The Awakening

As Heather and I were driving to Wingham this morning we were reflecting on how the entire world has been consumed with COVID, how everyone has spent and is spending countless hours talking about it, hiding from it, masking up from it, social-distancing from it, you name it. There’s not a day, rarely an hour, where COVID thoughts and conversations are not on the table.

Yet two years ago, November 2019, no one was talking about COVID. Somehow a few people put this performance together and by April 2020, presto, it went viral, no pun intended.

Imagine the accomplishment of it all. I’m thinking about diseases and pandemics and planning the actions needed should events transpire that call for decisions to be made. The World Health Organisation and the departments of health in all the nations were ready for COVID. They had measures in place to address something like a coronavirus.

While I applaud the scope of the effort that was undertaken, I must take exception to the methods used to address the COVID pandemic. With few exceptions, every nation implemented plans for compulsory measures, and in a short time so many of our freedoms and choices disappeared.

I think humanity has been asleep for a long time, and that the COVID events are revealing this. What we have been asleep to, perhaps never conscious about, is the erosion of our freedoms that has been revealed so starkly with COVID-related restrictions and edicts, the various lockdowns and curfews being the most glaring examples. Recently Heather and I went out for coffee at a favourite café, coincidentally on Armistice day, November 11 just a short distance from a ceremony going on recognizing the fallen soldiers of World War I who by all accounts fought for our freedom, freedom now being taken away so nonchalantly.

I think that we’ve been asleep to how important freedom is to a human being and forgot to be vigilant about defending these freedoms. I don’t see any villains in this undertaking, I see more of an ignorance playing itself out and our freedoms almost looked at as something we achieved once and for all and need never think about them again. We neglected to teach the generations that came into being since World War I exactly what freedom is and why it’s so important. A short blog isn’t the place to do justice to such an important topic, so I’ll limit my discussion with a few examples.

Let’s start with a simple freedom, the freedom to come and go as we please, be it a walk in the park, having a beer with a friend in our favourite pub, going the cinema or just going for a drive somewhere. Restrictions ended all that, especially in the bigger cities. Melbourne for example was forced to live under a curfew, forbidding free movement between 8 p.m. and 5 a.m.  One of the most frightening stories out of that is this one of police shooting at a curfew breacher, an event that happened back in August, 2020. This is about keeping us safe?

In a free society, each of us has the right to work for a living, to find a job or to run a business of our own. Never in my wildest nightmares did I think that I would see a situation in which it was forbidden to go to work, forbidden to open my café and serve my customers. Yet that’s exactly what’s happened here and all around the world. Governments waved their big sticks and suddenly businesses were ordered to close their doors. Not all businesses of course. Those deemed to be of essential service were allowed to stay open. Who determined what business was essential and what was not? Government of course.

Let’s listen to what happened to Jane and John Doe, a young couple conjured by my imagination [just something to make it clear this isn’t a direct quote from someone] who opened a boutique clothing shop just weeks before the pandemic was declared.

“John and I fulfilled our dream by opening our shop. In the early stages of the pandemic we were of course concerned about catching COVID and hoped that actions like wearing masks and keeping our distance from our customers would help. But soon after that, we got instructions that all but essential services were to immediately lockdown. This meant close our doors to business. The first thing that we felt was fear. Deep, all-consuming fear. What will become of us? We’re not wealthy by any means. Everything we own is in this shop. That plus the $50,000 debt we took out to outfit it and stock it with inventory. We were smart enough to plan for our business starting out slowly so had some savings ready. But our savings quickly dwindled and we began extending our credit cards, watching them creep all to quickly to the max. We watch the news and see nothing good on the horizon about restrictions being lifted. Fear and worry rule our lives.

We’re curious too. With so much unasked for free time on our hands we do a lot of reading, a lot of surfing the ‘net looking for what’s happening in the COVID world. It doesn’t take much investigation to discover that young people in their 30’s like us seldom are seriously affected by COVID, often catch the virus and never know it. Most of our customers would be like us, in our age group because that’s who we set up to serve in our business. Couldn’t they have figured out for themselves whether it is safe or not to come and buy some shirts from us? Besides being afraid, we’re confused and befuddled. What is going on?

We get that buying food is more essential than buying boutique clothing. But look what’s happening. We go down to the local supermarket and we mingle shoulder to shoulder with hundreds of other shoppers. We’re all masked and sort of distance ourselves a bit from our fellow shoppers, yet we’re aisle-to-aisle people. If you come down to our shop most times you’ll be our only customer. You John and I, the only people in the building, all masked up, keeping our distance as you browse through your items of interest. How is that any more dangerous than shopping for bananas? I’m not only confused, I’m getting very, very angry.

Our shop-owners aren’t the only ones getting angry. Here’s a cross-section of Aussie folk who are also getting mad as hell and speaking out.

These people are not crazy, right-wing conspiracy-anti-vax nutcases. They are typical of people all over the world saying “Enough!”. We’re all coming out of this nightmare in our own time, awakening to what’s going on and wondering what can be done to restore some sense of normal to our world. Where am I? What’s happening? What can I do?

Back to where I started in this post, I say we start a movement, one that I call The Awakening. I confess to having no idea how to start a movement, but I’m sure it begins by having a common complaint and a common vision. Our coping with COVID has more and more illuminated the inescapable fact that we no longer live in a free world but live in one with ever increasing meddling in our lives, ever increasing elimination of the few freedoms we have left. My proposal for a solution is to build A World of Honour, a world of equals living under A Code of Honour. You and I were born free, but until we become awakened to what this really means and what we can do to restore it, it’s just a dream. And if ever there was an idea to be “woke” to, this is it. Come and awaken with me.

