On Loss and her Lessons

March 6, 2017 - Leave a Response

This column first appeared in the March 2017 All Month edition of the Friday Am in Salmon Arm, BC

It has been a challenging few weeks for many of us, I think it fair to say.

On February 15, we learned of the death of Stuart McLean, Canadian icon and beloved CBC host.

On February 17, we learned of the death of local man Al Boucher, father, partner, former owner of the Blue Canoe, softball superhero and stalwart supporter of the arts.

On a personal note, while my son is fine and recovering, on February 19, I watched as the amazing staff at Shuswap Lake General Hospital wheeled  him into the operating room for emergency surgery as a result of a ski injury.

When Lorne of the Friday AM sent me my regular e-mail to check in on the column, I knew, in my heart, it would have to be about loss. But also about its lessons.

For Stuart McLean, a great journalist and gifted storyteller to be taken away from us far too soon, reminds me how important our stories are because our stories are the witness to the path we follow, the contributions we try to make. And no two stories are alike because no two humans are the same. We need to remember that because we share a collective narrative that shapes the stories our children will get, or not get, to tell.

For Al Boucher, a renaissance man of only 39 years, whose memorial service drew a crowd of hundreds, many of whom would have never known each other had it not been for him, I’m reminded that it’s not about the years in your life so much as the life in your years. Despite the grief of his loss, we must pay his gift forward and commit to his boys that we will do whatever we can to mitigate this tragic loss. A trust account has been set up at CIBC for them. Please consider making a contribution and, in doing so, honour the incredible contribution he made to this community in his mere decade with us in Salmon Arm.

For my son, for whom a seemingly innocuous sore foot led to an emergency surgery to save his leg, I’m reminded how precious time really is. And how what we think is important really isn’t. We obsess with busyness, with winning, with accumulating. But sometimes, the universe reminds us that winning is really about how you face loss. And when you don’t lose, it’s not a win, it’s a gift of gratitude.

So, in life, you might lose a game, or an argument, or a deal. That kind of loss doesn’t really matter. What really matters, is the loss of a dream – like the loss of Stuart and his stories, and Al and his passion, or my son and his independence.

Humility has graced us these last few days. She has helped us through some dark hours. She has reminded us that we need each other everyday. She is our truest friend. And if we turn our backs on her for the sake of winning, we lose the lessons of loss, even if we would turn back time not to have had to learn them.

With love and humility,

Louise

@lwmediability

Don’t let your obituary be your biggest story – he didn’t #StuartMcLean

February 15, 2017 - Leave a Response

I am so very sad to learn that Stuart McLean is no longer with us.

But I am so very happy for the time he spent with us celebrating the power of storytelling.

When the news came today. I hung my head and cradled it in my hands. “No” was my reply.

I thought back to his earlier message – that he would need more time – and in the meantime, we should take care of each other. I think that was his way of saying goodbye. Without saying goodbye. Because story tellers, by their nature, never really say goodbye because the best stories never really end. And neither will his.

Dave, Morley and Sam (I have a Sam too), will never really end. They will live on in our memories. That was his gift to us. And our opportunity here, in the very sadness of his passing is to remind his family, his friends and his colleagues, that we will never forget him or his stories. Or his love of this place we call home. Or of our appreciation of a good story.

When those we care about and admire leave unexpectedly, we turn inward. My first thought was how fortunate I was to meet him. Once. At a writer’s festival in Sechelt. I told him how much I had loved his day at the Eaton’s Centre phone booth when he told Peter Gzowski about all the people he’d met using the pay phone and the stories they had to share. He was humble and spoke of how his friends at CBS in the US thought he was crazy but still admired his courage to try that angle. But that was his thing, he had a human angle. And so much of our media is void of it now. I have to say, I’m not sure that he left us so much as we left him.

We have so many stories and such little time.

I often read the obituaries in our local paper. I knew many of them, but not all. I admire their stories. I just wish I’d known them before reading them in the back pages of the local paper. And if today has taught me anything, is that we cannot wait for our obituary to tell our stories and the stories of those we love. Stuart didn’t. He wasn’t a front page kinda guy, but unfortunately, he will be tomorrow, and, it’s my view that he’d hate that.

Live your life. Tell your story. That’s what he taught us. I am grateful but I will miss him so.

