Occupy campers seem reasonable to me, By Goldwin Emerson

Occupy campers seem reasonable to me

By Goldwin Emerson gandjemerson@rogers.com London Free Press Dec. 31 2011

Much has been written about the Occupy Movement since I visited Victoria Park in early November. During the course of two hours of earnest conversation with articulate protesters, Daniel and Kailee, I listened to their answers to my question which was, “Why are you protesting the present conditions within Canada?”

They assured me that what they were protesting were not exclusively Canadian problems, but that the Occupy Movement had its origins in New York’s Wall Street district and now encompasses much of Europe. The issues that concerned them were part of a worldwide set of modern problems common to the developed world. Their total list was lengthy, but with some editing here is the “short” list.

The economic engines of the world are controlled by large banks and huge corporations. Political leaders generally design controls that permit the rich to get richer and the poor to get poorer. Students graduate from universities often burdened by debts of $50,000 and more. Yet jobs sufficient to pay off such debts are rare. One of the reasons good jobs are scarce is that large corporations out-source jobs to China, Mexico and other low-wage countries. Meanwhile, our Canadian Government annually permits thousands of workers to immigrate to Canada. Canada exports raw materials including asbestos, oil, and natural gas to other countries while some of our own natural resources approach depletion. There is also a growing danger that our water will be sold on international markets, through a quiet negotiation of trade called the Canadian-EU Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA). If this happens Canadians may find themselves, in the future, buying back their own water at exorbitant prices.

Another high price we pay for our exports is the ecological damage done to our environment by such operations as the aggressive development of the tar sands and the mining of asbestos. Other important issues mentioned were that health care becomes increasingly expensive; women’s rights are not adequately protected by laws; freedom of information is difficult to obtain from our courts or governments, yet in order to work well, good democratic systems require that citizens receive accurate information. Freedom of the press and freedom of speech remain important corner stones of democracy.

Poverty continues to grow as our middle class faces lower wages and are unable to

keep up with the rising costs of living. So our middle class inches its way downward, towards the level of third world countries. Many find themselves unemployed, and in the worst cases they face homelessness and starvation.

Canada spends money liberally on military production in spite of the United Nations calculation that the cost of keeping peace is only .05% of the costs of fighting a war. As I listened to the protestors, I found that they seemed to possess a strong ethical commitment to improving the world. The Occupiers were not selfish in the things they wanted for the future. What they hoped for were reasonable objectives that many hard working Canadians also desire.

Yet, some writers in recent Letters to the Editor in our London Free Press express quite a different view of the Occupy Movement. Some see the protesters as lazy, unwilling to work, uninformed, naive, unfocused, and ineffective. Many believe that, as our Canadian winter approaches, the Occupy Movement will thin out and fade away.

I believe that if the Occupy Movement disappears, the problems discussed by the Occupiers will remain with us. But those problems will be more deeply hidden from our daily consciousness. Joblessness, inequities, abuse of women, and homelessness will still exist. We are the ones who are naive and unrealistic if we think our problems will simply fade away with the disappearance of the protesters, or that enforcement of a city by-law, while valuable, is more crucial to a democracy than the freedom to express ideas about our world economic crises or the ability to find jobs that are able to make us self-supporting. If the Occupiers are correct in their views, what they tell us will still be true and ethical whether it is presented from our church pulpits, from parliament, or from street corners or tent shelters in a public park.

Law on dying goes back on trial, By Goldwin Emerson

Law on dying goes back on trial

By Goldwin Emerson gandjemerson@rogers.com London Free Press Nov. 12, 2011

Thirty years ago I first heard the expression “ dying with dignity” and I wasn’t sure what that meant. It seemed to be a self-contradictory statement, a sort of oxymoron. Sometimes it helps to understand things better if we look at them from another point of view, so I decided to take a look at what “living with dignity” might mean.

I imagined that living with dignity probably applied to someone who was in good physical and mental health. I thought of a person able to make plans and to carry them out and someone able to live with hope and optimism. I envisioned a person who would reach out to others and contribute to society. Perhaps such a person might be a young woman who had given birth to a child. In any case, she would be in control of directing the events of her life.

