Saturday, December 26, 2009

A New Year's Cheer

Another year gone, like a snap of the finger,
If only time passing would slow down and linger.
Some dreams were delivered, but many were dashed,
Wars kept on raging while economies crashed.

There were those who worried about jobs and lost wealth,
While others were pained by the decline of their health.
When we opened the papers to find out the news,
There was always a story to give us the blues.

Some people were grieved when loved ones passed on,
And are clinging to memories from before they were gone.
Life can be hard with its valleys and peaks,
But we must carry on through the days and the weeks.

Now that we face a bold, fresh New Year,
Perhaps we can hope for some goodness and cheer.
May the hard times diminish and the good times rein in,
And we mustn't forget that peace lives within.

It’s not our belongings that give us most pleasure,
Nor our travels, our homes, or even the weather.
It’s the people we love and the times that we share
That give us life’s joys and a reason to care.

We are on this planet for what seems a flicker,
So let’s not enrage or disparage or bicker.
For kindness and justice and humility too,
Are not just nice words, but things we should do.

I wish for you wonderful people out there,
In this world that is grand, but sometimes unfair,
A year filled with peace, love and delight,
Where your hopes and your dreams are well within sight.


Happy New Year and manifold blessings!

Carla  XO

Sunday, December 20, 2009

An Unsuspected Angel

Every now and then, an angel visits our home over the Christmas holidays. His name is Tom. Our boys always ask for a visit from Uncle Tom (my husband’s older brother) for Christmas and when he comes, all the way from Vancouver, he is their favorite gift of all. Standing six-foot-four, wearing rock-band tee-shirts and worn jeans, this mid-life rocker hardly fits the image of an angel. This is a guy who drives a Harley, has a few tattoos and a gruff voice that could make you shudder. He’s the quiet brooding type with a powerful presence; Marlon Brando comes to mind.

Tom is a rebel of sorts, singing to his own tune and steering down his own path. He has worked many jobs over his life, from chef at a remote mining camp, to cab driver, to car salesman, to entrepreneur, to ski lift operator. He works when he needs to and quits when he’s had enough—a shrewd man who knows when to save money and when to spend. For leisure he plays poker with his buddies and goes on motorcycle rallies across the continent. One time, when he was between jobs and taking a road trip on his bike, the customs official at a US border crossing took one look at him and refused him entry.

So what makes Uncle Tom an angel? The signs have been there over the years, but every time I encounter him, they become more and more apparent.

I got my first glimpse when both his parents were suffering from various life-threatening ailments. His father had had several strokes and had become confined to a wheelchair, while his mother had a serious heart condition and was legally blind due to diabetes. Having lived in their home for over thirty years, the thought of moving was inconceivable. But their health’s continuing decline made it necessary to consider an assisted-care residence—a devastating prospect.

Watching his parents struggle for too long, Tom quit his job to become their full-time caregiver. He took them to doctors’ appointments, did their grocery shopping, helped manage their medication, looked after the house, and kept them connected to the outside world. My husband felt helpless as he heard about the trials from afar. Tom never complained, never relented, and never faltered in his mission. For well over a year, he devoted his days to his parents’ comfort and well-being. When they finally succumbed to their illnesses and passed away (within nine months of each other) Tom was devastated.

But there is more to tell about this ‘biker angel.’ When he is in our midst, his goodness presents itself in unexpected places. During one of Tom’s visits we took him skiing for the day, and when we stopped for lunch he noticed a little tot struggling up a long set of snow-covered stairs to get to the chalet entrance. Tom took his small hand and helped him up the rest of the way. I smile when I recall the image of that giant glove reaching out to the tiny mittened hand.

Next came the towing incident. My husband, our two boys, and Tom went shopping downtown for the afternoon to check out some specialty shops. When they came across the latest video game, ROCKBAND, which was difficult to find at the time, the boys tried to figure out if they had enough money saved between them to buy it. To their utter delight, Uncle Tom bought it for them. With the massive box in hand, they all trudged back to the car through blowing snow. But when they got to the spot on the street where my husband had parked, there was no car. The maximum limit had passed and because it was rush hour, the car had been towed.

If you’ve ever been towed, I don’t need to explain the searing anxiety that burns your chest when you realize that your car has vanished. Finding a cab and locating the car pound with two young boys, not to mention carrying a huge, heavy, awkward box to boot, was not my husband’s idea of a fun! Frustrated with himself for losing track of time, for throwing money out the window, and for putting his brother through such aggravation on his first day in town, he tried to keep his cool.

The car pound was not a friendly place. Angry voices dominated the scene as people retrieving their cars yelled at the attendants. When my husband approached the counter, Tom followed. Sensing the tension and eying the clerk’s dour expression, he said something to make her laugh. He ignored my husband's protests and handed over his own credit card; sympathizing  with the woman for her tough line of work, he paid the fine and wished her a Happy New Year. According to my husband, her rigid face quickly transformed into a soft, warm smile.

My favourite side of Tom is revealed through his interaction with his nephews. He can talk to them man-to-man and play with them boy-to-boy; he makes them feel important, treats them with respect, and makes them laugh. One time, our then ten-year-old son asked Tom if he believed in heaven; for a man who’d lost his faith long ago, that should have been an easy question to answer. But he couldn’t bring himself to say no, so he subtly changed the subject. Such an irony to behold—an unbeliever who doesn’t see his own wings!

Whether or not angels come from heaven, I don’t know, but what I do know is that Uncle Tom, with his tough, burly outward appearance, has the inward qualities of an angel. I wish everyone had an Uncle Tom in his/her life; or better yet, I wish we all had a little more ‘Uncle Tom’ in us.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Falling off the Pedestal

I’m not one to pay much attention to the tabloids or think much about the lives and transgressions of celebrities, but with all the recent hoopla regarding Tiger Woods, it’s hard not to weigh in. It appears that he’s been a very, very bad boy. Does he have a right to privacy as he deals with his domestic problems? Absolutely, but unfortunately, he’s the one who put it out there for all to see and hear. If you go to lengths to showcase yourself as a squeaky clean family guy, and you’re having shenanigans on the side, there’s always a chance you’ll get busted.

But as Margaret Wente points out in her Globe article, In a case of lust over brains, a mighty Tiger becomes mortal, alpha males can’t seem to stop themselves from falling away from their well-intentioned morally driven lives. She believes that if the average male had the same opportunities (i.e. beautiful women throwing themselves their way), they too would plunge into the abyss of infidelity. There may be some truth to this but I’d like to believe, perhaps naively, that raging hormones and colossal egos are not the main driving force in human behaviour.

