About fifteen years ago, I noticed myself using the following phrase frequently: It’s never wrong to do the right thing. I am no longer sure how it came to be in my mind. Perhaps I read it somewhere, but I have tried several times to “google” it to no avail. It is possible that it came to me as a result of the many different books I have read in my life. In addition, my mind seems to do a lot of work while I sleep or appear to be occupied with other matters. Regardless of its source, this idea has helped me countless times when I had to make decisions involving others or for myself alone.
The Universe as I See It.
My overview of the universe and how it works is based upon five key understandings: first, that evolution is a fact and that understanding how evolution works can provide insights into how humanity acts and how one might expect it to act in the future; second, that beliefs, ideas, apparent truths, and highly respected principles are simply memes created by human minds over the centuries of human existence, they are just ideas and not essential or self-evident truths; third, the trinity of ideas – god, the soul, and the afterlife are merely ideas which do not exist in any other form; fourth, the idea of truth is most often subjective and thus entirely relative to time, space, and whomever is interpreting at any given time; it does not exist in and of itself; fifth, the path to truth is not preordained. “Truth is a pathless land,” (Jiddu Krishnamurti).
What Is Needed at this Time?
No matter what we believe or do not believe about why we exist or how we got to this place in time, we must face certain immutable facts. First, we live in a different world than has ever existed before. There are many more of us, and we are much more integrated across the world. Old ideas about nationalism and boundaries are becoming outdated. Cultures are mixing, and people are sharing across races and nationalities in ways no one could have anticipated even one hundred years ago. DNA testing is becoming popular, and across the world, people are discovering lost cousins, grandparents, shared histories, and origins that surprise and excite. We are much more inter-related than anyone ever suspected. Indeed, it has been suggested that it is possible that we are all descended from one ancient mother. Think of the implications if we are all cousins.
We need to find a way or ways to get along and to break down the barriers we have created to protect ourselves. If the ideal community size according to our ability to live comfortably is about two hundred and fifty, we clearly have some work to do since that kind of community is no longer feasible. We must learn to live together, or we will eventually destroy what we have.
Nationalistic, religious, and culturally based ideas do not hold the answer. In most cases, they lead to animosity, hatred, and even war and death. We must find some way to co-exist and even be friendly about it. It is with this need in mind, that I wish to suggest some principles that could be helpful in developing the mindset we require from here on.
My Four Guiding Principles
The following principles are ideas I have gleaned from my reading and studying over the past fifty plus years. I do not consider them to be universal truths; they are observations about how the universe seems to work. Maybe they are true and maybe not, but in my mind, they offer some hope for the future.
First Principle: The universe seems to require balance. This idea is best expressed in the eastern concepts of Yang and Yin, sometimes interpreted as male and female, positive and negative, or light and dark. It seems logical; the world could not endure all day or all night – both are required. Likewise, it appears that both male and female are necessary. Positive and negative forces exist in the world of physics.
What this means for individuals is that we cannot expect everything to go our way. Sometimes bad stuff happens and sometimes good. We would love to have a world where only good things occurred, but it likely would not work very well. We might die of boredom caused by being happy all the time. Moreover, we must consider that balance is not just about individual lives; it is about all lives and all things. How we deal with this balancing will determine whether human life can continue to exist.
Second Principle: In the past, I have always considered these two concepts as separate, but now, I think putting them together would be more useful. They are as follows: we reap what we sow, and we seem to get what we need at any given time. The first idea is clear. Our actions cause reactions, and good generally brings good back or vice versa. The second may be harder to grasp or accept. Sometimes bad stuff happens, and we cannot imagine that it is what we need. I suggest that we look very carefully at our lives. I have done this and, almost without exception, I can see how negatives in my life have led me to make positive changes and enjoy positive results. Yes, I could have done without them, but the final judgement arises with this question; are you happy with who you are today? You might as well be because that is who you are, and who you are is the sum of all you have been and have experienced, both the good and the bad. In fact, who you are is your end of the universe’s balancing act.
Third Principle: How do we learn to accept and be comfortable with the above two ideas? My third principle joins two seemingly divergent and incompatible concepts. The first is that we are all connected in a unity of being. The second is that we are all alone. How could this be? First, we know that the universe is made up of a finite amount of material. Everything gets used and then stops being and then gets reused again and again. We are born, we die, we decompose, and the atoms find their way into something else. We are not separate but a part of everything. Second, for a time, every plant, animal, rock, cloud, or mountain appears to be an individual thing. During this existence, especially for humans, who have developed the ability to see themselves as individuals, there exists a sense of aloneness where one must make decisions for and by oneself, even though in the big picture, these decisions can have far-reaching effects on others. So how do these two concepts help? It is important to understand aloneness so that one can become responsible for one’s actions. Blaming others never helps. Once one accepts responsibility, it is important to realize that there is this connection. This helps us to keep from becoming too selfish and destructive in our environment.
