Archive for June, 2016

On #brexit and its lessons
June 26, 2016

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. 
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The culture of complaint and the case for optimism
June 3, 2016

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