Honesty of WikiLeaks should prevail, By Goldwin Emerson

Honesty of WikiLeaks should prevail

By Goldwin Emerson gandjemerson@rogers.com London Free Press Dec.18, 2010

Telling the truth is an important ethical obligation. When asked, ”Do you want to know the truth?” most of us immediately say “yes”. We want others to be honest with us, especially if their knowledge affects us personally.

In everyday life most people wish that businesses would represent their products accurately and avoid deception in advertisements. We want politicians to tell us truthfully what they are prepared to do if elected. Caring parents want teachers to tell them honestly how well, or poorly, their children are progressing in school. When doctors have information about our health, we want to know the truth. In short, we want others to be honest with us.

But when called upon to be truthful with others, there are times that telling the truth seems less important than when other people are revealing information to us. When we are invited to a home-cooked meal, we are likely to tell the hostess how much we enjoy the fine food. We may sacrifice some of our desire to be completely honest because we value friendship and hospitality. In this case, the value of telling the truth with precise accuracy may become secondary to maintaining good relationships with our host. In everyday language, we call these responses and similar actions, “little white lies”.

There are more serious matters that require thoughtful responses to truth-telling. Recently a web site revealed more truth than many politicians and military leaders wanted the public to know about our lack of progress in Afghanistan. This leak of information, now called “WikiLeaks,” has been widely reported during the first week of August, 2010, in major USA and Canadian newspapers, including our London Free Press (Aug.6). Both Canadian and USA citizens have begun to question what nine years of our efforts, our sacrifices of soldiers’ lives, and those of Afghanistan citizens, have accomplished in making our world a better place. Present costs to the United States of the war in Afghanistan are one hundred billion dollars annually. A website, WikiLeaks, gained access to seventy thousand pieces of leaked military information regarding the Afghanistan conflict. After sharing their information and conferring with three internationally prestigious newspapers, New York Times, Der Spiegel, and The Guardian, WikiLeaks owner(s) decided to release fifteen thousand pieces of information about the Afghanistan war. The following are a few examples of the fifteen thousand “leaks”: (1) military skirmishes lost by the

USA and its allies; (2) increasing strength of the Taliban; (3) torture of prisoners by Afghan authorities; (4). depression, mental illness, and suicides among soldiers; (5) broken homes and broken marriages among returning allied soldiers; (6) corruption among Afghan officials; (7) army equipment lost and unaccounted for; (8) the killing of numerous Afghanistan civilians, often women and children, during USA raids to find and capture or kill individual Taliban leaders.

Political leaders, including President Obama, and military leaders, stated that there was nothing new in these leaked reports. In other words, the leaks seemed to be true, accurate and well known to them. After all, most of the leaked information came from individual soldiers to a U.S. Army intelligence analyst. What the military objected to was sharing these inconvenient truths with the public. The Pentagon has stated that these truths should be immediately retracted and the WikiLeaks web site should “do the right thing” and turn over all remaining information to the Pentagon. The Pentagon added that the web site “may already have blood on their hands” This is an interesting statement in view of actions committed by the military rather than by news media or web sites.

The above statements are “inconvenient truths” which, according to the USA Defense Department should be kept secret from USA. citizens and their Canadian allies. This approach comes very close to being “big white lies” rather than little white lies. I am aware that when we are at war we ought to use caution about the information we share with our enemies, but in a democracy is it really wise to withhold such important information from the voting public who are expected to have input into decisions about long-lasting major military conflicts? In my opinion, honesty, especially with our own people, is the best policy.

Can enough giving ever really be enough?, By Goldwin Emerson

Can enough giving ever really be enough?

By Goldwin Emerson London Free Press Nov. 20, 2010

Charity is one of the most strongly embraced principles of ethical systems, whether religious or non-religious. My most generous friend contributes to approximately eighty registered charities annually. The range of individual contributions is between thirty-five and one hundred twenty dollars for each charity. In addition to this financial commitment, my friend spends time answering the telephone and responding to pleas from people who market charities. There is also the matter of keeping records of donations, writing and mailing cheques, authorizing increases in bank account and credit card contributions, checking charitable work achieved, and staying knowledgeable about new requests as they arise.

