Jim Taylor's Columns - 'Soft Edges' and 'Sharp Edges'

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5

Jul

2017

The question we have never asked

Author: Jim Taylor

Three days before Canada celebrated its 150th birthday, a group of indigenous protesters erected a large teepee on the lawn in front of Canada's parliament buildings, as a symbol of the mistreatment their ancestors had received from the colonizers of this country.

            They had tried to set the teepee up the previous evening, but had been forced off the parliamentary lawn by the police. Which also seems symbolic. It re-played the experience of Canada’s original inhabitants ever since Jacques Cartier landed on the Gaspe Peninsula in 1534 and claimed Canada for France.

           By some coincidence, during the week before Canada Day, a small group at my church had discussed ways of repairing the harm done by the colonial mindsets of past generations.

            Not until later did I realize they that our thoughts perpetuated that colonial mindset. With the best of intentions, we ask ourselves what we can do to improve their situation.

            But – and here’s the point -- we never ask them how they might like us to change.



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28

Jun

2017

If a stranger happened by

Author: Jim Taylor

Canada will be 150 years old this Saturday. I was asked by the organizers of the Canada Day celebrations to put together a historical presentation about the churches of Lake Country. Eleven, by my count, for a community of 14,000.

            So, last Tuesday morning, I drove around to all the current churches, to take pictures. I already had pictures of the earlier churches, thanks to the Lake Country Museum’s archives.

           On Tuesday mornings, I discovered, Lake Country is a religious dead zone. Locked doors. Empty parking lots. Closed gates. Silence…


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21

Jun

2017

Rules can never create fluency

Author: Jim Taylor

For a few years, I taught writing and editing courses for businesses. Some workshops flew; others foundered on the simplest points.

            Pharmaceutical companies, in particular, often hired Asian immigrants. I’ve no doubt they were well qualified, highly trained, even brilliant. They had studied English. But they came from languages that didn’t use little things like prepositions. Or articles. Or even commas.

            “Why you need ‘the’ before noun?” someone might ask. 

            Or perhaps, “Why sometimes ‘agree with,’ sometimes ‘agree to,’ sometimes ‘agree on’?”

            I offered examples. They would ask, “Where we find book that teach us these rules?”

            There isn’t one. Or more accurately, there are hundreds. 


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14

Jun

2017

Learning lessons from evolution

Author: Jim Taylor

Let’s quit calling evolution a “theory.” When Darwin first proposed the concept, evolution was a theory. It’s not any more – it’s a reality.

 

Gravity was a theory too, when Newton first advanced it. But no one today would step off a cliff because he believes gravity is an unproven theory. 

            Evolution is not open for debate or denial. No more than, say, the mathematical concept that one plus one equals two. Or the value of pi. 

            Darwin did not invent evolution. He recognized what had been there all along.

            Since then, not one scientific discovery has disproven evolution. 


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Categories: Soft Edges

Tags: Evolution, Darwin

7

Jun

2017

Road building for dummies

Author: Jim Taylor

Road re-construction seems to me to bear distinct parallels to the way churches, political parties, and community organizations operate. 

            Most social reconstruction follows the “pave it over” model. The old road – the old beliefs, the old ways of doing things, the tried-and-true constitutions and policies of the past – continue to exist under the fresh new face. Or policy.

            In churches, the kind of organizations I know best, this means that a 2000-year-old pre-scientific-age text continues to underlie all major decisions. Creeds almost as old remain untouchable. 

            Similarly, political parties elect new leaders, lay out new platforms. But old prejudices and ideologies still lurk just below the surface.

            Occasionally, though, some groups try to start from zero, like building a new highway. But they first have to clear away any broken components of the former road. They have to dig deep to establish root principles. They have to expand that foundation with layers of interpretation.


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31

May

2017

Help wanted: divine intervention

Author: Jim Taylor

Okay, God, I apologize. In the past, I have occasionally argued that you don’t intervene in worldly events. I have even suggested that you cannot intervene to fix things down here.

            I was wrong. I must have been. Because Dan Rather writes in his Facebook blog, “I end each of my days with a silent prayer for my country… I hope against hope as I slip off to sleep that our rapid descent into governmental chaos has hit a nadir -- only to awaken to a new set of incoherent tweets or explosive headlines. I pray again that our Constitutional government, the great gift of our Founding Fathers, will provide a safety net to catch us before everything we hold dear is no more…”

            If a famous news anchor like Dan Rather believes you can do something about the state of the world, who am I to disagree?


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24

May

2017

Something bigger than ourselves

Author: Jim Taylor

Your average termite is a stupid creature. It's a whitish grub. It has only rudimentary senses; it can't really see where it is going. It can do only two things -- crawl and chew.

            But put a number of termites together and they will immediately start to build a home for themselves.

            The mound that emerges is astonishingly complex.  And the termites do this with no direction. No blueprints. No planning.

            No one termite – especially not even the queen, who is little more than a living ovary -- has the intelligence to direct this construction. None of the termites knew what they were doing when they created it. But it is unquestionably real.

            Nancy Ellen Abrams calls this an "emergent" phenomenon. It derives from the collective activity of those termites. But it is not them. It is more than them.


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17

May

2017

Don’t know, know, don’t need to know

Author: Jim Taylor

Donald Rumsfeld made one memorable quotation during his tenure as G.W. Bush's Secretary of Defense: “There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don't know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don't know we don't know.”

            In The Book of Awesome, Neil Pasricha translated Rumsfeld’s abstract theorizing into an everyday context -- learning to drive a car. 

            First, we don't know what we don't know. We think that driving will be easy. 

            Second. we discover how much we don’t know. My first driving lesson, for example, was in an ancient Austin with barely 20 horsepower. But when I dropped the clutch, a ton of metal crow-hopped around a field. I had no idea power could be so uncontrollable....


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10

May

2017

Old technologies, modern markets

Author: Jim Taylor

Change does not depend on modern technology. There’s nothing modern about knitting needles – two sticks, essentially. But knitting needles lifted 45 families in Bolivia out of abject poverty.

            When the rich tin mines in Bolivia closed, in the late 1980s, miners simply left in search of new jobs, abandoning their wives and children. Many of these women ended up on the streets of the city of Cochabamba. All through the Andes, women knit soft alpaca wool into sweaters and shawls.

            These women had knitting skills. But no markets.

            Enter a Canadian connection. Volunteers brought some of their beautiful hand-knit garments to Canada. Where Beverley Edwards-Sawatzky saw them. By organizing annual sales -- in Edmonton, Calgary, Cranbrook, and now here in Lake Country – she has been able to funnel close to $1 million to the women of the Minkha cooperative.

            This is the global economy at work.


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3

May

2017

An inferior God? Why not?

Author: Jim Taylor

This column started as a casual email chat among editorial colleagues, about the virtues of knowing other languages and cultures. Somehow, it morphed into a discussion about the relative merits of the gods of various cultures, and the way every religion felt that its god was superior to any other god or gods. 

            And someone asked, “Who’d want to worship an inferior god?”

            The concept intrigued me. An inferior god? Why not?


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