Fourth Principle: Life is complicated with all the connectedness, the aloneness, the reaping, and the sowing let alone just trying to get by day in and day out. How can one do it? I offer principle four, pay attention. I have spent large swathes of my life in a seeming fog of ignorance about what was going on. I was on automatic pilot but did not know that it had not been invented yet. Living requires attention if we want it to run smoothly and to the advantage of everyone, not just ourselves. Without attention, opportunities go flying by; chances to make changes, help others, or improve some aspect of our lives all are gone without notice. We must pay attention, not tomorrow or next year but RIGHT NOW, ALWAYS!
The above are the four principles that I believe could help us live better, more fruitful, and less destructive lives. They do not require a god or a soul or an afterlife. They are all about now. Throw away the automatic pilot or at least just use it when you are parking your car. Life is about being connected, responsible, and in the moment.
Deciding What Is the Right Thing
The key question is how does one establish what is right at any given moment? That is not easily answered, so when trying to establish what is right, I suggest considering the four principles above. Remember that balance seems to be necessary, so we cannot have everything our way, but maybe there are times when apparent selfishness is what is required. Remember that our actions have consequences that are often far-reaching and that what seems not good can prove to be a great teacher down the road. Remember that we are connected and that we must be responsible for our decisions. And above all, pay attention at all times. Do not miss the obvious because you are playing four moves ahead or behind.
In this short essay, I have tried to explain what I believe about life and living. I am not bound by any strong beliefs or apparent universal truths. Instead, my ideas have grown from my observations. I do not accept the existence of a god, a soul, or an afterlife. Everything of significance is now, in this life. I do not believe what others tell me to believe. Instead, I watch what is going on around me, I remember my experiences, and I formulate hypotheses about meaning. Nothing is sacred or immutable though some things appear to make sense while others do not. However, I am not ready to give up hope for a world where difference is a reason to celebrate and not a cause for hatred, war, or killing. Thus, I accept the possibility that humans can learn to be better if they just pay attention and do the right thing.
The simple truth of evolution is this: if a living thing is not capable of surviving and reproducing, it will cease to exist, and if it is capable, it will thrive. This is the truth of how our world works and quite likely how the universe works as well. It is the truth of how each of us has come to be here and the truth of how our world has come to the place that it has in its history. The purpose of this short essay is to show how the Covid Pandemic is an excellent example of this process.
We are now dealing with the fifth variant of Covid. How did that happen? Did the Covid Board of Directors have a meeting at which they decided to bring on the heavier artillery since the other side was playing dirty with new anti-virus weapons? The simple answer is no. Covid did what viruses and other living things have done throughout time. It evolved.
How do living things evolve? The simple answer is this. They mutate, not by design but by our old friend, chance. Throughout history, living things have reproduced. If they have not, they have ceased to exist. When living things reproduce, the result is typically a combination of the genes of the parental lifeforms. But that is not all it is. Sometimes there are unexplained differences or oddities. These are called mutations, and it is the mutations that carry the potential seed of change. If the mutated lifeform is weaker than its parents, it will likely die out, but if it is better than its parents, it may well flourish and become the new future. This is how life evolves over time. The key to the speed of evolution is how long the life form takes to reproduce.
The evolution of humans is very slow. The human brain has changed very little in the last 10,000 years. Most humans still have wisdom teeth, remnants of a time when chewing raw food was common which was even longer ago. David Suzuki, one of Canada’s national treasures, earned his early reputation as a geneticist by studying fruit flies. When I first heard that, I thought “Yuck! Why study fruit flies?” But I was quite ignorant about the ways of evolution at that time. Now I understand why. Check out the following:
“An adult female fruit fly can lay up to 2,000 eggs on the surface of anything that's moist and rotting. Within 30 hours, tiny maggots hatch and start to eat the decayed food. Within 2 days, they're all grown up and ready to mate, too. While that transition may seem quick, a fruit fly only lives 8 to 15 days.”
One female can provide 2000 babies which can reproduce again within two days. That is potentially four million “grand-flylets” (I take responsibility for coining this word). In other words, a massive potential data base.
