Looking At It All

I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hate and prejudice so stubbornly
is they sense that once hate is gone they will be forced to deal with their own pain

James Baldwin

These days I don’t sense any prejudice in me.  Thirty years ago, however, I lived in Lethbridge, Alberta, near Canada’s largest Indian reserve.  (That’s what we called them back then.  Today they are appropriately referred to as First Nation reserves.)  Galt Gardens, our downtown park, was often well populated with “drunken Indians”, and my dislike of them hung on me like a stink.  I considered myself a humane fellow … but I made exceptions.

What I didn’t get at the time was that I too was addicted.  Not to alcohol or drugs, but to nose drops.  A squeeze bottle of Otrivin was essential equipment in my daily life.  A spray would open up my nasal passages briefly but would soon close them again.  I had a problem, one that I was essentially numb to.  “Carry on happily, Bruce.”

For perhaps ten years in the early 2000’s, I was addicted to sleeping pills.  As a teacher, I’d had many sleepless Sunday nights.  My doctor suggested that I add a second brand of sleeping pill for awhile.  I agreed, and soldiered on, taking three pills every night.  I didn’t realize that my mental dullness was impacting life at work and at home with Jody.  I eventually woke up, so to speak, and began a long weaning off the meds – one half of a pill less every month.

Although my prejudice against aboriginal folks declined over the years (and I don’t see any now), I look back and wonder whether it would have been there so strongly if I had been willing to look myself in the mirror and tell the truth – about nose drops, about lying to people when I was too sacred to tell the truth, about standing a girl up on a date …  I could go on.

During the last year, one reality about being a Zoom host presented itself.  I wasn’t very good at it.  The difference was that finally I could look my deficit in the eye.  “This is true, and I can improve.”  Which I’ve done.

There will be more moments of falling short, of not getting the job done.  I promise to go to the mirror … and to nod.  “This is what’s true right now.  It won’t be forever, but it is now.”

Speaking Truth To Power



Trump: We have won this election in Georgia based on all of this.  And there’s nothing wrong with saying that, Brad.  You know, I mean, having the correct – the people of Georgia are angry.  And these numbers are going to be repeated on Monday night.  Along with others that we’re going to have by that time, which are much more substantial even.  And the people of Georgia are angry, the people of the country are angry.  And there’s nothing wrong with saying that, you know, that you’ve recalculated.  Because the 2,236 in absentee ballots.  I mean, they’re all exact numbers that were done by accounting firms, law firms, etc.  And even if you cut ’em in half, cut ’em in half and cut ’em in half again, it’s more votes than we need.

Raffensperger: Well, Mr. President, the challenge that you have is the data you have is wrong.


Trump: Big Tech is on your side, you know.  I don’t even know why you have a side because you should want to have an accurate election.  And you’re a Republican.

Raffensperger: We believe that we do have an accurate election.

Trump: No, no you don’t.  No, no you don’t.  You don’t have.  Not even close.  You’re off by hundreds of thousands of votes.


Honesty is the rarest commodity in the 21st century.  No one looks to the political class or journalists for truth these days.  The average Joe seems to spend most of their time peddling a ludicrous, flawless Facebook version of their lives.  The peer pressure of political correctness forgoes truth for the sake of groupthink.  It seems that comedians and writers represent the last bastion of candour out there today.  (Stewart Stafford)

To say nothing is saying something.  You must denounce things you are against or one might believe that you support things you really do not.  (Germany Kent)

Nothing strengthens authority so much as silence.  (Leonardo da Vinci)

I have come to believe over and over again that what is most important to me must be spoken, made verbal and shared, even at the risk of having it bruised or misunderstood.  (Audre Lorde)

You should never let your fears prevent you from doing what you know is right.  (Aung San Suu Kyi)

In a room where people unanimously maintain a conspiracy of silence, one word of truth sounds like a pistol shot.  (Czesław Miłosz)

Silence becomes cowardice when occasion demands speaking out the whole truth and acting accordingly.  (Mahatma Gandhi)

Fools multiply when wise men are silent.  (Nelson Mandela)

And speak the truth.  Do not hesitate to say what you consider to be the truth.  Say what you feel.  Let your conscience be your guide.  Let your intentions be good, for verily God is aware of your intentions.  In your deeds your intentions count.  (Caliph Umar)

These days, a sling of truth can still make Goliath fall.  (Tom Althouse)

When you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, you have to speak up.  You have to say something.  You have to do something.  (John Lewis)

When the President decides that he knows better than you know what’s good for you or your family, we’ve got trouble in this country.  (John Barrasso)

The one thing I’ve never been afraid of is standing before important people and speaking my mind.  I represent women who may never have the opportunity to go to the UN or meet with a president.  (Leymah Gbowee)

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………  (You)
……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………  (Me)

Surface Truth

I’m good at watching the TV news and observing people’s mouths move.  If I like the personality of the anchor, I tend to trust what they say.  Same with the reporters and the folks they interview.  If I’m wary of someone’s facial expression or tone of voice, I’m more alert to assess the value of their comments.  Fair enough.