United We Thrive

In last post, Shining My Light, I raised my concerns about humanity losing the ideals of liberty, equality and fraternity, dividing us into smaller and smaller groups, each more and more fearing and hating the other. Oops. Some little Woke gender-bot just cancelled my “and fraternity”. See what I mean! Ok, I’m kidding but I am pointing to a real concern of mine. I’m constantly seeing real people being cancelled from social media, YouTube videos, you name it – until they get down on their bellies and apologise. The transgression can be something as simple as using a noun or pronoun with an implication of being sexist. No one is too powerful to be excluded from this relentless inspection. Here’s what happened to Justin Trudeau, prime minister of Canada.

Back in February, 2018 he was visiting my home town, Edmonton. Here’s a very brief summary of the story. He was interacting with a young woman from the audience who had been talking for a long time on her microphone. Justin interrupts her at one point after she has used the word “mankind” and says, “We like to say ‘peoplekind,’ not necessarily ‘mankind,’ because it’s more inclusive.” Sounds dodgy, but watching the video in full, it’s clear to anyone that he’s making a joke, not in any way amending her “incorrect” language. The audience and the woman and Justin have a good chuckle and get on with it. But much of the world later went ballistic over it, denouncing him repeatedly for such things as “mansplaining” to the woman and the audience.

Red-facedly I must come clean and confess to my own reaction. I saw an edited clip of the incident in which all I saw was Justin interrupting the woman and correcting her. My reaction was one of ridicule. “How could someone like that ever become a prime minister. Doesn’t he realize how inappropriate he’s being?” I went away confirming my opinion of Trudeau and all politicians as being petty bullies. It never dawned on me that perhaps someone had packaged up this bit of commentary to manipulate people like me into berating Trudeau. I never thought at the time to do a bit of research and see if there was more to this than I’d assumed.

Recently, I did some belated research, and uncovered a much wider context for what was said. I watched a much fuller video clip and learned that he had patiently listened to this woman’s long, long speech and deliberately attempted a bit of humour to help ease what was perceptible impatience building in the large audience. In that moment he endeared himself to the audience and, most unexpectedly, to me! I suddenly found myself admiring the man! (God, I hope no one I know ever reads this.)

So much of what concerns me about this story is what concerns me about what’s happening to our world. We are becoming more and more adversarial with each other, taking exception to what is being said and going to verbal war over it. In this example, the incident is deliberately being altered and presented through mainstream media in a successful attempt at creating controversy for Justin Trudeau and bringing him down. But it’s deeper than that. Pulling politicians down has been going on forever. Justin’s father, Pierre was given a hard time for allowing American Vietnam War draft-dodgers to come to Canada. But now, fifty years later, over some politically incorrect humour? What on earth has happened to us in those intervening years? How did bullying people over their use of pronouns become so important? Isn’t that a rather petty issue to be fighting over? But then, how many issues are worth fighting over?

I see my jumping to conclusions being part of the problem. No, I didn’t pick a fight, but I inadvertently chose a side. I didn’t question my thinking thoroughly. I put myself into the division. Put this into a larger scale and context, escalate the emotions and it’s easy to see how fights break out, how wars happen.

When I was thinking about what I wanted to say in this post, I was thinking about the turmoil on university campuses these days, with professors and speakers being yelled down and events cancelled over Woke issues. Articles such as this one on “Woke” bringing about a dividing line among UK voters are appearing with greater frequency in mainstream media. “Woke” apparently has its origins in the United States almost 100 years ago, related to issues of racial prejudice and discrimination. The ideals that followed were to bring about inclusiveness, yet we know that bullying people about pronoun usage will not bring about gender and sexual-orientation equality. It will achieve the opposite, dividing us into smaller and smaller and more belligerent and abusive groups. It’s this divisiveness that I’m addressing and want to change.

I’m proposing that we begin by practicing something that surely we can all agree on: do no harm to each other, and that we work and play together from this simple credo. I’m further proposing that we take this on with each other by agreement, one by one, and not out of some government or religious edict inflicted upon us. And finally I propose that after choosing to take this on, we be our word. Over and over, no matter what.

Don’t like what Jane Doe is saying? Don’t listen to her, but let her speak to those who choose to listen. Let’s become more like the Amish at a barn-raising, working together and thriving, turning hard work into a bit of fun and connection. But screaming at each other at a university campus? Come on. We can do better than that. It starts with you and me, taking the pledge together to do no harm and being our word about that. Let’s begin now.

Shining My Light

My desire to write blogs on the theme of A World of Honour likely started with an incident from way back in childhood when I was 5 or 6 years old. I had begun to attend Sunday school at the local Church of Christ with my best friend Gordie.

I still remember the lesson in which Mrs. Wells told us the story of Noah and his ark. God had commanded Noah to build an ark and gather two of each animal on the Earth, herd them onto his ark and then float for 40 days and 40 nights after the world was flooded and everything else perished. I’m sure we all know the story regardless of our upbringing.

But hold on. Something didn’t sit right for this little boy that was I. I wasn’t born yesterday and did know about things like elephants and lions and rhinoceroses. And that where I lived we had wolves and buffalo. Now how could someone gather these animals together from all over the world? To my little mind, something didn’t add up. I asked Mrs. Wells, “Is that true?” I remember her answering me, saying, “Well Rickie, I don’t know, but isn’t it an interesting story?” I can remember thinking that it was an interesting story, and that satisfied my curiosity.

What I didn’t appreciate at the time was that Mrs. Wells had treated my question with great respect. I was too young to know that one doesn’t question the Bible, one doesn’t question one’s elders. I learned instead that questioning is how you learn, that it’s what you do when you don’t understand something. It’s okay to ask questions. Later I would learn that we had a special word for those who questioned the king or the pope: martyr. Just ask Socrates or Christ. And I would learn a much more special word for those who asked questions: philosopher.

