Tag Archives: responsibility

Yes, I’m opinionated. What’s your point?

I don’t believe I know a single human being who would say that the fundamental messages of Martin Luther King, Jr. or Jesus of Nazareth are absurd or uninspired. And yet they were, if nothing else, opinionated. Dangerous enough to murder. I’ve discovered that if you’re the sort of person who is passionate about cultivating their principles in your life and talking about it even to a moderate degree, you will encounter no shortage of people who will dismiss you as radical, naive, unrealistic, unbalanced, and self-righteous. And of course, opinionated.

Yes, I’m opinionated. But people only point that out when they aren’t comfortable with what I’m saying. When they do agree with me, it’s completely irrelevant. So I’m sensitive about this word because it carries a negative connotation with the intention diminishing of our credibility.

I’m an idealistic person. But I try to be respectful up the point where someone tries to spit in my face. I don’t shove my views down people’s throats, say things to provoke or open my mouth without having thought about something. I don’t instigate arguments with people and I try my best not to call people names. There are times when I walk away from an argument wishing I’d told someone to fuck off only later to appreciate the fact that I didn’t get emotionally hooked and took the high road. Everybody messes up. Living in a world where we struggle to reconcile opposing opinions is draining. Encountering people who have no interest in genuinely engaging and cultivating respect is infuriating. Very few people have the equanimity not to blow their lids when that happens.

Because people know that I’m sympathetic to, shall we say, non-status quo ideologies, they seem to interpret that as an invitation to debate me. That’s not my desire and I’m not sure why they do this but they can’t seem to resist. Most of the time I avoid getting engaged because I know what’s going to happen. They’re not interested in having a productive conversation that results in us getting to know each other as people. I get hoisted up on the stand and cross-examined. I have no control over the questions they’re asking and little say in the direction or tone. They lob a question at me. I have to explain myself. They react and repeat the process, rarely allowing me to finish. Suddenly I go from being a guest at a Thanksgiving dinner to a politician under interrogation.

I’ve never called anyone out for it but now that I think of it, it’s very unfair to put someone on the defensive and force them to talk about an issue within such a limited, pressured environment. The exchange isn’t designed to undulate or meander; it just goes back and forth. The result is that people often end up thinking I believe things I don’t. I guess it’s easier to dismiss my ideas if one assumes I arrived at a particular conclusion for the same reasons someone they already disagree with does, or that I hold the same views as every other person who belongs to the same groups I do.

Maybe I’m just too self-conscious, but when I’m compelled to offer my interpretation of an issue it’s like I can intuitively sense some people’s anxiety as they barely contain their visible scrutiny. Great, there goes the opinionated hippie again. The thing is, everyone has opinions. The degree of passion with which we voice them isn’t a reflection of the validity of our points, nor is the degree to which our opinions are mainstream or popular – or radical for that matter.

We often hear people say that they have a right to their own opinion. This is true. But with rights comes responsibility. My general view is that just because we can say something doesn’t mean we should. Impressions will differ about what’s appropriate. But to say something for the purpose of inciting rage or violence is to create hurt, division, and the potential for serious conflict. In such cases one’s responsibility to be respectful and encourage peace should trump one’s right to say whatever the hell they want. We need to be reasonable and sometimes that means setting boundaries.

So what does it mean to say that someone is opinionated? A more important consideration is, what sort of attitudes inspire these views? Are they formed out of anger, fear or ignorance? Are they coming from a place of honesty, understanding, and respect? A person who has invested the energy into forming a coherent argument doesn’t hide behind “I have a right to my opinion”; they defend the veracity of their position. That doesn’t make them right and it doesn’t mean they’ll listen to anyone else but at least they’re thinking analytically and communicating. The more we entourage this the more opportunities there are to develop relationships.

Just as important as our right to an opinion is our responsibility to transform that idea into something constructive. To me, it’s about striking a balance between serving the collective and protecting the individual. An opinion is the completion of a thought process but that’s not where our thinking should stop. People don’t always want to have carefully articulated views about every topic and that’s fine. When we do, however, we don’t owe anybody the privilege of expressing a view that’s consistent with theirs.