But what if someone promoting toothpaste or car vending machines seems like a really cool guy?  Should I just nod in agreement and never go to a dealership again since Carvana can do it all for me?  Maybe not.

I’ve noticed a glowing life insurance ad lately.  Big smiley husband and big smiley wife have discovered the mother lode.  “Jacob, age 35, has found a $1,000,000 policy for $35 a month.”  Wendy has similarly become set for life.  Wait a minute, though.  There’s smaller print announcing a “term policy” and “ten years”.  “Term” means that it ends before death.  For Jacob, his coverage would cease at age 45.  And not too many people of that age are grappling with life-threatening issues.

Then there’s Velveeta.  I remember as a kid popping multi-slices of the stuff into my mouth.  Today the ad showed two grey taco chips.  Down the left one flowed smooth Velveeta goodness, while the fellow on the right was being adorned with clearly deficient lumpiness.  The announcer, in a disparaging voice, referred to the right one as “the other guys” and then chirpily informed us that “nothing melts like Velveeta”.  So there.  In the interest of aesthetically smooth and easily accomplished chip-augmenting, Velveeta will improve the quality of my life.

I did some research.  According to Velveeta, their product “melts smooth and creamy for ultimate appeal”.  However the author of the article had other things to say:

While there are elements of real cheese in Velveeta – like, you know, milk – to call it actual cheese is a bit of a stretch.  Which is why it is now labelled as a “Pasteurized Prepared Cheese Product”.

Velveeta contains quite an array of distinct coloring and preserving agents.  Basically it can’t be called real cheese because it has so many additives in it.

In this current life of convenience, nutrition takes a back seat to that lovely uniform flow.  I suspect that “the other guys” represent a tangy block of old cheddar.


Lesson for me:
I should pay attention more
rather than being lulled by gently smiling mouths
and sweet words that fall off the tongue


Last night I watched the movie Mulan on Disney Plus.  It’s a story of ancient China.  Invaders from the north are threatening the country and the Emperor declares that each family must give a son to the war effort.  Mulan is a girl of 16.  She has no brothers.  Out of honour, her hobbled father says that he will join the fight.  To protect him, Mulan disguises herself as a boy and leaves home under the cover of darkness.

Mulan and her fellow recruits are trained not only in skills and strength but also in values.  At one point, the General has them unsheath their swords and raise them to the sky – being loyal … brave … true.  Mulan’s arm reaches straight up and she yells the word for the first two, but not for the third.  Despite her commitment to family and country, she is living a lie.  Later in the film, she reveals that she is a woman.

I loved the movie.  After going to bed, I laid back and replayed my favourite parts on my phone.

Morning came.  Lying amid sleep and wakefulness, words started tumbling from me.  “Sweetness and light.”  “There is love in the world.”  “Simply this.”  I wasn’t thinking … the words just bubbled up from Nowhereland.  As my mind began to focus, I thought of tonight.  I thought of what I might write in my blog.  I remembered reading someone’s turn of the phrase that made me laugh: “loose in the vowels”.  Yes, my vowels were loose in the hour before sunrise.  That’s what I’d write about.  Besides, it was a clever title (not mine, however).

After showering, I took out a piece of paper and wrote down the phrases that I told you about.  “A good start.  Every time there’s another flow from my mouth, I’ll write it down.  Maybe I’ll have twenty of them by suppertime – plenty for a blog post.”

Now, here’s the rub.  During the day, I tried.  I’d sit in the meditation chair and allow my mind to quieten.  It was a classic means to an end: Meditation → Quiet Mind → Bubbling Words → Post.  So much for spontaneous.  As I lay in my bed again an hour ago, accompanied by my trusty sheet of paper with eleven examples, I returned to Mulan.  What I was doing wasn’t true.  It was narrow and strategic rather expansive and mysterious.

No thanks

I got up, placed the sheet in the recycle bin, and smiled
Now I know what I’m going to write about

The Emperor’s New Clothes

Hans Christian Andersen was a Danish creator of fairy tales who lived in the 1800’s.  In an alternative universe, he’s an American in the 2000’s.

There once was an emperor.  He thought quite a lot of himself.  Others decided to follow suit.

Prime Minister:  The people are clamoring for you, Your Majesty.

Emperor:  They’re not clamoring very loud.

Prime Minister:  But they’re our best clamorers …

Emperor:  Tell them I want more clamoring.  I want more clamor!