Move through time to the early 60’s and we find me and my Mill Creek mob, half a dozen guys in their early teens, sleeping under the stars in our back yard on many a summer night. Our conversation topics would begin with girls and cars and a bit later, usually encouraged by Lumpy and me, get into what we would call “doing philosophy”. The stars would come out and we would contemplate them, and speculate about UFO’s and whether any of those stars had planets with life on them. Then we’d drift into other topics like whether God exists, is there life after death, and if a tree falls in a forest and no one’s there to hear it, does it make a sound? Except for Lumpy and me, the guys would drift off to sleep. The two of us would often ramble on until dawn began to light the sky.

Then it’s early 1971 and I’ve moved from Ottawa to Toronto over the Christmas break. I’ve received a promotion and have been transferred to the IBM Canada lab to take part in a huge on-line banking project, a world’s first. I share a cubicle with Reg, also moved to Toronto for the same project. But shortly after we begin our work, we’re told that the project has been put on hold. We find ourselves with nothing to do, so we talk about life, the universe and everything. Sex, politics, religion and of course, science fiction; it’s all up for discussion.

We’re both atheists and conversing about something that we don’t believe exists doesn’t last long. We’re both heterosexuals, and talking about sex is delightful but pointless. We’re big sci-fi fans and spend hours talking about the works of Isaac Asimov or our favourite Robert Heinlein novel. Finally, we talk about politics. Here we have a topic in which my ignorance is indeed blissful, although I have opinions galore.

Reg however seems to be knowledgeable in the subject and engages me in Socratic conversations, in which he is Socrates and I am the ignorant student. We quickly branch out beyond politics into deeper, more philosophical topics, like the purpose of life and what does it all mean.

One day after a number of these conversations, sometimes interrupted with annoying work duties, he asks me, “Have you ever read anything by Ayn Rand?” I plead ignorance, but a few days later he asks me again, “Are you sure you’ve never read anything by Ayn Rand?”, and I confirm my ignorance. Then one Friday morning he comes to work and throws a book on my desk. “Here, read this,” he orders. It’s The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand. I start reading it that evening and don’t stop until later in the weekend when I’ve finished.

I return to work on Monday a different person. I have been shaken to my core, and have a million questions for Reg. I don’t realise it then, but my life of fun has suddenly been altered and I am now pointed in a new direction, one of purpose and passion, a path that would ultimately lead me to finding my wife, having children and later, starting a new life in Australia. I’ve been enlightened! Nothing would ever be the same.

Now jump with me 50 years to 2021. The intervening decades are of interest to me, but unlikely to you so we’ll skip them. I like to think that I’ve picked up a few bits of wisdom along the way and that’s at the heart of what I want to share in A World of Honour. It’s the light I want to bring to the world. You’ll be the ultimate judge as to whether what I have to say is wise or foolish. Bear with me and I’ll make it worth your time.

We can talk about the big problems facing the world, global warming, over-population, lockdowns and the like. But that’s not where I want to shine my light. I want it to be on what’s behind those problems. Consider that perhaps the “big problems” are only that because someone told us to think that way. We take it on faith which points to what I’m offering as our actual biggest problem: our ability to think rationally. This is what I want to shine some light on.

I want to talk about lightening up, not taking things so seriously, so personally. Lighten all that stuff we carry around, holding the world on our shoulders, filling our young with fear, guilt and pain about all the damage they are doing to the world. Lighten our loads by lightening up.

I’m concerned that we are plunging into another Dark Ages, an age of superstition, of suppression of ideas, of totalitarianism and of a gathering into smaller and smaller groupings, each fearing the other, with the ideals of The Enlightenment of liberty, fraternity, and equality being lost again.

Join with me in bringing us together, of ending our divisions and replacing hostility and suspicion with tolerance and respect.

Reflections on Michael’s Passing

Our son Michael passed away last month, from heart failure at age 41. He left us too early with too much pain.

Michael was always different. I remember him two minutes out of the womb, starting out the same as every newborn, crying his little eyes out. Then he stopped and looked around, silent. “What’s all this?” That was Michael. Different.

Michael was born in Vancouver, British Columbia and spent most of his life in Sydney, Australia. There and later in Calgary, Vancouver, and Victoria, he worked in the IT industry as a network specialist. He was fired from his last job in Victoria in 2014 and never worked at his trade again.

In his own words from a few years ago, “I am a 37 year old guy named Michael. Formerly a Director of Information Technology, I had a bit of a mental health crisis experience back in 2014, after getting fired from a few too many jobs in a row for no reason other than office politics. And so I ended up running off half-crazed, into the metaphorical desert.

“Returning from the desert in 2015, I started volunteering on Tuesday mornings at a place here in Victoria called Christmas Hill, after a lady from church suggested it might be just the thing for me. She turned out to be totally correct. I started spending most of my time there.”

Copying this directly from his obituary:

Since 2015, Michael spent most of his time either writing passionately or single-handedly transforming the paths and vegetation of Christmas Hill in Saanich – a personal legacy that will live on in the hearts of those who enjoy the park. In his own words, “We can create a world that could be a much better place if we held ourselves accountable for making it so, and let every human being work to make it so.” He was passionate about making the world a better place.

This was one of the ways that Michael was different. He felt he was dealt a rough blow by the world and in return did what he could to make the world a better place. He threw himself body and soul at Christmas Hill, making it his mission to eradicate all weed life from it. He worked at it seven days a week, six to ten hours every day weather permitting. He caught shit from the local council because he dragged out so many piles of blackberry bushes that locals were complaining to council that they weren’t doing their clean-up job thoroughly. On our yearly summer visits to Canada, we spent many hours with him on Christmas Hill and remember a few times picking up one of his mattocks and tackling some of the brambles.

