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As the Olympic Games were kicked off today in Sochi, Russia, I’m feeling very conflicted.
I imagine this is a feeling shared by many.
As soon as the location was announced, there was a great deal of dissent, trepidation and doubt voiced about the International Olympic Committee (IOC)’s choice of location for the 2014 games. When it was first announced, security was the primary concern, spiraling into debate about the suppression of citizen rights, including the right to protest (highlighted by the arrest of members of the protest band Pussy Riot), and particularly the rights of LGBT Russians being brought into the spotlight as the country passed laws against what they describe as “LGBT propaganda”.
So where does that leave those that participate in, sponsor, support and view the Games?
And many ask the question “couldn’t we just set the politics aside and just enjoy the Olympics?”
I don’t think we can. Or at the very least, I don’t think that we should.
Political concerns surrounding the Games is not new. Nor are the questions about how we should proceed. Reactions span from personal boycotts and requesting major sponsors to withdraw or at least speak out about political/human rights issues, to those tuning out the issues to support their country and recognize those that have battled to become the best in their field to compete on the world stage, representing their country. My take is that we can and should embrace both views.
In some ways, it would be so easy to get lost in the astounding spectacle, pomp and ceremony. The Olympics can be a time of wonderful distraction, seeing the top athletes of the world in two weeks of some of the toughest events in sport. At their best, the Games can remind us of our shared humanity, as well as remind us what it means to us to belong to a particular country. Everyone that watched the game can likely describe in detail exactly where they were when Sid Crosby scored the gold metal goal in Vancouver – I was watching the game with Sarah in our downtown apartment as newlyweds, startling Snoopy and Beatrix out of naps as we cheered.
But in many ways, it is all a beautiful illusion.
It isn’t the Hunger Games, watching our children battle in a contest of humiliation and dominance, but there is a dark side to all the bright lights.
The Vancouver 2010 Olympic Games cost an estimated $10B, $10,000,000,000., with taxpayers footing $1B. When our First Nations people continue to struggle in what are basically third-world conditions inside Canada, as highlighted by the ongoing situation in Attawapiskat, it seems astounding to spend this kind of money on a sporting event. It leaves many to wonder – are the Olympics even worth it? Or should they at least be toned down?
This is an ongoing debate about the Games, particularly as despite truly horrid housing conditions being reported (to the point of #SochiProblems @SochiProblems exploding on Twitter), the estimated cost of Sochi is an astounding $50B. $50,000,000,000. A truly mind-blowing number, especially considering how much humanitarian aid it could be put towards, when suspicions are arising that as much as a third of that money is disappearing into the corruption that infests Russian politics and construction/procurement. There are concerns that the Games have turned away from the events and athletes.
Plus there is the overarching human costs of the games.
Russia has been criticized by many as their stance towards homosexuality has become increasingly draconian, to the point that even Canada’s Conservative government has spoken out against it. The IOC and sponsors have been walking a very fine line, between angering the host nation by acknowledging the massive issue of these laws, and on the other side, angering large parts of the world by seemingly standing idly by as these human rights abuses take place. United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has condemned the persecution, and many activists hope to use the Games to highlight that persecution.
Today, this welcome sight greeted everyone that went to the Google homepage:
And this is the sight that will be flying above the City Hall of many Canadian cities during the Games:
This may be the true power of the Games.
In my mind, we are missing out by not following the Games, but we are missing even more if we watch them without acknowledging their true cost. I believe that we can enjoy the Olympics despite where they are being hosted, yet understand those that won’t view it because to do so puts more money into those involved in the Games. However, I believe that the Games are an excellent opportunity to think about what we value and why, and to watch, share and debate the broader issues brought up by the event. The hope of Russian LGBT people and their allies is to use this time to speak out against their mistreatment, and hopefully bring further understanding and compassion for LGBT across the world. At its best the Olympics bring us together, it is my hope that these 2014 Games can still be a positive experience, and a way to extend perspective and understanding.
*I’m glad to finally be writing again! I keep saying I’ll get back into it, but with starting our prenatal lessons this week with the Health Unit, and continuing to work on putting together the nursery on weekends on top of long work weeks, I’m pretty wiped by the end of the day. I’m hoping to get into the London election discussion/coverage soon, especially as several wards (including my ward 2) have been heating up as more candidates come forward. My friend and former classmate Thomas Thayer has been writing great posts on it, his blog is a good place to get started if you’d like to read what’s been happening.
Sarah and I started to try to conceive, and after a test in mid-August found that she’s pregnant!
So I’m very excited. And very, very nervous.
We’ve been married almost 4 years, and I’ve resisted the idea of being a parent for a long time, mostly through anxiety of all of the massive challenges of parenting, and plunging into the great unknown. We’ve both wanted to be financially prepared, and fairly well grounded in our work. While I’m still working from home contracting, we’re about as stable as we can be, and being in our late 20’s we thought it was a good time to start trying.
So I was technically mentally prepared when we started trying, but I’m discovering that no one is truly ready, perhaps especially for fathers. I’m trying my best to learn as much as I can before now and the due date (will likely be mid-April)…the hard part is parenting books are a sure-fire way to raise my blood pressure, but thankfully Sarah bought several (including the one above) that are a terrific combination of hilarious and informative.
The biggest thing is, I’m feeling all the feels. All. The. Feels.
Without being able to tell many people about it…
We’ve told our parents (though not first, our bosses were the first to know to give them as much of a heads-up as possible, followed by the Cheese Poet…because Sarah is on a sudden unpasteurized cheese hiatus), and am very glad to be able to share our joy/excitement/nervousness with them, but we’re also looking forward to being able to tell everyone else. We’ll aim to tell everyone by around the week 12-14 mark, but it’ll be tough to wait until October!
The strange thing is feeling so much, but not being able to even really place what the feelings are. I’m really looking forward to being able to share our news, and to talk to others about it, and ask for thoughts, experiences and advice. Some of the things rolling around seem to be:
- Accepting that I’m entering a new stage of life, and to really face that I’m getting older, moving from being a young man only responsible ultimately for myself to a father jointly responsible for our child. I’ve heard that a man often doesn’t truly become a father until he holds his child, and all parents feel they won’t know what to do…but I often feel like I’m in over my head, I can only trust that when the time comes we’ll manage.