Everything we do, every sentence we speak, involves a choice. And there are always consequences to the decisions we make. So when alpha male decides to sleep with trashy Tammy, sensuous Susan, and lusty Lucy when he is married with two young children, there are going to be repercussions. Big ones. We’re all fallible and we are all capable of doing remarkably irresponsible things, but when you are a big name, whether a politician, a religious leader, a sports figure, or a superstar, and you actively promote yourself as a pedestal-worthy guy, then you’d better work hard to warrant that status.

Some journalists criticize the public for holding leaders and celebrities to impossible standards. But is being faithful and true to one’s wife and family really too much to expect? The press and the public may be complicit in creating heroes out of fallible humans, but are they responsible for the betrayals and indiscretions committed by these men? Hardly.

I can rhyme off about a half dozen men who have thrown their reputations, their hard-earned careers, and their families out the window, only to regret it later. Sometimes they manage to overcome their shame, but they can never regain their glistening image or get anywhere near that pedestal again. That’s the price of hypocrisy.

Tiger may be in our minds today, but there are some politicians and religious leaders who make him look pretty good in the scheme of indiscretions. Here are some examples:

Who can forget Gary Hart, the Colorado state senator who was the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination in 1988? Having denied an extramarital affair and then dared the press to follow him around, he was soon caught red-handed with his mistress, Donna Rice, on a yacht ironically named “Monkey Business.” When an incriminating romantic photo was published in the press, he immediately dropped out of the campaign.

More recently, South Carolina Gov. Mark Stanford, also a potential presidential candidate, disappeared from the public and private radar to visit his Argentinean girlfriend. The married father of four young boys garbled his way through an explanation when he returned. “She’s my soul-mate,” he tearfully said of his mistress. Needless to say, he lost his job.

New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer may not have been having an extramarital affair in 2008, but patronizing a prostitution service (using government funds) was not the smartest move for the married father of teenage girls. It is believed that Spitzer spent over $80,000 on prostitutes over several years. This is a man who devoted much of his career to “cleaning up” the corruption on Wall Street. A hotshot with great brains and talent, Spitzer was another political superstar with a presidential calling. In his own words:

"From those to whom much has been given, much is expected. I have been given much — the love of my family, the faith and trust of the people of New York, and the chance to lead this state."

"I am deeply sorry that I did not live up to what was expected of me."

The cynic in me thinks what he really means, and what his fellow womanizers mean when they make such public apologies is: “I am deeply sorry that I got caught.”

Then there’s Bill Clinton...who can forget Monica Lewinsky and her soiled dress. And Clinton’s infamous words while under oath: “I did not have sexual relations with that woman.”

After months of denying it, 2008 Democratic presidential candidate, John Edwards finally came clean. Yes, he was having an affair during his campaign, while his wife was battling life-threatening cancer. The clean-cut senator admitted publically that he was narcissistic and egocentric and had made a serious error in judgement.

Do these transgressions mean that such men cannot effectively run the country? Not necessarily, but if their devoted wives can’t trust them, then how can the public?

One of the biggest hypocrites of all was Pastor Ted Haggard, the American Evangelical preacher from Colorado. Devout Christian, husband, and father of five, he was the founder and leader of the 14,000 member New Life Church. He was also the leader of the 30 million–strong National Association of Evangelicals. He had a big role in shaping Christian policy and had a direct line to President George W. Bush. His fall from grace occurred in 2006 when his homosexual relationships and heavy drug use were exposed. I remember watching his emphatic (and pathetic) denials on television.

He feels that the church has betrayed him by not helping him get back on his feet; now he sells insurance.

It’s all very sad, but these men made their own beds. They wanted to stand high and mighty on that pedestal and they publically proclaimed the standard upon which they should be judged. My sympathy goes to their families and to all the others affected by their irresponsible and hypocritical actions.

And sorry to say, Tiger...but for most people, “sorry” doesn’t quite cut it.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

The Decline of Dubai...and other tales of disaster

Thanks to the near collapse of one of the most rapidly growing cities in the world, we are once again reminded of the poison that drives such economic destruction: ego and greed.

Dubai is one of seven emirates of the United Arab Emirates, located south of the Persian Gulf on the Arabian Peninsula. Its land mass is tiny by Canadian standards—smaller than Prince Edward Island. The current population is about 1.9 million of which the vast majority are foreigners.

Around two years ago, CBC aired a television documentary (Dubai: Miracle or Mirage) about the amazing Dubai construction ventures spearheaded by its ruler, Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum. He wanted to showcase this small municipality as the most impressive global city in the world. In the CBC piece, he spoke of his desire to create the biggest, the tallest, the best, and the most decadent landmarks known to man. (Have a look at Lauren Greenfield’s fascinating New York Times photo exhibit, depicting Dubai’s construction boom and subsequent collapse: Showcase: Dubai’s Improbable Tale.)

When developers and architects told the Sheik that it was unfeasible to build the amount of waterfront properties that he had in mind, he told them that nothing was impossible. They must simply take his vision and make it a reality. Since there was limited coastline, and no possibility for further development along the shore, there was only one way to conjure up more property: create it. And so they did.

Islands configured in the shape of a palm tree emerged in the Gulf, sprinkled with commercial and residential real estate.

If you’d like to do some downhill skiing in the desert, you can pack up your gear and head over to the indoor ski hill. Then there's Dubai Land, the world’s most ambitious tourism, leisure, and an entertainment complex, which was to open in 2010. I wouldn’t be booking my holidays there at this time.

We tend to think that Dubai is an oil rich nation. Well it’s not. The economy is built on tourism, property, and financial services. It has friends with oil, like Adu Dhabi next door, but it is not clear how much help will be offered.

There are those who benefited in the short term. Employment was high and big money could be made. Take it while you can, was the underlying message. Because one day, the tide will turn and the money will run out: major construction projects will be abandoned, vegetation will be left to desiccate, and cars will be deserted in empty parking lots. The workers, the most important resource, will flee. That time came too soon.

In Dubai, some foreigners who have bought property are fearful of their fate. If they can’t pay their bills and mortgages they may face a Dickensian reality—debtors prison. If you’ve ever read David Copperfield, one of Charles Dickens’ most popular novels, you’ll know what this means.

