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Friday, March 25, 2011

But Fear Itself

Franklin D. RooseveltCover of Franklin D. RooseveltI saw a cartoon in our local newspaper this morning.  The frame was divided in two;  on one side it had a drawing of the familiar Star Trek ship Enterprise with the words "What we envisioned future travel would look like."  On the other side, it said "What it's going to look like." with a drawing of a plane passenger going through security down to his shorts and a burly female security person yelling "Take off your shorts!!"

Since the events of 9/11, we in the western world have become more and more obsessed with security, imagining that if we build a better body scanner or a higher fence, somehow we will be more protected.  The craziness we have to experience going through security at an airport these days has become ridiculous.  At Laguardia airport on our family's return trip from New York a couple of years ago, there was a particularly cranky security guy yelling at the passenger ahead of me about his laptop.  I couldn't understand what the guard was saying, and when it came my turn, he scowled the same thing at me.  I froze, he had a southern accent and my ear just couldn't grasp the words...my daughter whispered in my ear "He wants you to take the laptop OUT of the bag!"  and I managed to do what he demanded before I got into more trouble.  He scowled again at me as I passed him.  Why should anyone have that kind of miserable power over anyone?  And yet, I wouldn't have dared confront him...who knows what kind of trouble that would have brought me.

And on my recent return trip from Maui, I was pull out of line by a security officer who wanted to wipe my hands with something.  I realized they were checking for explosives and the wipe was to detect chemicals on my hands.  I guess  he picked me because I didn't look suspicious enough?  After that it was off with the shoes, remove your outer clothing, walk through the scanner or have someone scan your body with that Star Wars wand.  Or, worse yet, someone will feel you up physically, and by the time you get on the plane, you feel dirty enough to want to take a shower.  And this is all for what?

The truth is that there will never be enough security for some people.  I have a family member who bolts her front door twice, each time she comes in or out, even when she's just bringing out her garbage.  She cuts her return address off all mailing envelopes she recycles, and tells me I should never get a vanity license plate for my car because "they'll be able to find you!"  She's elderly, so I imagine that has a lot to do with it.  But for somebody like that, the world is a scary place and anyone you don't know could be out to get you.  Maybe I'll feel the same way when I'm her age, but I hope not.

Maybe part of the problem is that we watch or listen to or read too much news, or we pay too much attention to "experts" who usually have some vested interest in scaring the bejesus out of us.  But ultimately, fear is something we do to ourselves.

The recent earthquake in Japan did a lot to invoke fear, especially for those of us living here on the west coast of North America.  First of all, there was the fear of a tsunami here, although it never really manifested.  Secondly, we watched the same loops of video over and over of the disastrous effects of not only the earthquake, but the resulting tsunami there in Japan, knowing full well it can and will happen here one of these days.  And then it was the fear of radiation spewing from the Fukushima nuclear power plant.  On the local news here, they were interviewing people on the street who had already bought a supply of iodine tablets!  Worrying about the possibility of heightened radiation levels I can understand.  Some of us still have visions and memories of Chernobyl and Three Mile Island.  But to be running about buying iodine tablets, seems to me, another sign of out of control fear and fear mongering.

I understand fear very well.  It is not rational and it can be all consuming.  And we certainly don't want to stick our heads in the sand when it comes to the realities around us, like madmen who want to kill all westerners and living close to fault lines in the earth's crust.  But let's do a little self-check and make sure we are not allowing fear to rule our daily existence.  What is the point and even the usefulness of that?  It simply leads to many nights of sleeplessness and days of bizarre behaviour.

One of the most famous lines came from Franklin D. Roosevelt (and often mistakenly attributed to Churchill) in his first inaugural address is  "So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself---nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance".   And here are some other good and hopeful quotes regarding fear, some of them from those who knew a lot about the topic!

  • Fear is the lengthened shadow of ignorance.  ~Arnold Glasow
  • To fear is one thing.  To let fear grab you by the tail and swing you around is another.  ~Katherine Paterson, Jacob Have I Loved
  • To conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom.  ~Bertrand Russell
  • Fear cannot take what you do not give it.  ~Christopher Coan
  • A cheerful frame of mind, reinforced by relaxation... is the medicine that puts all ghosts of fear on the run.  ~George Matthew Adams  
  • Fear makes the wolf bigger than he is.  ~German Proverb
  • Feed your faith and your fears will starve to death.  ~Author Unknown 
  • You block your dream when you allow your fear to grow bigger than your faith.  ~Mary Manin Morrissey
  • We must build dikes of courage to hold back the flood of fear ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.
So let's take a little time to remember that we don't have to allow fear to rule us all day, every day.  Take a moment to be in the "now" and remember everything that is good in your life!