Filed under Eastern Philosophy, Politics & Society

Assumption and reduction: how poverty and blame make losers of us all

Ignorance in point form

If you find yourself in agreement with this ugly graphic (I mean really, who designed this?), you need to read this.

This image was posted by right-wing Facebook group 100 Percent FED Up. I’m not really sure what the purpose of fully capitalizing the word ‘FED’ is – maybe because those actually benefiting from Republican policy are DEFINITELY not hungry?

You know what I’m fed up with? People judging. Making assumptions. Hating. Placing blame. I urge you to step back and think about what this graphic is really saying before you nod in agreement, because how we relate to each other becomes the basis for public policy. It drives social services, electoral reform, education, labour law, tax law, etc. It affects us all.

The main concern of the graphic above seems to be the question of responsibility. It raises a valid point that there are things an individual can do to affect their situation. There are ways you can make a bad situation worse or better. There are people who have risen above poverty through their own determination. Personal responsibility is ours to take. And taking responsibility doesn’t mean accepting blame for things outside of our control; it just means accepting the fact that you always have a choice, even if only in your attitude.

Let’s look at the claim above a little more closely. Is it true that if you drink booze, smoke cigarettes, take a hit, get your nails done or get inked, you do not need social assistance? Maybe. That’s the only honest answer you can come up with. The implication, therefore, is that the claim rests on assumptions that anyone in agreement is choosing to ignore. How’s that for taking personal responsibility?

Take the example of a welfare recipient who smokes cigarettes. Regardless of financial standing, people continue to smoke knowing how tremendously bad it is for them. Granted, smokers often shield themselves from learning the specifics (I once stood in line behind a young lady who asked the clerk for a different pack of smokes because she wanted one with a less horrifying picture on it) – but the reason they smoke goes beyond moral ineptitude or weakness; nicotine is a very addictive substance. The fact that money is harder to come by for poor people does not override any chemical dependency they may have – and to expect them to be able to quit because they’re poor is ridiculous. Do you think an alcoholic on welfare is going to think, Gee, this costs x amount of money each month, which the taxpayers are shouldering, so I should just snap out of it? Addicts have characteristically low self-esteem and their addictions often further erode any self-sufficiency and confidence they had to begin with. Not to mention the disastrous effects of cuts to drug treatment programs; these services are crucial in preventing both crime that is directly related to the drug trade and crime committed in order to fund addiction. This is but one example of how drug policy affects the poor in real ways. The war on drugs (a massive failure, now to the admission of most world leaders) is inspired by an understanding (or lack thereof) of the particular struggles faced by those most at risk of being affected by the drug trade – namely, the poor and ethnic minorities.

Getting back to the power of assumptions… Let’s say you overhear a person talking about the welfare they receive and you notice that they got a manicure and have tattoos. I understand your point if this seems questionable. I really do. But does it give you a basis for believing that they would not need social assistance if they hadn’t gotten a manicure or tattoos, and that you can make that determination for not only this person but any and every welfare recipient who has gotten a manicure and tattoos? Let’s say you know for a fact that a particular person would make enough money to support themselves if they didn’t spend their money on such-and-such. In that case, they’re clearly abusing the system. But again, they do not represent other individuals who make their own choices and have their own circumstances to contend with. It’s also worth pointing out the sort of expectation we’re placing on a person who goes hungry or has insufficient nutrition, has had substandard education, lives in a neighbourhood rife with drugs, crime and violence, has limited access to healthcare and health insurance and doesn’t have decent shelter or clothes to wear to a job interview (if one is offered). If you consider the stressors experienced by such an individual, you might forgive them a toke, a beer or a trip to the salon. Prematurely judging one person – and everyone else you lump into the same category – is making a huge leap. Not only is it unfair; it’s illogical.

Besides, if we’re going to judge, how does the average person compare? The only difference between a welfare recipient who lives beyond their means and a gainfully employed person who lives beyond their means is that the welfare recipient doesn’t have good enough credit to borrow money. Let’s say you’re a working person who lives above the poverty line but has accumulated so much personal debt that you have to declare bankruptcy. Your creditor can’t get that money out of you so they write it off, which means they no longer count the money you owe them as an asset. Assets on which they no longer have to pay income tax. Tax money that would have ended up in the public purse. I suspect a lot of people don’t realize this.