So, what is my point you may ask? My point is that some life forms take a long time to reproduce and thus a very long time to evolve. It might take several generations for some exceptional mutation with the potential to change the game plan to come along. But with fruit flies this process is condensed into hours and days. It becomes easier to study the process and to understand what is happening.
The covid virus also reproduces over a shorter period. If it reproduces more quickly, then it must mutate more quickly. If it mutates more quickly, it will likely create variants that are smarter/stronger than previous generations and are better able to overcome the medicinal opponents more quickly. Thus, it offers us the experience of seeing how evolution really works, much more quickly. Just to clarify, mutants are not created purposefully; they are created by chance.
I guess my main reason for writing this short piece is that the Corona virus shows us how evolution works. It is not a theory. It is a fact. Some preoccupied god is not responsible. This is an example, or proof if you will, of how it all has been happening since the first life forms occurred. They survive, they reproduce, and they mutate. If they are strong enough to reproduce, they can produce similar offspring. If they are not, they will disappear never to be heard of or from again. Their effect on the future will cease to exist. If by chance their offspring carry a mutation that gives them an advantage, then the parents might also disappear eventually, but the new generation will thrive.
In Canada, it appears that our main interest in freedom is so that we can complain bitterly about the incompetence of our governments, be they left or right wing. The governments, for their part, abet this need by following specific guidelines for governing: first, choose corruption as a governing philosophy; second, act incompetently; third, pretend to care about the general population but continue to govern with self-gratification being the driving force. By self gratification, I do not mean the actual physical act of masturbation, but the more circumspect one involving filling one’s pockets as our economic, social, and cultural worlds fall into disrepair; finally, never ever keep promises – it is a sign of weakness just as signalling that you intend to change lanes on a highway is – a sign of caring too much about what others may think or caring about their welfare.
You might ask, why is he posting this pseudo-philosophy on a form of social media? First, it’s what they are for and the dumber or more “pseudo” the better. Second, and my real reason is eating leftover General Tso’s chicken for lunch a few minutes ago. Perhaps it was the chopsticks, but I was carried back to my days of living in the northern Chinese city of Harbin. From there, my mind wandered to how much I liked it there, and do you know what the best thing was at the beginning? I was alone and no one could make demands upon me. By and large, I had become almost invisible.
Okay, I see that your patience is dwindling. What does this have to do with freedom? As you know, complete freedom is not a thing in China; most people do not care about it. And I learned from them what really is important – having a job - regardless of how mundane, having food to eat, and having a roof over one’s head. The people I met and hung out with understood this, and they had had managed to find a level of satisfaction one rarely sees here.
Then I began to ask myself what are those ideas subsumed by the catchall called freedom really about compared to what really matters in life? In China, I saw a government that did not allow the freedom to protest and complain that we have in North America, but I also saw a government that made it possible for almost everyone to have this thing called employment. I also saw a government that made things happen. Why? Because it had money and the discretion to do what the country needed.
While in China I lived under the proverbial radar, and guess what? That was what I saw all around me. People going about their business doing what was important – working, eating well, and having a roof over their heads. If they felt rebellious, they jay-walked, and they were masters. I was once told by a professor that every Chinese person has an emperor inside him or herself. This sense of the truth of freedom is what we lack. We follow the rules, we vote for incompetent politicians who still fill their pockets, and we complain. What do we end up with - exorbitant food costs and homes no one can afford?
God, how I love my North American freedom!
I was told recently that thirty or so years ago while I was dealing with the version of my life that I fondly recall as the “train-wreck” period, a.k.a. what happens when you delay your mid-life crisis in order to finish your doctorate, thereby putting off the real problems which will eventually sink your ship, a dear friend once said to my son, “Your father is looking for something.”
Would that I had known that then, because from where I sat, lay, stood on my head, and even grovelled, it was not all that clear. In fact, he was exactly right and today I can even tell you what it was that I was looking for – my truth!
Perhaps that sounds a bit pretentious. After all who can claim to know the truth. Well, I do not, but I do know my truth, and I have fought long and hard to find it. If you are up to it, come along on a short journey through the pathless land, and we’ll see what comes up.
So, what is truth? Is there a truth? Are there universal truths? Good questions and not easily answered, nor is it easy to arrive at an agreement among even a handful of people. But frankly, I do not care a lot about what others think. Around twenty-five years ago, as I was beginning to see light at the end of trainwreck tunnel, I was given a small, used book for Christmas. The book was Krishnamurti’s Journal. I did not get around to reading it for a year or two, but when I did, it was the beginning of the real search for my truth. If you want to know more about Jiddu Krishnamurti, I suggest you look him up. He was an interesting man. You wouldn’t go amiss if you read one or two of his works, but I think that, by far, his greatest teaching was this simple phrase, “Truth is a pathless land.” That says all one really needs to know about how one finds truth. There is no set path; you just keep looking until you find it.
