Tuesday, December 4, 2018

The Positive Language of Evolution

Look all over the news today. Or any day during the past many years. You are likely to come away with a sense of dread, if not fear. Sure, there will be some positive stories, but words like 'decline', 'collapse', 'fear', 'threat' and 'extinction' seem to be everywhere. I personally spend a lot of my time in fight or flight mode: fight the devastation of our civilization's demise, or bake cookies and tell myself (and my kids) we're going to be just fine, while inside telling myself I'm a liar. Maybe I'm not.

What if, instead of reminding myself at every turn that we are doomed, I shift the tone towards something more positive? OK, some of you might wonder why this never occurred to me before, and of course it has (hence the cookie-baking), but changing our minds is a slow process, and maybe this is another step on my journey.

I was just listening to CBC's Unreserved, where Candace Kaleimamoowahinekapu Galla, of the Department of Language and Literacy Education at UBC, discussed the words we use to discuss aboriginal languages, and how those words affect the way the language thrives or declines. She mentions words like "dying", "extinction" and "declining", which put negative expectations in our minds, and words like "revival", "reclamation", and "revitalization", which are empowering to speakers of the languages and to the languages' own vitality. This made me think about my last blog post, which I dramatically titled "Living Well in the Apocalypse". I did have second thoughts about that title, thinking maybe that "Post-Consumerist Age" would have been better than "Apocalypse", but I told myself it wasn't as catchy. I think I'm too concerned with catching my readers' attention. Sure, "Apocalypse" will get me lots of Google results, but will it help me achieve my goal? My goal is to see a positive future, despite current global threats.

A threat creates fear, and fear can definitely lead us to take action, but is it the action that we want? Or more specifically, is it the action that will best serve us in the long term? Studies show us that conservatives are fearful, that we can make liberals more conservative by heightening their fear, and that we can make conservatives more liberal by helping them to feel safe. This blows my mind. I suddenly see this in play everywhere. I heard of a girl in our city who was sexually assaulted after getting off her bus, and I immediately went to my daughter's room to warn her and declare tighter restrictions on her freedom. How does this keep her safe? I know in my rational mind that what we need to do is educate, love, and support our children so that they will become neither the victims nor the perpetrators of this sort of crime, but in the face of sudden fear, I acted on the impulses of my amygdala. By the way, the right amygdalas of conservatives are bigger and more active.

If fear is what is keeping us from stopping climate change, from developing a fair and egalitarian society, and generally from saving our species from extinction, shouldn't we let it go? Obviously it's not that easy, but I intend to try my best, and I'm beginning by looking at my successes. Unschooling is one of them. I admit that I leaned towards unschooling my children because my own school experience was so terrible that I wanted to protect them from it. However, within a couple of years, I saw such amazing positive results that I continued unschooling (and blogging and teaching from an unschooling perspective) because I loved it. And it's been wildly successful. My kids, husband and I spend close to zero time bemoaning the school system, and a lot of time looking joyfully at our many opportunities and engaging in them. The result of this is that we have two engaged, confident learners, and have also managed to bring some of this fabulous learning theory into a few schools. And above all, we feel great about it!

If education and child-rearing can be such a joyful innovative adventure, so can the rest of the societal changes we need. Maybe we'll figure out how to properly convert to solar energy. Maybe cutting back on plastics, instead of meaning sacrifice, can mean growing, developing and purchasing amazing new foods and products! Maybe living without big corporations can mean a blossoming of new, locally-developed community resources! This can be beautiful.

So my personal challenge now is to do this for the seemingly insurmountable problems facing our species' future. Wait. Not problems -- opportunities! Language matters. Let's try that again.

I hereby challenge myself to find positive, exciting opportunities for growth! Evolution. I would like for human evolution to be progressive rather than reactionary. I don't want to be cutting out the things I love; to sacrifice joy and abundance out of fear. We have more than enough resources to live very well without decimating our planet and each other. I would like for those I love to feel safe in this societal progress, and for all of us to evolve, finding wonderful new ways to thrive, together. I want to run out into the sunshine of our new and fabulous future.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

The Evolution of our Advent Calendar

My brother and I received this hand-made Advent calendar as a gift from my Tante Joelle when we were very young. It was filled with tiny gifts and treats, if I remember correctly, each individually wrapped. My mother continued filling it for us every year, and as we got older the gifts leaned progressively more towards candy and eventually to fabulous chocolate delights. One year she included Kirsch-filled chocolate sticks from the wonderful Swiss P in Kamloops, and since the calendar hung rather close to the wood stove, they melted, soaking the paper of my Mum's delicate wrapping work with crystallized Kirsch. We ate them with glee, anyway.

When I became a mother, I delightedly retrieved the advent calendar from my parents' home, and began filling it for my own kids. In an effort to be less wasteful with wrapping paper, I made brightly-coloured bags to hold the tiny gifts, which we have reused every year since. My kids received various little toy collections through this calendar, and as they grew older we followed the trend of giving activities. The challenge, I have found with these, is to come up with quick but rewarding activities that can easily happen within twenty minutes on a week night. And often we don't even have twenty minutes, so there is also an assortment of chocolate treats (and we don't hang the calendar too close to the wood stove, anymore!)

Sometimes I fall prey to my consumerist urges and put little toys or knickknacks in the calendar. One of my favourites was an assortment of Lego people that looked just like our family! But the kids have been recently reminding me that little useless toys are really not their favourite calendar gifts. That Lego family was cute for a couple of days but now it's just plastic in their drawers. My kids tell me that their favourite calendar gift last year was the family painting night, where we spent a couple of hours making teeny tiny acrylic paintings, and then trading them back and forth to change, decorate, and subvert.

But times, they are most definitely a-changing, and as noted in my previous post about living well in an eminently post-consumerist world, we felt it was time for changes with the advent calendar. In addition to a smattering of home-made chocolates and family activities, we have made donations in their names to organizations we think they support. In preparing this, we had to consider carefully which organizations they seem to have shown support for in the past, and how we could present this in an authentic way. So in the end we made four donations - one for every Saturday in the calendar - and a few philanthropic activities for some of the family activity days. Really I feel that in-person giving should just be done in person and from the heart, so none of these activities are personal. They include choosing food from our shelves to bring the food bank, and donating to a local Women's Shelter.

I was a little worried and very curious to see what my kids thought about this change. Thankfully after opening their first donation-note, today, they both declared their approval. Keep in mind they're 14 and 16, so definitely old enough to grasp the concept that they have traded a treat on the advent calendar for their parents' contribution to a cause they care about. I'm not sure they would have appreciated this at a much younger age. Although my eldest tells me he would still rather just make donations, himself, so that is something to consider for next year.

So with a little uncertainty we move into both a more mature phase of parenting and a different way of giving during the holidays. I really don't feel we're making enough progress, yet, but it's something: A way to keep a long-standing family tradition alive while trying to be sensitive to our changing world.