- A new appreciation of all my parents did for me. I know this will only grow as we take care of our new child and see how much hard work and dedication it takes…
- Concern for Sarah’s health, and for the baby. Concerned knowing that it’s not safe yet to assume the baby can be carried to term as Sarah is only about 7-8 weeks pregnant right now, so feeling like it isn’t really real, and yet incredibly real at the same time. Waiting with trepidation for when the baby is further along and more fully developed.
- Strange sense that life is getting both smaller and bigger. I know that in the short term our life will shrink as we focus on caring for our new baby, but also have the sense that this new adventure will help expand my perspective and hopefully see the world through fresh eyes.
- Being aware that we’re bringing a new person into the world, without knowing what they will be like at all. Sarah keeps reminding me that they’ll love us as their parents, and we’ll raise them sharing our interests with them, but it’s okay if they don’t share them, they’ll develop their own.
- The sense that all of this is impossibly big, I don’t even know where to begin or what to think. I’ve been very preoccupied, and haven’t known what to write about. It feels strange as I write this to know that I won’t publish this for another month, but am glad to at least get these thoughts out in some way, and look forward to sharing them as well as writing more once we’ve been able to announce that we’re expecting.
- Feeling a weird kind of stasis, in that our world has changed though everything around us goes on much like it has before, heightened by the fact we can’t yet tell many people that our life has changed.
- I’m sure every parent goes through this, but I feel that since we knew Sarah is pregnant I have been following the news particularly closely, and as I watch things like the looming threat of military action/invasion of Syria, I wonder about the world we’re bringing a child into. I’ve often thought of resource shortages, overcrowding, mass starvation in a world of 7+ billion people and wondered about the morality of bringing another person into the world, but my hope is that our child may be someone that contributes greatly to the world, even as I still try to find what it is I can do with my life to make my existence worthwhile and meaningful.
- All of this forces me to face and examine my life in a way I haven’t before. I feel as if my life, my priorities and goals are in a new light, in a good way. In many ways, I’ve lived contributing in ways I am glad of but without any long plans or aspirations, I hope that this may be prioritize and shape my life with new vision and direction, and make the best use of the time I have left.
- I fear that I will be less physically/mental available for the next while, and hope to make the most of the fall and winter to spend time with friends and family. We’re entering an especially busy time as community associations and City Council start in earnest again, and we move into the Budget 2014 and Municipal Election 2014 year. Though I may not be physically available as much after the spring next year, I am hoping that I can continue to follow everything happening, and keep in touch with everyone involved, and to keep writing through the process.
I am trying my best to see this as a new adventure, and look forward to being able to share it with everyone!
I’ve always been a nervous and anxious person, as long as I can remember.
Sometimes I wonder about how exactly I’ve gotten to where I am today, allowing to continue on as I have, but often simply thinking about being anxious…makes me anxious. It’s a vicious cycle that I’m realizing I’ve been inside for so long, it’s taken me this long to entirely realize I’m in it.
Instead of facing the issue head-on, I’ve created elaborate coping mechanisms that shield me from the types of situations I find most difficult, which have built up over the years. I’ve been fortunate to be able to lead a fairly normal life despite this, but it has also insulated me from facing my problems, and living my life to my full potential.
Even writing this has made me very anxious, anxious about what people reading this will think of me, anxious that it isn’t wise to talk publicly about my mental health issues when my work is so precarious etc.
But in going through this journey, I’m starting to see just how important it is to be talking about this, for everyone to be able to talk about their mental health issues publicly without fear of recourse.
Because so many people have some kind of mental health issue.
When I was a teenager, I was diagnosed as being depressed. I thought that it was only because we had recently moved (the first of my life) from my hometown of Wiarton to St. Thomas, combined with assertions that every teenager feels “a little crazy”. I fought against treatment, particularly against any kind of medication, and imagined in time that I was getting better.
And I did, more or less. But it was only in time that I realized that I hadn’t been really myself long before we moved, and that there were still periods of great darkness, though less extreme and less common.
One of the big problems I’ve come to find in myself and seems common for mental health issues, is how we understand “feeling myself”. As a teenager, with my self-esteem, self-worth and identity so fragile, I was scared that medication would make me “someone else”, someone I don’t recognize. But in times of terrible darkness my parents tried to convince me that the depression wasn’t me, that the son they knew was inside, and that medication and/or counselling could help me become myself again.
Looking back, ten years later, I’m wishing I had listened.
But another important lesson I’ve learned from this is, it’s never too late.
Two weeks ago, after years of wondering and anxiety about wondering, I went to my new family doctor and told her my fears. After a long discussion and a few quick written tests, she prescribed a very low dosage treatment for a combination of general anxiety and depression.
I’m still hesitant about medication, but wanted to give it a chance. I realized that no matter what I’m doing, I don’t tend to fully enjoy it, because I’m too nervous thinking about what could go wrong with plans etc., or once plans are carried out, what could continue to go wrong. Instead of anticipation of fun events, I’m often filled with dread, to the point of wanting to cancel out of them entirely, and feeling a sense of relief once they’re over. I’ve come to realize how abnormal and detrimental this is, and have found a determination not to continue living my life this way.
It takes patience. Since starting treatment I’m taking each day one at a time. Depending on treatment it can take a long time to feel any real change, and I imagine it will take even longer to come to accept how I start to feel as a new normal.
I hope to continue writing and sharing about this as I go forward. I’ve been less social this summer as I’ve made the decision to seek help and start treatment, I hope to get back out more and reconnect with friends soon.
The biggest thing I feel from this is, if you have any questions about your own mental health, please don’t hesitate to contact your doctor or even reach out to friends and family to talk about it.
There are tons of great resources online too:
- MindYourMind.ca is a fabulous mental health website that is designed with young adults in mind, but I would recommend to adults as well. Their London team works out of Citi Plaza, and they’re active on Twitter. The website includes useful toolkits, activities, and is a very low stress way of educating yourself on mental health issues. This is my go-to mental health website at work at the college.
- The Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) provides a wealth of information on local support, information, and resources.
- Mentalhealthfirstaid.ca provides training sessions on recognizing mental health issues and providing critical skills and information for helping others with mental health issues.
- iCopeU is designed to provide information to students of Fanshawe College on campus resources available for mental health issues, but it’s a well-designed website with some cool stress busting/coping skills games that anyone can play (Gambling Zombies anyone?)
