Monday, December 20, 2004

Our Forefathers Would be Puzzled

Last week a woman in Toronto killed her child and then herself. This was not the first time such a horrible tragedy has made the news. A few years ago a woman (a doctor no less) took her baby and jumped in front of the subway train. Of course, these are exceptional occurences and the women involved were obviously mentally disturbed and in need of serious help. But what about the rest of us parents? We all suffer from some kind of stress related problems. Don't we need help too?

Apparently we do. Big time. In fact, I think we're in big trouble.

Have you noticed that every time these rare parental murders happen in our society, journalists and talking heads are all over the media waxing philosophically on how tough it is to be a parent and how understandable it is that many people are unable to cope with the huge and unmanageable job of caring for one or two children. Therapists and psychologists fill our TV screens and newspapers. Teary eyed victims mesmerize us with their sad stories of depression, despondency and emotional breakdown. We watch them and cry with them. We understand. Really we do. Because we are just like them.

It’s pretty sad, really. But it wasn’t always this way. Once upon a time we could actually control our emotions. Of course, back then, we didn’t think of ourselves as the centre of the universe, like we do today. We were able to put our self-centered, self-absorbed, introspection aside, get on with our lives and take care of our families. Imagine. How on earth did we cope? It's almost as if these proud, strong people in our history were a completely different species from us.

When I was growing up in the sixties in Sydney Mines, Cape Breton, my town was full of large families. My next-door-neighbor had twelve children. (Honest to God.) One of my friends had four brothers and three sisters. Another had six siblings. My grandmother’s sister, who lived just up the road, had nine kids. For a couple to have a mere two children was relatively rare.

And guess what? None of these mothers (or fathers) went on a killing spree. And none of them, to my knowledge, came down with crippling depression. Maybe they got depressed – most of us do from time to time – but they pressed on with the business of working, living and taking care of their families. That’s what people did. No heroics. No exceptional feats of courage. Just ordinary people living ordinary lives. They struggled sometimes, but that’s the nature of life isn’t it? Back then people still had the basic understanding that life wasn’t supposed to be easy. They measured their lives in terms of their day to day existence, not in terms of how many DVD players they had. And yet, they were like us in one major way - they spent every waking hour working and taking care of the home and kids. How could it be then that, unlike us, they had so much less time to wallow in self pity?

Our swift descent, as parents, into emotional vulnerability and defenselessness should really be of concern to us. Procreation and parenting are things we must do to preserve our species, our culture and our way of life. They are the very reason we are here today. And yet we seem to be so much less capable of dealing with the stresses and difficulties that come with these simple and natural functions than the generations that came before.

We need to be asking ourselves why this is. And we should all be alarmed at how quickly we have gone from being a nation of proud, emotionally strong and independent people; to a nation of pathetic, powerless, parental weaklings. Perhaps our benevolent and all-knowing government could sponsor a report analyzing how did we got this way. They could start by drawing a parallel between the creation of our federal welfare state and our descent into helplessness, self-absorption, and emotional frailty. Both seem to have occurred around the same time.

It is not an act of courage to be a parent. It is a natural part of being human. Sure there are stresses, tensions and frustrations, but, for most of us, these are more than overshadowed by the love we feel for our children– a love so poignantly intense so as to make any other life experience pale in comparison.

And yet somehow, over the past three of four decades we seem to have lost our resilience and our ability to cope as parents. We gaze at our navels and wonder if we have the strength to go on. We don’t live in a war zone, we are not starving, and we are not oppressed. Our fridges are full, our homes are warm. We eat more restaurant meals and have more ‘stuff’ than any generation in the history of our race. And yet we act like victims, constantly second guessing our lot-in-life, incessantly crying out for affirmation and desperately reaching out to government, Oprah and other strangers for help and guidance. I wonder how the world’s real victims – the people in Rwanda, Sudan, Tibet, Haiti, the list is endless – would look upon our self-created, artificial, victimhood. I bet it would sicken them to see people with absolutely nothing to complain about whining about how hard life is.

We really need to get a grip. We are creating a culture of helplessness here in Canada. Everyone's a victim. Every little challenge – things that would have been taken in stride by our great grandparents - is seen by today’s generation as a full blown crisis. We are continually bombarded in the media with images of weak, sensitive, trembling people crawling to therapists and counselors to help them navigate through the tumultuous seas of parenthood. What we really should be doing is telling people that they have nothing whatsoever to complain about and that they need to get off their buttocks, hold their heads high and just get on with it.

