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

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Published on Sunday, March 3, 2019

Symbolic gestures can make a difference

I wore a pink shirt last Wednesday. Pink is not my colour. It makes me look like cotton candy with a beard.

            But Wednesday was anti-bullying day, so I wore pink.

            It feels like a futile gesture. After all, what difference will it make if one old man wears a pink shirt for one day? School yard bullies won’t see it at all. Neither will patriarchal males in India and Africa who think of women as something inferior, to do with as they please. Nor will my pink shirt influence the behaviour of egocentric rulers in Riyadh or Moscow, Washington or Damascus.

            Short answer -- no difference at all.

 

Someone else’s problem

            So why bother?

            I hear that response often, when I get into discussions about the state of the world. Everyone agrees -- okay, most people in my circles agree -- that something needs to be done about wealth inequity, where the three richest Americans have more wealth than the 160 million citizens, 50 per cent of the country’s population, at the bottom of the economic pyramid.

            And about climate change and melting glaciers before very valuable real estate in Florida disappears under the seas.

            And about court processes that turn chronic offenders loose because an overworked cop got the date wrong on a traffic ticket.

            The answer always seems to be, it’s too big for me to tackle. There’s nothing I can do.

            Therefore, that’s what I’ll do. Nothing.

 

Guaranteed failure

            Let’s turn the question around -- what will doing nothing accomplish? The answer is also obvious. Nothing.

            What you do may not make a difference. But what you don’t do definitely will make a difference.

            You may not be able to rescue a child trapped in a burning house. But if you don’t try, you guarantee that child’s death.

            Driving safely won’t eliminate accidents; there are other drivers on the road too. But not driving safely will surely increase accidents.

            Treating people with respect will not eliminate conflict. But not treating people with respect will certainly increase conflict.

You may remember the oft-told story of a little girl going down the beach throwing stranded starfish into the sea. An observer told her she was wasting her effort. There were far too many starfish for her to throw into the ocean -- they’d all die.

            “This one won’t,” she replied, flinging another starfish into the waves.

            “Whatever you do will be insignificant, but it is very important that you do it,” Mahatma Gandhi advised the world.

 

Insignificant beginnings

            The pink shirt movement itself is evidence that doing something is better than doing nothing.

            Anti-bullying day started in Canada. With less than one per cent of the world’s population, Canada’s efforts can’t possibly be significant -- the argument currently used by opponents of a carbon tax. After all, bullying is universal. Even chickens do it.

            Yet 180 countries around the world now mark anti-bullying day in February.

            Even more insignificantly, anti-bullying day started with just two high-school students in Nova Scotia. David Shepherd and Travis Price saw older kids bullying a younger student who wore a pink shirt at the opening day of school. So, on their own, they bought 50 pink T-shirts, and handed them out.

            “I learned that two people can come up with an idea, run with it, and it can do wonders,” Price, then 17, told the Globe and Mail. “Finally, someone stood up for a weaker kid.”

            The spread of anti-bullying day confirms that symbolic acts can have a positive effect.

 

The worst result

            The U.S. calculates that one out of every four children will be bullied during adolescence. Bullying rarely stops after a single incident; 71 percent of bullied students continue to be bullied, with a strong correspondence between being bullied and suicide.

            Again, Canada brought this reality to international attention.

            Amanda Todd,a 15-year-old Canadian victim ofcyberbullying,committedsuicidein October 2012 at her home inPort CoquitlamB.C. Shortly before her death, Todd posted a YouTubevideo that used hand-lettered flash cards to describe her experience.

            The video wentviral. More than 12 million people have seen it.

            Just six months later, 17-year-old Rehtaeh Parsons attempted suicide inDartmouth, Nova Scotia. Her parents switched off herlife supportmachine in April 2013.

            The two women’s suicides pushed cyberbullying into prominence. In 2012, Todd was the third-mostGoogledperson in the world, surpassing even Hollywood stars. In 2013, 38 countries held vigils in her memory.

            So wearing pink on anti-bullying day may seem like a futile gesture. But it affirms that doing something is better than doing nothing.

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Copyright © 2019 by Jim Taylor. Non-profit use in congregations and study groups encouraged; links from other blogs welcomed; all other rights reserved.

                       To send comments, to subscribe, or to unsubscribe, write jimt@quixotic.ca

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YOUR TURN

 

Last week, I treated the history of Haiti as a parable that the rest of us might well pay attention to.