There are so many more awesome websites about mental health out there, and if you know of more good ones please share them with me. The day is coming when mental health issues won’t be enabled by stigma. We won’t second guess going to the doctor for depression, we would go as if we had a broken leg. We won’t second guess lifesaving medication, we would take it the way we would as if we had cancer. We won’t isolate those suffering, we will surround them with the love, care, patience and support they would get if they had any physical illness. Mental health issues are curable. Mental health shouldn’t dictate who we hire, who we date, who we hang out with, or who we love.
If none of this helps, try reading more Hyperbole and a Half. Kenny Loggins.
Right now is an exciting time in our church community, as we launch a new church from First Baptist Church London, called Maitland Street Church.
The team that is dedicated to the launch is meeting several times a week in a flurry of enthusiastic activity to iron out details as well as prepare the building (819 Maitland Street) for services starting in the fall. When I first committed to the project, I was likewise excited at the prospect of starting a new church founded on a philosophy of community, relationship and service.
But I’m struggling to remain excited, at no fault of the church or the people there.
I’ve always been hesitant in my Christianity. I came to faith in my early 20’s despite strong misgivings with many aspects of the global church and my experiences growing up (I wrote about it in more detail in my post What I Believe), and am always conscious of the associations that are created by saying I believe and attempt to follow Jesus Christ.
Even as we prepare for our new church, one that may be the closest thing I’ve found yet to a church I may be truly comfortable to call home, I feel more conscious than ever of how much Christians are in the news, in my mind, for all the wrong reasons.
This summer a debate has raged in Texas and elsewhere in the United States over female reproductive rights, with conservative Christians leading the charge for draconian measures that will put many lives in jeopardy. Even as a major victory for equality and civil rights was won when DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act) was declared unconstitutional, conservative Christian groups across America continue to push to keep the definition of marriage only one man and one woman. Though it is absolutely no cost to them or their relationship, these conservative Christians are working to continue to deny thousands of homosexual couples the rights heterosexual couples enjoy.
Closer to home, the news isn’t much better.
Metro News reported recently that despite dropping levels of hate crimes in London, not all the news is good:
The bad news is that hate crimes against the LGBT community across the country rose by 10 per cent in 2011 after an increase in 2010 as well.
Local numbers weren’t broken down by race, religion or sexual orientation, but Pride London Festival president Andrew Rossner believes the local LGBT community is still too often the target of abuse.
Far too often the Bible is wielded by ignorant minds and inept hands as a cudgel instead of a message of support and encouragement, and Christians the oppressors instead of allies. In a Metro News article written yesterday on a Pride London event called Ignite Pride (hosted by Aeolian Hall, mirroring other successful events such as Ignite London and Ignite Health), the one commenter chose to quote Romans 1:18 as a Biblical example of why homosexuality is apparently sinful. Pastor and author Mark Sandlin has written the best commentary I’ve read about this kind of misappropriation of scripture, calling such methods “Biblical” gay bashing. I also wrote this post last summer on sexuality and scripture, and why methods like this of lifting text in an attempt to make a point not supported by the entirety of the Bible does a disservice to God and to scripture.
When I marched in the Pride London parade last year, the only mar on an otherwise great day was the clusters of people holding signs along the parade route with scripture similar to Romans 1:18. Unfortunately, so often when I think of Christians, this is what comes to mind: people that worship the same God I do, but (in my mind) doing it so very wrong. What I struggle to accept that we are all part of one broken, splintered and diverse church. And, there are many that are just as unhappy that I’m part of the fold.
What I hope to remember instead as I reflect on my belief and my faith is people like this I met at Pride, instead:
I discovered that day that there are many people that believe like I do, including the directors of a London “Centre for Spiritual Wellness and Exploration”, called Sabbath Place. They conducted a church service in Queen’s Park before the parade got underway on the spirituality of sexuality and on how we are all God’s children. I’m so glad that I happened upon the gathering that day, in doing so I’ve made new friends, and found much needed renewal of my faith.
It also helped me to reconfirm my commitment to the church and the community, something that in writing this I hope to do again. I struggle as I see so many Christians doing what I see as so much damage to the world and each other, but have found that there are others that think as I do, and are willing to remain in the church despite so much pain, knowing that it would be much easier just to leave, knowing what is easy is almost never the right choice.
I know that we need to be the change that we want to see, and that if I were to just turn my back on the church, it would only become even more of what I despise.
And we all have so much we can give to the church, and there is still so much the church can do for the community. Churches continue to be one of the foundations of many communities, supplying counseling, support, encouragement, food and shelter to those that need it most.
This is what I want to focus on as I think of the new church we hope to build. The goal is to create a church founded on community and support, being a relational centre where the members are there for each other, but much more importantly, are there for their community at large. My hope is that I participate in this church by connecting with the community associations in the area and finding ways that we can support each other, while drawing further experience that may assist the Argyle Community Association as well. There are brief moments (including the Awesome London pitch party this week) where I see and feel the power of collaboration and what people can do together when they share experiences and assets to the benefit of all. I hope that as our communities and L0ndoners in general discover their strengths and those of the people around them, these experiences will only grow.
It can be daunting, but it is so important to stand up for what we believe in, and surprisingly community connections can be made when we do. I can’t wait to celebrate Pride London again this year, it is so important to stand up and be seen as an ally, and to celebrate our LGBT brothers and sisters. If you’ve been out to Pride before, I hope that you’ll be there again, and if this is your first time to the event, I especially hope that you’ll come and see what it is about!
Pastors often say that to be truly living a Christ-centred life you need to follow God out of your comfort zone. As a Christian, I feel that it is our duty to give voice to those who are marginalized, to be an ally to those who need support, and to remember that the most clear instruction we receive from Jesus was to love others and love God. If we start looking at the world through the lens of love first, everything else second, it becomes absurd to say my books says you and your partner should have different chromosomes to be together.
Step out of your comfort zone, and love extravagantly. That, to me, is the real purpose of the church.
Over the last couple weeks I’ve been writing this “Overwhelmed” series as I’ve thought about the connections between technology and stress, and reading through William Powers’ book “Hamlet’s BlackBerry: A Practical Philosophy for Building A Good Life in the Digital Age”. As I look back on the series, I continue to explore ways that I can live more meaningfully and peacefully on and offline.