Last year’s western global melt-down is an eerie reminder of what can happen to an economy spurred by ego, greed, and too much debt. Building and buying houses with money that doesn’t exist is not much different than building sky-scrapers and waterfront properties on a foundation that cannot be sustained.

In the US, the beautiful sub-prime packages were all wrapped up in glistening prospects, and the true value was exposed only when the package was opened by the end user and the contents were revealed: nothing. After that discovery, the collapse was set in motion and the cards began to fall. Governments scrambled to stop the last card from falling by creating the fanciest packages of all (bailout and stimulus packages). Financial experts call this a "black swan" event, where many triggering factors come together simultaneously once a century or so. Nonetheless, it happened, and there is a universal price to pay.

We are still struggling to put the shattered economy back together so that hope and prosperity can be restored. According to the BBC documentary For the Love of Money we can largely thank CEOs like Richard Fuld of Lehman Brothers for the catastrophic damage. Fuld was so driven to “crush his enemies” and become number one in the investment banking industry that he made foolish ego-driven decisions. His employees report that he had a “God like status” and that “you just didn’t argue with him.” Building false confidence amongst employees and investors, Fuld was on a risk-taking rampage.

The result? The biggest bankruptcy in history, followed by a slew of other institutions participating in the NINJA program (offering risky loans to people with NO INCOME, NO JOB OR ASSETS), and those who had bought the empty loan bundles from the banks. When Enron went bankrupt in 2002, it was, at the time, the biggest bankruptcy ever. But when Lehman Brothers went down, the crisis was ten times greater.

Of course, there were numerous other contributing factors such as:

• Deregulation
• Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac low interest home ownership programs
• The lack of state regulation/oversight over fraudulent mortgage brokers
• The Feds keeping interest rates dangerously low
• US and global investors who bought the bundled sub-prime mortgages
• Credit Rating Agencies who didn't do adequate research

When unchecked recklessness occurs in business and politics, there is sure to be trouble. Richard Fuld was not the only culprit here, but he was no doubt a high flyer who exploited the situation, instigating calamitous consequences for the world.

Shockwaves travelled quickly when the global crisis was set in motion. The Feds stepped in with their recovery plans whilst citizens lost their jobs, their houses, and their life savings. Now we have debts and deficits that have never been so massive. And who will pay? Not the CEOs like Dick Fuld, or rulers like Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum; rather, it will be the folks facing retirement and their children who will have to carry the debt load.

In Dubai, a foundation of greed and ego cannot hold the weight of bricks, mortar, glass, and steal. Likewise in the west, packages wrapped in greed and ego (and irresponsible debts) will have nothing inside.

Were no lessons learned from the fall of the Roman Empire? Civilization still has a long way to go, I’m afraid.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Bridging the Generations

“One diamond”
“One heart”
“One no-trump”
“Four hearts”
“Pass, pass, pass.”

And so the bidding goes. My parents taught us to play Bridge at our cottage when we were kids. In those days we didn’t have TV or video games or even a radio with decent reception up there. So when the weather was bad we’d play Bridge or attempt to play, given the game’s complexity. My parents taught us the basic conventions, which helped in later years when my sister and I picked the game up again. More recently I’ve taken lessons, read Bridge books, and begun playing in a women’s group.

Family Bridge is the most casual. We chat, we laugh, we argue, and we constantly change our bids and take cards back when we realize we’ve goofed. Playing with my women friends is still quite casual and there is usually good food and wine involved. It’s social and it’s fun. And we are quite forgiving when it comes to mistakes. We keep score but don’t care who wins. There has been talk about playing for toonies to make us a little more competitive.

A while back, my very keen Bridge-playing friend, Nancy, thought it was time for our social kitchen Bridge group to start playing with the “big boys.” Having found a Duplicate Bridge organization in our community, she put us on the waiting list and after a year or so, we got the call. We were in. Duplicate is serious business. There is no talking, no dawdling, no moaning when you don’t like your cards, and no wine! A card laid is a card played. One time I changed my mind after pulling a card, and even though I had not yet played it and no one had seen it, I was told that it was too late. Seems like a card touched is also a card played.

The average age of my women's group is about fifty. The average age of the duplicate players is about eighty. The men like us; they call us the young chicks, which is probably the last time in our lives that we’ll ever be called that. There are a couple of women in their nineties who play like pros and keep us on our toes.

At Duplicate, all tables play the same hands. After two or three hands you move on to the next table and in one session you play about twelve tables. The only time you can talk is between rounds. During this short interval we slowly get to know one another. We’ve learned about grown children scattered across the country, about great-grandchildren, and retirement residences. There are widows and widowers and people who have been predeceased by their own children. Some of the folks are grumpy and some are gracious and fun. Most are excellent bridge players.

We’ve had our hands slapped when we don’t follow protocol (we’re still learning), and we’ve been congratulated for good playing. One time I made a mistake and didn’t follow suit (which is called reneging) and was put in my place in short order. Our opponent yelled, “DIRECTOR!” to get the organizer’s attention across the room. All heads turned towards us and the accuser continued in a loud voice, “She reneged!”

“I’m sorry,” I said with my face turning crimson. “It was a mistake.” I felt like I had committed some terrible crime. The director said, “It’s a two trick deduction. Don’t worry about it.” The accuser looked smugly at her partner, as if she had achieved a great triumph by having justice served and the criminal adequately punished. This is when I realized how competitive and serious the card game can be. It’s dog-eat-dog in the duplicate world, and we’re not even playing for money. You’ve got to have thick skin to swim with some of these seniors.

Some people collect master points, which is a way of determining one’s ranking. The more master points you have, the more prestige and respect you garner amongst your peers. High master points to Bridge players is like a low handicap to golfers. It sets you apart from the riff raff. I’m not in the game for master points nor do I care about my golf handicap. What I do care about is improving my game, keeping my mind sharp, enjoying the camaraderie, and learning something new.

One of my favourite things about playing Duplicate Bridge is when the gents greet us with their big grins and friendly banter. They can be sly old foxes who cream us at cards, but they have yet to slap our hands if we break protocol. They inform us of the correct rules, but with a whisper and a smile.

