Let’s Talk Our Walk

The recent turmoil in Ukraine brought up thoughts from a book I’ve appreciated, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined, by Stephen Pinker. Pinker asserts that we may be living in the most peaceful time in human existence, and he then backs those assertions with overwhelming evidence. After looking at the turmoil mentioned, one could be forgiven for being skeptical about this assertion. Yet Pinker asserted that even with the obvious wars we’ve been engaging lately, we are still less violent than previous times. This had me do a thought experiment and it went like this.

Think for a moment of what is going on in the global human community right now. You dear reader and I are engaged in a philosophical discussion about things political in a non-coercive and non-violent manner. Neither of us is here against our will and either of us is free to get up and leave and do something else. By an unexpressed agreement, these are the rules of this thought experiment. You’re reading, I’m writing. Speaking accurately, I’ve written and strictly speaking am now engaged interactively with you. But you get my drift.

Meanwhile somewhere else, a small group of people are discussing relationships and how to have one that works. Down the block is a garage where 3 teenagers are taking apart an engine. Somewhere else we find a restaurant where 25 customers are being served by 5 waiters and 4 chefs with the owner flitting around making sure everything is humming. Let’s continue my thought experiment by imagining ourselves being able to freeze time. Everything on planet Earth is stopped except for us. You and I now pick up an iPad and go from one interaction to another cataloguing the type of interaction we encounter and logging it into our database. Every interaction is rated as either violent (at least one individual is engaged in physically coercing at least one other individual into doing something) or non-violent (no coercion is going on and even if verbal abuse is going on, the abused individual is free to get up and leave).

We are not surprised to discover that in our frozen instance in time, 99% of all the social interactions we find are non-violent. This includes instances of violence in which the coerced individual wasn’t even there, where the coercer secretly stole or damaged something belonging to the other party.  But it does not include instances of accidental damage to someone’s property or body. Accidents are excluded because there was no intent to coerce or do harm.

Even the sociopaths and hardened killers we encountered spent most of their time in non-coercive activities like cooking dinner, drinking with buddies, washing the car, etc. and only a few moments were spent in hurting others.

After we stopped and looked at our stats, we concluded that people interact with each other non-coercively. We almost never intentionally behave violently to one another.

In every culture in every language in every race, people mostly live with each other in a respectful and tolerant manner. We didn’t ignore the fact that in the remaining small percent of human activity where coercion exists, much harm is done and that this harm is unacceptable. We simply acknowledged the fact that most of us do not live in a state of violence with each other. Perhaps Pinker is on to something. I’m convinced that he is.

Expressing this in my ideals, I suggest that we are already living the three rules of A World of Honour: do no harm, everything by agreement, and be your word. These three principles in action are what we observed in our thought experiment. What holds this together is not some law made by the president or queen or tzar, but personal responsibility expressed individually by every person on the planet. But we have a problem. This ideal world of mine, this world that we have built, doesn’t know that what has us flourish and prosper together in peace are those three principles. Instead, we have looked to the institution that brought us every war ever fought to tell us how to be good. But this institution was never built by women and men of good will seeking to find ways to have humanity harmonize. The institution was never built at all.

The institution that I’m referring to is government! The institution of government as we know it evolved from the alpha male in each of us that gets what is wanted by force. What is needed is a new institution that has us get what each of us wants cooperatively and by agreement. This is what I’m calling for.

There’s an expression that I’m sure we’re all familiar with, that of walking your talk. We use this when we’re calling out the hypocrite in us, someone who says one thing but does another. I’m suggesting another type of hypocrite, one that I’m inventing right now, one of talking your walk. Isn’t do no harm, everything by agreement, and be your word the way in which you live your life? Are you telling people about that? I know I don’t. Well didn’t. I like to think I am through my blogging.

As we discovered in our thought experiment, most people including those in our institution of government, walk A World of Honour talk. Let’s transform the institution of government into one that consistently talks it’s walk. We live our lives each day with do no harm as our fundamental way of “walking”. Let’s talk that too.

Imagine for a minute Vladimir Putin and Joe Biden talking that walk. Both of them take the principle that they live by with their family and friends and declare that they will bring that to their nations. Both men declare that they are pulling out of war now and forever. And in turn every other world leader does the same. Then each backs that up by being their word on that. Suddenly the world is at peace. The armed forces are called home. They are no longer needed.