These are some of the areas that Powers covered in his book, and thoughts on how they can be used in our lives. He stressed that what he proposes are just suggestions not prescriptions, and challenges each of us to imagine ways we can be more intentional in our online time, and live our offline lives more fully.
One of the simplest ways (in theory) to detach from technology is to set it down and walk away…but this can be very hard to do in practice. I feel that we’re all becoming very conscious of just how many screens we’re exposed to everyday, and how often we view events now through a screen/lens, our own or someone else’s. In particular, whenever I’m at a concert I feel hyper-aware of all the phones held up, how many people are seeing the celebration before them through the minuscule eye of a recording device…we’re so wrapped up with recording, saving, processing, sharing, declaring “I was here!”, that we may miss what is right before us. I hope that as we learn how to live with our new technologies, we will in time learn to put our devices back in our pockets, and allow ourselves to again be, live to, just in the moment. Our mind, our attention, in the same place at the same time as our bodies.
In the post “Driven to Digital Distraction”, I explored Powers’ observations about old vs. new technologies. One way to be purposeful in our utilization of technology is embracing elements that are offline, including carrying a notepad and pen with us when we want to write, or a camera on an evening stroll instead of a phone that can take pictures. It can often be extremely handy to have an all-in-one device in our pocket, but it also stimulates the mental itch to check e-mail, texts, social media etc. in a time that could be better spent on inner reflection and relaxation. I find it very difficult to put my phone down, but as I’ve worked on this series I’ve tried to make time “off the leash”, free from digital distractions. It has been strangely liberating, and has made me realize just how much my dependence on/obsession with screens has changed my perception, without my even realizing it. It has also been liberating to realize that adapting to new technologies has always been a struggle for humanity, and gives me hope that as our digital life matures, we will find ways to find balance just as our predecessors have.
In the post “Ben’s Example”, I shared Powers’ exploration of the life of Benjamin Franklin, and a method he developed at the age of 20 that he believed helped him become the astounding politician, philosopher and inventor we recognize today. Though it is simple to think “today I’ll put away my phone and go for a walk”, we may find halfway through our stroll that it has still found its way into our pocket. Franklin stressed that we must find the root causes of our compulsions, and work at understanding ourselves to find ways to slowly change for the better. It isn’t an easy road, he warned, but he believed so strongly in his method that he touted “follow the Example & reap the Benefit”. The catch may be, we may need to put down technology and find a time of contemplation, to find ways for us to walk away from our gadgets.
Zones of Solitude
In the post “Home of Refuge”, I shared Powers’ thoughts on philosopher Henry David Thoreau, and his personal experiment of creating a “zone of solitude”, a home in the woods, away from the hectic bustle of town. His thoughts on what constitutes home, and the need for barriers against the pressing chaos of the outside world, can be instructive to us today as we imagine ways to disconnect today. The struggles Thoreau faced are all the more pressing today, as, instead of being connected by telegraph, the walls of in vs. out may almost entirely vanish in a digitally connected home, constantly offering diversions and distractions from all over the world. Today, we may want to create zones in our homes where we intentionally keep screens out (many families work to reduce or remove entirely screen use in bedrooms), or have “screen free” times, which can be hard depending on shifting needs of different family members. Though strictly enforced screen off times may not be welcomed, if time away from devices can be encouraged, it may become a welcome practice in time. The hard part is slowly developing these practices, something I am definitely still working on!
One of our favourite ways of spending time with others is over board games (Settlers of Catan and Power Grid are our new favourites). With the distance often between us, it can be fun to play games like Scrabble online with friends and chat as we play, but there’s nothing like meeting together in a home, sharing food and conversation as we play. For the past few months, we’ve tried to make a Wednesday night games night a ritual with a group of friends. It can be difficult to find the time, and not everyone can always make it, and sometimes the day is shifted in the week to better accommodate everyone.
It takes effort to slice out the time from hectic lives, but we’ve found it extremely worthwhile! Is there a group of people you haven’t seen in a long time? A favourite activity away from devices you haven’t done lately? A social night away from screens might be a great way to bring some calm and fun to the week.
I hope that you’ve found this series interesting! It has been both fun and challenging to write, as it has been on a subject I find fascinating, but has also made me face many of the things bringing me stress, some without me even realizing it. With screens and distractions so readily available, it can be hard to switch off, both externally and internally. This process has helped me contemplate just how much time I spend online, and how little of it is of value…I find I have come to almost continually slide from one window to another, unfocused and retaining little. My goal from this writing and reading isn’t so much to spend less time online, but to regain focus and understanding of what I do take in. As I consider my digital practices, I hope to continue to refine how I connect, and disconnect. I also hope to continue to find ways to live a more intentional life online, and a more meaningful life offline, and that this series has helped point to ways others can too.
From here I’ll return to previous posts on community, about small communities as well as ways we can all connect over common causes and interests across communities. I’ll also be in Kitchener next week at a conference on community and neighbourhoods hosted by the Tamarack Institute, I’m very excited to participate, and share everything I learn there, here.
Next post: Sharing Community
I once read that someday the walls of the typical American kitchen will be constructed of enormous digital screens. The report had a sanguine tone, a perky world-of-tomorrow certitude that this will be a brilliant addition to any modern home.
“How long you figure before we save up and get the fourth wall torn out and a fourth wall-TV put in? It’s only two thousand dollars.” “That’s one-third of my yearly pay.” It’s only two thousand dollars.,” she replied. “And I should think you’d consider me sometimes. If we had a fourth wall, why it’d be just like this room wasn’t ours at all, but all kinds of exotic people’s rooms. We could do without a few things.”
This is another post that somewhat got away from me. I meant to continue talking about “Hamlet’s Blackberry: A Practical Philosophy For Building A Good Life In The Digital Age” by William Powers, and the chapter “The Walden Zone” on Henry David Thoreau and making the home a “zone of solitude”. But something from the chapter got me thinking about Ray Bradbury’s classic “Fahrenheit 451”, and the post took something of a life on its own.
The first quote above is from the opening of Power’s chapter “The Walden Zone”, while the second is a conversation between “fireman” Guy Montag and his wife Mildred in “Fahrenheit 451”.