How will you know when your have found it? You just will. It won’t be some other person’s definition. It is unlikely that it will be found etched on the side of a building, on a coin, or in a book entitled All the Truths Under the Sun. It will not likely be something that was passed on to you by your parents or teachers. It will take hard work. You will have to make a lot of mistakes, and you might even have to start over a couple of times. But you can find it if it really matters to you.
About twenty or so years ago, I realized that what I was looking for was “my truth”, and that is what I have spent the intervening years looking for, and I have found it, but I am not telling. Why? Because it doesn’t matter. Remember, it’s my truth. Krishnamurti said something else, and I paraphrase, “there are no teachers, there are no gurus, there are no experts”. You are on your own essentially. You can seek advice, read books, spend thousands on fake prophets, but in the end, you have to make sense of it yourself.
Although I am selfishly not going to share my discoveries, I will give you a few hints about where to look and how to go about it, but even that advice you must take with a grain of salt because, ultimately, it’s your journey, and they will be your decisions.
I used to have a quotation up on the bulletin board of my grade seven and eight classroom. It was attributed to A. N. Onymous and it said, “the person who cannot make a mistake cannot make anything.” That appealed to me because, although I was still in my thirties, I had already made lots of mistakes; it gave me hope. Over the years, I have come to accept the truth of this statement even more. If you cannot risk screwing up, it is unlikely that you will ever move far from that comfortable place where you are rooted. The first qualification for truth seeking is do not be afraid of being wrong or making a mistake and do not pre-judge your decisions.
Beware of the dreaded near-sighted monster known as - Confirmation Bias. Basically, this is when you judge the right or wrong or good or bad of something by how it seems to you. It’s a form of prejudice – that means prejudging and it’s not useful for finding truth, especially yours since you are likely making that judgement from an uninformed state of mind.
Yes, I know I did say it was your truth, but let’s face it, by the time you hit your thirties, you are so full of ideas that have been thrown at you over the years that you are in no fit state to judge anything. It is not easy. It took me till my early seventies to finally rid my mind of the bias that had been holding me back for most of my life, and I was shocked to finally find out what it was. It was something that had been drilled into my head from childhood. How did I do that? I read a lot including self-help, philosophy, spirituality, science, and a ton of fiction. Fiction is loaded with truth if you pay attention. I wrote a lot of poems and essays and a few books and eventually It began to be come clearer. Ultimately, you must find what is holding you back and you must deal with it. I was able to let it go and it felt so good.
Another barrier to finding your truth is getting caught up in other’s truths. I think of them as false truths. Just because another person believes something or even if a whole lot of others believe something doesn’t make it true. I hate to say it, but that includes your parents, the government, the church, or any other institution. Of course, they might be right, but you must decide. Blindly accepting is never a positive way to grow.
Finally, you have to break your dependencies. These may not be drug dependencies, but they act like drugs and they hold you back. I discovered quite late in life that I had always been afraid of striking out on my own. I always wanted someone to accompany me. I am not sure why, but I do know that my decision to go off to China at age fifty-eight was the best thing I ever did for finding my truth. I was alone without even one word of Mandarin, but I was not afraid, and it was liberating.
I hope some of these thoughts have connected with you. I cannot tell you exactly how to find your truth, but I can assure you it exists. How do I know? Because it is the only thing that makes sense for me and that is my truth - sorry you have to find your own.
A debate rages over how history ought to be treated in Canada. A key question seems to be “How should we respond when we discover that our leaders of the past have been guilty of misconduct and mistreatment of key elements of our population over the years – read indigenous people, people of colour, women. and LGBTQ? One misconception is that we cannot do anything about the past. It is true that we cannot change the past, but we can do something about it.
We cannot keep turning a blind eye to it. We know that this usually ends with those same evils continuing in our own time. As has been shown rather clearly in recent weeks, the abuse of those groups listed above continues apace, systemically. Sure, we no longer have residential schools, but indigenous people are deprived of safe drinking water and meaningful jobs that do not require leaving their communities, homes, and culture. It is true that we do not have actual slavery, but many people in Canada are condemned to poorly paid jobs which, in fact, leave them unable to extract themselves from their prisons of poverty.
What can we do? I will not try to answer this from every angle, but I will discuss that of which I have some knowledge – education.