Playing Duplicate with seniors is like a microcosm of daily community living. You’re exposed to all kinds of people—friendly, nasty, uptight, easy-going, smart and slow. And there’s always someone in the crowd who warms your heart and makes you feel glad to be there.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Tips from the Old World

Malcolm Gladwell, author of the popular book Outliers (which investigates what makes people successful), tells a story about a group of Italians who immigrated to Pennsylvania at the end of the nineteenth century. They were simple farming people from a little village called Roseto, looking for a better life in a more prosperous land. From scratch, they built a viable community where they could enjoy freedom and a self-sustaining existence. Many immigrants were doing exactly the same thing at the time, flocking to America to establish a life filled with opportunity and hope.

But something differentiated this particular group from all the others. In the 1950s, when heart disease was the number one killer of men under the age of sixty-five, the Rosetans seemed to be immune. For them, the most common cause of death was old age. When this fact became known, a physician named Stewart Wolf set out to explore the phenomenon. Was it their genes? Their diet? The environment? Their lifestyle? The doctor conducted a study, inviting the entire community to participate. The findings showed that along with a much lower death rate, this group had no suicide, no alcoholism, no drug addiction, and very little crime.

After months of investigation and comparative research, Wolf concluded that genes, diet, environment, and lifestyle were not factors. Did these people live in a bubble? In a way they did. By examining the societal factors, Wolf came to realize that the population’s longevity was a result of their social interaction. They looked out for one another in a way that he had never seen before.

Generations shared homes and helped each other, extended family clans provided support for each other, people shared their wealth and success rather than flaunt it, and they helped and encouraged those who struggled. They had created a powerful, protective social structure that insulated them from the pressures and stresses experienced by most individuals and communities. In other words, they sheltered themselves from the “dog eat dog mentality” that pervades western society.

Gladwell uses this story to demonstrate how success in life, just like success in health, is not always determined by what seems most obvious. This story also demonstrates the importance of community engagement.

It is well known that people who live in isolation are more likely to pass away sooner than those who have vibrant connections with others. Loneliness and isolation can cause more than depression, and physical ailments such as heart disease are high on the list. People need people. We are pack animals who constantly require contact, even if we have an introverted nature.

Social networking is ablaze with millions participating and jumping onto any new form of electronic communication vehicle that comes our way. I know a sixty-year-old woman who moved here from the US a couple of years ago and to overcome her frustrations, homesickness, and challenges of finding work, she jumped right on the social-networking bandwagon. I’m amazed at her knowledge and participation in everything from Facebook to on-line chat rooms to Blogging to Tweeting. She has it all covered, and it’s probably what keeps her going.

Kids are texting someone every five seconds (my own speculative statistics) and when they’re not texting, they’re on MSN. I heard a man on CBC radio say that when when he saw that his daughter had sent something like 13,000 text messages one month, he had to intervene.

We can live in the suburbs or even a city like New York and still feel terribly isolated; just because we are surrounded by people does not make us part of a community. Years ago, when I lived in a big apartment building, I was surprised at how few people I actually bumped into in the elevator. Even when there were several people sharing the elevator, no one looked at each other or said hello. It’s interesting how we crave connections yet avoid them at the same time.

According to the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research, the happiest Canadians are likely to be found in the eastern part of the country. Saint John, NB leads the group, followed by Quebec City, Charlottetown, Moncton (tied with Kitchener, Ont.) and St. John's. Each of these places has a strong sense of community. Knowing neighbours and trusting those around them are the key reasons that these cities found themselves on the top of the happiness scale.

When I re-read Gladwell’s story about the thriving Roseto community, it reminded me of how important it is to reach out to help others, to say something nice (even to strangers), to smile at people in passing, and to be a joiner even if it’s not always our thing. I look to my mother, who is the queen of friendly conversation, as an example. (Although, my sister and I sometimes find it frustrating to go out with her as she befriends just about every soul she encounters.)

Reaching out can pay big dividends in happiness. For those who don’t consider themselves social animals, why not give it a try? You may find yourself a little happier, and a lot less susceptible to heart disease. And if you find it too tough to make connections in the bigger cities, you can always move to Saint John!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Are you Listening?

Much has been written about the “Art of Listening.” We know how important it is to pay attention to others when they speak. No matter what your profession, you will be apt to achieve much greater success if you know how to listen with intention. For example, a doctor must listen carefully to the patient in order to properly diagnose the ailment; a salesperson must be attentive to clients in order to meet their needs; a manager must listen to the staff in order to optimize productivity; a parent must listen to a child to develop a bond; and a prospective romantic partner had better listen to their love interest if they’re hoping for...a relationship. Why then, are we such bad listeners?

Many years ago, when I was studying in Geneva, Switzerland, I met another Canadian on the bus. He was a businessman working for an international company, and fairly new to the city. I was twenty years old; he was about twenty-seven. When he invited me out for dinner, I accepted. Why not? He seemed nice enough. A few days later, we met at a quaint little bistro in town. Very much a gentleman, he opened the door for me, took my coat, and pulled out my chair at the table—a good start.

When I asked him about his family, the floodgates opened. For three hours, over cheese fondue and a bottle of wine, I learned a great deal about the man: his childhood, his college days, his parents and siblings, his job, his career aspirations, and his travels. By the end of the evening, I felt like I had known this guy forever. And he thought the same thing about me. “I can’t believe how much we have in common,” he said. “I think there’s a destiny thing happening here.” Given the fact that I hadn’t said one word about myself the entire evening, I wanted to laugh. Needless to say, we did not start dating.

Why do people need to talk so much? Perhaps for attention, for self-affirmation, to share knowledge, to show-off, or out of nervousness. Or, to be cynical, because of a sincere lack of interest in others. In Dale Carnegie’s classic book How to Win Friends and Influence People he tells us, “Remember that the people you are talking to are a hundred times more interested in themselves and their wants and problems than they are in you and your problems. A person’s toothache means more to that person than a famine in China which kills a million people.”

When my husband and I moved to a new neighbourhood with our young children, a local minister came to visit. “A getting to know you visit” he called it. He came for coffee after dinner and was most congenial. He told us about his early ministry, his family, about interesting people he knew, and then shared a few entertaining stories. As he was leaving, he shook our hands and said, “It was a pleasure getting to know you.” When we closed the door, my husband and I looked at each other and smiled. What did this minister learn about us? Not a thing. He hadn’t asked one question, or indicated the least bit of interest in us. But his task was done and he could check off the visit on his list of obligations.

I hope I’m a good listener. I do have a genuine interest in what others have to say and I’m generally a curious person, but I know that I can be guilty of talking too much myself, especially about a topic that I’m passionate about. The other day I was so immersed in a discussion with someone that a third person had to call a time-out to get a word in edgewise—a good reminder of how one must always be mindful of others in a group.