Of course, this wouldn’t be seen as particularly sensitive. And it would likely hurt some people’s feelings. But it’s something our grandparents would have understood, and it’s something I’ll relate to my kids if the need arises. Is it so wrong to believe that people with stress issues should be treated like adults and given a little nudge in the right direction and firm words of encouragement. Instead, our society treats them like helpless, dependent invalids and gives them a patronizing pat on the head and a pitying, understanding smile.

People can often tend to rise or fall in accordance with the expectations of others. Is it not, then, a disservice to them to expect so little?

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Flesh-Fascists and Nico-Nazis

I've been a professional musician off and on since I’ve been 17. These days, on a typical Saturday night, you can find me belting out a Deep Purple or Nazareth tune at some local pub in and around the Toronto area. And let me tell you, as someone whose been doing this for nigh on 30 years, I really enjoy the new smokeless environment in Ontario bars. Hats off to the nico-nazis and the marvelous smoke free society they are so generously creating for us.

While the poor, oppressed, social-lepers huddle in the freezing cold, sucking on their cancer sticks, I get to prance around on a smoke-free stage, breathing in clean pure air. I feel sorry for them but, hey, what’s more important, eh – their right to smoke, or our right to have the government stop them? Any good Canadian knows the answer to that question.

So, now that our government has almost finalized legislation to outlaw smoking anytime and anywhere - except immediately after sex, in a month starting with the letter J, on an odd numbered day of the week, during a full moon – I guess they will soon be turning their attention to more things to meddle in. (They never look for fewer things.)

Well, I have an idea for them.

Tomorrow, I’m going to drive around till I find a bar with big neon signs advertising naked women. I’m going to read the signs and examine the posters closely. Then I’ll walk inside the bar and promptly start screaming that all the naked chicks are offending my sensibilities. I’ll call the Mayor and Premier and demand that all bars provide a flesh-free environment so everyone can enjoy their beverages without getting accosted by the unwelcome sight of some strange women’s bare buttocks or naked breasts. I will rally like-minded people around me. We will be called the flesh-fascists. We will be awesome. Before long all the nico-nazis will join together with us to fight this plague of protudinous flesh. After all, our causes are virtually the same. We both want the total elimination of unhealthy offensive stuff in public businesses. Soon all bars will be flesh-free. After all, this is a health issue, same as cigarettes in bars. The sight of a naked woman rubbing her body all over some fat, sweaty, slobbering drunk is as much a threat to my mental health as second-hand smoke could ever be to my physical health. Hell – it’s ten times worse.

I need protection.

We flesh fascists will not stop until all bars are expunged of this silicone scourge. The law is on our side. After all, the strip club owners can’t rely on the excuse that they posted signs warning me about the nudity. That doesn’t work for bar owners and smoking - why should it work for strip joints? Government protection is not about giving me the choice to avoid what offends me – it’s about taking away the right of anyone to do anything that could harm or offend me, even if they warn me to stay away first.

If I want to have a drink in a smoke free bar, my right to do so overshadows the rights of any stupid smoker and any bar owner. And anyone who disagrees will have a big fine laid on them. After all, bar owners only own their businesses as long as they pay their taxes on time. If they don’t pay, the government takes the business. See? The government really owns the business. The so-called owner is really just borrowing it from them for as long as he can afford to pay taxes. So why should he have any rights at all? The impertinence - the utter ungratefulness of these people.

Imagine if these leeches - these parasites who live off the businesses that government generously lends them - were given the right to decide for themselves whether they would allow smoking or not in their establishments. Potential patrons would actually have to make a decision whether to go in or not. Clearly, the stress would be too much for them to bare. (Bare - get it?) Thankfully, sanity prevailed amongst our politicians and they rightfully decreed that these mountainous decisions should not be left up to business owners or patrons. They are, after all, much too important and complex for mere citizens to handle.

As I said at the top of this piece – I really do enjoy smoke free bars. And maybe, if the choice were left to business owners to make, there would be both smoking and smoke free bars in our society that people could choose to work in and drink in at their discretion. Then we, as a society, would not have had to give up a little more personal freedom and the government would not have claimed one more aspect of our lives to control.