IJ
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Friday, March 11, 2011

"Hello, How Are You Today?"


I had a most interesting phone conversation today, but for the life of me, I can't remember most of it.  It's not that the guy on the other end didn't try;  in fact, he tried too hard really.  He went on for 20 minutes, almost straight through, making points for his cause.  He was from a charitable organization, one that I used to send regular monthly contributions to.  I won't say what the organization is, because that's not the point.

For a number of years I supported this organization until I gradually began to feel less comfortable with it;  maybe I changed, maybe they did.  For the last two years that I supported it, I was rather resentful of the money I was giving them every month.  Now it's not that I sent a whole lot; it was minimal, really.  But I began to feel that I was wasting my money supporting something I was not 100% behind.  Finally, when I had to close a bank account for another reason, I used that opportunity to stop sending them cheques.  And of course, at first they did their utmost to convince me to continue.

And that became a problem.

I understand that charities and organizations who depend on the general public's generosity struggle a great deal with the financial aspect.  I recognize that it's not an easy job finding ways to convince people to send more money, or to send money at all.  A lot of them are proud of the fact when they have no government or corporate funding (as this fellow pronounced to me today), and do it all themselves.  And it's not easy.

But when they continue to call, or send emails or monthly newsletters as if I had a subscription...but ESPECIALLY when they continue to call...they are driving me even further away.  Not only that, but they are spending an awful lot of time and paper, and therefore that money that is so precious to them, on somebody who really is not interested.  Maybe there should be a "best before" date beside the names on their lists.  If the person they're calling doesn't change their mind within, say, three or four calls, give it a rest.  And stop sending newsletters that only get immediately thrown in the recycling box.

For the last 3 years, I have had continuous newsletters and phone calls from them.  And what struck me interesting about this conversation today was that this fellow really knew his stuff.  He could discuss issues here where I live (he was calling from across the country), and around the world in many areas of interest.  He knew histories of all kinds of problems, and, according to his monologue, he had actually been to many of these countries himself and witnessed all that he was speaking about.  He was a smart, intelligent man, well spoken and not the least bit provocative in a negative way.  And when he finally took a breath, I had a chance to say that I was no longer interested and had not been interested since I had stopped my payments several years ago, and could he kindly take my name off his list?

He said of course that could be done, and then he did the obvious thing;  he asked me why I had stopped my support in the first place.  So I told him why.  Whereupon he began again to tell me why I shouldn't feel that way.  And the conversation (or should I say monologue) picked up fervor again as he began to list all of the accomplishments, behind the scenes virtues and triumphs of said organization.  I felt myself "um-hmm"ing all over again for another ten minutes.  At one point he was speaking so much and so quickly, that he choked and coughed.

Finally, I was able to get a question in.  "How old are you?"  I asked him.  I knew I'd thrown him and that's what I needed to do.  "Um...I'm forty." he said.  "Oh, you sound younger." I took my opportunity to continue.

"You're obviously a very intelligent and well spoken person and (insert name of organization) is lucky to have you.  But I'm finished listening, so I'm going to have to hang up now."  And with that, we ended the conversation.  By this time I was actually feeling a bit of a headache coming on.  I swear that as much as he told me in that 20-25 minutes, much of it I didn't hear because I was spending a lot of the time trying to figure out how I was going to stop him without being rude.  That's something a lot of these callers depend on;  your politeness.  So everything he told me, was in fact, falling on deaf ears.  Was it worth the effort?

I'd guess they'll tell you that it is worth it, because if they can convince one person to part with their money...well, you know the rest.  Sometimes these people treat their causes like religion;  they believe in it so much that they spend all of their time and energy trying to convert everyone else around them, like religious fanatics.  And I don't know what the answer is when it comes to how they can solicit funds without turning people off.

But it'll be interesting to see if they ever call again.  And if they do, THEN what do I do??

IJ

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Old and Forgotten

Did you see Steve Jobs gleefully announcing the arrival of the second generation of iPad the other day?  Okay, maybe he wasn't quite gleeful...he does look terribly sick.  But I digress.