 

            Frank Martens got the point: “We should all pay attention, to make sure it doesn’t, and can’t, happen to us too.

            “I’ve always been struck by the difference between Haiti and the Dominican Republic, which forms the other half of that Island. A Google Earth picture shows how Haiti has been raped of its trees while the Dominican forest still seems to be standing.”

 

Isabel Gibson had a similar reaction: “I still remember my astonishment when I ‘discovered’ that Haiti and the Dominican Republic were two ends of the same island. How could Haiti suffer uniquely from hurricanes and earthquakes? Looking into their often-shared history raised questions about the ability to overcome a sad history of colonialism, slavery, and dictatorship.

            “I don't know all the factors that make the difference, but the DR is doing great compared to Haiti.  Maybe there's a happy parable in there somewhere -- and some ideas about how Haiti can turn the corner.”

            JT: I recommend to anyone interested the chapters on the Dominican Republic and Haiti in Jared Diamond’s book Collapse.

 

Tom Watson wrote, “With your parabolic words of caution that we should all pay attention when things start to go wrong, you're playing the role of the proverbial canary in the coal mine. When the most important thing is gaining political power and keeping it by any means you can, when the grey grasping fingers of corruption curl around the edges of the affairs of nations, when spin-doctors routinely work at ways to make truth sound like falsehood, it's not difficult to suggest that things have already started to go wrong... in far more places than Haiti.”

 

Bob Rollwagen looked at the coal mine rather than Tom’s canary: “Corruption happens when there is no competition. For example, it seems that gangs have a territory and kill invaders. Revenue created by gangs creates a balance  between those that gain wealth using the rules vs those that gain wealth outside the rules. In developed countries, members of each society have to compete. It seems that in underdeveloped areas, only the poor have to live with competition for food while the ones in control thrive by keeping control of each aspect of development and restricting competition.

            “As the gap between rich and poor widens, as governments reduce taxes by reducing services for disadvantaged children, the quality of support for teachers in public education, or availability of fair wages or housing,  and as ownership narrows to fewer and fewer investors who see low public taxes and record profits as in the best interests of society, we all move closer to what Haiti is like.

            “Not in our life time or that of our kids, but our grandchildren will have figured this out before they get to high school.

 

James West responded to my lament about the persnickety computer blocking replies that contained – in its mind -- too many UL links. James suggested, “Another way not to get caught in the quixotic program is to delete everything but one’s own reply.”

 

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TECHNICAL STUFF

 

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                       And for those of you who like poetry, I’ve started a webpage http://quixotic.ca/My-Poetrywhere I post (occasionally, when I feel inspired) poems that I have written. If you’d like to receive notifications about new poems, write me at jimt@quixotic.ca, or subscribe yourself to the list by sending a blankemail (no message) to poetry-subscribe@lists.quixotic.ca(If it doesn’t work, please let me know.)

 

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PROMOTION STUFF…

To use the links in this section, you’ll have to insert the necessary symbols. (This is to circumvent filters that think too many links constitute spam.)

                       Ralph Milton’s latest project is a kind of Festival of Faith, a retelling of key biblical stories by skilled storytellers like Linnea Good and Donald Schmidt, designed to get people talking about their own faith experience. It’s a series of videos available on Youtube. I suggest you start with his introductory section: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7u6qRclYAa8

                       Ralph’s “Sing Hallelujah” -- the world’s first video hymnal -- is still available. It consists of 100 popular hymns, both new and old, on five DVDs that can be played using a standard DVD player and TV screen, for use in congregations who lack skilled musicians to play piano or organ. More details at wwwDOTsinghallelujahDOTca

                       Wayne Irwin's “Churchweb Canada,” an inexpensive service for any congregation wanting to develop a web presence, with free consultation. <http://wwwDOTchurchwebcanadaDOTca>

                       I recommend Isabel Gibson’s thoughtful and well-written blog, wwwDOTtraditionaliconoclastDOTcom

                       Alva Wood’s satiric stories about incompetent bureaucrats and prejudiced attitudes in a small town -- not particularly religious, but fun; alvawoodATgmailDOTcom to get onto her mailing list.

                       Tom Watson writes a weekly blog called “The View from Grandpa Tom’s Balcony” -- ruminations on various subjects, and feedback from Tom’s readers. Write him at tomwatsoATgmailDOTcom or twatsonATsentexDOTnet

 

 


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