Oh well, we can still smoke in our own homes. At least for now.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Christmas and Mental Instability

I had hoped to put my satirical wit to work this Christmas poking fun at the poor misguided souls who are offended at the word Christmas. I had expected to point out that, despite years of clinical studies, the cause of the mental disorder that resulted in these fits of inexplicable irrationality had not been clearly identified. I had every reason to believe that I’d be able to stand here on my soap box and laugh at the sad people who whine about Christmas. I had planned on saying things like:

“It has never ceased to amaze me how those in power in our society so often defer to the wishes of the mentally disturbed. You know – the people who have a neurotic predisposition to being offended. Like the people who are offended at the word Christmas. Clearly these people don’t need understanding. And they certainly don’t need to be given influence over our politicians. After all, politicians should concentrate on listening to normal people, not deranged people. Anyone who is offended by the word Christmas should be housed in a caring, compassionate environment and given oodles of drugs and shock treatment to cure them of their horrible malady.”

Drat. I should have created this blog last year and posted those comments then.

Since last year two things have happened to advance the development of our society and to help it become a more sensible, sane place to live.

1. The Truth is Revealed.
First, it appears that some of our politicians have finally come to realize that virtually no one in Canada is actually offended at the word Christmas. In reality, it was really only one or two people with nothing better to do who voiced their negative opinions about Christmas. Unfortunately, for awhile, our governments became as weird as the sad, lippy complainers. They heard their complaints and were frightened. That’s what politicians do. They figure that, for every comment that is sent to them, there are thousands of others who feel the same. Gee, there goes a perfectly good political theory down the drain. Looking back, it appears that for every cerebrally challenged oddball who contacted the government to complain about the use of the word Christmas, there were actually only 2.6 other Canadians who felt the same, sitting in the same room as the caller, drooling in their porridge. The general public never felt this way.

So, given that there is really no political advantage in disrespecting Christmas, it appears that some of our brave principled politicians have decided that Christmas is back in fashion.

2. Commercialism Rules our Sensibilities.
We can always count on business to gage the needs of the general public. Sometimes, however, it takes them a while to do so.

Not long ago our stores and businesses refused to use the word ‘Christmas’ in any of their promotions. They too were taken in by the myth that Christmas offended people. So they expunged the word from their vocabulary. And we should all be aware of the power of commercialism. When businesses start refusing to use a particular word, so too will the rest of society. But, in reality, virtually no one was actually offended by the word ‘Christmas’. Businesses, however, given their need to appeal to everyone and anyone and their fear of offending anyone, weren’t taking any chances. They replaced ‘Christmas’ with the more benign and safe ‘Holiday Season’ What Canadians really wanted, however, was the truth.

This year, we are seeing a more sane rational approach taken by our retailers. Apparently, they have realized that only a small, mentally deficient segment of our population are actually offended by the word ‘Christmas’. And the majority of Canadians are either not offended by the word or actually offended by the absence of it.

Whoopee. Sanity and rationality have eventually won the day. Or, at least, they're gaining ground. This year, Sears, the Bay, Canadian Tire, HMV, and many other Commercial retailers are using the word ‘Christmas’ in their ads and promotions. They would not do this if they felt that it would harm their sales. I guess they have finally come to realize, as most rational Canadians have, that the word ‘Christmas’ is not a commercial liability. Rather, it is a simple truth.

We are living in a culture of insane political correctness. Its followers will continue to try and deprive our society of the joys of ‘Christmas’. I was actually scared there for awhile. But I have faith in human nature. This too shall pass. After all we haven’t risen to the top of the food chain and created the most successful, affluent and tolerant societies in history by accident. (Tolerance, however, need not extend to accepting the ill-founded and ridiculous views of a few imbalanced people. Our way of life is not their's to disassemble - rather, it is ours to lose, if we are not willing to stand up to them.)

In the end, the few mean-spirited and neurotic complainers will never win.

This is Christmas. Not the Holiday Season.

Merry Christmas to you and may the spirit of Christmas – the spirit of truth, peace, forgiveness and new beginnings - be yours for now and for the rest of your life. And may no one ever take that away, despite how hard they try.