The Nice List #salmonarm

December 9, 2016 - Leave a Response

This column first appeared in the December 2016 All Month Edition of the Friday AM in Salmon Arm, BC.

Here we are, approaching the end of another year. The further we go, the faster time flies.

It has been said that experience is what you get when you didn’t get what you wanted. There’s truth to that but if experience has taught me anything, it’s that little, if anything, ever comes from complaining. So much more comes from being a champion for what you believe to be important and the commitment you’re willing to make to see it through.

So for this column, I propose to focus on Santa’s nice list rather than his naughty one. Many of you rank quite highly on the nice list for your commitment and contribution. I’ll limit this list to ten but it is by no means complete. Lorne could print a phone book sized version in his Friday AM in that regard, I have no doubt. I only get 600 words. I’ll do my best here.

1. Shuswap Second Harvest
My office is located above Second Harvest. Not a single day goes by that someone doesn’t show up with food for our most vulnerable population. They are quiet and humble in their work. They ask for nothing. They just do what they know needs to be done. Their efforts inspire me to be a better person.

2. Shuswap Family Resource Centre
I am so humbled by the work of this non-profit organization. I can relate to the gift drive for children in need, especially teenagers, of which I have two. We want to believe that families have what they need but in many cases, this is not so. Please consider buying a gift for a teenager. A coffee card, a movie ticket, a swim pass. One day, they will make decisions on our behalf. Let’s remember that our greatest legacy is to let them know that they matter to us.

3. Syrian Refugee Sponsor Groups
This community has sponsored nine families from Syria. This is astounding for a community of our size. And sponsorship means getting them housing, medical and dental care and providing for language training among many other things. At a WOW event this summer, I watched with delight as a Syrian infant was comfortable in the arms of an audience member who as a stranger to her. That only happens in a place of peace. And they have provided that. And we are better for it. I thank you.

4. Literacy Alliance of the Shuswap Society
This group is committed to the well being of our community. Literacy isn’t about reading. It’s about inclusion. It’s about giving the tools needed to navigate an increasingly complex and changing world. And the more we can come together to support this, the better off we’ll all be. So unplug and play in January and please consider a donation.

5. Child and Youth Mental Health
This is more personal for me. Our family has been through some worrisome situations this past year. The work of these committed professionals helped us find our way. Their kindness and expertise got us where we needed to be. I am now and forever grateful.

6. The Safe Society
Every time I see a safe society poster in a public space, I notice that some of the phone numbers are ripped off at the bottom. This means that women are calling and asking for help. And the Safe Society always, always answers. Domestic violence lives in many unexpected places. If it happens to you, know that you have a safe place to go. And we have the responsibility to make that work. Really, we do.

7. The Salmon Arm Arts Centre
If you know me, you know that I am a passionate advocate for the arts. Not because it makes space prettier but because it makes spaces more meaningful. And we all search for meaning through our shared narrative of life here. This group is so inclusive in its approach – from free children’s programming to regular meetings of the odd socks knitting club and discounted tickets for cultural performances for youth. When we challenge perspectives on the ways in which we live together, culture happens. We are richer for it.

8. Okanagan College students
I am a part time professor at Okanagan College in the School of Business. Ironically, I show up twice a week to teach my students. But I am the one who learns. They share their enthusiasm, vision and hope for what happens next. It’s the most humbling part of my life. I have great hope for the future. Soon, the world will belong to them. It’s time we listened. Trust me, we’re in very good hands.

9. Council, staff and volunteer committee members
By all accounts, I am still a rookie on council. Every single meeting I attend, I learn something new. I hope I’ll always be a rookie. I love what I learn. I am so grateful for the patience of Council, staff and committee members to help me find the tools I need to make a difference. I can tell you that it’s not an easy job. But nothing worth doing is easy. They continue to teach me that and our city is better for them. Thank you.

10. Canoe
I can’t write a column about Santa’s nice list without mentioning my neighbourhood. Two years ago, a neighbour, by the name of Paul Ross decided to invite us all to watch the CP Holiday train pass by and donate to local food banks, even if it didn’t stop here. This year, the CP Holiday Train will stop in Canoe. Fifty communities asked to be considered for this priviledge. Canoe was the only one that made the list. Thanks Paul.