Now let’s imagine something a bit more doable. Imagine you dear reader taking this on, declaring to your world, that you live by the principles of A World of Honour and intend to help spread this idea whenever possible. It might be as simple as speaking out against what’s happening in Ukraine. Putin and Biden are both wrong. Say that. That’s how we begin building our new world. We speak out against harm. Talk your walk.

A World of Honour

This is my ideal world. This world is what I am inviting you to help me create. This world is built one person at a time and begins with each of us taking the oath of honour: Do no harm, Everything by agreement, Be your word. These are the three rules from which we play A Game of Honour, from which we will build our world. We play this game unilaterally and unconditionally. When I take on Do no harm it is my oath. I will not intentionally harm another and will do my best to avoid accidentally doing harm. Every undertaking with others in my world of honour will be done with our agreement. The first two rules are held together by our word – integrity. This is the honour of our world.

Why would you begin playing A Game of Honour with me now, when clearly, we are not yet mainstream, may even be the only two people on the planet playing this game? What’s in it for you?

Maybe more important, why would you not choose playing A Game of Honour with me? My proposition to you is that you are already playing by the code, do no harm, everything by agreement, and be your word, but haven’t declared that to others. Expanding that thought a bit, I think that most of us live our lives playing by that code. We don’t deliberately set out to harm others. We don’t steal, we don’t cheat. When we make agreements with each other, we do so intending to keep our agreements and I’m talking verbal agreements, not legal ones in which we’ve put our signature to a bank loan or the like. But nowhere in all of this have we sat down with one another and declared this as an oath, as a sacred agreement to be held with all the courage and conviction that we can muster. Magic begins to unfold when we verbalize these important declarations!

This will be a bottom-up process not the top-down way we’ve been doing it over and over with the same result and expecting something different! We will change ourselves, one by one, until our society is run by we the people, practicing a code of honour rather than how we live now, obeying some authority.

This will be an inclusive movement, one open to every person on the planet, rich or poor, young or old, gender inclusive, race inclusive, religious inclusive, nation inclusive. Those who aren’t convinced that this code has merit will be left with their convictions.

What’s in it for you? You become a participant immediately in a noble adventure. You begin a journey that will bring you the life you always wanted yet without taking away from someone else. To the contrary, as your life becomes better and better, those around you benefit. This is a true win-win scenario. You help change the world by coming alive with a glorious life.

Is there any other way to bring about fundamental change to how we govern ourselves? Any form of society in which one group has the right to commend obedience of others is by definition a variation of win-lose. I win, you lose. You win, I lose. I choose always to not accept such a way of dealing with each other. Win-win or go our separate ways.

To add a touch of irony to this, consider that most of us interact with each other in this win-win manner every day in every interaction. We never pause to think that perhaps this could evolve and become a new paradigm for how we govern ourselves. Think for a moment of what is going on in the global human community right now. You dear reader and I are engaged in a philosophical discussion about things political in a non-coercive and non-violent manner. You are not here against your will and are free to leave and do something else. Consider that with few exceptions most of our interactions with each other are of this voluntary nature. Buying your lunch at your favourite café. You put down your $10 and take away your coffee and croissant. You win and the café wins.

In A World of Honour, every interaction looks like that. My intention in this matter is to state unequivocally over and over that this is the only acceptable way for rational human beings to interact with each other. Please join me and start telling others that you want this too.

Take the Oath – Declare Your Independence

To pick up where I left off in my last post, we need a new game, one that each of us can begin playing immediately and without permission. I know that “game” can sound a bit frivolous but I’m using “game” intentionally, to bring a bit of lightness to what can be a heavy topic. Let’s start with the old bromide, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result”. It’s the “same thing over and over” that I want to talk about first. That same thing is how we govern our nations, something that I call a game of thrones, and what it delivers over and over is the same result: bullying of the governed, you and me, with laws like the COVID mandates at the low end and the war going on in Ukraine at the high end. We’ve got to stop looking for a better Putin or a better Biden in hopes that things will get better. They won’t because that’s part of doing the same thing. It will deliver the same result.

No, I’m proposing something wildly unprecedented. I’m proposing that you join me in following in the footsteps of those American revolutionaries of the late 1700’s and declare your independence. Join me, the first such declarer, in declaring yourself free and equal to all other men and women on this planet, beholden to none, required to obey none, and from this moment forth the governor of yourself.