Powers’ chapter reflects on the work and life of Thoreau, and an experiment he performed by himself as he developed his philosophies of simplicity, living in relative isolation, creating a “zone of solitude” where he by turns lived in quiet contemplation, and in companionship with visitors when he desired them. Thoreau for a time built a place of reflection and relaxation where he carefully measured and examined what truly matters to him, and what can be discarded.
So what is home? Powers offers these definitions:
“Home” means so many things. On the most basic level it’s simply a location, a place where one lives. It’s also the physical structure, the house or apartment that is home. Last, home refers to the environment that is created inside the structure, a world-away-from-the-world offering refuge, safety, and happiness.
He goes on to say that it is this third definition that is sadly lacking in our understanding and appreciation of home now, and how we balance our use of technology, as demonstrated by the quote at the start of this post.
In “Fahrenheit 451”, the main character Guy Montag seems to live his life “thinking little at all about nothing in particular”, working as a “fireman” burning houses instead of saving them, destroying books wherever they are found. It is revealed in time that the firemen are thought to be “protectors of happiness”, keeping things nice and simple by burning down all those inflammatory, angering, grievous words. Thought brings confusion, sadness, anger…unhappiness. Who could want that? In fact, he never even really thinks about all that thoughtlessness, until he chances to meet a young girl named Clarisse after a night of burning.
She tells him all kinds of bewildering things, including the fact that her family often sits long into the night, talking. No TV, no radio, nothing but earnest discussion and sharing. Guy asks if this is healthy, and she admits it has her teachers very worried. Bewildered, he doesn’t know what to think…but he soon realizes that he is thinking. In fact, it feels as if this little girl has quietly thrown a rock through the burnt mask he didn’t even realize he was wearing.
They continue to talk every day when he finishes work. He wonders what she does for fun, she admits sometimes she just watches people, watches all the automaton thoughtless people, and wonders what is to be done. She ends one conversation with:
“I’ve got to go and see my psychiatrist now. They make me go. I make up things to say. I don’t know what he thinks of me…they want to know what I do with all my time. I tell them that sometimes I just sit and think. But I won’t tell them what.”
This is in stark contrast to Guy’s home. The Montag home imagined by Bradbury, multiplied a millionfold across the country, gives a frightening illustration of a possible future, where people obliterate their minds with entertainments, where thought is shunned as dangerous. A thinking person cannot be trusted, a zone of solitude and contemplation to be feared and hated. Thoreau observed in his time:
Surface meets surface. When our life ceases to be inward and private, conversation degenerates into mere gossip…In proportion as our inward life fails, we go more constantly and desperately to the post-office. You may depend on it, that the poor fellow who walks away with the greatest number of letters proud of his extensive correspondence has not heard from himself this long while.
So, what can this teach us about our use of technology today? Ray Bradbury was extremely sceptical of the new technologies developing, to the point of fighting against the publication of his work on eReader devices. Are we to forsake all new technologies? Are we to attempt to disconnect ourselves from the world to regain our sanity?
Thoreau may give a better illustration of a life of balance.
In his experiments, his life was one of seclusion and social in turns, as fit his moods and needs. He learned the value and need both to commune with the self, and to be in and of the greater world, that too much of either could be destructive. Home should be a place both of fun and frivolity and of calm and contemplation; he suggested that with enough room, smaller “zones” could be built, perhaps on a spectrum of calm to chaos. Home should be able to accompany places of being together, and places where we can be truly on out own and “ourselves”, and discover what being our self means.
It’s easy to be continually distracted, to move feverishly from one thing to another. It seems it has always been a feature of humanity, and the ability to be constantly connected furthers this fever. With a phone always in our pocket, with a computer or mobile device always near at hand, the world always beckons, and the refuge of home doesn’t exist.
Why are we so eager to be connected?
Bradbury shows us the consequences of thinking. As we read and contemplate only in the world of our own imagining, we may find a frightening place. In this solitude, thoughts and questions will come to us to be considered as the noise and confusion of the outside world falls away, questions and wonderings of meaning, the hows and whys of our existence. In the silence, the big questions press close.
Thoreau teaches us that it is important to have times of social and digital connection and disconnection, and to be very intentional in how we do both. Perhaps in incorporating Benjamin Franklin’s example into our lives, we can learn more about ourselves, who we truly are, and what drives our needs. Once we know ourselves, we can understand why we are so hungry to connect, and find a natural rhythm for our lives, alternating from the internal to external worlds and back for our health and happiness.
On my next post, I’ll explore everything covered in this series, and seek to find practical ways to disconnected from the digital world and reconnect with ourselves and the things that matter most, the things that may be slipping away from us.
Next post: Beyond Overwhelmed
As I delve deeper into the conundrum of what it means to live in this perpetually connected digital world, I’ve come to a point in the book “Hamlet’s Blackberry: A Practical Philosophy For Building A Good Life In The Digital Age” where author William Powers describes how the personal regimen of one man in the 18th century can teach us valuable lessons for mastering our 21st century life.
That man is Benjamin Franklin, one of the founding fathers of the United States, as well as being one of a few truly outstanding polymaths, excelling in many fields including politics, science, invention, music, civil activism, statesmanship and diplomacy.
He was a deeply social and active person, so much so that one of his early writing pseudonyms was “Busy-Body”. He was constantly on the move, thinking, reading and connecting…Powers says that Franklin was a master of “doing the eighteenth-century equivalent of social networking”. Everyone that observed him saw that he was a man going places…but it wasn’t until he had a moment of profound “disconnection” that he realized he didn’t known where that place was.
At the age of 20, Benjamin Franklin voyaged from London, England to Philadelphia, leaving him with a great deal of time for philosophical soul-searching, of his life so far, and where he wanted to go. This is an excerpt of his journal from the travel:
Man is a sociable being, and it is…one of the worst punishments to be excluded from society. I have read abundance of fine things on the subject of solitude, and I know ’tis a common boast in the mouths of those that affect to be thought wise, that they are never less alone than when alone. I acknowledge solitude an agreeable refreshment to a busy mind; but were these thinking people obliged to be always alone, I am apt to think they would quickly find their very being insupportable to them.