Here’s another problem with judging others as unworthy of social assistance: it gives your government a justification to deny help to the people who do need it – without having any idea whatsoever of how many of these people might be abusing the system. Does that make sense to you? In a democratic society, are we supposed to let assumptions and trajectory drive public policy, or are we going to make important decisions that affect the most vulnerable with openness, rationality and honesty?

The most troubling implication of the reasoning of the above claim is that fundamentally, it’s the same type that’s used to form arguments that are racist, sexist or otherwise discriminatory. It’s like watching an obese person walking into McDonald’s and thinking, ‘That must be why they’re fat’. If that person orders a mango smoothie and tells you they’re taking their daily walk and have already dropped 50 pounds, what does your assumption say about you?

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Filed under Eastern Philosophy, Politics & Society

Things adults will never admit (to kids)

I remember being a kid and revering my parents because they conducted themselves with authority (read: scared me into submission), seemed to have their shit together and basically made things happen – like shelter, food, medical appointments, vacations, nursing me back to health when I got sick, combing the knots out of my hair, picking me up from guitar lessons, etc. When you’re young, you don’t marvel at how parents pull all this miraculous stuff off because you don’t yet know how damn difficult it is. Things need doing and they just get done, because your parents do them, and that’s all you know. Cause and effect. Like magic!

Fast forward to adulthood. Wow – things sure look different from here. With experience comes an appreciation of how demanding and sometimes ridiculously demoralizing being an adult actually is. But now as an adult – and of course one who constantly interacts with other adults – one thing I’ve realized is that all those things you’re told or believe about adults lands squarely in the realm of fiction. Just another one of those colloquial myths, those social fabrications you swallow gladly from an early age. Every once in a while I find myself choking on what a clever ruse it truly is. This is a far worse realization than the horror that Santa Claus doesn’t exist – because when you grow up you can buy yourself presents and you don’t have some fat, smug bastard deciding whether you’re good or bad. You’re your own boss. Which is fantastic. But now this means you can’t rely on your folks to do everything for you. With freedom comes responsibility. It turns out that all that effortlessness we think we’re witnessing as kids is basically an illusion. So I thought it would be fun to expose a few of the big myths that we adults desperately cling to:

1. You will figure it out.

Whatever ‘it’ happens to be – what you want to do with your life, how to make money, your political/religious affiliation, your place in the world, etc. This is pure poppycock. The truth is, we will always be figuring it out because everything is temporary and everything changes. Even when we have one thing figured out, something else will come up eventually that will challenge us in ways that reduce us to lost, existentially confused creatures.

2. You will get smarter and wiser.

Here’s another huge thing we have to do for ourselves now: THINK. There are days when we seem to be exposed to so many people who can’t bring themselves to rise to this challenge that it’s a wonder our only reward for not losing our cool is culling the sympathy of our friends. The fact is, I’ve met an awful lot of adults who don’t know how to do anything other than subsist on hope, fear, insecurity, prejudice, etc. If you’ve been walking this earth for half a century with a figurative blindfold over your eyes, I have a hard time respecting you if you think the degree to which your gums have receded is an accurate measure of how much more right you are than me.

3. You will be able to independently and correctly decipher right from wrong.

This is so, so wrong. Or perhaps I should say that we do know deep down what’s right and wrong, but we’ve become so selfish, entitled or have simply gotten very skilled at justifying and rationalizing. The last time I checked, our prisons aren’t full of children. Adults do plenty of questionable and downright atrocious stuff knowing it’s wrong, but somewhere along the way this stops becoming all that important to us. At least to some of us.

4. Life will get better and/or there’s a solution to everything.

Take a look at the economic and environmental disaster that is unfolding before us right now, globally. Either we don’t know what the fuck we’re doing, or some people have a plan and they’re just screwing the rest of us dumb, lazy idiots over. How many people do you know who have faith that we’re not going to blow ourselves up or otherwise commit suicide on a macro level? We clearly can’t agree on how to address issues like unemployment, abortion, gun violence or education. I’m a pretty optimistic person, but any adult who tells a child that they’re not going to dread/hate getting older, spend their money at a rate matching that by which they earn it, and become overwhelmed by relationship problems and the complexity of the universe is setting that child up for epic disappointment.