Being a good listener does not necessitate sitting in silence while everybody else speaks, but knowing when to pipe in and when to keep mum. Monopolizing the conversation, interrupting others, or tuning people out (as we think of our next statement) are absolute no-no’s and definitely not the way to “win friends and influence people.” The challenge is to be self-aware, socially conscious, and intentional about our listening skills.

Recently, my brother chastised me for interrupting him. At first I was defensive. “But you interrupt me all the time!” I said. Then I realized he was right; I did interrupt him, and it was rude. Part of being a good listener means not cutting people off, which really boils down to courtesy. But even the most well-intentioned listeners can slip-up sometimes, and as with anything, there’s always room for improvement.

Dale Carnegie’s advice: “If you aspire to be a good conversationalist, be an attentive listener. To be interesting, be interested. Ask questions that other persons will enjoy answering. Encourage them to talk about themselves and their accomplishments.”

...and then everybody can be friends!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Habitat for Humanity, Global Village – Destination Mozambique!

Chelsie McKnight, a young Toronto business woman, has recently returned from a life-changing mission in Africa. In this powerful letter, she shares her experiences with the hope of "inspiring people to take action, giving perspective, serving as a reminder of how lucky we are, or introducing an important dinner conversation with the kids."

Habitat for Humanity, Global Village – Destination Mozambique!
By Chelsie McKnight

“Overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity. It is an act of justice. It is a protection of a fundamental human right, the right to dignity and a decent life” – Nelson Mandela

Back in one piece! Here’s the summary of one of the best adventures of my life: I mixed cement, sawed reeds and trees, pushed wheelbarrows full of sand and rocks, thatched roofs, tamped floors, and put grout between cement blocks. I made 16 new friends. I ate delicious meals, drank cold South African cider, and took cold showers after sweaty 9 hour work days. I danced with children to Michael Jackson. I danced with villagers on my birthday, and I danced with children who followed me around Massaca.

An incredible success!
  •  7 days
  • 16 volunteers
  • 19 houses
  • 19 guardians & approximately 60 children with a place to call home
I saw orphanages, AIDS ribbons painted on walls, children without shoes or toys, medical clinics, and a first hand look at what disparity really is. I was immersed in culture. I learned about hard work and community. I witnessed gratitude. I fell in love with Mozambique the country and the people. I was able to get “back to the basics” and enjoy the company of others, good conversation, homemade meals, working with my hands, and gazing at the stars like I’ve never seen them before. I did not miss my blackberry, my bed, my TV, my fridge or my shower. I did    not want to come home.

Troubling Statistics
  • 1.5M orphans
  • 1.5M people infected with AIDS
  • Average age: 18 yrs
  • Life expectance: 48 yrs
  • 50% live below the poverty line
  • Income per capita: US$340

Let me assure you that your donations were well utilized and will make a difference in the lives of 19 families. I honestly cannot think of a more worthy cause – decent, safe shelter, and a place to call home; seems so simple. These homes will empower the families that live in them and give them a sense of belonging and hope. When one grandmother was asked what she looked forward to the most; she replied; “The concrete foundation. My grand-daughter Juliette will never sleep in the water again”.

I worked along side the mothers, grandmothers and children that will be living in these homes. Despite the language barrier we laughed at the same things, we sang songs, danced together, cried together, shared meals, and helped each other out. It was so evident to me that we are the same. We all belong to the same “Global Village”. It is unjust that I got to leave the village to return to the comforts I take for granted here in Canada. I am no more deserving of the surroundings and life I have here then the people I met.

Habitat Homes
  • Traditional homes the villagers would build could they afford to
  • Concrete foundation will protect from termites and rain
  • Sturdy walls and thatch roof does not allow rain or sunlight in
  • Come with mosquito nets to protect against malaria
  • Latrine built separately

It is so clear to me now that I must share what I have for the rest of my life. I will continue to share my time with those who need a helping hand. I will share my health and able body with those who struggle with theirs. I will share my wealth and belongings with those who were born without the chance to acquire the same things. I will share my knowledge and stories in hopes of inspiring others to do the same.

If you are interested in hearing more please connect with me and I would be happy to share more pictures and stories. You can also check out the Global Village websites to see if there is a country you would like to visit!


Chelsie McKnight

“People are unreasonable, illogical, and self-centered. Love them anyway. If you do good, people may accuse you of selfish motives. Do good anyway. If you are successful, you may win false friends and true enemies. Succeed anyway. The good you do today may be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway. Honesty and transparency make you vulnerable. Be honest and transparent anyway. What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight. Build anyway. People who really want help may attack you if you help them. Help them anyway. Give the world the best you have and you may get hurt. Give the world your best anyway.” – Mother Teresa

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Should I get the H1N1 Vaccine? A Doctor's Report

Thanks to Barb Power for passing this infomation along. (From a slideshow presentation given by Dr. Mike Evans on October 27, 2009)

Dr. Mike Evans is:
Associate Professor, Family & Community Medicine, University of Toronto,
Staff Physician, St. Michael’s Hospital
Director, Health Design Lab
Director, Family Practice of the Future,
Scientist, Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute

Getting the vaccine is a choice

• Sometimes we want people to tell us what to do and other times we want all the information before we decide... but I think most of us balk at a missive from “above”.

• It’s hard to argue against vaccines at a population level (if we give it to everybody the clinics and E.R.’s will  be much less busy, less missed work, less people getting sick or even dying) but things get trickier at the individual level.

This presentation takes you through some of the issues so you can decide for yourself.

Values and Change

• When making a decision we usually combine the information with our values.
• Faced with the same information, people will make different decisions. Your values are a factor in this decision. You may have different values than me or another- so feel free to disagree.
• Things will change. We have lots of experience with vaccines but the H1N1 vaccine is new and so this is a story we will have to follow. H1N1 may become more or less prevalent. Side-effects may become more or less of a factor. This “changing game” will also effect how you feel about your decisions.

How sick will I get?

Most of us get a cold seasonally. Definitely unpleasant but it is something we can cope with. Influenza is definitely more than the common cold.