Bad people posing as weavers offered to create for His Topness a stunning new wardrobe.  The only members of the public who wouldn’t be able to see the finery were those who were stupid or incompetent.  And who would want to be considered as such?

The Emperor undressed, and the swindlers pretended to put his new clothes on him, one garment after another.  They took him around the waist and seemed to be fastening something – that was his train – as the Emperor turned round and round before the looking glass.

“How well Your Majesty’s new clothes look.  Aren’t they becoming?” he heard on all sides.  “That pattern, so perfect!  Those colors, so suitable!  It is a magnificent outfit.”

Then the Minister of Public Processions announced: “Your Majesty’s canopy is waiting outside.”

“Well, I’m supposed to be ready,” the Emperor said, and turned again for one last look in the mirror.  “It is a remarkable fit, isn’t it?”  He seemed to regard his costume with the greatest interest.

The noblemen who were to carry his train stooped low and reached for the floor as if they were picking up his mantle.  Then they pretended to lift and hold it high.  They didn’t dare admit they had nothing to hold.

The crowds cheered and kept their gaping hidden behind the folds of the face.  Not a word of discord would be said.  Hundreds of people nodded and clapped.

“But he has nothing on at all,” said a little child at last.  “Good heavens!  Listen to the voice of an innocent child,” said the father, and one whispered to the other what the child had said.  “But he has nothing on at all,” cried at last the whole people.

And please tell me when the moment of “at last” will finally come.

The Truth

My doorbell rang half-an-hour ago. I love my doorbell. It sounds like a classical pianist floating his fingers over the keys in a series of descending runs. Sometimes I ring my own doorbell … just for fun.

A boy of about 11 stood before me. I’ll call him Trevor. I know him a bit. He’s in the Grade 6 class that I miss volunteering in. And he was selling pepperette sausages. I opted for 25 hot ones and 25 honey-garlic. He was pleased.

The moment was also in front of me. Trevor mentioned that all the kids missed me. I was glad and sad. The opportunity was to tell him the entire truth about why I’m not at school right now. Or … just part of the truth. I decided on the whole enchilada.

The first reason is that the school board isn’t allowing any volunteers onsite – just paid staff. Strangely, it wasn’t even tempting to rely on that reason alone. It would have been a convenient out: some officials made the decision. Nothing I can do about it.

No thanks. “Partial” leaves a sour taste in my mouth. So I sprung for reason number two. “I don’t feel safe about being in the classroom. I’m 71, at higher risk for contracting Covid. And there’s no way that 26 kids can stay six feet away from each other in a classroom.”

I love those kids. And taking care of my health comes first. As soon as I told Trevor the truth, I sighed. The truth simply works. Nothing left out. Clean.

I look forward to a future WordPress post about my return to the young ones.

Doctor Wenliang

Doctor Li Wenliang was a 34-year-old ophthalmologist in Wuhan, China.  He died in February of Covid-19.  In December he heard disturbing reports about people who had become ill after going to a local market.  He did some research and his eyes opened horribly wide.  The illnesses looked like SARS.

So … what do you do, especially in a country like China, where speaking up is often followed by being shut up?  “What will happen to me if tell the truth as I see it?  What will happen to my family?”

Doctor Wenliang spoke up.

Li sent a message to his medical-school alumni group on December 30 warning that seven patients had been quarantined at Wuhan Central Hospital after coming down with a respiratory illness that seemed like the SARS coronavirus.

“When I saw them circulating online, I realized that it was out of my control and I would probably be punished,” Li told CNN.

What would it be … a government hit squad knocking down his door and dragging him away in front of his screaming children?  His personhood disappearing, due to some “indeterminate cause”?

Doctor Wenliang was no doubt terrified, while remaining absolutely committed to humanity.

The police did come, with a letter for Li to sign:

[We are] now filing an official warning and admonitions to you on the illegal issue of posting untrue statements on the Internet according to the law.  Your behavior severely disrupts social order.  Your behavior has exceeded the scope permitted by the law and violates the relevant provisions of “The Public Security Administration Punishment Law of the People’s Republic of China”, which is an illegal act!  The police authority hopes that you can co-operate with our work, listen to the admonishment by the police officers and stop conducting illegal activities.

We hope that you calm down and reflect carefully, and solemnly warn you: if you continue to be stubborn without any regret, and carry out illegal activities, you will be punished by the law!  Do you understand?

At the bottom of the letter, Doctor Wenliang signed, and wrote “Yes, I do.”

In a formal statement at this time, the police said they would “investigate and punish with zero tolerance these illegal acts that fabricate and spread rumours and disrupt social order”.

Your light will shine for a very long time, Doctor.