We should have been in Canada for several months this year and last, supporting him spiritually, as we have done for the previous 12 years. Instead we were and are still trapped here in Australia by the COVID lockdowns. We cannot travel and suddenly there are endless mandates and restrictions removing freedoms we have taken for granted.

Officially, the pandemic started on January 30, 2019 when The W.H.O. declared a global health emergency. That for me was the day that freedom died. Coincidentally, January 30 is Michael’s birthday. So I am declaring 30 January to be Universal Freedom Day, and Heather and I will be the first to honour it.

Every sentient being in the universe is invited to join. Sure, sure I have no official status to make such a declaration but I’m doing it anyway. How else is real change going to come about until those of us start changing things without permission?

A final word about Michael, who was an unceasing champion of freedom and human rights. We never were out of contact with him. We got together most Mondays with a Skype call and talked to him just days before he left us. “Love you heaps,” were always his parting words to us.

Love you heaps, son. See you on the hill.

Born Free

“Born free, as free as the wind blows, As free as the grass grows Born free to follow your heart.”

 – John Barry, Don Black.

Those are the opening lyrics from the song of the same title, a big hit in 1966, the year that I became free as the wind. I left my hometown of Edmonton and flew to Ottawa the day after the Queen Victoria long weekend to begin my career with IBM in Ottawa. I had turned 21 the year before and felt free as a bird. Free to leave my home, free to get a job, free to jump on a plane (and without going through screenings or pat-downs!), free to go to a pub for a beer, free to drive down to the U.S. for the weekend (and without a passport!), free to do most anything. I took these freedoms and many, many more for granted. After stopping in Ottawa to meet my new employer and workmates, I was shipped down river to Montreal for some formal training and my freedoms jumped. In bible belt Alberta, the beer parlours, as we called our pubs, would close around 11:00 and you could only buy your beer at government-run beer, wine and liquor stores. In Montreal, we drank our beer in bars that never closed down and bought our beer at mom and pop grocery stores. When I finished my training a few months later and returned to Ottawa, my long-time friend and roommate Boyd and I would regularly go off on weekend nights across the river to Hull in Quebec where we could drink and listen to rock until we got tired, not until 11:00 like back in Ontario.

Another good thing about Quebec was that Boyd could drink there legally. We were thankful for living in Canada as at our ages and living in the U.S. would have us eligible to be drafted and sent off to Viet Nam. We knew about these legal differences but never got into heavy debates about the limits on our freedoms or the differences in other parts of the world. Freedom was more than drinking laws and closing times at bars. We knew about the Iron Curtain and East and West Berlin. We just had better things to talk about. Like who was going to win the Stanley Cup. Like girls. We weren’t deep, but we were free.

But then I think back to 1967 when a work colleague at IBM went back to India where he was born to visit his family over the Christmas break. When he returned he left us all flabbergasted when he told us that he had returned with his bride, someone that his parents had chosen for him. I wasn’t ignorant of the idea of arranged marriages still happening in India, but I thought that Raghu was thoroughly Canadian in this way of life. The obvious might need further examination at times. Never talked to him about whether he was free to marry as he chose.

I’ve been looking at freedom lately, and had this revelation that life forms are generally born free, free to pursue whatever it is that their nature requires of them to stay alive. We humans are no different. But somewhere in our evolutionary journey we transformed from being animals of instincts to animals of choice. We began to create and invent things that made it easier to survive. These creations, these cultures that we brought into existence were products of our freedom to imagine.

This freedom to imagine, freedom to create is infinite in its possibilities. Since earliest childhood, I loved stories. I can remember mum reading stories of Babar the elephant to my sisters and me on frigid winter nights, enchanted by Babar’s adventures and tropical life in Africa. How envious I was even then of a life of palm trees and coconuts and it’s likely not a coincidence that I now find myself in a land of comfort and warmth. Living with -40 degree temperatures is no world for me or Babar.

But in Googling for some information of Babar to include here in my blog, I uncovered some information that shows up the darker side of being creative, the bringing into existence creations that can be used to bully and control people. When I was six, Babar was a story for children, clearly a fiction about talking elephants and monkeys and their adventures. But now seven decades later it’s headlines like, “Babar The Elephant – Racism, Sexism, and Privilege in Children’s Stories”. The books have been banned everywhere because they tell stories “wrong”. We humans have invented a vast arsenal of methods of interfering in each other’s lives, from censorship to dropping atomic bombs on people.

Also from my childhood comes these wise words from Pogo Possum: “We have met the enemy and he is us”. In his time creator Walt Kelly was a multi-awarded cartoonist but I doubt his intense satire and political commentary would survive a minute in today’s world. We have become our own worst enemy.

Let me turn down the seriousness of this post for a minute with another blog revelation. Man, do I love cartoons and fiction! When I do a bit more research Googling “Charlie brown and the”, the second offering in the list that comes back two nanoseconds later is the one I was looking for, “Charlie brown and the red-haired girl”. I’m one of those millions who Google this who shared that fear of approaching the red-haired girl. I was my own worst enemy in this matter. My freedom to go up to someone I was attracted to was squashed – by me! Freedom from fear isn’t available to us but freedom to call on courage is. I’ve been able to make my way there many times, or almost as often as I need to.

Freedom and being free is the first ingredient for each of us in coming alive and following our heart. It’s going to be a regular theme here in A World of Honour. I don’t want to be left with Janis Joplin’s lament, “Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose”. Freedom’s not just another word for something – it’s the source of everything.