Despite this, Franklin reflected in his voyage that too many things in his life weren’t going at all the way he wanted. He was pulled in too many directions, and far too busy to properly put his life in order. Despite our hectic lives often seeming to be a very new, digital age phenomenon, Franklin’s writings give us a stark reminder that this type of busyness and “quiet desperation” (next post will examine the life and work of Henry David Thoreau) have always been with us.
From these reflections, he built a philosophy and personal regimen that he attributed to building the man he would become.
Seeing Franklin’s teachings and his own personal struggles in a rapidly expanding and connecting world gives me hope for us. How simultaneously empowering and frightening it is to consider that we are really all the same people! As much as we like to distance ourselves from many of the murky chapters of human history, I find it reassuring to know that there is so much already lived and written behind us to draw from in our own often torturous lives.
I found Franklin’s teachings as shared by Powers deeply interesting, both as a period study, as well as a broader examination of human nature. Take a minute to consider these 13 virtues he developed at the age of 20, and how it can inform us today:
- Temperance: Eat not to Dullness. Drink not to Elevation.
- Silence: Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself. Avoid trifling Conversation.
- Order: Let all your Things have their Places. Let each Part of your Business have its Time.
- Resolution: Resolve to perform what you ought. Perform without fail what you resolve.
- Frugality: Make no Expense but to do good to others or yourself i.e. Waste nothing.
- Industry: Lose no Time. Be always employ’d in something useful. Cut off all unnecessary Actions.
- Sincerity: Use no hurtful Deceit. Think innocently and justly; and, if you speak, speak accordingly.
- Justice: Wrong none, by doing Injuries or omitting the Benefits that are your Duty.
- Moderation: Avoid Extremes. Forbear resenting Injuries so much as you think they deserve.
- Cleanliness: Tolerate no Uncleanliness in Body, Clothes or Habitation.
- Tranquillity: Be not disturbed at Trifles, or at Accidents common or unavoidable.
- Chastity: Rarely use Venery but for Health or Offspring; Never to Dullness, Weakness, or the Injury of your own or another’s Peace or Reputation.
- Humility: Imitate Jesus and Socrates.
With some small modifications and updating of language, it can be easy to image how these goals could speak to us here in the 21st century. Franklin was confident that with discipline, anyone could follow his philosophy, so much so that he exhorted his readers “follow the Example & reap the Benefit”.
One of the things that I hadn’t considered on first reading that Powers points out is that, though the wording is austere, the goals are positive aspects to work towards, noting as one example “who doesn’t want tranquillity?” Instead of things like “The No Ice Cream or Any Other Goodies Diet”, he gives 13 targets to aim towards (noting in writings that he never comes near to the centre of any of them, but that it is the effort that is rewarding).
It has a great deal to do with attitude, as well. Franklin apparently moved through life and his philosophy in an easy and affable manner, not becoming undone by each failure to live up to these massive ideals, but in quiet congratulation and good humour with each success.
Powers also notes that the power in Benjamin Franklin’s example and challenge is not an easy path to walk, but can be truly transformational…in fact, that is the reason the path isn’t easy to walk. We want to change for the better, and talk about transformative experiences at great length, but how many of us truly want to experience it?
I’m not so sure I do. Not really.
But if we find the courage to work at it, we may be astounded by the results.
To push back against the seeming onslaught of activity and information in our hectically connected lives, many groups (including families, companies and organizations) have tried to enforce e-mail/digital device free time. However, this puts only external pressure on us, instead of enticing us to discover what it is that drives us, and to through personal examination and reflection to reshape ourselves.
This is something I hope to continue to reflect on and practice as I write this series. My first thoughts on this is a goal to reawaken my appreciating and enjoyment of simple pleasures – though sad that it takes such concentration to do. As I move through this process, I realize that many things I used to enjoy are done without the pleasure I used to feel. I realize that, though my desires and passions haven’t changed, I am always thinking on things I feel I should be doing, and often, that the mental itch of social media and online activity are distracting me from the physical present and the now.
How simple it can be to say “cherish life”, but realizing, with the haste of everything that life can entail, how little we actually do it. I hope that we can each, in small steps, recapture our lives, our meaning and ourselves. As we do this, it will empower us to step out into the digital world refreshed, rejuvenated, and more able to enjoy it as a tool and not as something that controls us.
In my next post, I’ll examine the example of Henry David Thoreau and building a zone of solitude in our homes.
Next post: Overwhelmed – Home of Refuge
In my previous posts, I explored feelings I’ve been struggling with, and the conundrum of what it means to live in this perpetually connected digital world. I also began exploring the book “Hamlet’s Blackberry: A Practical Philosophy For Building A Good Life In The Digital Age” by William Powers.
As I dig deeper into his book, I hope to learn more about his ideas about how to find balance, and find a better understanding for myself, of how to live a satisfying and fulfilling life in the age of globalization, as well as how it is already shaping and informing our cultures.
As I consider this subject, I reflected on all the different stories from the last couple decades that explore these themes. When the concept of cyberspace was still in its infancy, many (especially science fiction) writers explored what nature it may take, and the ramifications it may have for us. Michael Creighton explored these themes in many of his books, even slipping some philosophical ranting through the character Ian Malcolm in his popular books Jurassic Park and The Lost World. As we have become immersed in the reality of digital, global connection, academic work as well as fictional musings have only expanded. One instance is the anime Serial Experiments Lain, which centres on the exploration of the intersections of digital communication with personal identity and our understandings of reality.
In his book, Powers argues that though the present challenges of instant communication and constant gratification and communication of online interaction is unprecedented, the general problems and opportunities presented are not new to us. In fact, he argues that there are important lessons that can be learned through human history that can give guidance to a good life in our world today.
From the title of the book, “Hamlet’s BlackBerry”, he presents a fascinating anachronism, the thought of Shakespeare’s antihero holding a modern mobile device. But, he argues, Hamlet actually depended on the equivalent of his time, a device I hadn’t heard of.
He points to this text from Hamlet, Act I, Scene IV, after Hamlet has spoken to the ghost of his father. The ghost of King Hamlet Senior exposes the truth of his death, from supposed poisoning by a bite, to having been murdered by his brother, Hamlet’s uncle Claudius, and the new king. Hamlet slips into soliloquy after his father’s ghost fades away, saying:
Ay, thou poor ghost, while memory holds a seat
In this distracted globe. Remember thee!