And finally, to you, the readers. I appreciate your time. Much is written. Not enough is read. Thank you and Merry Christmas. 2017 marks Canada’s 150th birthday. I hope we can celebrate together.

Wear the Ruby Slippers

November 15, 2016 - Leave a Response

Trump’s victory was an emotional Kansas-sized tornado for me.

You see, as a Canadian, I really and truly believed the United States was ready to elect a female President.

I even teased my kids on the morning of the election that they wouldn’t have to do their chores until the US had a woman in charge.

Well that didn’t go so well.

It was the death of a dream for me and for countless other women around the world. Such were the feelings that ravaged my soul in the days following; the five stages of my grief.

First, denial. It couldn’t be. Something was missing. Had all the votes been counted? What about the West Coast. Why wasn’t that enough? I will never watch television news again. That was just Tuesday night.

Then anger. How could it be? Such vile intolerance had been on display. How could any electorate endorse that with a win? I will never go to the United States again ever. That was Tuesday night too.

Then sadness. On Wednesday morning I ventured out to do my radio show on Voice of the Shuswap with my friend Tracey. Our topic, as it happened, was The Art of Reflection. And reflected we did. Subdued but reflective. I came home straight away and wallowed in the sadness for awhile. I cried while watching Hillary give her concession speech, especially when she apologized to all the little girls who believed in her.

By Thursday morning, I was ready to bargain. After the President Elect met with Obama I actually considered letting it all go. If Obama could be that classy, why couldn’t I? But there are things that were said during that election campaign that will only ever be taken back with some sincere apologies and some drastic reversals of proposed policy.

Friday was Remembrance Day. So I was back to sadness yet again for so much more than any election. So many lives have been given to achieve peace. How could such hate overcome those sacrifices.

So I did what I often do when I need redemption. I cooked. There is so much satisfaction in taking simple ingredients and creating something for those whom I love so much. I cooked potatoes and pork and pumpkin pie and brownies and pizza. You get the idea. And just as I waited for the final batch of cinnamon buns to finish baking on Saturday night, I started watching the Wizard of Oz on television.

As I watched Dorothy, the lion, the scarecrow and the tin man, suddenly, acceptance came within view like “skies of blue on a cloudy day”. Maybe Trump is like the wizard. Just a guy, behind a curtain, who intimidates with loud words and big flames to keep those who are afraid, fearful.

And Dorothy knew that fear but she overcame it at every turn with courage (it’s what makes a King of a slave says the Lion.), and kindness.

Somewhere over the rainbow, lives the next Dorothy. We’ll have to wait awhile yet to meet her.

But in the meantime, don’t let the flying monkeys scare you. Peek behind those curtains every chance you get. And, in the absence of ruby slippers, wear red shoes.

WTF

November 9, 2016 - Leave a Response

This morning, when my kids left for school, I joked with them that they wouldn’t have to do their chores until there was a woman president. I was feeling quite confident apparently.

Oops. My bad.

What I didn’t take into account was the vicious reality that the US could elect the likes of Trump. I mean, really. Totally shocked and disappointed at the outcome.

So, let’s face facts. it’s no longer about Trump. It’s about the realization that most of us live within a few hundred kilometres of a country so angry they would elect a mass deportation, woman disrespecting, climate change denying. islamaphobic maniac.

Apparently, North America just got Brexitted.

When it became apparent that this was the outcome, I dug through my important papers folder and literally cut up my passport – I won’t be going to Disneyland, ever.

Chalk this one up to the racists and misogynists. But don’t forget that despite the ignorant and the hate mongers, in the great United States of America can be found some of the most talented, capable, caring and smart people the world has ever known. And I hope they know they are welcome here, in Canada, at my house and in my neighbourhood, in my town, and in my province and my country.

You are better than this. Really, you are. And your children deserve to live in a community that respects respect, diversity and inclusion. And that goes for you Hillary, and Bill and Chelsea and family and Barack and Michelle and your lovely daughters. I don’t mean to pick and choose because I know the list is long. But I’ll start there, for now.

I mostly want to say to Obama that you did a good job and the world should be grateful. And that’s the thing about doing a good job. If you’re really good at what you do, you often work yourself out of it. History will be kinder than tonight was, no doubt.