Self government, the logical and inevitable consequences flowing from that moment started by Thomas Jefferson and his friends. They weren’t ready for it then, but they knew they weren’t put on Earth to be ruled by King George. I’m ready for it and I know I wasn’t put on Earth to be ruled by anyone. Neither were you, but only if you say so.

Now of course King George didn’t recognize the declaration of those subjects of his over on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. The declarers didn’t recant and the inevitable war began. Your current prime minister, president, king, queen, whatever you have at the top of your nation won’t recognize your declaration either and if we make too much noise they will sent their bullies out to bring us back into line. We’ll be careful not to make the wrong kind of noise. More on this in future posts, and what I’ll be proposing is more along the lines of the methods of Mahatma Ghandi – civil disobedience.

But back to the oath. Try this:

I swear by the love of my life to come alive, to self-govern all that is mine with the code of honour as my credo. I promise to do no harm to self or others. I promise that when interacting with others it will be by mutual agreement. I promise that I will be my word in all matters. I am hereby responsible for my actions and any consequences. I declare myself independent of all imposed systems of authority from this day hence.

Have you ever taken such an oath in your life? I know that I hadn’t. Any moral code that I undertook I got from my parents, from Sunday school, from books I read, from conversations with others. Most of it made sense, like “Thou shalt not kill”, “Thou shalt not steal” and although I never made a pledge of honouring those commandments, I did value and follow them. I never thought of any form of political statement and knew I had to obey whatever laws there were whether I agreed with them or not. My agreement was of no consideration regardless. Consider that this oath is the first time someone has asked you to declare your relationship to your world.

Independent of all imposed systems of authority? This might sound as if I’m proposing anarchism, being without a ruler. In the world that I’m calling for, each of us rules ourselves so we do have a ruler! I am proposing the exact opposite of anarchism. A world of rulers, each equal to each other! That this is what the American Declaration of Independence was pointing to when they declared that we are “created equal”.

Where we are equal is in being equally free to choose. You become the new governor of your domain the second that you take the oath. We have reached the heart of A Game of Honour, the heart of what it is to be human: being free to choose. Freedom to choose allows us to come alive, come alive to create the masterpieces that we were born to create. Being responsible for creating that masterpiece, being responsible to search for what our purposes might be and then responsible for generating the will and the courage to stay with these convictions.

You and I were born to be artists, not critics. You and I were born to serve the artist within us, and not worry about the evaluations of others. You and I evolved to look inwards, to search inside ourselves for what brings meaning to our lives and then build a life serving that. This can be very confronting as we discover that the choices can be huge and there’s no authority, no wise Solomon to tell us what to do. It’s up to me to choose. It’s up to you to choose.

Now bring in the biggest factor to make this work: the miracle that is you. Bring to the front of your consciousness the overwhelming odds stacked against you even being born. Get in touch with the miracle of your birth and life so far. Get in touch with the dreams and visions that this miracle has, the ones that have slipped away or never began to come into being. Begin to bring those alive. Use the achievements of others that you admire to inspire you to do something grand for yourself. Find the courage in others and their struggles to find it in yourself. Find some work of art that does this for you. One of my favourite sources of inspiration is the poem If, by Rudyard Kipling. Kipling reminds me that I’m not the first to dream, to aspire and his poem does something to me that moves my heart.

This is how we change the world together, not by revolution but by evolution. We change it one human being at a time, causing each other to come alive. The world doesn’t need now, never has needed some wise and benevolent ruler who saves us by telling us what to do. Looking again at the Howard Thurman quote, “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.” I don’t think “the world” needs anything. What do I need? I’m with Howard here – I need to come alive, to discover what makes me come alive and then do that. Not because the world needs that. Because I need that. That’s my declaration of independence. I intend to come alive.

Awakening – to What?

My purpose in creating this blog is to bring about the creation of A World of Honour, a world of equals living under A Code of Honour. But before I can dig deeper into what such a world might look like I feel the need to awaken us to the two institutions that we humans participate in each day. One is the institution of government and the other is the institution of commerce. Come and explore these with me.

We can’t look back in time and see when these institutions came into existence. They are both by-products of human evolution and emerged over millennia of day by day transformation. We have other institutions but these two will do for what I wish to illustrate. They are the two fundamental ones, ones that we cannot imagine not existing.

Both institutions evolved as our language evolved, as our culture evolved, as our societies evolved, as our powers of thought evolved.

