it to his little girl on Christmas Day.  But the story doesn’t end there.

The general manager of Montgomery Ward caught wind of the little storybook and offered Bob May a nominal fee to purchase the rights to print the book. They went on to print, “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and distribute it to children visiting Santa Claus in their stores.  By 1946, the store had printed and distributed more than six million copies of Rudolph.  That same year, a major publisher wanted to purchase the rights from the store to print an updated version of the book.

In an unprecedented gesture of kindness, the CEO of Montgomery Ward returned all rights back to Bob May.  The book became a best seller.

Many toy and marketing deals followed and Bob May, now remarried with a growing family, became wealthy from the story he created to comfort his grieving daughter.

But the story doesn’t end there either.   Bob’s brother-in-law, Johnny Marks, a struggling artist at the time, made a song adaptation for Rudolph.  Though the song was turned down by such popular vocalists as Bing Crosby and Dinah Shore, it was recorded by the singing cowboy, Gene Autry.   “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” was released in 1949 and became a phenomenal success, selling more records than any other Christmas song, with the exception of “White Christmas.”

The gift of love that Bob May created for his daughter so long ago kept on returning back to bless him again and again. And Bob May learned the lesson, just like Rudolph, that endurance in times of struggle is one of the key ingredients of leadership – as is the willingness to be different.

Merry Christmas everyone.

 

 

A special thanks to my friend Ron Posno for sending this account along this Christmas.

 

glen@glenpearson.ca

Societies Can Fail

Posted on December 21, 2017

We are well aware of the key characters involved in the ancient Christmas story – shepherds, wise men, angels, Joseph, Mary and Jesus. It’s all so quaint and moving that we forget the oppressiveness of that era. Few would have believed in those times that the mighty Roman Empire was about to crumble. And they would have been incredulous to learn that within 70 years, the temple, Jerusalem and the Jewish homeland itself would be gone.

This is ever the problem with societal decay: the seriousness of the situation is hardly obvious at the time. Yet Aristotle warned that a growing inequality would only bring instability and chaos. Plato wrote that tyrants utilize the premise of free speech and public angst to claim absolute power for themselves. And an increasing amount of writing is being published, stating that modern democracy has now entered a period of serious decline.

Ironic is too timid a term to describe how populism has morphed from attempting to expand the democratic franchise to voting to contain it in places like Europe and America in order to return to the “us versus them” brutality of earlier times – all this within just a couple of decades. The list is long and troubling – official racist policies, loss of morality and ethics, the domination of the corporate structure, the decay of public policy in favour of private pursuits. And then this week, in an open act of betrayal of its historic accountability, the Republican majority in both sides of the Congress, along with the White House, rammed through a revolutionary tax bill that outlandishly favours the wealthy over the middle class – the crass ascendancy of privilege over process was complete.  Franklin Roosevelt would remind us of what he warned his own generation:

“The liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerated the growth of private power to a point where it becomes stronger than the democratic state itself. That in its essence is fascism: ownership of government by an individual, by a group, or any controlling private power.”

The results will be inevitable and the growing gap between rich and poor, as it careens to more severe proportions, can only result in class warfare. This isn’t a possibility, but an emerging reality. And what we are learning is that democracy can fail, the worst of human nature can acquire power through legitimate political means, and that, in the end, money can simply crunch meaning.

We make a crucial mistake by believing that democracy always rights itself, that it corrects it course to steer it away from injustice. We discover that voters can elect tyrants, that elected representatives can worship the wealthy, and that citizens themselves can act against the better angels of their collective and individual nature. If we abandon this truth, we abandon our freedom. If we accept the status quo, then we tolerate our own insignificance.

We must always be on guard as citizens and keep from making those similar insignificant blunders that, when compiled over time, lead to the demise of the public estate. Around the world, democracy is under assault from within and not so much from without. To keep it requires a citizenry that is just as vigilant as it is tolerant.

glen@glenpearson.ca

Gina Barber with former London mayor Tom Gosnell

Fire in the Eyes

Posted on December 19, 2017

The old scriptures tell of how Moses, over 100 years of age at the time of his death, stood on a mountain overlooking the Promised Land and “his eyes were not weak.” Yet, despite that great advantage, the legendary Jewish leader passed on, never able to enjoy what he had seen and dreamed of for most of his life.

I thought of that story again a couple of days ago when I learned that Gina Barber, politician, activist and author, passed away of cancer. The outpouring of collective grief and thankfulness for her influence was remarkable in its own way, with many chronicling personal stories of her effect on their lives.

I have one of my own, and it’s as recent as two weeks ago. Jane and I were asked to the opening night of A Christmas Carol at the Grand Theatre – the largest production the theatre has ever presented. We took our seat near the front row and shortly after sitting down I heard a weak voice from behind say, “Well, hello Glen Pearson. It’s wonderful what the Grand is doing for the food bank.” I turned around a saw Gina directly behind me. She was not well, I could tell. Occasionally she put her head on the shoulder of her husband, Ted, and shut her eyes.