Because this generous person spends so much time on charitable responses, I occasionally ask, “When is enough, enough?” or I ask whether she would consider giving to fewer charities, especially when the aims of some are similar. For example, it may be possible to give to only one or two main charities such as health, or the environment. But this donator has done research carefully enough to know the objectives of each charity. As she correctly points out, topics like health care are multifaceted. Research money is important whether for cancer, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, heart problems, or osteoporosis. So selecting the charity to which one wishes to contribute is not an easy task for this conscientious giver.

Similarly, charities concerned with environmental protection branch out broadly. There is the matter of clean air, and pure water. There is also concern about global warming, and protection of the thin layer of topsoil that allows Canada to have valuable crops. Environmentalists also raise concerns about our forest and fishing industries, diminishing supplies of natural resources such as oil, coal, and minerals. Naturalists, on their part, promote the preservation of wild life. These are but a small part of the total environmental picture.

So I say to my friend, “There are many needs and many worthwhile charities, but you can’t save the whole world. You will need to arrive at a place where you can be content in the knowledge that you have done enough.” Still, my friend focuses upon what is left undone. What is undone may often be in areas where charities are losing the battle. Oceans are not purer than in past years. Natural resources, which have taken thousands of years for nature to produce, will take thousands of years to develop again, even if we were to stop using coal, gasoline, precious minerals, and

top soil. Sadly, this is true even if we stop using these resources today, and for the next three hundred or even three thousand years.

So I say, “You can’t save the world by yourself.” My friend responds that I am correct, “but individually we can do something to improve the world, and what we can do, we ought to do”. Then I ask, “But is it practical to be so involved in something that you know can’t succeed?” She replies, “Yes, what we do now can make life better for our grandchildren, if not for ourselves.”

Next, I question whether we can be certain that charities use donations appropriately, and she agrees that there are few things we can be absolutely sure of. Yet charities report annually to Revenue Canada, and auditors have to be assured that money is spent for the purposes for which charities are registered. My friend points out, “The probability that charities spend wisely is more likely than is putting money in the bank and then hoping it is invested wisely.

Again, I return to the question of how this generous contributor decides when enough is enough. The reply is that she feels fortunate and happy, has enough to eat, a comfortable home, and good health. Finally, my friend responds directly to my question of when is enough, enough. “It will be enough when I am no longer able to be charitable, when the needs of others are no longer greater than my own, and when I’m convinced that what I am doing is no longer filling a need.

Finally to my readers, I ask, “Is there a close relationship between charity and ethical behaviour?” In my view there is.

Bullying runs counter to a mainstay of ethical behaviour, By Goldwin Emerson

Bullying runs counter to a mainstay of ethical behaviour

By Goldwin Emerson gandjemerson@rogers.com London Free Press Oct. 10, 2010

Ethical awareness requires that we view other people as possessing equal worth and dignity. This ethic is a mainstay of constructive behaviour in both religious and non-religious ethical and moral systems. The act of bullying others runs counter to this principle. Whether in schools, in the work place, or within families, bullying has become an unfortunate and all too common trend which runs counter to treating others with respect and civility.

In its milder forms, bullying may be expressed as aggressive teasing, sarcasm, joking at someone’s expense, gossiping about fellow students, comments designed to “put-down” or humiliate, and simple pranks causing embarrassment. While the perpetrators feel they are having good fun, victims may see little humour in bullying although they may feign a smile or pretend they are not adversely affected. These milder forms of bullying may appear harmless to observers and to the person doing the bullying, but it is the victims who are often hurt and sometimes psychologically damaged. In the most harmful situations even the victims may not fully comprehend the negative effects that can remain for many years. Bullying is sometimes expressed in more severe forms, such as hazing, physical violence, harassment, gang attacks, damage to the victim’s property, and threats to the victim’s family. In these cases, bullying occasionally ends, tragically, in suicide.

Unfortunately, bullying is on the rise. In Canadian high schools, depending upon the location, about thirty per cent of male students report being bullied and a similar number admit bullying others. While figures for female students are slightly lower and suggest less violence, they are nonetheless, as emotionally damaging. A number of researchers suggest that part of the reason for lower figures for females may be that bullying of females is usually less physical and harder to confirm and therefore less frequently reported.