I grew up in Essex County in southwestern Ontario. I studied the courses and texts that were approved by the then, Department of Education. In 1972, I became chair of the World Religions Curriculum Committee for Waterloo County, and it was then that I first learned of the Holocaust. I wondered how, after two history degrees, this important fact of history had eluded my awareness. Unfortunately, university courses tend to be extremely specific, and it was easy, simply by chance or interest, not to be exposed to that period of European history. But I was curious about why having studied Modern History in grade twelve that I was still ignorant of this part of our past. I dug up my grade twelve text and looked up Holocaust. I found one paragraph which gave no impression that the attempted extinction of an entire group of people was of the least significance.
I ended up teaching various history courses, from elementary to grade thirteen over my thirty years in the classroom. I do not recall ever seeing anything in any text about the residential schools or systemic racism in Canada, and of course I would not because texts are one of the ways we sustain the myth of our historical purity. Of course, we ought not to burden young minds with our sins, a.k.a., our truths. For the last ten years as a teacher of adults, I abandoned texts and created my own curricula. Yes, I purchased texts because my bosses and my students needed them, but I only gave texts out to the students who felt a need for that security.
So, what ought we to be doing? First, we must no longer hide the truth from our children. That means that texts and other in-class materials must deal with what really happened. If this does not happen, future generations will grow up thinking that Canada is some perfect place where horrible deeds, often associated with other nations, are never committed. School administrators and teachers must no longer avoid topics that make them uncomfortable. A key task here is to make sure that topics taught are presented in an age-appropriate format and style.
Parents also have a role to play. Help your children to be able to acknowledge the evils of our past. Do not make them feel guilty but help them to know that change is necessary and possible and that they have a role to play in brightening our collective future.
I grew up in a farm community that originated with the United Empire Loyalist migration in the late 1700s. It was almost one hundred percent white. I did not meet a person of colour until I attended Waterloo Lutheran University in 1963. My grandfather, whom I loved dearly, once told me that Native people did not use the land properly, He knew nothing of sustainability; he sent me out to spray DDT on the weeds along the lane. For him, duty was about killing weeds and raising useful food. My family spoke disparagingly of recent immigrants from Europe whose cultures they did not understand, let alone respect. I grew up ignorant of the truth around me.
Do not let that happen to our next generations, please!
“The problem is not guns! It is hearts without God, homes without discipline, schools without prayer, and courts without justice.” Service for Christ
A while back, I ran into this message on Facebook. It bothered me, but it took me a couple of days to really absorb how dangerous and misleading it was. The problem with messages such as this one, sent out on the internet via Facebook, is that they are incendiary; they stir up emotions by appealing to dimly remembered fragments of lives lived or lives imagined, but they are also seriously flawed in their thinking and in their supporting evidence. In this short article, I will attempt to explain the problems with this kind of message and with this kind of thinking and thus demonstrate how damaging they can be when spread widely on the web.
Let’s start with the first phrase – “the problem is not guns.” Clearly one of the problems is guns, especially in the case of mass killings such as the recent one in Orlando. It is hard for me to imagine this angry man entering that club armed with a steak knife and a pair of scissors and wreaking the same level of havoc. Even a pistol with nine shots would have led to much less damage, though still more than a knife. Statistics have shown again and again that states with the most guns are the states in which the most gun-related killings take place. Surely, only the most perverse minds would argue that there is no connection. Clearly one of the problems is guns, but I agree that there are other issues just not necessarily those offered by the writer.
Let’s look at phrase two – “It’s hearts without God.” As with all the component arguments in the above fantasy, this one’s meaning is obscure. Does the writer mean the god that teaches loving one’s neighbours, regardless of their beliefs and personal sexual preferences, or the wrathful God who says, “vengeance is mine”? Does the writer refer to the Islamic one god, the Christian one god, or the Judaic one god? Please note that logic, properly applied, suggests that these one gods must, by definition, be one and the same god. Finally, what exactly does having a heart with god mean? Does it mean believing in god, thinking about god all the time, or perhaps just saying you believe in god? Does it mean actually living the so-called laws of god or actually acting as god reportedly said one should act? Making this choice then creates the dilemma of which ‘one god’ one is choosing to follow? No matter how one cuts it, the phrase is vague to the point of being meaningless except to radical nuts who think they know what it means, and therein lies the writer’s purpose.