Consider that government evolved from a human trait that began before the first human appeared. This trait is that of the alpha male, the dominant member of early simian clans who got what he wanted because he was the biggest and strongest. What he wanted was sex and food and he got the best and the most of both through the use of his might. We still see this trait in some of our closest cousins, gorillas and chimpanzees. Might is right.

If we had a slow-motion camera that captured the evolution of ape to man, we would be unable to pick the moment when we became human. It didn’t happen in that digital way of clicking from ape to human. It came much slower and with no evidence. What is it that makes us different from our chimpanzee cousins? Our reasoning mind. All the rest of the differences are superficial and unimportant. Slowly but surely our evolution delivered a being that could reason at a high or significant level.

The earliest evidence of our evolving humanity was language and culture. We began to speak to each other and we began to create things. We invented nouns and baskets, verbs and arrowheads. The creative human began. There were a few early strands of our species that disappeared, like the Neanderthals, but from archaeological evidence, they reasoned well, they had technologies and buried their dead. And they left behind some of their DNA that’s found in most of us.

As our humanity evolved, our alpha male didn’t disappear. No, I would propose that the trait of might is right evolved into what we now call government. The alpha males, and females, that formed these governments shared the language and culture of the rest of the tribe. Eventually, the concept of inheritance was invented, where the head of the clan passed on the headship to his son or daughter. Democracy was many millennia away. But even with the transition from inheritance to democracy, what were we passing on to the next generation? Whatever was there, unexamined and unquestioned, was passed on. Look behind the many facets of modern governments and you will arrive at the alpha male, the dominance of might is right.

Democracy was many millennia away. But even with the transition from inheritance to democracy, what we were passing on to the next generation, unexamined and unquestioned, was the notion that members of the tribe could be forced to do things that were not their choice. Look behind the many facets of modern governments and you will arrive at the alpha – the unspoken belief that might is right.

While the alpha male continued in this new expression and was expressed in this new being, other aspects of the evolving reasoning mind were evidenced. We created language. We created music. We created literature. We created technologies. These were products of human thought, not human might. The king of the day did not turn to the Beethoven of the day and demand a tune be composed. Some other force was at work, one that didn’t involve violence or its threat, but instead human ingenuity. This was the beginning of human commerce, the creation of inventions, the creation of art.

I’ll use a couple of examples from my life to illustrate what I’m talking about.

Nothing captures the alpha male side of our humanity better than the recent Game of Thrones tv series. None of the brutal excesses that go on between the warring factions happen in fiction only. The tortures, the slaughters, the decapitations all have happened and continue to happen in our real world. Replace the fire-breathing dragons with napalm-dropping jet planes and we see the omnipotent flying-beasts side of the show. The story depicts us at our worst, as a species that slaughters its brethren. It depicts us as back-stabbing, conniving, cheating and betraying beings who will stop at nothing to win over our rivals. It demonstrates too well the dark side of humanity, the world of might is right.

On the other hand, a perfect example of the creative and cooperative side of our humanity would be our local Blackhead Markets. On the first Sunday of the month, dozens of stalls are set up at nearby Blackhead Beach on a strip of park land between the town and the beach. From early morning until noon, hundreds of locals gather to shop, to socialize and to sell. In my eleven years of participation there as one of the shoppers and socializers, I have never heard so much as a raised voice. Most of what is on display are local crafts and produce, bananas and papayas, quilts and wooden cutting boards, local beef and cappuccinos, Scottish bagpipers and solo guitar buskers, used book stalls and tables of hand-made children’s wear. This is the creative side of the evolving human being, the side that we could call Game of Markets.

The muscle or the markets. This is what faces us day by day. Do we get what we want through bullying or through cooperation? It’s time to face this choice.

And yes, I’m well aware that there is a blurring of the spaces between the two games. As we move from the fictional world of Game of Thrones to the governing of our societies we seldom see murder and mayhem. Mostly we see civil servants pursuing their careers, performing useful work. When we move from the Blackhead Markets to the international world of commerce we don’t have to look hard to see bribery and corruption. Our real world is not divided into neat packets of good and evil, right and wrong.

I think that it’s time for humanity to choose to weed out the bullying that is the expression of the alpha male. And in our mirrors we can see the one person who can take unilateral action on participating in my proposed game: A Game of Honour.

This will be the purpose of the rest of my story. How to play a game of honour in a world deeply embedded in a game of thrones. We need a new game, one that each of us can begin playing immediately and without permission, one that captures what it is to be humanity at its best, one that will be a vital part in bringing about A World of Honour.

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 apologize. 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.