Who’s the Pope?

Back in my high school and university days, I hung out with a gang of childhood friends. We loved our weekends and typically would get together Friday night and play poker or bridge at Lumpy’s house. As the evening wore on we would get hungry and jump in a car and head off to the Burger Baron for hamburgers and chips. All except Grant. He was a Catholic and was bound by papal decree to eat no meat on Friday’s. We gave him a hard time about this. We were spiritual anarchists, free to eat as we pleased while Grant was a serf of the church, bound by their code.

Reflecting back those many years, I saw that we considered ourselves quite free then, and later when I was the first of our mob to turn 21, then the legal age of consent, I would buy us a case of beer and join my underage and scofflaw friends with burgers and beer. Grant had no trouble with the beer, by the way, but stuck with the Pope on the meat thing. We didn’t think too deeply at the time about drinking while under age and I certainly didn’t think about being a bootlegger. The consequences of our breaking the law would have been far more severe than Grant breaking the meat edict. He could spill the beans to his priest on his next confession and perform some penance. We might end up in court and depending on the judge suffer anything from a slap on the wrist with a small fine to something more severe. We never thought about that. Clearly we never thought about our lawmakers and politicians in the way that Grant thought about the pope. Thinking back, we never thought about anyone that way, not even our parents. I was Popeless. I’ve never had a spiritual or political person above me to whom I felt any sort of obedience.

What’s at steak here is much more than being the pope about eating a hamburger on Friday. It’s about who’s calling the shots. What can I eat? What can I drink? What and where and when can I smoke? How about what job can I pursue, where can I live, who can I marry? What choices are really mine to make?

I did a bit of research on meatless Fridaysand quickly was overwhelmed with way too much information. I know for most of us whether we have meat on  Friday or not is considered a personal choice. When something as simple as this choice is taken over by someone else, the issue soon becomes more dramatic than Ben Hur. Follow the link I’ve given and you’ll see what I mean. The complications and justifications that fall out of this simple intrusion into free choice become horrific.

For a much more serious example of having someone else choose what you and I can ingest I strongly recommend Chasing the Screamby Johann Hari. This book is all about the war on drugs and what this war has cost humanity. I cannot offer a better example of the unintended consequences that can follow turning over your freedom to choose to some authority.

Now, as I write these words, I’m proposing that each of us reclaim our right to choose. I’m proposing that we take on living a life that has us come alive, to play and work together following  a simple code, one with only three rules: do no harm, be your word, and everything by agreement. I am proposing that we build A World of Honour together from these simple proposals. In such a world, who is the Pope? Who calls the shots? Do we have a pope or ping or any other form of ruler?

I’ve already offered my answer to this. In your world, you call the shots. Looked at this in another light, you are the Pope. In my world, I am the Pope. I call the shots. “Oh, wow!”, some might say, “I can do whatever I want!”, with a mischievous gleam. But doing what we want is bound by our agreed-upon rules. “Whatever I want”, as long as what we do is harmless to others and not in disagreement to any promises we’ve made. A World of Honour is not some nihilistic playground for vandals, thieves and psychopaths.

We are honour bound to each other in this ideal world. This is heady stuff. Suddenly you are the pope in your papal domain – but so is everyone else in theirs. But this begs the question. What holds our current world together? What stops us from doing harm to each other? Is it fear of being caught out, fear of being put in prison for breaking the law? I say it’s not fear that holds our world together but respect. We live together mostly as mutual popes already. But we don’t know this. I’m saying that we’re ignorant of this and it’s this ignorance that keeps us in the dark – and keeps us tolerating external rule.

Another word for what holds A World of Honour together is responsibility. In a world of equal popes, each of us is responsible for keeping our code. There is no higher authority to keep us common folk in line because there are no common folk. There are only equals.

That’s my ideal. To live in a world of equals – not equals in importance or wealth or talent or any other measurement except that of being equal in being master of our domain.

The Dumbo Effect

We were watching Pulitzer Prize winning What the Constitution Means to Me on Amazon Prime the other night. This is a movie adapted from the Broadway play of the same name, based on the teenage life of American Heidi Schreck who at 15 gave numerous speeches on the American constitution, winning enough prize money to pay for her university education. One of the segments of the play that caught my attention was the one in which Heidi played by herself invites an ace local high school debater, 14 year old Rosdely Ciprian, to join her onstage. The two of them participate in a formal debate on whether or not the constitution should be abolished. At one point, the young Ciprian declares that the constitution is flawed to the point of being hopeless. Heidi concedes that the constitution has its weaknesses but asserts that without it there would be no guarantee of liberties.

For the benefit of readers who may not be up to date on the American constitution,

The Constitution of the United States of America is the supreme law of the United States. Empowered with the sovereign authority of the people by the framers and the consent of the legislatures of the States, it is the source of all government powers and provides important limitations on the government that protect the fundamental rights of United States citizens.

The Constitution

Since its enactment in 1789, the constitution has been amended 27 times and is a topic of perpetual debate in American politics. Ciprian’s proposal for the abolition of the constitution for some reason brought to mind Walt Disney’s cartoon film, Dumbo.