But there is much work ahead. It’s difficult to come to terms with the fact that we live next to a country that is suddenly so opposed to what we consider as such important fundamentals.

I’m reminded of Robertson Davies. He said that Canada was a nation of losers. Sent away from their homeland for lack of work and food. Unlike the United States whose “ founders” came to America in search of “utopia”, many Canadians can trace their ancestry to Irish, Scottish and English who were sent away because they were burdens on society. Our humility is part of our DNA. I’m beginning to think the US has no humility.

What else could explain a Trump presidency? No talent, no training, no education, and no morals yet, he wins.

I don’t want to live there. I’d rather be a Canadian loser than an American winner.

At least for today.

Country mouse, city mouse

September 22, 2016 - Leave a Response

This column first appeared in the September All Month edition of the Friday AM

First of all, I’m not a fan of actual mice. But it’s worth acknowledging that, as fictional characters, they have played a major role in literary culture. They are determined underdogs. And anyone who lives in a house as old as mine is well aware of their clever nature.

Do you remember the fable of the country mouse and the city mouse? I love fables. They remind us about important life lessons. 
 
Having grown up in cities larger than Salmon Arm, I was always curious about country mice. Now, as a well established country mouse myself, I sometimes envy the city mouse. How fickle we are. 
 
Over the summer, I spent some time reacquainting myself with my inner city mouse. Still alive and well. Three days in Toronto reminded me that I love big cities. I love people watching. I love riding the iconic TTC street cars. I’m enthralled by the improvised theatre that is a city with a cast of millions all singing their songs and telling their stories. 
 
I also visited with a friend who lives in the delightful chaos that is Toronto. We went to nursery school together. She lives a few blocks away from our old stomping ground. As we visited, I remarked on how lucky she was to live in such a vibrant city. And then she surprised me. You see, she came to my neighbourhood earlier this year to play at the Hive and was quite struck by the sense of community and appreciation for live music here. Fair enough. We too appreciate art and culture. But as we stood steps away from the place in which we grew up, she said she would trade it all in to live in a small community like mine. Wait? What? 
 
It’s an accomplishment, she suggested, to live in a small community and be able to make a decent living and love what you do. I hadn’t thought about that before. She’s right, I think. It takes a brave mouse.
 
As small communities, we spend a considerable amount of time and energy trying to attract city mice. Sometimes we do it by trying to make small cities appear more big. I’m not so sure that’s the best way.  Maybe, just maybe, we should take the opposite approach. We should celebrate all that we are. And all that we aren’t. 
 
We have no commute times. We have no traffic jams. The average family home is not worth a million dollars. It doesn’t cost $35 a day to park downtown. We can get by with one car, and in some cases, no car. We needn’t take vacation days to take the kids skiing or spend time at the beach or go biking. There are no executive headquarters, or sky scrapers, heck, we don’t even have an escalator in Salmon Arm.
 
And maybe our competitive advantage is just this. We plan carefully for what we need because there are fewer of us.  And because we do this, we always have a little extra. Extra room for those who want to live here for the great schools, stellar health professionals, experienced business community, diverse neighbourhoods and spirited community. 
 
And as the saying goes, if you have more than you need, build a longer table, not a higher fence. 
I have lived in 7 cities and 5 provinces. I even dallied with Paris and London for awhile. There was a time I would have thought of not living there as a miss. But, thanks to a few lucky bounces and a willingness to try, I made it to Salmon Arm instead. And after the summer I’ve had, I no longer think of it as a compromise. I think of it as a win. I’m proud of us. And I’m happy for anyone else who made that choice too. You make our little city better.  
 
We do not need to ask for people to come here, we need to say to those hungry for small city life that we have a place for them at the table too. 
 
I must tell you that when we stopped at the store to buy milk and bread on the way home from our holiday, our boys’ friends were at Canoe store and were so happy to see them. Had we been city mice, it’s unlikely we would have had that delightful homecoming. 
 
Bravery pays off. Thank you for being brave and choosing a small town. Urban Canada has much to learn from us. 
 
Au revoir Paris, goodbye Toronto. We’re home. 
 
They should be so lucky.

Summertime and the living is eas(ier)

August 4, 2016 - Leave a Response
This column first appeared in the August 2016 All Month edition of the Friday AM in Salmon Arm, BC

As I write this, I have vacation on my mind. 
 