We spoke during intermission and that’s when the Moses story came to mind. Despite her physical weariness, her eyes bore right through me as she reminded us that we still have a way to go before poverty was truly dealt with in this country. And it struck me: despite her personal journey at that moment, she was still filled with the fire of her youth for social justice. She was that same young girl, only enveloped now in a physical shell that was nearing its end.

There are many things I’ll remember about Gina – her partisan fervor, constant championing of the marginalized, the belief in public policy and her own wish to write and enact it, and the effect she had on so many individuals throughout her decades of remarkable community activism. I campaigned with her in Old South London as she ran for Board of Control and I watched her at all those doors fighting for what she believed was right. On one of those occasions we went for an early supper and she spoke with fiery eyes of how governments had consistently underperformed when it came to those struggling with low-income. It made a similar fire already burning in me flame even brighter. That’s just how Gina affected others.

So, yes, I have many memories of Gina, just like so many other Londoners, but what will remain with me is the fire in the eyes of a true champion only a few days from her death. Her vision was still clear, but the more equitable future she fought for would have to arrive after she was gone, under new leaders and new citizenry sensitive to those so long neglected. To live like that – to die like that – is to never accept life on its own terms if it means others struggle in isolation. Gina Barber wrestled constantly with life, willing it ever towards justice and compassion. What a loss for all of us. We as a community will never be quite as dedicated as we were when she was with us.

This was Gina Barber: irreplaceable, incorruptible, and her effect on individual lives, incalculable. None of that changes now that she is gone – her influence lingers. All that remains is that we do our level best collectively to strive for the world she saw so clearly to the very end.

The Christmas Story Was Written For the Sorrowful

Posted on December 16, 2017

We go about wishing each other happy holidays and a merry Christmas, but sometimes the holiday season can be cruel.

For some people, it’s a reminder of ones we deeply loved who are no longer with us. The holidays will arrive without them this year, and it’s likely the coming weeks will feel more like a survival course than a season of celebration.

As London follows its seasonal narrative of gift-shopping, celebrations, lights, music, family gatherings, sumptuous dinners and endless snacks, among us will be many moving like shadows through it all, struggling in their sense of loss yet attempting to live up to the expectations of others.

Along with the joy we share together, any good city recognizes the pain of others.

The holidays are meant to be spent with loved ones. They accentuate a sense of togetherness and belonging. Yet the opposite is equally true. That empty chair, the vacant side of the bed, the lack of shared laughter or cherished nuzzle of love on Christmas morning, these comprise the new reality of isolation.

Author C. S. Lewis wrote about the loss of his wife in A Grief Observed. “Grief gives life a permanently provisional feeling. It doesn’t seem worth starting anything. I can’t settle down. I yawn, I fidget, I smoke too much. Up to this I always had too little time. Now there is nothing but time — empty successiveness.”

Lewis went on to describe his daily grief not so much as pain but as an amputation, no longer fully able to function because of his loss. Worse, his grief had become debilitating fear, the very thing the Christmas message was meant to overcome.

We still have our natural senses, but what good are they when we can no longer see, hear or touch those who once filled our lives with love and purpose?

Yet, within our personal bleak mid-winter lies a truth we must never abandon: we grieve as deeply as we do because we are still capable of great feeling.

Yes, grief is love with nowhere to go, but it is love just the same, and we feel it. It is not so much a permanent place of emptiness as it is a process toward healing and capacity, with tears as a necessary part of the journey.

For those enduring grief this holiday season — and there are thousands in London — reminders of what has been lost are plentiful. But so are those values that continue to frame what we desire for this troubled world, our families and our hurting selves.

For anyone caring to remember, the original Christmas story was about individuals struggling in a world lost in seeming darkness. We read of people searching for hope when none seemed obvious or available: A young pregnant woman seeking solace in a world dominated by political and military powers that threatened the very life emerging within her. A nation, and its people, feeling they had lost the essence of what had once given them purpose and belonging.

It was, and is, for such as these that the Christmas message was intended. As old carols tell us, it was to “a weary world” that the “thrill of hope” was designed on that first Christmas. It was to a people confined by sadness that the refrain of “joy to the world” was sung. It was to a world “pining” for its soul to “feel its worth” that the signal of “a new and glorious morn” was given.

The very spirit of Christmas that at the moment makes grief so painful and pronounced was also the one we intimately shared with those we have lost. It serves as a sure sign, like some kind of guiding star, that weeping may endure for a time, but there will still be a morning of joy.

And, in that morning, the memory of what we had and knew together, will empower us and light our way. The very pain of loss that we feel most deeply during this season reminds us of what is essential in life and urges us to discover and share it.

To those bearing the darkness of grief this season, let not the pain of loss blind you to the preciousness of what you shared, what you are still capable of sharing, and to your value to a troubled world.

I wish a meaningful Christmas to all.

 

See this post in its original London Free Press format here.

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