•Bottom Line: For most people H1N1 flu is very unpleasant but they cope. Some people do get sick enough to be hospitalized.
•Reviewing US H1N1 data 1 about 11/1000 got sick enough from H1N1 to be hospitalized and 7/10,000 died from H1N1.
• About 70% of people who have been hospitalized with H1N1 flu have had one or more medical conditions that placed them in the “high risk” category for serious seasonal flu-related complications. These include pregnancy, diabetes, heart disease, asthma and kidney disease.
•84 people have died from H1N1 (as of oct 20,2009) so far in Canada and this number will increase.

Will the H1N1 vaccine actually protect me?

• Influenza vaccine is not perfect. The effectiveness depends on how the “dead virus” (that is injected into you to make you immune) matches with the virus that is circulating in the community and on your own immune system. Older people tend to have less of a response. Usually the effectiveness rates for seasonal flu vaccines is 70-90%.
• It is still early but it looks like the match with what is in the community is very accurate and so hopefully the H1N1 vaccine will be on the upper end of effectiveness.
• Typically we say that it takes 14 days for the vaccine to be effective. With H1N1 it looks like it works in about 10 days.

How do vaccines work?

Your body’s immune system is very smart. If you get invaded by a “bad virus”, your body makes a “photocopy” and sends it around so that if the virus shows up again it neutralizes it and you don’t get sick. Instead of allowing you to get sick, vaccines give you a dead or even a very small live part of the virus so that your immune system is prepared to fight off the real virus.The H1N1 vaccine gives you a dead virus for your immune system to “photocopy”.

Do vaccines weaken my immune system?

No. It makes it stronger. I often get asked if it isn’t better to get the immunity naturally? Yes and no. If you get it “naturally” then you are immune but the problem is that you also get sick! So, for example, if you have had documented H1N1 then you don’t need the vaccine (if H1N1 was suspected but not tested for (which is common) then you still need the shot). The vaccine is just an attempt to make it so you don’t have to get sick in the first place.

What’s an adjuvant?

The H1N1 vaccine in Canada has an adjuvant so it is important to discuss. An adjuvant is an additive that is sometimes put in vaccines to boost the effect. It “primes” the immune system so that a smaller amount of the vaccine has more effect. The advantage of this is that for many of my busy patients this means you only have to come in for one shot instead of two. The downside is that there isn’t as much trial experience with pregnant moms and very young kids. Shots like the tetanus and hepatitis have adjuvants.

What are the side-effects of the shot? and what about these scary things I read on the internet about mercury?

• Perception vs reality: About 20% of people will have symptoms after a flu shot- whether they get a fake/placebo or real flu shot. People often blame illness on the vaccine but they would have become sick anyways. Also the vaccines generally take 2 weeks to work so people can get sick with flu if exposed in that time. Note the only major difference is in arm pain (which wasn’t activity limiting).

•People who should not get the flu shot are those with allergies to egg (the vaccine is grown on eggs)or those with a previous true allergic reaction to the flu shot. This is rare.

•Woman who are pregnant (any trimester) or breast feeding are fine to get the shot and in fact are encouraged as it is protective for both mom and baby.

•About 1 in a million will have a severe reaction (anaphylaxis or possibly Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS))1:

•Data is conflicting as to whether a causal relationship exists between modern influenza vaccines and GBS. If one exists, the risk is estimated to be very low (no more than 1 to 2 cases per million doses). Since the introduction of universal influenza immunization in Ontario, there has been no detectableincrease in the number of new cases of GBS requiring hospitalization at the population level. 23 GBS typically happens to about 1-2 in 100,000 people. Just to be safe I would not give the vaccine to somebody where this condition was evolving.

Concerns about Thimerosal:

•Thimerosal is a preservative for vaccines that if we didnt have in there we would have other safety concerns. Most influenza vaccines available in Canada contain minute amounts of thimerosal. Thimerosal has some mercury in it so it is rational to be concerned. Because of this there has been large reviews of the safety of thimerosal. No studies have demonstrated an association between thimerosal-containing vaccines and adverse neuro-developmental outcomes. H1N1 has an adjuvant which means we need about 1/10 of the usual amount of thimerosal.

To keep things in perspective, there is less mercury in the shot than in a tuna sandwich.

Does my decision affect others?

• We’ve talked alot about your chances of getting sick but what we haven’t talked about is the effect of your health on others.
• It’s interesting, and I am biased because I see many older and/or sick people, but my main reason to get the flu shot is to protect these people. If you get the shot you reduce the risk for people in your life who may struggle with dealing with H1N1 swine flu (eg.,people with other diseases and asthma) and conversely, if you get the kids the shot, your chances of getting sick go down quite a bit.

Can you summarize the Risks + Benefits?
It will protect me from getting sick vs. it will make me sick

•Your risk in general of getting pretty sick with normal influenza is about 9-12/100. This can go up to 42/100 if you have kids. This attack rate will likely be higher with H1N1. Early data from the US is pointing this way.

•So far it looks like about 11/1000 with H1N1 get extremely sick and admitted to the hospital. You are more at risk if you have a respiratory condition like asthma. Having said that, most people feel unwell, often miss work, but cope fine.

•84 people have died from H1N1 so far in Canada (as of oct 20,2009) and this number will increase.

•Having the vaccine will be be very protective as there is a good match with circulating H1N1 thus far.

•Approximately 70% will have some arm pain. The pain doesn’t limit activity and is gone typically in 2 days.

•A severe reaction or anaphylaxis is estimated to happen in less than 1/500,000 doses.1 There is no risk or a minute (1 in a million) risk of Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS)2

1. When you get the vaccine you protect those around you. Especially those at risk eg., Seniors, kids, people with underlying diseases, pregnant moms, etc..

2. The H1N1 vaccine is like a new version of the flu shot. We have lots of experience with flu shots and vaccines but we don’t have years of experience with this exact version. As well, the adjuvant has been less tested on pregnant moms and children under 6 months. Early trials have not signaled any problems but, having said that, it is a new variation and we won’t know the full picture until it has been used for a while. There is now enhanced reporting systems in North America to gather this data.

What are the recommendations for the H1N1?
Recommendations from the Canadian Public Health Agency:

Q1. What are the recommended doses for the use of H1N1 flu vaccine?


■ The recommended doses for H1N1 flu vaccine are as follows:

■ All Canadians 10 years of age and older should receive one dose of adjuvanted vaccine; and,

■ Children from six months to nine years of age should receive the adjuvanted vaccine in two half-doses, administered at least 21 days apart;


■ Pregnant women should receive one dose of the unadjuvanted vaccine. In cases where the unadjuvanted vaccine is unavailable and H1N1 flu rates are high or increasing, women more than 20 weeks pregnant should be offered one dose of the adjuvanted vaccine. All data to date indicates that adjuvanted vaccine is as safe as unadjuvated vaccine.