The increase in student bullying may be accounted for in a number of ways: it is easier for the perpetrators to do their work secretively through “on-line” bullying than had been the case years ago. Often, the unfortunate targets of bullying are high school students who in some way stand out as different from their peers. Sadly, bullying is not confined to secondary schools. To a lesser extent, perhaps, students in elementary schools and universities are similarly affected. Furthermore, bullying

also occurs among adults in the workplace, both males and females, often by those in positions of authority. While there are usually rules controlling workplace bullying, sexual harassment of females by males occurs when codes of conduct are not properly enforced. This is especially true if victims suffer abuse for long periods before reporting cases to those in authority. Frequently, those who complain may be putting their own positions, rather than those of the perpetrator, in jeopardy.

Teachers have influence and opportunity to treat all students with equal worth and dignity. As a former teacher, I can say that teachers busy with other tasks may sometimes fail to use their important role to combat bullying. Many parents wish they had the same opportunity as teachers to work for several hours each day with their children seated in front of them, so they could offer help, encouragement, and good ethical advice about getting along with each other.

Like many other moral and ethical situations, bullying is a socially oriented problem. It requires serious attention from many sources to persuade the public that bullying is not just a matter of a few people having harmless, good-natured fun. While teachers and parents may assume much of the responsibility towards solving this problem, it is essential that additional community organizations get involved. For example, legal agencies, including lawyers, police and the courts need to become aware of the harmful effects of bullying and take action to end it. The media, too, can help to raise public awareness. Institutions of higher learning could offer courses in sociology and psychology informing the general public about hidden techniques and harmful effects of bullying. Certainly, other social agencies can play a positive and helpful role. Let us all work together to combat this problem, and through example and teaching generate a more accepting and tolerant attitude within our society.

Leaders need foresight to choose wisely, By Goldwin Emerson

Leaders need foresight to choose wisely

By Goldwin Emerson
London Free Press August 21,2010

Even with the best intentions, we sometimes do things that turn out badly. For example, there are times when good intentions are not enough to guarantee good results. In these situations, what we seem to be lacking is clearer vision about how things can be improved.. Leaders especially, need to envision in advance how things can work out for the betterment of our planet.

Often we see things clearly after an event has happened, or as is said, “hindsight is 20/20.” But in the worst cases certain leaders who hold positions of authority have failed to recognize their mistakes even after the fact such as those that follow:

Robert Dziekanski, a visitor from Poland, arrived in Vancouver airport, October 12, 2007, expecting to be met by his mother. Instead, after a lonely and terrifying night he was met by four members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police who only a few seconds later tasered him at least four times and held him down by adding their weight to his chest until he died. These policemen seemed unable to envision a better plan. They lacked a humane approach to perceive Dziekanski as a fellow human in need of help rather than as a threat to four able-bodied armed policemen. Caring, compassion, and later during an investigation, honesty, were sadly missing.

The British Petroleum Company had prior warning that their safety procedures were not carefully followed. In the interest of the speedy mining of oil far below the bottom of the ocean floor they failed to oversee their tasks properly. This oversight resulted in thousands of barrels of crude oil polluting large sections of the Gulf of Mexico and beyond. The deaths of nine oil-rig workers, damage done to the environment, to animal life, to the fishing and tourism industries, are incalculable. Greed sadly replaced human life and concern for the environment was missing.

During the G20 Conference in Toronto many television viewers watched with some disgust as black-clothed protesters smashed windows, looted stores, and set a police car on fire. If they had any vision of how their protests might improve the world, their view did not come across to hundreds of viewers. Shortly after this wild disruption most black-clothed protesters either fled or mixed in with the crowd. The arrival of police followed with their full riot gear, tear gas, truncheons, shields, and rubber bullets. Their rounding up several hundred protesters and bystanders by dragging them into enclosed police compounds did not resolve the problems being faced by either the G20 Conference leaders or the more peaceful protesters.