Let’s consider the next two phrases together – “homes without discipline” and “schools without prayer.” They are part of what I like to call the “things were so much better when I grew up” syndrome. I have often heard the generation that raised me say things like “our parents were tough on us, but we turned out fine”. Parents were tough disciplinarians, and everyone prayed in the schools, and life was much simpler. Perhaps that is the real reason things seemed better. They were simpler. I grew up in rural Ontario near Windsor. I lived on a farm, but my nearby town had no African, Muslim, or Asian residents. I did not even know what soccer was. In a fairly homogenous society, inter-group differences tend to be very minor. Even then though, I often heard negatives aimed at Catholics or Jews and disparaging comments about Italian (Eye-tie), Polish (Polack), Czech (Bohunk), Displaced Persons (DPs), and heaven forbid, those horrible Gypsy people. Hatred was rife even though our parents beat us, and we all prayed in our school rooms. But at least the groups at which our hatred was directed were others. That made everything simpler didn’t it? Just a further word about prayer in schools. I am quite certain that the writer likely means “Christian prayer”. But Christian prayer sets up negative feelings toward non-Christians. So how does that help?
A subtle underpinning of the prayer issue is the belief among many Canadians, and I suppose Americans, that our countries are essentially Christian ones. In fact, neither country has ever been officially Christian. Instead, they were free democracies populated mainly by Christians until western business practices and interventions in otherwise independent nations, in other parts of the world, so thoroughly disrupted the lives of those inhabitants that they had to seek refuge in a more stable area, i.e., the West. I suggest that our nations have become more complicated since then, but in fact, we have only ourselves to blame. And as a result, we are no longer nations primarily inhabited by Christians but nations with populations of diverse cultural and religious practices where having one prayer system in schools is intolerable for the majority as well as grossly unjust for all.
This brings us to the final phrase, “courts without justice,” also completely obscure in its meaning. What is justice? Who is being treated unjustly? My guess is that the writer means courts that treat the first-wave immigrants unfairly and thus favour those late-comers, or perhaps, courts that uphold laws saying it is unfair to force non-Christians (read Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus or atheists) to endure Christian dogma camouflaged as moral instruction. It is true that our courts are unjust. They routinely confine black and native offenders at higher rates and for longer terms than they do for white establishment-oriented groups. But what would one expect when police forces are rife with racism and are allowed to use subtle racial controls, such as carding, routinely? This argument’s obscurity leaves it open to wide interpretation. Again, just what the writer intended.
Let’s sum up:
First, the arguments put forth are all obscure to the point of being meaningless. But of course that’s the point. The writer is not trying to use logic here. He or she is trying to incite people: people with hatred in their hearts; people who feel unjustly treated; people for whom logical thinking is not a common practice. The writer purposefully leaves meanings open to interpretation but is also aiming very clearly at a certain audience: white, Christian, Anglo-Saxon people or wannabes, who believe they live in a “Christian” nation that has existed for many years, but which, in fact, never really existed at all except by coincidence.
Second, the writer uses nostalgia for some dimly remembered Eden where parents were encouraged to beat their children and which wasn’t great but at least was simply white and Christian. It is natural for humans to want to go back to a simpler time, but all this really means is that we want to go back to being children because no matter how hard it was, we did not have to make decisions or work at crummy jobs for low pay just so we could eat.
So, in the end, my point is that messages such as the one above are dangerous when spread so easily on the web. First, because their meaning is unclear, they are open to interpretation by various groups but mainly those who feel unjustly treated by life. In North America, this group tends to be descendants of those who initially settled here many years ago, even before our nations existed (please note, I am making a distinction between two groups: those who feel unjustly treated and those who are unjustly treated). Ultimately such messages merely stir up the hatred that lies just barely below the surface. These messages do no good for our society. Second, such messages often employ the “common sense” argument for justification; however, one must be careful of accepting them because what appears to be common sense is not always good sense, especially when the thinkers eschew the useful, basic underpinnings of a proper argument - logic and evidence. Finally, these messages appeal to nostalgia for better places and easier times, but those times and places never existed except in our dimly recalled memories of childhood. Our parents, no doubt, saw them differently.
My recommendation is that when you see such messages or find them among the announcements of your friends, do not pass them on. Anger expressed sends angry ripples through the universe of being and thought. Those ripples will come back to lap at your ankles, rest assured.
One final point. I believe the writer may have made a spelling mistake. Perhaps he or she meant to say, “hearts without good.” Now that actually makes sense!