Of course, when you live in a place that is someone else’s vacation spot, there can be challenges. Other people’s vacation keep many of us locals a fair bit more busy. And that’s a good thing. But it’s summer. And we all deserve to enjoy it. 
 
We really are so fortunate. I have enjoyed visits to the gallery for the Trail Mix Exhibit (don’t miss it) and WOW (don’t miss that either) and I marvel at the work being done by Roots and Blues as they prepare for festival 24. Amazing team. Please go. 
 
I’ve enjoyed evenings at the Hive and my kids have had a great time on the lake. I’m more of a beach dweller, myself. I live for the late night campfires in my backyard.
 
But I’m trading it all in come Monday for three weeks in North Bay on Lake Nipissing, the town in which I grew up. Crazy right? Who would leave the Shuswap mid summer? Me, that’s who. And I’m beyond excited. 
 
The thing about summer is that it’s about nostalgia. And I’m headed that way. North Bay is much like Salmon Arm, a tourist town on a beautiful lake. It’s no wonder I ended up here. Like Canoe, I lived in an older neighbourhood very close to the lake. We would wander over to the beach at all hours for a quick swim as my kids do now at the dock. We were about 10 minutes from town as we are here. As kids, we would ride and skateboard around the neighbourhood till dark. When the porch lights turned on, it was time to come home. Same goes at our house now. 
 
But my homing beacon is calling me back big time. Some years ago, facing some difficulty in my business and helping my best friend move to the East Coast despite the prospect of missing her and her family terribly, I made a decision. I went to my high school reunion in North Bay. I didn’t have the money or the time but I knew I needed to go. So I did. And I reconnected with people who have known me since I was seven years old.
 
It was a watershed moment. In that three day weekend I remembered that I am who I have always been. A happy kid from a small town full of ideas and optimism. And it was a reminder that I sorely needed. I have been back since and I’ll go anytime I’m invited. There’s something about spending time with people who knew you before you were a grown up with expectations and responsibilities that does a soul good. I can honestly tell you that since that reunion, things have worked out for me both in terms of my business and my connection to this community. I’m proud to be a city councillor and small business owner. I’ve now lived in Salmon Arm longer than I’ve ever lived anywhere else. It’s my new home. And I Iove it. But nostalgia is a powerful force. 
 
This is the first time that my husband, my boys and my best friend will see where I grew up. I can’t wait to show them. I know they’ll say it reminds them of Salmon Arm.  We’ll see my parents, my brother, his wife and their kids, some cousins and some wonderful friends. I can’t wait. We’ll visit our neighbourhood, my old school, my hang outs and we’ll take quick dips in the lake at all hours. 
 
If you ever have to leave a place you love for a new place, please find a way to go back. It’ll help. Nostalgia is the best part of summer. I’ll miss Salmon Arm if only briefly but I’ll appreciate it more for going back to the place that made me fall in love with this town in the first place. 
 
Be safe. Be happy. Enjoy each other. That’s what summer is for. See you in September.

Make. America. Great. Again. #fouremptywords

July 6, 2016 - 2 Responses

I feel as if I know why people like Trump. He tells it like we want to hear it. Let’s just Make America Great Again. Simple, right?

He does not, however, tell it like it is. Not great. Not a four word sentence. Not even a five word one. It took me six words to even say that. See the dilemma?
 
We want to believe there is an easy solution. Nope (one word). Not so much (three words). Nada (four letters for our delightful Mexican friends who might find themselves behind a wall they have to pay for). 
 
We are slaves to convenience. There, I said it in five words which will not fit on a baseball cap or win a Presidential election. Even if it’s true. We want to believe that someone, anyone, can wave some sort of mythical wand and Make America Great Again. There are big (I would say significant but that wouldn’t poll well) things wrong with that four word statement. 
 
Make – The United States hasn’t made much of anything these last few decades. Tax legislation passed during the Bush administrations made it much easier to produce goods in countries with cheaper labour. And while this has has led to a middle class in countries most of us have never visited, it has decimated a talented pool of communities who didn’t see it coming and were unnecessarily blinded sided by the shift. There is no shortage of talent in the US. There might have been a shortage of the understanding of those consequences. Queue Detroit. A memo might have helped. Even a plan. Just saying.
 