Q2. Who should not receive the vaccine?

The following groups of people should NOT receive the H1N1 flu vaccine:

■ People who have had a previous anaphylactic (severe allergic reaction) to any element of the vaccine, OR

■ People with a hypersensitivity to eggs ( e.g. hives, swelling of mouth and/or throat, breathing difficulty); OR

■ People experiencing a high fever, OR

■ People who have previously experienced Guillan-Barré Syndrome within 8 weeks of receiving a seasonal flu vaccine.

The H1N1 flu vaccine is not approved for children under six months.

Q3. How long will it take after I receive the vaccine to have immunity against the virus?

After receiving the H1N1 flu vaccine, most people will start to develop immunity within 10 days with just one dose.

Q4. Can the H1N1 flu vaccine be administered at the same time as the seasonal flu shot and/or other vaccines?

The H1N1 flu vaccine can be administered along with seasonal influenza immunization and other vaccines. Seasonal and H1N1 flu shots should be given in opposite arms. If an individual receives seasonal flu, H1N1 flu and pneumococcal vaccine in the same day, the seasonal flu shot and the pneumococcal vaccine should be given in one arm, and H1N1 flu vaccine in the other.

For more information please see the following website: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: 2009 H1N1 Flu: Situation Update

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Swine Flu - From Rare to Real

A family suffers unspeakable pain, a community grieves. When 13-year-old Evan Frustaglio suddenly passed away on Monday morning from H1N1, shock and disbelief pervaded the city. How could a strong, healthy, vibrant young boy be swept from life so abruptly? Like losing a loved one in a fatal accident, there is no way to come to terms with such a tragedy. The family photo on the front page of the Toronto Star today depicts an image of utter despair, a feeling that will never be wiped from their hearts.

My son is the same age as Evan and they went to the same school for seven years. During their junior years Evan used to come for lunch from time-to-time and I recall his enthusiastic nature and sociable manner—a delightful boy with a wide smile and beautiful brown eyes. His parents were devoted, community-oriented people—always warm and friendly in the schoolyard and no doubt in Evan’s sports world as well. For all who know this family in one way or another, the heartbreaking loss hits home. This could be anyone’s family, anyone’s son or daughter.

When I saw Evan’s father on CTV last night, his pain was palpable. “Evan was my best friend,” he said, trying to hold back tears. “My 13-year-old son was my best friend.” Paul Frustaglio’s life will never be the same and, as much as we would like to stop his pain, there is nothing we can do.

What happened to Evan highlights the reality of this pandemic. In Margaret Wente’s recent article Help! I've come down with Swine Flu Overkill Ms. Wente says that we are far too panicked about the Swine Flu and that we really should get a grip.

“Ever since the spring, when the World Health Organization declared swine flu to be a “pandemic” – after just 144 deaths – SFO has been running rampant. Ordinary pandemics kill at least a million people worldwide. Swine flu has killed around 5,000 people, including 86 in Canada. Worldwide, ordinary seasonal flu kills 700 to 1,400 people a day.”

When I first read the article, I agreed with her. Let’s not get crazy over this, I thought. Let’s take measured precautions like washing hands constantly, wearing gloves, and using anti-bacterial gel as often as possible. I even thought of wearing gloves when grocery shopping since I learned that one of the worst germ transmitters is the handle of the shopping cart. But I wasn’t sure about the vaccine. There has been so much controversy about it that I wasn’t convinced we should get it. Evan’s passing and two other children's subsequent deaths have made me think again.

Given the shortage of supply, the government is now saying that it will take until Christmas for everyone to be vaccinated. Even those in the high risk groups are faced with long waits. Ironically, high risk does not include teens or children over the age of six.

I've come to see the social responsibility of getting the shot (as well as waiting until the most vulnerable have received it). Not only are we protecting ourselves from the virus, but we are protecting others from getting it from us. Evan’s family didn’t have the opportunity because the vaccine was not yet available. To decline the shot and then lose a child to the virus would only deepen the agony, if that’s even possible.

Polls this week indicated that fewer than half of Canadians intend to get the shot despite the current frenzy. The problem is that we can't make an informed decision because we won't know the true benefits and risks until sometime in the future. The bottom line is that we don’t understand this virus. The medical community doesn’t seem to understand it either. Some medical practitioners are getting vaccinated because they have been mandated to, not because they believe it will help.

In the Toronto Star article, Dr. Arlene King, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health is quoted saying this: “The sequencing has been established...clearly the younger people are experiencing a higher burden of illness, but by and large it doesn’t result in serious complications. This (Evan’s death) is rare, this is a very rare occurrence.”

This may be a rare occurrence, but when a child dies so quickly, so unexpectedly, in your neighbourhood, the tragedy is upfront and real. When the person to whom this “rare occurrence” occurred is the precious child of people you identify with, the word “rare” takes on a different meaning. “Rare” becomes “real” and you know the same thing can happen to you or your loved ones at any time.

I agree with Margaret Wente when she says, “the last thing I want to do is wind up in hospital, where MSRA, C. difficile, and other hospital-acquired infections kill around 8,000 Canadians a year. My advice is that whatever you do, stay out of the hospital – or you might get really sick.”

To all my readers: While considering the shot, wash your hands constantly, wear gloves, reduce your stress (at least try!), love your family and your friends, and be nice to everyone—including yourself!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Yelling is the New Spanking

I come from a family of yellers. I call us “the hot-headed Hungarians.” We don’t yell at friends, co-workers, or anyone outside the immediate family. We reserve this activity for each other, usually when we’re angry, frustrated, annoyed, impatient, or offended. And we don’t do it in public. I suppose it’s a way of asserting ourselves, expressing ourselves, and unloading frustrations. I don’t know if it’s really a Hungarian thing or whether it’s more about our family dynamic. We’re actually fairly reasonable and well-mannered people, but once the trigger is pulled, there is no way to stop that bullet of anger.

For instance, my sister, my parents and I love playing the card game ‘bridge’ together. We talk, we discuss, we laugh, and we learn a lot about the game when we play. But things can also get a little heated and before you know it, the decibel has gone well above the pleasant conversation level.

“Why did you bid ‘two diamonds?’” my father asks.
“Because of my point count and my suit distribution,” I say.
“Well, that’s not right,” he says. “You should have bid ‘two no trump.’”
“That’s not what I learned at my lessons.” 
“Your lessons have it all backwards,” he says.
“No, I think you have it all backwards!” 

By now, the gloves are off and we’re having a flat-out argument about this particular convention. We are shouting (not quite screaming) and the others have to sit there and listen. Then my sister pipes in, “If you are going to waste all this time arguing then I’m going home.” Her voice is the loudest of all, because she practically has to scream to be heard. Then my mother chimes in and we are one happy hollering family.

At the end of it all, my son, who is working close-by at the computer, quietly asks, “Does bridge always bring out the worst in people?”

But by now we’re dealing out a new hand and talking about the H1N1 vaccine. “What do you mean?” we ask. “We’re having a very pleasant game.” The thing about my family is that we argue, we yell, we stomp our feet and then we move on.

In the New York Times article: For Some Parents, Shouting is the New Spanking (October 21, 2009) the question is raised as to whether yelling is damaging to children. “Psychologists and psychiatrists generally say yelling should be avoided. It’s at best ineffective (the more you do it the more the child tunes it out) and at worse damaging to a child’s sense of well-being and self-esteem,” the article states.

If that’s the case, then I am a damaged person because I was raised in a shouting household. No one likes to be yelled at, and most people don’t enjoy listening to raised voices, but sometimes it’s the best way to get attention or to work through an argument. Even Dr. Spock said that shouting is inevitable from time-to-time.

For instance, if you’ve asked little Johnny eight times to put the blocks back in the box and he doesn’t do it, is a raised voice unwarranted? You’ve asked nicely, you’ve spoken firmly, you’ve looked him in the eye to make sure he’s heard you, and still the blocks lay scattered on the floor; what else can you do? You can put the blocks away yourself (which is even worse than yelling, I believe), you can threaten the loss of a privilege, or you can get his attention with a raised voice.

Teenagers can be even harder to reach. They are notoriously good at zoning us out. I can ask my son five times with a pleasant tone to change his rabbit’s litter box, but only when I yell does he actually hear me. “You didn’t have to yell,” he says. “You could have just asked me nicely.”

The last time I went out for the evening, leaving the boys alone, I asked them to please do their homework, get into pyjamas, brush their teeth, and be in bed by 10:30. “Sure, Mom,” they said, with big smiles. “Have a nice time!” When I came home at 11:00 I found them in front of the TV and computer in their day clothes. The backpacks hadn’t even been cracked open. Does this not warrant a raised voice?

My husband comes from a very polite Canadian family. He never heard his parents argue. His mother never yelled and his father rarely blew his fuse. My husband hardly ever raises his voice and he still gets overwhelmed when exposed to one of my family’s confrontations. Does he elicit more obedience from our kids? Not really.

The New York Times article gives this advice: “Experts suggest figuring out ways to prevent situations that make you most prone to yell.”

Hmm...if anyone knows how to do this, please let me know.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Coaching 101

Previously published in the Globe and Mail Life section, August 2007

Did you know that you can find a coach to help you with just about any concern, problem or challenge? Nowadays, sports coaches must share their title with those who have a shingle of their own to hang up, for almost every subject you can think of.

Are you having trouble training your dog? Call a dog coach. S/he will come to your home and for a fee, will teach you and your family all the necessary tools to transform your unwieldy beast into a cooperative and affectionate canine friend. Having trouble in the romance department? A sex coach will be more than happy to teach you and your partner a few strategies to regenerate your faltering love life.

There’s the ever popular fitness coach (or personal trainer) who will meet with you on a regular basis to make sure you are doing those sit-ups and lifting those weights. How about a gardening coach? If you aren’t sure what to do with your yard and don’t know a thing about botany, you can hire a gardener to instruct you from the ground up in what to plant, how to plant it, and what is required to maintain it. Not a bad idea for wannabe green thumbs.

A life coach will help you kick start a new career, get you on track for that much deserved promotion or help you make a life transition that, without guidance, you’d be too afraid to consider. We all need help with our children, don’t we? A parenting coach will be more than happy to advise you on how to raise obedient, confident, and well-mannered youngsters. From toddlers to teenagers, trained specialists will teach you the best approach to negotiating the psychology of just about every age and stage.

My favourite is the organizing coach—the de-clutter guru who comes to your house armed with boxes and garbage bags, and a team of ruthless thrower-outers, to sift through all the extraneous items that are cramping your space. At the end of the session your residence will be pristine and clutter-free—a clean slate which you can begin to refill with new superfluous paraphernalia. But that’s okay, because you can call them back next year to repeat the process.

I don’t begrudge the coaching profession, nor do I judge those who hire specialists to help them learn a new skill. I myself hired a writing coach to help me with my first novel. She gave me invaluable technical advice as well as chapter by chapter feedback. It could be the best money I ever spent on my education.

But I do have a question: Can we not pick up a book or talk to someone we know who has some direct knowledge in the field—at least in some cases? Can we not figure out a fitness plan, or a gardening plan, or a parenting plan on our own? I’m beginning to wonder if we have lost all confidence in our own abilities. Just because we are really, really good at some things does that make us completely ignorant in all other areas? Is time so precious that we have to rely on the advice and skills of others to help us figure out our next move rather than figuring it out ourselves?

Somehow, our parents and grandparents managed to survive in this world without a personal coach to guide them. If our children see us calling on coaches every time we need some help, will they begin to think that all one needs to solve a problem is a phone number and a credit card? This hand-holding approach to self-improvement might save some time, but it can also limit our connection to the community and hamper our resourcefulness. Perhaps we need to stop to consider what our needs truly are.

If there is one area in which humanity could use a coach these days, I think it is for the soul. A “soul coach” could help us find the answers to those big questions: Why are we here? Why are there such inequities in the world? Why do horrible things happen to good, decent people? Why must children suffer? What kind of God would allow such brutality in the world? What is the point…the point of all the struggle, all the misery and all horror?

Many of us are so busy trying to improve ourselves in the most trivial ways—how about trying to improve what lies beyond us, beyond our self-centered reality? I’ve studied a little philosophy, read a book or two about religion, attended church, and pondered these questions for years, but I’ve come no closer to enlightenment. So, I’ve come to the conclusion that I could definitely use a coach for my soul…and perhaps a coach for my spirit too.