Next I imagined, by virtue of some genetic quirk, this young woman discovered in her late thirties that she had the onset of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis ( Lou Gehrig’s Disease). For convenience, let’s give her a name. We’ll call her Sue. She first noticed a lack of co-ordination and deterioration in both muscle control and in strength. Sue had difficulty in speaking and in swallowing and six months later she had practically no appetite. Then in the following six months Sue lost a lot weight. She lost control of her normal bodily functions, breathing became difficult and her speech was slurred to the point that only her closest friends could understand her well.

Next, I imagined that in another six months, Sue came to the full realization that there would be no medical hope for improvement and in time, death would come about from suffocation as it does with dozens of ALS patients each year. This realization was even more frightening for her because her mind was clear and she understood that while over seventy per cent of Canadians would support her desire for assistance in suiciding, nonetheless, there are no legal provisions for such help in Canada.

I visualized further, that Sue was still able to remember her earlier days when she was living with dignity and that she recalled the various stages of her loss of control over the direction of her life. But now she had no power to make decisions and to implement them as she used to do. Only one decision remained that she alone could make better than anyone else. Only she could decide when the thought of death was

less painful than the thought of staying alive and Sue decided that it was now time to die.

At this point, Sue made a difficult and courageous move. She summoned up what little remaining strength she had and with help she traveled to Ottawa to meet with the highest officials of our land. With clearness of mind and in whispering voice she told her story to Supreme Court judges and to politicians. They listened with apparent interest and even with care and sympathy. But in the end they said that they were sorry, because they were not able to deal with such difficult legal and ethical questions. They went on to explain that, had she made this difficult decision five years earlier when she was still living with dignity, the politicians and the judges would not have stood in her way. Since she had waited until her present state of hopelessness and desperation they were not able to help and they were sorry but her case was just too complex. It raised too many ethical and legal questions which they could not deal with.

Sue asked the politicians and the judges what she should do and they recommended that she should return home and let nature take its course. And after Sue left for home the politicians and the judges were relieved for they understood that soon after her death the media would turn their attention to other stories, the public would soon forget about Sue, and their own lives could return to normal.

Reality is not always what it appears to be, By Goldwin Emerson

Reality is not always what it appears to be

By Goldwin Emerson gandjemerson@rogers.com London Free Press Oct. 15, 2011

A few years ago, my three-year-old granddaughter, Kendra, and I went to see a statue of Jumbo in St Thomas. Jumbo was a large performing elephant who, on September 15, 1885, was being led back to his rail car. Unfortunately, on that occasion, he was struck from behind by a locomotive and was killed.

Kendra already knew this sad story of Jumbo’s fate. Conceptually, she understood that we were seeing Jumbo’s image, not a real live elephant. I asked Kendra if she would like to have her picture taken with Jumbo, and she happily agreed. After hoisting her onto the concrete platform, I told her I needed to get farther away in order to include all of Jumbo in our picture. Her anxiety increased as I crossed the street, and she began to wonder what she should do if the statue suddenly came to life. Should she run across the street for protection, or should she escape to our car? Could she get down off the high platform by herself? I assured her of what she already knew: Jumbo was a statue and statues are not living. Nevertheless, Kendra found comfort in repeating what I had just told her. Later, at home with her mother and grandmother, she proudly recounted her experience. She wanted these two important people to know that she had stood up on that high platform alone with Jumbo.

I tell this story because, even as adults, much of our own lives is devoted to distinguishing reality from the imaginary. We are not content to accept everything we are told even when it sounds pleasant and comforting. There are many things about our society that are designed to divert attention from reality. Some children, especially at an early age, have anxiety about ghosts, witches, and other unreal characters. A profusion of such fanciful characters appear on television, children’s movies and occasionally, in children’s books. Even more benign images of fairies, elves, Santa Claus, tooth fairies, or dinosaurs on the loose, can increase a child’s difficulties in separating reality from fantasy. For this reason, children can benefit from caring parents who help them choose constructive stories and experiences.