5. You’re going to love marriage and parenthood!

It does seem that once most parents have children, they’re thrilled to have them in their lives. I’m not sure if it’s heroism or biology, but regardless – thank goodness for that. But this doesn’t mean they don’t occasionally think, ‘What the hell have I gotten myself into? Myself? Wait, there is no me anymore!’. And that whole marriage thing? Like you’re not supposed to bang another human being until one of you dies? And you’re expected to want to stay together no matter what happens? I suspect that a big part of the reason people, especially young people, rush into marriage and parenthood, is because they were never told just how difficult and miserable it can be (or often is, if you’re feeling pessimistically generous). What parent is going to tell you that, if they’re being really honest, they sometimes wish they could live their own lives and no longer be burdened by the obligation to pretend they’re still in love to perpetuate a facsimile of order and comfort?

6. The world makes sense.

It doesn’t. We just like to believe it does. Or maybe it does make sense but we can’t comprehend it. See what I mean? So when we point out the silliness of imaginary friends and make believe to kids, maybe we should turn some of that realism on ourselves. After all, in totality I’d say we’re the ones who are selfish, insolent, stupid, gullible and scared of pretty much everything. Now if they can only forgive us for bringing them into this mess without their consent.

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Filed under Humour, Politics & Society

Plastic snags

Rob Ford, Toronto’s new mayor, is trying his best to scrap our 5¢ plastic bag fee because the proceeds are going to retailers (as opposed to the government, which would apparently legitimize it in the public’s mind as a tax). So rather than make it exactly that and fund a very worthy cause, he’s just scrapping it. Period. Because that’s the kind of guy Rob Ford is.

Here’s my issue with people who are proud of him: Although I agree with Mr. Ford that companies shouldn’t be able to pocket the extra money, I never had a problem paying 5¢ in the first place. Firstly, I’ll openly admit that like most people, I buy things I don’t need. Out of all the things we should complain about spending money on, I’d hope it would be gratuitous coffees, cigarettes, overpriced movie tickets, booze, knick knacks, candy and other (arguably) pointless and potentially harmless things (more on this here). If you purchase any or all of these items, that’s all fine and dandy – but then what difference does a few cents make?

If I don’t like paying this small fee, I can do something very easy: carry a reusable tote around with me. It’s not complicated. Whether any given study suggests that paper, plastic or any other material is ideal, the goal should be to not buy or use so much stuff in the first place. I’ve read an article that indicated that reusable bags (e.g. canvas) carry far more pathogens, especially if people use them to carry groceries. I think it’s safe to say that as long as you don’t have leaky packages of perishable goods in there (in which you can wrap much thinner and sometimes biodegradable bags or simply wash), it shouldn’t be a concern. Some people say they use plastic bags as garbage bags. Boo hoo. I’m pretty sure almost everyone who says this can afford to purchase kitchen bags. The same goes for people who use them in their compost bins. If you’re taking the trouble to participate in compost programs, this tells me you care about the environment to some extent. Although some municipal waste collection programs allow disposal in plastic bags, they do this to encourage people to compost, at great expense. Separating organic waste from plastic bags is expensive (from a financial, energy and time perspective), the cost of which in some way may come out of your tax dollars anyway. Yes, plastic bags can be reused, but not as much as say canvas or cloth, and the real issue is the bulk that we produce in the first place (and the fact that they’re petroleum-based).

I don’t understand how some people don’t feel the fire of environmental catastrophe burning under their asses. It boggles my mind that we still have to pander to people by way of incentives. I would definitely allow that people who are below the poverty line or anywhere close to it can’t afford it, but people in any other category simply have no excuse. It’s a matter of priority. We all need to take personal responsibility for the materials we use and the waste we produce. Reusable shopping bags are just a small part of that. It’s the least we can do, and once you get into the habit, it takes no effort at all.

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Filed under Health & Environment, Politics & Society