America – Believe it or not, for most of the world, both North and South America are “America”. Just like we refer to Spain and France and Italy (and until recently, the UK) as Europe. I cannot handle Europeans thinking of Canadians as Americans but that says more about my point of view than their perspective. The United States might be the most populated part of “America” but it’s not the only or the biggest part. Of course, that’s wouldn’t fit on a baseball cap either. 
 
Great – Ok – what does great even mean? Good? Better? Best? You know what is great? Products. A concert, a dinner out, a movie, a cup of coffee, an ice cream cone, eighties music. Countries are not great. They are complex systems made up of millions of people. They are not products. They are not hotel stays or casino visits or even mattresses but Trump lives in that world. He wants to make a country into a thing, a product with a marketing manager and a market share. But the United States is not a product. It’s a collective of people, some of whom are awesome and can send a space craft into orbit on freakin’ Jupiter while others shoot school kids with assault riffles. Harsh, but true. Not great. Just excessively complex and in great need of thoughtful and forward looking leadership.
 
Again – That word, again, is a huge assumption. Again, as in when? Recently? Obama might not be remembered as the best President in recent times by his own country but history will be kinder – just as it was to others – because he is kind and did amazing things despite great odds. So let’s go back to what again might mean – Bush, Reagan, Nixon – you have 43 from which to choose. I’d like clarification on that. But I won’t get it. Because I am not that “American”. I don’t buy that the US is a product for sale to the highest bidder.
And I want my friends to know, if you could vote or would vote for Trump, the price of that convenience is a null and void warranty. He is not running to Make America Great Again, he is running to Make Trump Great Again. That would fit on a baseball cap but it wouldn’t win him the White House. I’ll give him this – he’s clever and manipulative – but please don’t give him 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue or it’s more than baseball caps we’ll need. Much much more.

On #brexit and its lessons

June 26, 2016 - Leave a Response

When I was little, we would often go for family dinners at my Grand Maman’s house in Quebec City. We loved her company. She knew that. And she was always happy to have us. 

 
She was also the master of the subtle hint. If we stayed past the point of welcome, she would quietly start to set the table for breakfast. The spoon jar, the butter dish, the sugar bowl, a coffee cup and a cereal bowl. My Grand Papa was an early riser and had his own rituals which she deeply respected. This likely explains their long marriage and their contribution to society. They were the parents of over a dozen children and several dozen grand children. As far as measurements go, I think they did their part. In fact, I know they did. 
 
She was also fond of saying that if we didn’t leave, we couldn’t come back. Wrap your head around that. Wise indeed.
 
My Grand Maman didn’t care much for the United Kingdom being born in Quebec. She claimed she didn’t know much English. But I doubt that. She was as smart as a whip. She just knew she’d be better off keeping that piece of knowledge to herself. So she shared the other stuff. How to make pea soup, how to make baked beans, how to write a proper letter, how to keep a family together. That was her thing. 
 
And as we watch the UK leave the EU, I’m reminded that we all have our role in life. 
 
I do not have a role on why David Cameron rolled those terrible dice. But I have my share of thoughts just as my Grand Maman might have on decisions made in her lifetime. During the first Quebec referendum, I heard one thing from my grand parents. We do not believe in separation – in marriage – or otherwise. Plus, my Grand Papa was drawing a pension from CN Rail. A leave vote would have affected their share of sugar and butter, let’s be honest. 
 
But honesty is not what was at stake in this case. Cameron called the referendum vote to save his own skin. Leadership at the expense of the well being of others is not leadership. It’s opportunism.
 
And I am sad about it. I feel for the young people who until Thursday had the incredible opportunity including Canadians like me whose UK born grand parents (on my English side), live and work freely in Europe. 
 
Honestly, I cannot think of a single person in my generational cohort who wouldn’t have wanted that opportunity. C’mon – Berlin, Paris, London, Rome, Amsterdam, Barcelona – cities we live our lives to explore.  Sure, we love Toronto and Ottawa and Vancouver but they are not Europe. And a man afraid to lose his job does not have my permission to rob those opportunities from my friends, my friends’ kids or my own kids. 
 