As adults, we invent ways to remove ourselves from the realm of reality. Movies, theatre, sports, art, fine dining, fashionable clothing, and classical music, sweep us away from work, worry, pain or disappointment. Of course, if these diversions are well chosen, they can bring us closer to reality. But it is important, even while enjoying these pleasures, to keep in mind that, in many instances, they are not the

stuff of real life. The finished product is often meant to be more entertaining and fanciful than the basic reality behind such choices. We choose to be entertained by experiences that divert us, if not from reality, at least from the monotony of the work-a-day world.

In the end, we are left with the task of separating reality from unreality. The reality of the physical world can be measured and, for the most part, seen and experienced. There is, however, another important area of life and of basic reality that does not lend itself so readily to physical measurement. This part of reality has more to do with positive ethical attitudes. These include compassion, caring and concern for others, respect for our environment, and engendering peaceful resolutions to human conflicts.

Parents can help children separate fantasy from reality. By thoughtfulness, caring, and critical thinking, parents can assist citizens of future generations in solving challenges of human-kind. If human-made problems such as war, poverty, over population, pollution and starvation are to be solved at all, they must, of necessity, be solved by human-made solutions.

As I reflect upon my earlier experience with Kendra and the statue of Jumbo, I am impressed that her concerns are not very different from those of adults. Jumbo represents her wonderment at new ideas that are over-powering, magnificent, unpredictable, and mysterious. For both children and adults, it is important to be able to distinguish reality from superstition, unwarranted fears, and unfounded anxieties. I feel privileged to have had a part in reassuring Kendra in her sense of awe and wonder.

Healthy aging and attitude fill out life, By Goldwin Emerson

Healthy aging and attitude fill out life

By Goldwin Emerson gandjemerson@rogers.com London Free Press Oct 1, 2011

In part 1 of this column I wrote about the thoughts many have about death.
For many the concept of one’s own death is difficult to accept, especially when we are young. As we age, the reality of death becomes more eminent. Ironically, it is important in ageing that we develop helpful strategies to acknowledge dying so that we may continue to live out our lives with meaning and optimism.
The ideas below are those that arise out of everyday experiences in living. As I feel the significance of ageing closing in on me, I want to make sense out of the process of living and that most personal of all experiences, one’s own death. What follows are some thoughts on both topics.

1. Use your talents and strengths to create a better world. You will feel more valued as you contribute to society.

2. Recognize your limitations. Set realistic goals about what you can achieve. Decide which tasks are too taxing for you to succeed in ways that you and others would like.

3. Enjoy every day to the fullest. Each day you are free from pain or worry or calamity is a gift. Whether you are religious or not, be thankful for your life.

4. Adjust interests and activities to match your energy and abilities. If you are tired after tasks like babysitting your grandchildren, don’t be surprised or disappointed. It’s a normal feeling for grandparents.

5. With ageing, problems with health or finances or relationships may develop. Don’t burden others with your problems. When asked, “How are you?” your friends are not asking for long recitals of all your aches and pains.

6. Remain flexible. Don’t alienate yourself from family or friends by insisting on doing things your way. Consider new approaches and ideas, and visit new places.

7. Rejoice in past achievements. Let younger people assume responsibilities, knowing they may do tasks differently.

8. Become less demanding of yourself and others. A relaxed approach brings peace

of mind and awareness of the shortness of life.

9. Develop an acceptance of the inevitability of death. Ironically, this realization helps one get more out of living as each day becomes more precious.

10. There is a meaningful kind of immortality in the achievements you have accomplished. They live on in the people whose lives you have touched.

11. Don’t hesitate to downsize according to your energy and abilities. Be content with simply writing a letter, visiting a friend, reading a book or taking a daily walk.

12. Forgive others. On balance, friends probably did the best they could. Even if they didn’t, hanging onto grudges will destroy your happiness. Forgive yourself for your own mistake as well.. Learn from them, but don’t dwell on them.

13. Acceptance of death naturally occurs with diminished ambition and ability. As one becomes less capable there is psychologically, less life to give up. Patients with terminal illnesses often come to a natural and rational conclusion that death is a welcome event.