To transform the world, we must begin with ourselves; and what is important in beginning with ourselves is the intention. The intention must be to understand ourselves and not to leave it to others to transform themselves or to bring about a modified change through revolution, either of the left or of the right. It is important to understand that this is our responsibility, yours and mine; because, however small may be the world we live in, if we can transform ourselves, bring about a radically different point of view in our daily existence, then perhaps we shall affect the world at large, the extended relationship with others. (Krishnamurti, The Book of Life)
As I have mentioned elsewhere, I first learned of Jiddu Krishnamurti by way of a gift of Krishnamurti’s Notebook, an account of how he first came to the awareness of his truth and thus to the work which would occupy his life. I read this book in December of 1997. I had recently retired from my teaching career with the Waterloo County Board of Education and was learning the ropes as a cab driver in Waterloo. My pension was two years away from starting, and I was relatively poor by my former standards, but I was enjoying my humble life and learning to find my way.
I was stunned by his story of discovery and became more and more curious about his ideas. Over the next twelve years, I read sixteen books which comprised his works and a biography recounting his life. I found his view of life calming yet stimulating because he encouraged me to find my path. He did not believe in guru’s or teachers or saviors. Truth was yours to find, and it was simply that, your truth. He did not suggest that you take your truth and try to convince others of it’s universality. Instead, he understood that the best way to change the way the world is to start with yourself. Once you have become a better person, you would not have to go about telling everyone; they would notice on their own if your path crossed theirs.
The following are a few suggestions for reading should you care to explore this interesting thinker of the twentieth century. Krishnamurti, Jiddu, Krishnamurti’s Notebook, 1976; Think On These Things, 1964; Total Freedom, 1992; J. Krishnamurti: A Biography by Papul Jayakar, 1986. The last of these presents the story of how Krishnamurti was discovered as a child in India and how he broke free from the control of his discoverers and managed to find his true path. Total Freedom is probably the most complete summary of his ideas.
Click here to In the mid-seventies, I began, in earnest, to research my family history although I had begun much earlier, informally. My early endeavours included gathering a collection of old photo albums from the farm homes of both my mother’s and my father’s parents. They were freely given since no one paid the least notice to them anyway. I have carried these albums for over sixty years. Another gem which I was able to collect was A History of Families in Essex County. I would eventually learn that this book was full of misinformation and possibly lies and that the families listed had paid to be included. Sadly, I lost this volume during my vagabond stage in the mid to late nineties. I do not miss it, however, since I have found the truth to be much more interesting.
In the seventies, the most popular way of conducting family research, at least where I lived in Kitchener-Waterloo, was to use the Mormon Church archives. Almost anyone could find some or all ancestors listed there since it was a practice of the Mormons to pray the dead into paradise, and of course those names had to be recorded. It wasn’t a perfect system. Research conducted by the untrained is often undependable. In addition, typically, researchers limited their search to a specific person, so siblings were often missed. However, it worked well enough for me to get hooked and with the coming of the age of computers, the process took off.
In the late nineties, I discovered a book by a man from Hamilton named Johannes Helmut Merz who had conducted research into a group of young German men, known as the Hessians of Upper Canada. These young men and be conscripted in Germany to fight for the British in the American Revolution. Ultimately, they stayed in North America, and several ended up in Essex County as United Empire Loyalists after the revolutionary war. One of these was Johann Leonard Kratz who happened to be my fifth great grandfather on my mother’s side. His story and his ultimate survival enthralled me, and I began to conduct even more research and to expand my family tree to the point where there are now over four hundred names the oldest of which goes back to the late 1400s in France.
In 2009, I put together what I had gathered in a short book called The Clarks of Cedar Creek. I published it only for family, but at least, now there is a printed record as well as the family tree on myheritage.com.
One thing I have learned, over the years, is that things happen in our lives that have roots in the past, and it helps us to understand this when we are faced with their consequences today. It is also humbling to realize that a trip over a rock five hundred years ago could have contributed to your existence today. I had an ancestor who was immune to the Black Plague, a great grandfather who almost died at the bottom of a well in Red Deer Alberta, and another ancestor who was shot but not killed in the War of 1812. Had any of those men not survived, I would not exist. Think about that for a few minutes because you can be very sure that your history has such stories as well.
Our lives are your history;
you may read them
when you visit our homes,
when you hear our stories,
or when you talk to our friends.
But you can know us best
when you look in the mirror.
Roger A. Clark
May 16, 2000
The New Hamburg water wheel was built to encourage tourists to hang out at the riverside park, but when a body is found hanging on the wheel, the bucolic life of the town is threatened. In an unlikely turn of events, the town’s mayor becomes a murder suspect, something made even more threatening by the fact that it is an election year.
Angus MacGregor, the mayor’s former classmate and newly retired and relocated ex-Toronto police detective is called upon to try to save the mayor’s reputation as well as his job as he tries to unmask the real killer. As he travels around the region and to such far off places as Toronto and Vancouver, Angus meets up with an array of characters both good and bad and learns a lot about how small-town folk work together to save their way of life in a world seemingly controlled by big cities and big businesses.