This Disney classic from 1941 tells the story of Dumbo, a baby elephant who is the subject of ridicule for his big ears. He is taken under the protection of Timothy Q. Mouse and one morning after the two of them accidentally got drunk, they find themselves stuck high in a tree. Timothy realises that they got there because Dumbo flew, using his ears as wings. Later they befriend some crows who plot with Timothy to convince Dumbo that he can fly if he has a magic feather, a simple tail feather plucked from one of the crows. Soon Dumbo and Timothy and the crows are seen flying through the air as Dumbo masters his magic skill. Dumbo and Timothy return to the circus where they are forced up to the top of a tall burning building where Dumbo must dive into a rescue net held by the other clowns. Timothy has planned for a dramatic turn to this dive, one that sees Dumbo show off his flying skills to the audience and the circus folk. However as Dumbo dives out of the window, his magic feather blows out of the grasp of his trunk and the two plummet towards the tiny net. But at the last second, Timothy blurts out that the feather isn’t magic at all and that Dumbo can fly without it. Dumbo gives his best try and sure enough, he flies on his own.

Now what had me see Dumbo as being similar to What the Constitution Means to Me? It’s the magic feather. I assert that the constitution is held as some sort of political magic feather. The feather works like this: if we get the constitution right, then American rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness will be honoured. We didn’t quite get it right and those errors and omissions are what lets legislators pass laws that compromise our rights. But is this really the case? Isn’t this concern – that our rights will be compromised – our magic feather? The legislators can’t get it right because the magic feather is missing.

There is a painful part of the Constitution movie in which we hear actual recordings of a supreme court member discussing what the meaning of “shall” is. He’s doing this because of a case before the supreme court in which a lawsuit has been brought against the police for failing to protect a woman from her violent husband. The woman assumed that the police would protect her because that is their job. However, the judge points out that the legislation in question says something along the lines of “The police shall protect the people”, not “The police must protect the people” and somehow there is confusion over “shall” and “must”.

There is something rotten in the state of Denmark if the supreme court of the U.S.A. must go to the constitution to work out whether police forces “must” protect people or “shall”. They are using the “magic feather” to evade their duty. And here I agree totally with the premise that the constitution be abolished.

What if we replace it with a simple code of honour? The constitution with its bill of rights was intended to be such a document. Wasn’t the intention for the American society to be one of the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness and that governments are created to protect those rights? If so, then this can be said in one sentence, one paragraph at most. It is not created to be the supreme law of the land but the source of inspiration and integrity from which justice is delivered.

We become a people like little Dumbo. He can’t fly without his magic feather. We can’t live in peace and harmony without our constitution. Dumbo was wrong. We are wrong. Consider that those thousands and thousands of laws, rules and regulations that we bury ourselves in are like magic feathers. We need them to guarantee us justice. Consider we must shed those thousands of orders and replace them with a simple code of honour.

I will end this by quoting from The Seekers and their song Georgy Girl, “… shed those dowdy feathers and fly …”. Shed those thousands of rules around your neck and come alive! A little bit?

What no one told us

Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go and do that because what the world needs is people who have become alive.”

Howard Thurman

I’ve been inspired by this quote since I first came across it back in 2012. It spoke to me and captured something in me that was previously unspoken but there in me, nevertheless.

At times I’ve been someone who didn’t heed these wise words. No, no – the world needs a better political system. And then I forgot about what has me come alive and instead went into politics. Mr. Thurman’s wise words didn’t come into my life until 2012, 40 years later. But then again, in 1972 I already knew everything there was to know about everything and wouldn’t have had the wisdom to heed his words anyway. My arrogance was far and away way too big.

I have since discovered that this is what turns me on, has me come alive. Talking about philosophy, what it is to be human, what is possible for human beings living, playing and working together building a world of people who have come alive and being one of those humans.

Whether the world, i.e. all you other people, needs the world of honour that I’m proposing is none of my business. My business is to do what makes me come alive. It’s your business to figure out whether this makes sense and then whether to add it to your base of wisdom so that you can better do what makes you come alive. My intention is to write words, hopefully wise words, that may inspire you and make it easier for you to take on the challenges you will face in constructing a world that will turn you on. Make me a part of your brains trust and I will do my best to live up to honouring that decision.

What no one told us is what is it to be human and that we should ask this question. What is it that makes us unique? Let’s start there and build from that. As I see it, what makes us unique from other species is our rational mind. It’s this rational mind that brought about my power to learn and use words to speak to you over the internet using computers. What also makes us human and is also unique to us is our incredible framework of feelings and emotions. Properly harnessed it leads to the creation of symphonies and sonnets, computer networks and cancer cures. Improperly harnessed it leads to the creation of hydrogen bombs and concentration camps. We get to choose. That’s also what it is to be human: to be a being of choice.

But wait, there’s more! What it is to be human is to be gregarious, sociable. We’re social animals who enjoy hanging out together. Not all the time. We also need our own space, but at heart most of us would rather be close to each other than far apart. Look at the world we’ve built. Regardless of language, culture, religion or race, we’ve gathered together in villages, towns and cities that number into the millions. We get together by choice, to work and play. Most of the time, in most places we are at peace with each other. We assemble in office towers. We get there jammed together in trains and buses and cars. We sit shoulder to shoulder at concerts or sporting events, quietly listening to music or boisterously cheering on our team. We’re like this everywhere. We’re social animals, we’re sociable animals. We like being together.

What it is to be human is to be born tabula rasa, born with a mind that’s empty and needs to be filled correctly. We need to figure out what “correctly” means and sadly too many of us too often have gone to bloody battle arguing over what correctly means, completely missing the black humour that correctly implies never going to bloody battle with each other. More than anything, we rational, social beings born with empty minds need a moral compass, a rational code of conduct for living together.

We’re surrounded by codes of conduct. We have constitutions, laws, moral imperatives given to us by political leaders, religious leaders, gurus. But pretend for a moment that you are tabula rasa. From that perspective, try on this code:

Do no harm. That’s it, that’s all you need. Never by choice harm a human being. Never harm yourself, never harm your neighbour. Never harm anyone. But I didn’t quite get that right. That’s not quite all we need. Rational beings living close together with all the grab-bag of emotional baggage that comes with us need to align with each other on this. We need to agree with each other, to promise each other that we will live this way together. It’s like shaking hands and promising this to each other. “I promise to do you no harm”, and you in turn promise that to me. And one last thing: we must honour this promise, this agreement and all the others that will follow.