Yea, from the table of my memory
I’ll wipe away all trivial fond records,
All saws of books, all forms, all pressures past,
That youth and observation copied there;
And thy commandment all alone shall live
Within the book and volume of my brain,
Unmix’d with baser matter:
First, Hamlet mentions the “distracted globe”, probably a triple-entendre on his own distracted mind, perhaps a world that is in its entirety distracted, and making a clever jab at the audience seeing the play performed in the Globe Theatre, whose minds by this time may have been wandering. Though this sense of being overwhelmed may seem to me and to us to be a modern situation and struggle, it may be that the bustle and clamour of Shakespeare’s London may have been just as trying!
But the part that Powers really wants to focus on is the table, also called a “writing table” or “table book”, basically the precursor to the modern notebook/tablet. These earlier notebooks used a coated parchment or paper, marked with a metal stylus, and could be later blotted out with a sponge to be used again. So in Hamlet’s speech, he thinks of his mind as a singular tome cluttered with meaningless trivia, scattered and unfocused, where everything except the knowledge of the “murder most foul” of his father must be wiped out.
Powers talks at length about how many people of Shakespearian England, and perhaps Shakespeare himself, relied on a table book to keep their helter-skelter lives in order. A common practice would be to have this impermanent object always close at hand, and to have a heavier journal kept at home. At the end of the day, the scribbles and notes of the day could be gone over again, carefully weighed and judged, and everything of value could be copied into the permanent journal, before the table was wiped clean. This practice could be an important time of introspection and examination of the busy days behind and ahead.
So in the same way, we may actually use our phones and mobile devices in this way, and bend the new technology to an old practice. But Powers notes that many (including himself) prefer an old paper-and-binding notepad for his notation. It could be simply nostalgia, he notes, but he thinks it goes far deeper. This is how he says it:
In conventional thinking about technology today, the fact that paper is a three-dimensional medium – that it’s made of atoms rather than bits and therefore takes up space – is considered its greatest weakness. Like you and me, it has a body and is stuck here in the physical world. My notebook can’t fly from here to China in seconds the way digital data can. However, just as the strength of digital devices (their ability to bring the crowd closer) is also their weakness, the weakness of paper can also be its strength.
As I took down notes as I read in a coffee shop, I found myself nodding along. I actually faced this conundrum, as I found myself transcribing notes onto my phone, my hand aching for the pen and paper I hadn’t thought to bring with me. The phone notebook is of course handy, but one of the major flaws I found was the alerts popping along the margins as I wrote and read, online messages vying against the quiet sounds of coffee poured and conversations around me. The alerts meant people reaching to contact me in a different medium than the world around me – these can be pleasant, but it can also be mentally taxing.
I found the format of the digital notepad interesting as I contemplated it from this new perspective. Though it exists in bits of code, the background looks like a yellow notepad found in every stationary store, the default font choice mimicking handwriting, to give it a seemingly personal quality. Phone keyboard sounds often come with the option of sounding like the harsh clack of a typewriter, many device covers are available that look like the pebbled and worn surfaces of a favourite leather notebook. And so on. Almost as if chosen to try to make the transition easier, warmer, more tangible, more personal.
So one of the first strategies may be simply to devise ways to disconnect as we reflect and write. This is obviously something I struggle with, and seems oddly ironic to say from an online blog, and as many of my favourite authors write blogs that I follow. However, it is good to have down time for personal reflection, contemplation and meditation, on ourselves as well as the information we take in.
Like all things, it is much easier to say than to do.
Powers reflects that we cannot cut ourselves off “cold turkey” from our digital dependencies and expect the results to go well. But he holds up the example of one exceptional man that created a personal method to reshape his nature, and create a pleasurable and productive life for himself, to astounding results. I’ll share his thoughts in my next post, and reflect on how this man’s method can inform us today in the digital age.
In my previous post, I explored feelings that I’ve been struggling with, and the conundrum of what it means to live in this perpetually connected digital world. I also began exploring the book “Hamlet’s Blackberry: A Practical Philosophy For Building A Good Life In The Digital Age” by William Powers. I hope to continue writing about how we can easily become overwhelmed with technology and living a life continually connected, but as I started to write, I ended up with what is something of an aside – this post.
In my last post, I said that it is a brave new world for us as we become more deeply connected through a variety of technologies, with more seemingly developed everyday. In some ways, it is also starting to resemble something from George Orwell’s “1984”. The Wall Street Journal recently shared this image (click for an expanded version):
All of our online activity is tracked, recorded, mined, harvested, aggregated, compiled, analysed, bought and sold. All of this information is immeasurably valuable for advertisers and marketers, as they work to understand their target markers in an increasingly competitive and tough economic environment. All of our activity can provide valuable insight into our wants and needs, desires and dreams. Not only does it give impressions of our singular activities, but tracked over time, our digital and physical movements can provide better understandings of what drives us over a period of time. Aggregated together with everyone around us, this can paint quite a picture of our collective nature.
This information could be used for a multitude of purposes. This information is gathered at great expense so that we can more cunningly be advertised and marketed to, but it could also be utilized by planners, sociologists, psychologists, demographers, cartographers etc. to better understand our communities, societies, and ourselves. The potential for us all to gain understanding from this information is immense.
One thing I take from all of this is a certain sense of irony, that our Conservative government abolished the mandatory long form census, as it is too “invasive”. Even as private companies mine and harvest everything we do, gaining much more intimate information from us through the services they provide us. Even as government steps back, making it more difficult to provide services we pay a great deal of taxes for efficiently and effectively, private companies step forward to fill the void.
This is something we should all be conscious of, but I think we find much easier not to consider, as it is often joined with a sense of helplessness. Either we connect and provide aggregate data for companies, or cut ourselves from the services that we depend on. From an information science perspective, I find it very fascinating to have our physical and digital presences twinned and inspected, that a more complete picture of our existence can be mapped. For many, this kind of analysis can be very unnerving.
As I continue this series I’ll cover some of the highlights of William Powers’ book, starting with his explanation of “Hamlet’s BlackBerry”, and also write about some strategies I’ve found as I work through finding balance between online and offline time.