The leave campaign was built on fear. Fear of the unknown. Fear that things will not be as they used to be. News flash – our greatest potential as human beings is that we enter into a world we never knew and make our mark. 
 
I know for sure that my Grand Maman wouldn’t be happy about this. She went to Paris once and brought home a wrought iron souvenir sculpture of the Eiffel Tower which she kept in her perfectly delightful living room that we had trouble leaving after dinner parties. I used to stare and it and think that one day, I too would go there. I did. I was not allowed to stay. 
 
I want David Cameron to know this but that it is not my role. I will put out the butter dish and the sugar bowl and hope that cooler, less opportunistic heads will prevail. 
 
But Grand Maman was right, sometimes you have to leave to come back. 

The culture of complaint and the case for optimism

June 3, 2016 - Leave a Response
This column first appeared in the June 2016 All Month edition of the Friday AM

I have started reading a book called The Rational Optimist. I am optimistic that I will finish it. Given the twitterverse of 120 character defining statements on all matters of global importance, it’s no small accomplishment to read, never mind write, a book of 500 pages. 

 
The author, Matt Ridley’s thesis, near as I can tell, is that a good case can be made to embrace optimism if you look at the facts over time. He had me at the opening chapter which I did manage to finish. I invite you to check it out. 
 
The part of our caveman brains that still remain in us all wants to believe that the next fire, flood, famine or sabre tooth tiger attack is imminent. And that stress level is not good for the humans. Not good at all. It leads to terrible outcomes; fear, anxiety and worse, bad decisions, especially in the public realm. Truth is, we are very fortunate to live where we do. It’s not unreasonable to state that Canada, and especially British Columbia, have one of the world’s best public service sectors. To say nothing of the strength and commitment of our volunteer and non-profit sector who work tirelessly to promote community, safety, sports, the arts and protect the disadvantaged. They need our support, not our complaints.  
 
So often we react rather than act. This is wrong, this is bad, this won’t do; we are increasingly fond of saying. I’ve seen some terrible and terribly disturbing examples in the public sphere of late. And I have one thing to say. Hold on a minute. Where is the optimism? 
 
Terrible things happen to your brain when you complain. Your nervous system is flooded with cortisol. It’s bad for your blood pressure. It’s bad for your heart. It’s bad for your health. And it rarely improves the situation. Resist the temptation to complain, if not for you, then for those who surround you. Research suggests that the culture of complaint is contagious. When you complain, those around you suffer and react too. 
 
A wonderful thing happens to your brain when you embrace optimism. Dopamine. Say it with me. Do Pa Meen. It’s good for your blood pressure. It’s good for your heart. It’s good for your health. And from it, comes the best ideas, the best intentions and the best outcomes. 
 
I’ll remind you that the Wright Brothers, bicycle builders who wanted to make something fly, could have complained about the buckets of money poured into maned flight by the US government to a competing group. The Wright Brothers were not remembered for their complaints. They were remembered for their accomplishments. If you had a choice, which would you prefer?
 
But in order to make it work, I suggest we need to do some heavy lifting just as the Wright brothers did despite the odds. It’s easier than ever to complain. Social media has been taken by some as a free ride to complaintville. But, if you follow my drift, that’s a one way ticket. nobody, not even you, can afford. 
 
First step. Breathe. In through your nose, out through your mouth. Say no to complaint. Say yes to solutions. It’s not an easy task but it’s an important one. You can do it. I am optimistic. 
 
Criticism is critically important. Of that there is no doubt. But criticism and complaint are two different animals. One is division (complaint) the other is constructive (criticism). Complaints are one-sided. Criticism necessitates a two-way conversation. Constructive criticism moves an agenda forward because it creates useful friction without which neither a car nor a bike, nor a human never mind an airplane for that matter, could move forward. 
 
The harsh truth is (not a complaint so much as an observation) that we don’t get that many chances to make a difference. If you find one, please use it. We all share the promise and potential of constructive criticism, conversation, discussion, debate and ultimately, positive change. 
 
As a final note, I admit, there can come some personal satisfaction, and even some odd fame (think Salmon Arm Salute) from the perfectly crafted single pointed finger of complaint. It’s important to remember, under all circumstances, without any doubt, that the real joy and possibility of making life better, comes from the lending of a whole hand.
Thanks for reading.
Louise