Math Life

The classroom day usually starts with Math. This morning Jeremy put a question up on the SmartBoard. Two graphs displayed the same data about bread: the average price of a loaf each year for five years. On the top was a bar graph. Below was a line graph. After looking at the image for a few seconds, I realized there was something very important here. The bar graph suggested there had been a moderate price increase (the bars gradually rising to the right) while the line on the line graph zoomed upwards.

But it was the same data!

Look at the scales used on the left side of each graph. The top one starts at zero and climbs in increments of fifty cents. The bottom one starts at $1.40 and climbs in increments of ten cents. There’s a little squiggle at the bottom left to show that there’s a whole bunch of information left out: from zero all the way up to $1.40. If you don’t start at zero, the climbing line appears to rise more steeply that it actually does!

Woh … there’s a lesson about life in here, not just about Math. The kids need to get this. They need to become adults who are intelligent analysts of information. What we were all looking at on the screen was how to manipulate data – how to manipulate people. If these two graphs were about crime rates rather than bread, an opposition politician could point to the bottom one and say “See? Crime is totally out of control under this government’s watch!”

As the lesson moved on to the next question, I looked over the sea of young faces. Had they heard me? Had they seen that you can’t always believe everything you read or hear or view? I pray that the answers are “Yes”.

No future bamboozling
No unexamined equating of power with integrity
No acceptance of meanness and “othering”

And if so …

No worries about passing the torch to the next generation

My Absence

It’s been two weeks since I’ve talked to you.  Have I been “busy”?  Yeah, some.  But the truth is that I just didn’t feel like writing to you.  There was no magnetism drawing my fingers to the keys.  I know that my life is about contributing to other human beings, and sometimes in WordPress the “should” of saying something has been strong.  Sometimes I would write just to keep my daily streak of communication going.  At those moments, I wasn’t being true to myself.  This two-week absence has felt true.  And now it’s time to return.

I woke up this morning with an uncomfortable thought: maybe you folks think I’m dead.  Ouch.  I never want to hurt anybody, and what if some of you are imagining a car accident, a big illness, or a major mental distress?  None of those are true but leaving you in the space of not knowing was unfair.  I’m sorry if I caused you worry.  I should have just done a post saying “I don’t want to write right now.  I’m fine.  It could be a week or two before I reappear.”  That would have been good.

Hmm.  I’m glad I’m saying these things.  And I’m glad that I honoured the rhythms of my life by not writing lengthy posts recently.  And now … it’s time to share my thoughts again.  I’ll be back tomorrow.


Truth Telling

I’ve meditated for many years.  Twice I went on three-month silent retreats (silent 98% of the time).  I walked into class yesterday afternoon to see a young kid on the screen, sitting with her legs crossed, eyes closed … meditating.  And the Grade 6’s were quietly at their desks, mostly with eyes closed.  It was a revelation.

“Trevor”, the teacher, has introduced mindfulness to the children.  After witnessing a similar five-minute session today, I asked him if I could lead a discussion about the quiet mind.

I knew that I didn’t want to give them a lecture about the benefits of meditation.  I didn’t even want to tell them about how my life has been changed by immersing myself in the practice.  No, I simply wanted to ask them a question:

Having tried meditation a few times now, what do you think about it?

Before the kids replied, I wanted to set the stage some more:

My request is that if you volunteer an answer, you tell the truth.  Don’t look over at me, try to figure out how I’d like you to respond, and then say that.  There’s great power in the truth, whether you like something or you don’t.

I expected a few hands.  What I got was at least fifteen.

The first girl said that it was boring.  I thanked her for the honesty, and asked the other kids if they thought it took courage for her to say something negative.  There wasn’t much response to that, which was fine.  I sure thought it took courage, and I said so.

Another word spoken was “unnecessary”.  I didn’t argue with the student.  I thanked him or her.  Then another girl talked about how the meditating has helped her during basketball games.  Did saying that take courage?  Yes, indeed.  To speak publicly about how you enjoy something when the prevailing mood in the class seems to be negative about it, is a big thing!  I love the willingness to stand out, to not allow the group mentality to overcome what you honestly see as true.

One boy said something like “It would be boring.”  I encouraged him to be more direct, so that his opinion would be strong and clear.  He changed his words to “It’s boring.”  That made me happy.

It seemed to be an even split, pro and con.  “It helps me out on the yard at recess” versus “Let’s get back to doing something important.”  Both perfectly valid reactions to an activity that’s new to probably everyone.

I was so proud of those kids.  Their heads were high as they spoke – no sense whatsoever of apologizing for their opinion.  And no bombastic declarations.  Just quiet and firm statements of personal truth.

Plus this Bruce guy didn’t have to wax poetic about the virtues of meditating.  Maybe some kid who panned the practice will get curious about what a positive child said and give meditation another try.  Or maybe not.  Either way, what I experienced this afternoon was the freedom of the truth – no fudging, no not quite saying what you mean.  Instead, simply being real.