In 2005, Canada enacted the Civil Marriage Act, legalizing same-sex marriage. This was the final step in a debate that slowly swept through the provinces, with some provinces recognizing same-sex marriage as early as 2001. Through the long battle towards marriage equality here, lines were drawn between politicians and religious groups on either side of a seemingly impassable void. The agreement that was eventually struck was that civil marriages were legally available to both same- and opposite-sex couples, but religious institutions continue to have the choice to perform or not perform marriages, as per their individual beliefs. But even then the law was still in jeopardy, as several Conservative motions in the House of Commons sought to re-open the debate, until Prime Minister Stephen Harper vowed the case was closed.
Now in 2013, the United States are facing a similar decision. The Supreme Court of the United States is now addressing the constitutional legality of the 1996 law DOMA, Defence of Marriage Act, which codifies the non-recognition of same-sex marriages, restricting legally recognized marriages to being only between people of opposite sex. Many groups in the States argue this law intrudes on the lawful ability of individual states to recognize same-sex marriage, a view that some of the federal justices seem to share. There is growing excitement both in the States and as people watch from around the world, as this law may be overturned, potentially opening the floodgates to marriage equality in the United States.
But 2013 finds the States still bitterly divided over this issue, with more optimistic polls showing support for same-sex marriage slightly above 50%; although this number is less than encouraging to Canadians that see support levels closer to 80-90%, it is still a massive shift in American beliefs. As it was here, it is conservative religious and political groups leading the charge against same-sex marriage, with arguments including the belief that homosexuality is a sinful lifestyle choice that the rest of society shouldn’t have to tolerate, and is in fact destructive to society. On the other side, people in support of same-sex marriage tend to believe it is a legal issue, not a religious one, and that allowing same-sex marriage is an important step in ensuring true equality for all.
And in the middle of it all, many of the bitter battles of words and actions are waged by Christians on both side of the issue. This is something I struggle with deeply, and find myself wondering about as I examine this extraordinarily complex issue.
How do we meet others in this debate in a respectful and considerate way?
How do we discuss with others, when our views seem so completely at odds?
How do we meet in tolerance? Do we have to tolerate intolerance?
How we face this challenge in a Christian way is deeply challenging, though to me, the right choice is astoundingly simple. With a balance of scientific and scriptural study, I believe that Christians are called to walk with our LGBT brothers and sisters, and struggle with them towards marriage equality.
All reputable psychological associations, based on rigorous research across numerous disciplines, teach that sexuality is not a choice. In all the research I found, the organizations confirm that one cannot to choose their sexuality (while stressing sexual behaviour is the person’s individual choice). Britain’s Royal College of Psychiatrists states:
Despite almost a century of psychoanalytic and psychological speculation, there is no substantive evidence to support the suggestion that the nature of parenting or early childhood experiences play any role in the formation of a person’s fundamental heterosexual or homosexual orientation. It would appear that sexual orientation is biological in nature, determined by a complex interplay of genetic factors and the early uterine environment. Sexual orientation is therefore not a choice, though sexual behaviour clearly is. Thus LGB people have exactly the same rights and responsibilities concerning the expression of their sexuality as heterosexual people.
As well, because sexuality is not a choice and therefore an ingrained part of who a person is, it is unhealthy to encourage/allow practices that try to “change” one’s sexuality. They argue that it cannot be done, and only damages the person to be “changed”, as sexuality is not a “problem” to be “fixed”. The American Psychological Association, the most respected and relied upon psychological association in the world, states [emphasis mine]:
All major national mental health organizations have officially expressed concerns about therapies promoted to modify sexual orientation. To date, there has been no scientifically adequate research to show that therapy aimed at changing sexual orientation (sometimes called reparative or conversion therapy) is safe or effective. Furthermore, it seems likely that the promotion of change therapies reinforces stereotypes and contributes to a negative climate for lesbian, gay, and bisexual persons. This appears to be especially likely for lesbian, gay, and bisexual individuals who grow up in more conservative religious settings.
This leads to the issue of what Christians and the Bible have to say about sexuality and sin. I also believe through critical and thorough reading of the Bible that one’s sexuality isn’t a sin, Christians should support same sex marriage. I find it abhorrent that the Holy Word of God, our God of mercy and compassion, is used out of context to prop up brittle arguments to restrict what should be a right. There are few enough passages that address homosexuality, written in a time when the word has little to no bearing on the meaning today. Above all, the message that speaks to my heart, that I believe should compel every Christian to support our LGBT brothers and sisters, is the Greatest Commandment:
“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength’. The second is this: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”
This takes us back to – how do we face this difficult issue in a Christ-like way?
I think it starts with open hearts, and compassionate dialogue. We should prayerfully consider what exactly it is that we believe, and meet others in a place where we can truly talk it over, and learn and consider exactly where their heart directs them. You may be very surprised where it is, and hopefully the conversation can be one of mutual enlightenment.
One of the most powerful conversations I had about same-sex marriage was with one of our pastors, someone I deeply respect and admire. I found out that our views are very different about same-sex marriage, but I believe we both left with a better understanding of the issue, and a greater respect for each other. If nothing else, by knowledge of the depth of thought and feeling we’ve each poured into it.
I expressed many of the thoughts written here, while he told me that he has prayed and thought and read over same-sex marriage for many years, and has been deeply saddened and wounded by actions of many in the global church towards the LGBT community, but also very wounded that many have assumed the worst of him because he doesn’t think the church should perform same-sex marriages. Through his scholarship and work in the church, he believes that Jesus called on only one man and one woman to be wed; I obviously disagree, but I hope that I have gained better understanding as we talked, and that I may have planted even a small seed of further consideration in his heart.
In the very end, this is an issue of marriage rights, legal and not religious. Marriage is a legal right before a religious one, and I believe that every consenting adult couple should have the ability to wed, to share a life together, and not be restricted from the legal rights heterosexual couples enjoy, and far too often, take for granted. No one should be restricted from what should be their right by their chromosomes, an issue I am honestly amazed still exists in 2013. I believe religious institutions should perform same-sex marriages as expressions of love and devotion, but it is their right not to. It should not be their right to influence the legality of the marriage. We are not theocracies.
But regardless of what I believe, this debate is largely a bitter battle between Christians as it continues to unfold, and will likely continue to long after the legal debate is settled. As we approach Easter, and spiritually approach the cross, how can we face each other, and accept both Christ and the global church into our hearts?
We must follow Christ’s divine example, and reach out with compassion, grace, and understanding.