  • Do no harm
  • Everything by agreement.
  • Be your word

That’s what I’ve chosen to offer as A Code of Honour to best build A World of Honour.

But wait, there’s one more thing that goes into this being human. We are beings filled with feelings and emotions and these feelings and emotions run the show. When there’s a conflict between doing what we know is the right thing to do and what we feel we want to do, feelings trump knowledge every time.

An example of this in my life is my capacity to procrastinate so perfectly and let myself get away with it. Like I launched my website on 1 July and here it is, the 1st of December, or whatever, and I’m putting up my 2nd post. My intention was and still is to get out a post every week. It’s like I’ve got this little demon sitting on my shoulder, you know like in the cartoons, and this demon is conspiring with my mind and telling me that I don’t feel like writing. Meanwhile on my other shoulder is my conscience telling me be your word and don’t listen to the devil.

My struggle is to be my word in the face of conflicting feelings. My battleground is procrastination – you’ll have your own skirmishes.

Ultimately, we must address conflicts between our feelings and our thoughts with our moral compass, our moral code. I wasn’t put on this Earth to follow the coaxings of some little devil nor the edicts of someone else, no matter how wise and saintly that person might be. I was put on Earth to choose my path, to discover what has me come alive and then do that, to use my capacity for reason and logic to carve out a joyous and creative life.

This is what I will write about.

Baby Starts School

Theirs not to reason why,

Theirs but to do and die                      

–     Alfred Lord Tennyson, The Charge of the Light Brigade

What was being taught to this child was about to change. A few months before my sixth birthday, I started grade 1 at King Edward Park public school in Edmonton, Canada. In 1950, each day at school was started with us standing, and doing some sort of pledge of allegiance to our flag and our king. Looking down at us as we did this was a picture of King George VI. I can’t remember if our teacher ever pointed to old George and said something like “that’s King George, our king”. But somehow I knew it. And then a couple of years later his picture was taken down and replaced with that of his daughter, Elizabeth, and now we had a queen. That and my memory of her visiting us in Edmonton a few months earlier as a princess was all more like a fairy tale unfolding than something real.

Something happened in my education in this period that has Dr. Edlund say, “we have her (or him) for life” We’ve moved the context for our learning from concrete objects like dog or apple into abstractions, like country or monarch. A new set of rules are needed now, rules calling for skills like critical thinking and concept formation. We are now in a realm of thinking and knowledge expansion that calls for questioning, for testing, for connecting what we’re about to learn against everything that we’ve been taught so far. With everything we learn, we’re checking to make sure that this new idea that we’re discovering doesn’t contradict anything else that we’ve learned.

But this level of learning requires a more sophisticated and developed mind than is possessed by a seven or eight-year-old. You and I in grade one aren’t ready for God, king and country. You and I are still miracles, but that tabula rasa must be filled in correctly. “Correctly” means one thing if the adult is trying to educate a child to grow up to be some form of serf for some form of ruler. If this is what we want to be, serfs, then being indoctrinated into a belief system that maintains the idea that we need rulers is perfect.

But “correctly” means something totally different if the adult is trying to educate a child to be a creative and productive person, filled with a life that is to be held as a miracle and not merely as some bit of cannon fodder for the King. If this is the aim, then the education must be designed to bring into being a rational and autonomous human. Once language and numbers are mastered, the focus of teaching must be on reason and critical thinking. Unfortunately you and I were indoctrinated into valuing the ruler and not taught to value our brilliant mind and miraculous self. We now face the challenge of unlearning the errors and mastering as best we can how to think critically.

But that heady challenge lies outside the scope of what we’re building together here, in A World of Honour. Here what we’re building is the possibility of a future that is consistent with being an equal and rational person. To attempt to live in any other way will only lead to some future with very yucky consequences, like finding yourself in Afghanistan killing someone’s grandparents and children and damaging your soul forever.

Here we are at the crossroads. Our belief that the monarch has divine rights to rule each of us was challenged by the Declaration of Independence. We have a monarch with divine rights versus you and me with inalienable rights. One of these notions must go. We are faced with a choice. But to reach and understand this conclusion takes reasoning and tools of logic that we do not possess because they weren’t taught to us, weren’t taught to our teachers, our leaders, our bank tellers, our CEO’s, our parents.

Either the idea of divine king must go or the idea of miraculous you must go. To frame this in the context of A Code of Honour, either Tennyson’s “Theirs not to reason why, Theirs but to do and die” must go or “Do no harm” must go. There is no middle ground, no greater good, no higher principle, no “yes, but…” There is nothing to rely on to create and maintain a civilised world but the three “laws” of A Code of Honour. Never has been, never will be. We either live with chronic mayhem and fear of each other or we accept that we must depend on each and every one of us to be worthy of trust and respect.

You are lord and master and ruler of your life right now. You always were, you always will be. Yours was always to reason why; it was never to simply do and die. At this moment of your life, you chose to give the time to contemplating what I have to say in A World of Honour. You rightly assumed that “permission” to read this blog post was solely up to you. Taken to the next step, I’m inviting you to take on the three principles of A Code of Honour as the guiding principles of your life. You will unilaterally take this on or not. Of course by doing so unilaterally implies that you are already playing A Code of Honour but that’s not as easy to see.