Philip Allen Campbell is a pen name I created to honour three important men in my life: Philip Phee Clark, my great grandfather, the man for whom the word “codger” was coined; Allen Charles Clark, my paternal grandfather who always listened to me; and Charlie Campbell, my first mentor in an educational setting. I grew up on a dairy farm in Essex County, Ontario. I have worked as a teacher in Canada and Northern China and as a cab driver in Waterloo, Ontario. I am now retired and live in Mississauga, Ontario with my wife Song Anny Wang and our cats Joey and Cynthia.
I wrote Big Wheel in the spring of 1993 shortly after defending my doctorate at UBC. Suddenly, I had nothing to do with my spare time – something I had not experienced for nearly a decade. The Big Wheel story had been tucked away in my mind for a few years, but it took shape quickly that spring.
On January 3, 2002, I made a decision that would change my life completely, and I think, for the better. Five years earlier, I had retired from my teaching career in Waterloo County and had become a cab driver and eventually a part owner of a cab in Waterloo. That was a big change, and one I enjoyed beyond imagining, but something bigger loomed on the horizon, and it showed itself because my cab broke down on that January the third.
Since I could not drive, I decided to tag along with a friend who was a cab driver but was also a part time social worker. On this particular day, it turned out that he had a meeting with someone, so I borrowed his car and dropped in on a friend who had just returned to his job after an eight-month sabbatical. We had a nice chat during which I discovered that he had spent four of those months working at a private English school in a place I had never heard of – Harbin, China. Moreover, he had returned to Canada having promised to try to recruit teachers for the school. It did not take him long to recruit me for a few reasons. First, I was primed for an adventure. Second, I did not have to do anything but go; he arranged my Visa. Third, they offered me a decent wage of 6000 Ren Min Bi (Chinese dollars, sort of) per month and a free apartment. It did not bother me that I would be making about $1200 CAD per month because I was ready to go and I trusted him. As an aside, it turned out that I could not spend all of that money each month and was even able to have savings.
Eight months later, near the end of August, I was off with more baggage than was necessary (I could still get away with it in 2002) and fifty pocketbooks to slake my reading thirst. Those silly books taught me an important lesson over the next eighteen months. I read them in this order – which one appealed the most on the day I had finished the last one. I found ultimately that they were all appealing and all great reads. I suppose this proves one of two things. Either, that if you are desperate for reading material in your language, anything seems wonderful, or that I had impeccable taste in books. I know that the second is unlikely since I have often chosen unreadable books over the past several years, and I do not read them; they go back to the library immediately. Oh! and the lesson. Everything has it’s time and need not be rushed.
My China journey lasted, with intervals back in Canada, until 2010 when we returned to stay. You’ll note that I said we because I was accompanied by my wife Anny and her son Alex. Those are their chosen English names, a practice that is quite common in China for anyone who studies English in school.
During my stay I had many, many adventures most of which appear in my book Finding Myself in Northern China. It is available from Amazon in Kindle form at a very reasonable price. Below is a review of the book. I will probably share some excerpts over the coming weeks.
” I stumbled upon Roger Clark’s fascinating memoir of his years teaching in Harbin, China, a city of several million people that few westerners are likely to have ever heard about. In my case, however, my wife was born and raised there, so his story immediately intrigued me. I read it in about a day, as it was an engaging chronicle, mostly of journal entries and newsletters he sent to friends and family during his stay.
One might think that such writings could be tedious and stuffed with self-indulgence, but Clark keeps things moving along swiftly with a wry sense of humor and a healthy dose of humility. These traits served him well as he made his way through the maze of differences between his native Canada and China. It is the challenge of this endeavor that provided his inspiration. Mr. Clark was in his late fifties and retired when he decided to test his ability to take on this soul-searching sojourn alone, hence the clever title.
I found Clark’s writing smart, economic, and thoughtful, and his observations and moments of clarity moving, creating an ideal primer for those who enjoy such books. For those thinking of teaching abroad or perhaps even visiting China, this book is an easily read yet powerful meditation on the age-old west v. east clash of culture.
The world overflows with personal takes on life-changing experiences and the transformative power of living in a strange land and I’ve certainly read my share. However, Roger Clark’s addition is one of the best I’ve ever read and highly recommended to the curious nature in all of us.” Steve
I am the author of The Summer of the Ennead and I want to use this blog to engage readers in a dialogue about what this book means to me and what I think it has to say to others.