A few days later I talked with a friend and his wife who had come from British Columbia to join a peaceful parade. They were carrying signs about poverty, peace and pollution. Both these friends were retired teachers protesting in a non-violent manner in a prescribed area away from the protesters mentioned earlier. Both estimated that there were about two thousand people involved in their non-violent protest. Both indicated their peaceful parade seemed to be of little interest to the media. Apparently what happened in the more violent parade was judged to be more news-worthy. It seems that the earlier violent protesters were generally content, and perhaps even happy, the cameras were focused upon them. This raises a question as to how the public media envisioned their own role. Why did the media quickly lose interest in the quiet parade for poverty, peace and pollution? It may be that we too share responsibility in their decision since many people enjoy the violence and destruction and excitement that we can see for free rather than attending a hockey match or a fight in the octagon cage or paying to see a violent movie..

This section of The London Free Press is about Spirituality and Ethics. Each of the areas above has a bearing on ethics. When ethics work well they work in a quiet inner sense. Good ethics are not driven by violence, greed, or destructiveness. Ethics are driven instead by an inner vision of justice, peace, equity, caring, acceptance of people from other cultures, and by concern for the welfare of humanity.

Variations on Spirituality, By Goldwin Emerson

Variations on Spirituality

By Goldwin Emerson

gandjemerson@rogers.com

London Free Press Aug 7, 2010

The term spiritual is used in a variety of ways, often leaving people a little confused about what is being said by others. Webster’s DictionaryEncyclopedic Edition, and the Enlarged Oxford Dictionary offer approximately twenty meanings of the word spirituality, at least half of them concerning traditional religious matters. For example, spirituality can mean “the life of the soul,” “something that belongs to the Church or to a priest of the Church,” or to “religious or sacred matters.”

Non-religious or secular meanings are also quite varied. Among these my favorite refers to “a spiritual home” as “a place where a person feels the fullest sympathy with his surroundings.” Feeling the fullest sympathy with one’s surroundings can be engendered by what are broadly called the arts, but spirituality can also be experienced through the pursuit of science. Many individuals are attracted to both science and the arts. Scientists involved in the wonder of scientific discoveries in the world of nature may also find spiritual enrichment through involvement in classical music or the opera. Their inclusive outlook allows them to experience discovery and understanding of nature as well as the wonder and awe felt by accomplished artists. For these fortunate individuals, science and the arts provide human discoveries about both the world and their inner selves.

When I refer to the arts I think of a broad area encompassing music, literature, photography and performing arts such as opera, theatre, ballet, and orchestral music. I also include artists who paint and carve and dance and sing and much more.

The other day, I heard someone on the radio say, “There is nothing more important than this day.” The more I thought about it, the more I was convinced of the truth of this statement. Living each day and each moment fully is probably the nearest we humans can come to approaching that state of wonder and awe called “spirituality.” That is, being aware of the moment – not letting springtime pass without noticing the greening of the earth, the blossoming of flowers, the return of singing birds; not letting the day end without noticing the sunset or the moon rise or the glory of the stars; not missing the little graces in the people around us – their kindness and generosity, their courtesy, their smiles, the sharing of their interests and experiences.

Poetry, more than anything, inspires me to savour the moment, to feel more deeply the significance and power of common things. Consider for example, the poem,Leisure by W. H. Davies: “What is this life if, full of care, We have no time to stand and stare...”

Or Edna St.Vincent Millay’s, “Oh World, I cannot get thee close enough...”
Or the camp favourite, Salutation to the Dawn: “Look to this day, for it is life, The very Life of life...”
Tennyson’s lines from Ulysses ring particularly true for me: “I am a part of all that I have met...”
Or Keats’ “A thing of beauty is a joy forever...” And finally, Sara Teasdale’sBarter:
“Life has loveliness to sell,
All beautiful and splendid things...
Blue waves whitened on a cliff,
Soaring fire that sways and swings,
And children’s faces, looking up
Holding wonder like a cup...”
“Spend all you have for loveliness, Buy it and never count the cost;
For one white singing hour of peace, Count many a year of strife well lost.
And for a breath of ecstasy, Give all you have been or could be.”

But in the quest for knowledge, science too has its moments of awe, wonder and spirituality. It develops the mind and directs human aspirations into a path of expanded consciousness and enlarged perspectives. To quote Webster’s Dictionary once more, it encourages us “to have the fullest sympathy with our surroundings.”

My hope for the future is that science and the arts will be acknowledged as compatible paths rather than competing directions to spiritual enrichment.