Are there times when it’s appropriate to ask permission to do something? Of course there are, many times. If you are an employee of someone, it’s not right to unilaterally decide to take a day off because you feel like it. You and your employer have an agreement, the second principle of A Code of Honour. You are bound by your word, the third principle of A Code of Honour, to keep that agreement so you go to your manager and ask if it works for you to take tomorrow off.

I can’t stress this enough. You and I are already playing by the rules of A Code of Honour and always have been. But you and I never declared this to the world. We can and must change that now. Who says that you can and must change this? Guess.

That’s right, you say so. You first say this to yourself and then to others. That’s what I had to do. I had to declare to myself that I was going to abide by the rules of A Code of Honour. Then I decided to write up what I was discovering and begin telling my story to others. And that brought you into the picture. If you don’t know me personally, then my story has gone public. If things work out the way I would like them to, this will go viral. We shall see.

You, the Miracle

You began your existence defying the odds. Your mother provided the egg. Your father provided the sperm. Your journey started at the instant of fertilization. Any other egg, any other sperm and you wouldn’t be here. Any mishap or failure to fertilize and you wouldn’t be here. Think about what happened in the past such that this one egg and this one sperm connected at this one instance in time. Each of your parents defied the same odds as did all their parents and so on back in time to the beginning of life. It’s been calculated that the odds are about one in 102,685,000 against you being born. You are a miracle.

Given what a miraculous creation you are, I say that you are the most unlikely, most precious being in the universe. Paradoxically so am I and so are the seven billion or so other people on our planet. We are all miracles, all the most precious and most unlikely beings.

I will start with the self-evident truth that you are a rational animal. My proof, not that proof is needed for self-evident truths, is that you are understanding what I’ve said with relative ease. I’m not saying that you agree or disagree with it, just that you understand it. Only a rational animal could do this. Just as miraculous is that we are born with this capacity for high level thinking. We humans depend on this rational mind for our survival. It’s our most important asset that we use to live and thrive. Every action that we take is thought out, not always correctly, not always wisely, not always consciously – but thought out.

Our survival is also dependent on our knowledge. Your first go at knowledge acquisition was learning how to speak. You learned your mother tongue from your mother. If you think about it, this too was a miracle. You couldn’t walk, you couldn’t care for yourself in any way, your mum had to nurse and spoon feed you, but somehow just by listening to her coo at you, you grasped what was going on and gave it back to her. How in bloody hell did you do that? You weren’t some parrot doing a “Polly wants a cracker” number. You knew what you were doing. Somehow you thought it all out and learned how to speak, your first miracle creation.

Without any formal training at all, you then went on to learn to speak in sentences. You became masterful in using nouns and verbs together, without having a clue what a noun or a verb was. Soon after that you began mastering concepts, again without knowing what a concept was. You learned the concept “red” and could distinguish ten shades of red from green or blue or yellow. You learned the concept “colour”. What you accomplished in the mastery of your language and concept formation skills was miraculous.

I want to underline something. This learning to speak takes place everywhere on the planet, every second of the day. Somewhere some new human being right now is mastering one of these skills, either speaking her first word, learning a new word or mastering a concept. This is all done with the skills that we are born with. How we do this perfectly integrates with the three principles of A Code of Honour.

Baby and the Code of Honour

  1. Do no harm: clearly the infant and adult are learning to speak with mutual pleasure. There is no bullying going on. Mum isn’t using any form of force on baby and baby is obviously engaged and captivated by what’s happening.
  2. Everything by agreement is going on with each word spoken. Mum is teaching the notion of agreement. The words that we learn to speak are words that the baby is implicitly agreeing with. When mum points to the family dog and says “dog”, she is following an agreement that we all made and honour that says “dog” is the word for the kind of an animal that we are pointing to.
  3. Be your word is also implicit in the learning process. Each of us agreed that “dog” was “dog” and not “apple” and we practiced being true to that agreement always. Such a good start to being our word. We learn so early that “dog” stays as “dog”. Mum saying “dinnertime” implies a promise.

Do we ever think about such things in this way? I’m saying that therein rests a power that is missing to us, the power that comes to each of us when we make something that we’ve learned be explicit and be brought into the light rather than be implicit and remain in the shadows.

Sometime around two years and nine months of age, you were ready to learn to read. At this stage we could take the sounds of the words we have learned and connect them to a written expression of the word. In English we use a phonetic approach to this, taking one or more of twenty-six letters and arranging them into a sequence that represents the word we are using. “d” plus “o” plus “g” make up the word “dog”. Again, the three principles of A Game of Honour are applied.  Agreement has been undertaken word by word as we master reading. All this agreement is implicit, demonstrated by the ease in which we learn and demonstrate that we’ve mastered speaking, reading and then writing.

As an infant you aren’t ready to think about concepts like “agreement” or “acceptance” or “trust”. You simply take in what you are being told and believe it to be true. You can’t think of it this way yet, but you trust your parents to teach you the right words for everything in your universe. As toddlers, “trust” is inherent in our learning. It cannot occur to us to question what we are hearing or seeing. We are designed to listen and learn. We all start this way, with this mind that is tabula rasa.

Tabula rasa,: the idea that each of is born with a clean slate with no mental content, that we fill up our mind from experience and perception. We can neither trust nor distrust anything as toddlers because we haven’t learned this distinction yet. Skepticism will come much later. For these early days, our learning rule is simply, “If a grownup says it, it’s true”.

Ah, what to teach baby and what not to teach in the light of this observation. As Ignatius of Loyola is claimed to have said, “Give me the child for the first seven years and I will give you the man.” Or to be more contemporary, “Give us a kid till she’s 7 and we’ll have her for life.”

Does it matter what we teach our children? More than anything! What we teach them is sacred.