14. Traditional religion offers the hope of eternal bliss in heaven. But this happy promise is counter-balanced by the ominous threat of eternal damnation. Many people, including myself, who have moved from traditional religion to secular thinking, experience waves of relief as they put promises of heaven or hell behind.

15. Be comforted in the thought that you have lived a good life. If your efforts have helped your family, your work place, your community, or others, the world has become a little better because of you.

16. Rejoice in the thought of your own unique life. It could easily have happened that you were never born. What a wonderful opportunity it has been to have the chance to live. It is not a decision of one’s own that results in one’s existence.. Life is a gift from parents, or more accurately, from nature. Cherish it each day.

17. There are few aids to healthy ageing that are more important than an optimistic attitude and a sense of humour. Finding humour in the normal frustrations of life can help to keep us from dwelling too much on the discouraging aspects of ageing. Humour may actually lengthen our lives and increase our enjoyment of the relatively brief time we have in this wonderful experience of living. In the words of Mark Twain, “there is no cure for birth or death except to enjoy the interval”.

Inevitability of death travels through our lives, By Goldwin Emerson

Inevitability of death travels through our lives

By Goldwin Emerson gandjemerson@rogers.com London Free Press Sept. 24, 2011

From the moment of birth, we begin to age. And with ageing comes an inevitable progression towards death. For those who think about it, although many don’t, awareness of death becomes a part of our lives. The reality of death reminds us of the limits of our activities, our hopes and dreams. Death circumscribes our lives, and thoughtful people include the reality of death in their outlook on life.

There are many ways of dealing with death. When we are young, death seems so distant that we don’t give it much thought. For most young people, death seems so far into the future it is difficult to contemplate, even if one tries to do so. Unless a classmate or a friend dies, death doesn’t touch our lives very much. For children, the death of a grandparent or a favourite relative may force them into an abrupt encounter with death. They might wonder, how could it be that their loved one, who was so very much alive yesterday, is no longer with them today. Thus a limited number of young people are forced into recognizing the death of others. However, even this recognition falls short of thinking about one’s own death. If I am a teenager and my friend is killed in a traffic accident, I could be shocked and saddened, but I am still unlikely to think much about my own death. I will leave that thought for the future.

When we are middle-aged we will have had more time to encounter the deaths of friends, colleagues, parents or relatives. These experiences may have given us reason to think about the finality of death. But we are likely to be busy in the ongoing matters of developing careers, paying house mortgages, raising children, establishing good family relationships and other daily demands on our lives. If we are adherents of a traditional religion, we may be comforted by the hopes and promises of an eternal afterlife. These religious promises can help alert us to the inevitability of death, but everyday demands on time and energy might convince us that thinking about death is something we choose to defer until later.

For seniors, the matter of one’s death emerges more eminently. By this time, more friends, relatives, former colleagues and acquaintances will have died. Physical and health problems will be more prominent. We will take longer to

think through fairly simple problems as clearly as we once did. Our energy levels will decrease, and installing a new digital video disc player, or a new computer program may turn a half hour job into a half day project. If retired, we will have more time to contemplate our achievements and our disappointments.

As seniors, many will have a traditional religious faith. But once again, we may not be comforted by the thoughts and promises of an afterlife, especially if these hopes are balanced against the possibility of eternal damnation. Increasing age could cause us to have more hope that such religious promises are well founded. Yet the urgency of questions about death might demand more certainty than our reasoned scepticism will permit. It is possible that, even after adhering to such traditional religious answers for many years, we can not bring ourselves to hope and believe in such ethereal promises. If we are questioning people, we will find too many mental gymnastics are required to convince us of an eternal afterlife. Our tradition of using reasoning will not permit us to be comforted by religious faith that promises so much on so little concrete evidence.

So what can we do, or more importantly, what can we think that will help fit the reality of death into our individual lives? Given that everyone will die, what will provide our lives with fullness and meaning? What will permit us to say, “I know I am getting older, and I know that I and everyone else I know, and don’t know, will die, but that’s okay.”

These are hard questions to answer, but in my next column I will try to do so.