I love technology, I use it all the time.  But there are still a lot of people in the world who either don't have access or simply are not tech savvy.  Lots of them.  Including my Dad.

Now my Dad has never been very good at dealing with anything mechanical...it shocked me to find out that during World War II, my Dad, who was in the service, was in charge of checking the instrument panel of the airplanes they were testing at the base he was stationed at.  I'm sure the people in charge could NOT have known how tech-tarded my Dad actually was.  Okay, they didn't have that term back then, but you know what I mean.

My Dad is almost 89 and has Alzheimers, and he lives in a care facility.  Since I live in another city, my only means of communicating with him in between visits these days is an everyday, ordinary land line.  A phone, as they used to call them.  I am the one who calls him because he would have no way of remembering my number anymore, and it gives me comfort to hear his voice even if we don't talk much or for very long.

I had to move my Dad to another room in the same facility the other week.  They only give you one or two days' notice that the new room is available, so you have to jump on it or give it up to someone else.  When I had him all moved in, I called our local phone company, Telus, to change his land line to the new room.  Of course, I realized that there would probably be a delay and I figured I could live with that.  As it turned out, it was going to be a whole week before they could get a technician out to connect his line.  Why they needed a technician, I don't know.  There was a phone jack in the room already...but I decided, okay, we'll wait for the week.

When the day that his phone was supposed to be connected came and went and I still got an automated "This number is not in service", I called the phone company again.  Well, the technician went out there, they said, but he was told that there was no one there by that name.  Because the bill is sent to me, the tech asked for me, and not my father, even though I explained all of that when I orginally called to set it up.  So nobody did anything about it, and the technician left without doing anything.  I explained again to the customer service person I was talking to, that the bill was in my name but the phone was at my father's room in a care facility.  They passed me back and forth a couple of times, and finally a customer service representative typed out a new request for a technician.  "Is next Thursday alright with you?" he asked me.  Another whole week before they could get someone out there again??  I was getting mad.  "Another whole week?  Is there any way you can make it sooner?  My Dad has already been without a phone for a week and this is his only way to communicate with his family."  There wasn't even an ounce of sympathy in the guy's voice.  "No, next Thursday is the first available time."

Okay, so one land line for one old man doesn't mean much to anybody, I get it.  Phone companies are more interested in their cell phone sales and their big corporate contracts.  A story on the news recently was about the $37,000 bill that one Telus mobility customer received when she went to Africa and used her iPhone, thinking that she had paid for extra coverage there.  That made the news, but one old man without a land line won't.  I wrote out an angry letter to Telus because there was no email address to complain to, and at the end of the letter I pointed out that by the time this SNAIL MAIL letter got to them, my father would still be without a phone.

Actually, my father and other elderly members of both sides of my family are lucky.  They have people who care about them and make sure they have what they need as they get older and have more difficulty taking care of themselves.  But there are a lot of elderly people out there who are not so lucky, who are put away or kept in terrible conditions.  For example, in a story that came out recently in Toronto, an elderly woman was found unconscious and unresponsive in a basement with NO HEAT in the dead of winter, kept there by her son and daughter-in-law.  How can ANY human being do that to another, especially family??  Elder abuse can happen to anybody, even someone as famous as 90-year-old Mickey Rooney, who recently sat in front of Congress explaining the abuse he received at the hands of his wife and stepson over several years.

And of course these extreme cases make the news, but I think what is even more insidious is the fact that our society as a whole doesn't have much time or inclination to respond to or even think of the elderly.  Oh, except the scam artists of course.  Yes, old people are really popular with these predators who are trying to scam them out of what little money they have.  I've heard two stories recently from people I know whose older family members were the victims of a scam.  If I could have just two minutes with one of those scam artists, they'd...well, let's just say they'd never be the same again.

Most of us are going to be there one day...at or close to the point where we can't take care of ourselves anymore.  Hopefully someone will be there to look out for us, but in the meantime I think we can do a heck of a lot more to take care of the ones who so abley took care of us.  If you see and older person somewhere someday who needs a little help crossing the street or picking out some fruit in the grocery store, jump in and say hello.  It'll make their day, and yours too :-)

IJ

...just in case you were visualizing all 88+ year-olds as being helpless and ineffective, watch this: