Speak truth to Bullshit

On the heels of Braving the Wilderness, I am officially adopting “speak truth to bullshit” as at least on of my mantras going forward. Today has been one of those days! I am functioning on three hours of sleep, the joys of visiting your in-laws and sleeping in a strange bed.

So despite the lack of wine as an excuse, it feels like I have had a day long hangover. Currently 9:15 and looking forward to the pillow, and hopefully some decent sleep.

With that said, a young man I know is currently in hospital in Edmonton with a brain bleed, and his dad is having a far worse day than I. How do you deal with the reality that your son, in his tender years, will likely not pull through? Fuck if I know? My friend Maddie (my spiritual director) texted me and asked me to petition on their behalf, knowing full well that I am very much conflicted about that simple request. In respect for her, and them, I had a very rude conversation (perhaps with myself) where I expressed my frustration and anger with how unfair their situation is, and how unfair this world can be at times (well if we are speaking truth to bullshit, all of the time).

I am very fortunate, I know this. And knowing it, and living it, is part of the problem. Life all seems so random, so unfair, so fucking unjust. So for now, all I can be, at least in this regard is thankful.

Given my lack of energy today, I have been a bit of a sports lump. I have watched golf, baseball, and hockey. While watching hockey today I couldn't help but notice the pride with which the NHL, and Hockey Night in Canada is touting its very first broadcast of a hockey game tomorrow night in Cree. Let me first say how much I think that this is a good thing. Hockey is something which indeed offers hope to some of the youth of the First Nations in this land. And offering a broadcast of a game in a traditional language is a small step in the right direction.

With all of that said, it is nothing close to enough. Our Prime Minister is fond of the idea that he is THE defender of First Nations in Canada. I used to work for someone like that. We called him the “Great White Father”, not an endearing monicker. While he loves to talk the talk, his walk is severely lacking. All we have to look at is the housing crises on reserves across this nation. The lack of potable water, the lack of adequate housing, the epidemic of black mold, just to name a few, is evidence of how far we still need to go. I have many friends who are committed to addressing the needs of those in third world countries, which while noble in terms of intensions, fails to acknowledge the myriad of issues rife for address here at home.

Canadians are so easily outraged at intolerance directed at minorities, but are largely happy to ignore the injustice in their own back yards when it comes to the plight of Canada’s First Nations. I doubt many, if any of you who read this blog, have actually visited a reserve. Truthfully it has been ten years since I have visited one. I spent a lot of time on reserves while I practiced law, and what I encountered there troubled me then. When I got into coffee and started visiting coffee producing countries, my world was then filled with the poverty and injustice of Africa and Central America. The simple truth is that the world is filled with poverty, and injustice. It is overwhelming. And yet, it should demand our attention. It should require more than a telecast of a hockey game in Cree. It should demand houses that are not Petri dishes for black mold. It should demand water supplies that provide safe drinking water, in a country in possession of more fresh water than any other nation on earth. It should result in a Federal Government that actually walks the talk, and deals with their fiduciary obligations of signing treaties (avoiding wars) decades ago. The poverty and injustice in our world requires more than lip service.

I have no illusion that a conservative government led by Andrew Sheer will solve these problems. In fact, they will probably make them worse. I am under no illusion that re-electing Rachel Notley’s NDP will make the lives of First Nations better in Alberta. And I very much doubt that Jason Kenny will lead the charge in terms of addressing injustice. But what I do know is that individual Albertans, Canadians, can solve this issue. If we demanded that our leaders finally addressed the century long injustices, we could perhaps see true reconciliation occur in our life time. A pipe dream perhaps. Albertans would be required to apply their outrage at intolerance upon themselves and look into the mirror, recognize their own prejudices and demand justice. A tall order, perhaps?

Enough ranting? Well I am almost fifty, and I figure I have very little to lose. Be offended if you must, but it is high time that I started speaking truth to bullshit.

Fu#cking Oilers! #@$*!

OK, so you didn’t like my last post filled with analogy!

Hell, I am not writing for likes or atta boys, not even views, but I thought that my desert analogy was at least moderately clever. Perhaps being clever isn’t what you want? Perhaps you are more attuned to the harsh bitter truth. Perhaps our world is more aligned with bullshit, ala Trump, and false promises. Perhaps we are more likely to respond to the drivel of Big Brother or sniveling politicians who promise us the moon and are so brash as to not even disguise the crossed fingers held up for all to see.

I attended the Oilers game tonight, with my good friend Richard and we had fun for two periods, the team was playing together (well at least not against each other). Then came the third period and all hell broke loose, the wheels fell off (or as my son commented the wagon done got blowed up!). How the hell does a team completely loose all modecome of dignity and simply pack it in? How does a professional hockey team simply decide that two periods (well if I am being honest, one and a half periods, they got lucky) is enough hockey to play. An arena full of rabid fans is not enough. A plethora of angry critics ready to pounce is not enough. Dignity and pride are not enough, obviously, as they were happy to simply collapse into a state of corporate dispondance and figuratively head for the exits, which Richard and I did with ten minutes to spare!

The problem with this game, this false pretense of hope is that it reminded me too much of my life. Take for example my dialogue with the executive director of Alberta Snow boarding last Tuesday wherein I queried whether the Slope Style competition would run, when the forecast for Calgary was -27 degrees before the wind chill. I was hoping to stave off unnecessary AirBnB charges and a trip to cowtown. I was assured that the hill (COP by Winsport) would stay open and the competition would happen no matter what. Surprise, surprise, Saturday afternoon came and we were informed by Andrew’s coarch Gerald that the Sunday event was being cancelled. Doesn’t commen sense factor into people’s lives? Isn’t a modern day forecast built around the polar vortex enough to dispel misguided hope? At least the Boy got some good practice in on Saturday, and I got a chance to visit my dear aunt and uncle whom I haven’t seen in far too long.

What is it about the human spirit which is so predisposed to deny the truth, cling to hope despite the fact that it is attached to a thin thread being cooked by a flame? Why can’t we just be realistic and acknowledge the fact that our world is doomed and headed to hell in a hand basket?

Why the hell must we be so damned hopeful, despite all the evidence?

To draw from the well of my previous analogy, hope is pretty much like the water we drink. By the way, did I neglec to articulate the frozen pipes we encoutered when we arrived back from the futile trip to cowtown? Yes it is true, my house was ill conceived by its designers, and is not built to withstand the frigid tempuratures of minus thirty-five. So I am forced to pull off kickplates, pull out the dishwasher and drag out a space heater to warm up frozen water lines. Thankfully nothing has burst but my patience!

Getting back to the damn Oilers, why do we continue to support them? Why do tens of thousands of people pay good money to plop their asses in seats, only to be disappointed? What is it about the notion of hope that we collectively cling to like a bear on a wire, desperate for a snack?

This isn’t rhetoric people! I don’t have a frickin clue as to why we persist to hope despite all evidence to the contrary. When speaking of the Oilers, perhaps it is collective sympathy for Connor McDavid? But when speaking of life in general, I am at a loss to understand why we as humans are predisposed to remain hopeful, despite the failings of systems, family, and the institutions we rely on.

Driving home tonight, all that I could think about is how the city of Edmonton transportation system has failed us Edmontonians by making a decision to not sand our roads and giving us up to navigating iceways without the benefit of skates. All I could think of was how elections have become reduced to vulgar popularity contests built on lies and false promises. All I could think of was how my wife has been subject to a broken system of health care which cares more about denial and self preservation than the hypocratic oath. The list could go on.

Why the hell do I care?

But despite it all, I do care. I am outraged because I see injustice, see inequality, see persistent sexism, racism, see the rich trample the poor, see those in power abuse their privilege to maintain their position and status…. and I see that I am now simply rambling, simply spewing diatribes, reliving the past trauma of my travels which exposed me to poverty and inhumanity which frankly have deeply scarred me.

So maybe that is why the Oiler’s inability to win a game is so troubling? Perhaps it is the analagous nature of a hockey game which forces me to examine my own life, and see it for what it truly is. Perhaps it is this internal conflict, this tightrope that I walk between hope and despair….

Analogy seemingly didn’t resonate, so now I offer up broken rambling fucking honesty.

How much water should you drink when hiking in Death Valley?

How many litres of water do you need to drink while out hiking in Death Valley? This isn’t likely a question you have been asked recently, or even pondered. I rarely drink enough water during any physical activity. I find that while I ride, or hike, or even work outside, that stopping to drink seems inconvenient, almost bothersome. But there comes a point in time, when despite the interruption, my body (now parched) screams for water, and it is at that point when drinking water rarely seems to quench my thirst.

I have been living along side chronic pain now for quite some time. Living with chronic pain is harder than living beside someone who suffers from it. I know this all too well. I am not the one who is confined to a bed with perpetual migraines, not the one pushing the limits on barely effective medications just to eke out a semblance of a human existence. The confines of chronic pain are immense, and the isolation that accompanies it is cruel.

Loading up with enough water for a hike is a relatively easy endeavour. While it might seem inconvenient and burdensome at the beginning of the excursion, the burden lessens as one progresses and more than that, the water sustains and enables the journey in and of itself. 

Hope is a lot like water. 

Venturing out into the desert without enough water will likely prove to be a fatal excursion. Venturing on the journey of life without hope, is not life threatening in the physical sense, but I think it is “life” threatening on a psychological and emotional level. People without hope tend to perish in one way or another.

Being prepared for a long hike in a hot climate isn’t too difficult. Light clothes, a good hat, perhaps sunscreen, some trail mix and of course plenty of water. Living with chronic pain is a lot like setting out for the anticipated hike, getting half way out, and discovering that the vessel that you used to carry your water has a leak. A leaky bottle is akin to hope dashed. Too many hikes into the hot sun with a leaky bottle results in the loss of hope. 

Hopelessness is lot like leaky water bottles.

What’s funny (not really) is that many people who never spend any time hiking in the desert, seem anxious to offer advice on how to do that successfully. It seems odd to me that people feel compelled to wade in with their advice, the snacks to bring, the kind of attire to wear, and especially how best to avoid leaky water bottles. Everyone seems to be an expert on how to avoid leaky water bottles! Even better is how many times people ask whether we have even packed any water for the perilous excursion? 

The reality though is that the average hiker can only handle so many excursions into the hot sun, where the hike started in a state of being fully prepared, only to discover that despite best efforts, you are out of water before the journey is half finished. Like a rat in a Skinner box, too many failed excursions (punishment) can result in a state where there is no longer even a desire to venture out.

Despite our learned aversion to excursions, our family recently geared up and ventured out into the desert once again. Like every time previously, we have begun this journey well prepared, even managing to scrounge up some new water bottles, after checking them all thoroughly for leaks. Time alone will reveal whether these vessels will endure until the end of this excursion. 

Hope is a lot like water.

Core Values

Almost five years ago, Transcend went through a process of establishing its core values. At the time, I actually didn't put much stock in the process. I have never been a fan of all the corporate mumbo jumbo that companies get excited about. I have little patience with CSR (corporate social responsibility) initiatives; don’t get me wrong, I am all a huge supporter of business being responsible and participating members of their communities, I just cringe at those efforts when they are dressed up marketing efforts. What I have learned in the ensuing years since we adopted ours, is that they must be CORE VALUES. This means that everyone in your organization needs to not only know what they are, but actually live them out. They need to essentially be the DNA of your organization which informs all decisions, who you hire, who you fire. They should define and nurture your culture. All of this, I have learned, takes time and a significant amount of intentionality and resources.

Recently, I have been thinking about my own personal core values. Brené Brown actually talks about this in her most recent book Dare to Lead. She encourages the self evaluation which ends up with identifying personal core values. While I am not sure I have nailed down my two core values yet, I definitely know that one of them is generosity. I am not sure when and where it was hardwired into my core, but along the way it has come to define me. I am not saying that I am always generous. For example, I am still learning how to be more generous in my assumptions towards others, shedding the cynicism which I became all too comfortable with these past years. Maybe another core value for me is community, I am not sure, perhaps transparency? Regardless, it is useful to work through the process of identifying the one or two things which drive most of your decisions and serve to motivate one’s actions.

Why am I writing about this today? Well in short, I received an email from my kid’s principal today where they announced the new branding for his school. As with most rebranding exercises, the logo changes are subtle, and to understand all of the nuances behind why one part is this colour or that is lost on almost everyone outside (and often within) of the organization. But what truly struck me and more accurately made me angry is the list of core values that accompanied the announcement of the new logo.

Learning should be rigorous and relevant

Teaching is learner centred

Students are complex, dynamic and capable

Effective instruction is engaging and empowering

Assessment clarifies goals, feedback and success

We are a positive and dedicated community

All means all

One of the fundamental aspects of core values is that everyone in the organization knows and lives by those core values. As I read through the list above, my instant reaction was that there is no way in hell that my kid knows these core values, let alone allows them to inform how he lives out each day at the school. I am not saying that there aren’t positive sentiments, even truth, represented in the values, but I am highly suspicious that all the students (probably not even all the teachers) allow these stated values to impact their lives in any meaningful way. And if what is said about is true, that teaching is “learner centred” shouldn’t the core values be about the students and not the teachers? Wouldn’t this make for a better learning environment? But alas, that educational model simply isn’t efficient, isn’t affordable, so we persist in antiquated models of assessment that have little if nothing to do with learning.

If you have read this far, I applaud your persistence and your generous offering of your time. I realize that this post has little to do with my journey, other than I felt compelled to write something after being pissed off. So maybe it does have something to do with my journey after all? Normally I would just quietly swear to myself and let my frustration sink inwards, which is probably why I became such a cynic! Maybe this writing will prevent another brick being laid in that wall that I am trying so desperately to knock down.

For the record here are the Core Values for Transcend Coffee

Celebrate Taste

Never Best only Better

Build and Foster Community

Never Stop Learning

Exceed Expectations