Thursday 24 January 2013

Toronto Pathways Scam

I was recently the target of, what I would term a “clever scam” and, while, in the end, all that was lost was a little of my time and energy (and a slightly bruised ego for being led on at least part of the way), I thought I needed to share my experience.

I received a call from what a company named Pathways ("Pathways*" on a business card and Toronto Pathways on their website) inviting me for an "interview" in relation to potential career opportunities. Some recruitment agencies do hold in-person interviews so this wasn't a total surprise and I agreed. At the "interview", everything started off as one would normally expect, reviewing my resume, discussing past employment experience, etc. Maybe there were a few too many irrelevant personal questions being asked about my family situation, ages of my children, etc. but the agent and I seemed to have good rapport so I allowed it.

Things got exciting as claims started to pile up about the "agency" having access to an expansive listing of job postings from the "hidden" job market, direct interface with internal company job posting databases, two to three hundred new jobs every day, most of which are not publicly advertised, and even indications that they had several opportunities already for which they felt I was an excellent fit. There were assurances about the speed at which Pathways likes to operate, the expertise and efficiency with which they market their candidates and number-drops of lucrative salaries along with indications about their clients negotiating even better offers than the already excellent salaries mentioned and getting sign-up bonuses! I consider myself a rational person and not one to take bait readily but the approach was so slick that even I started to wonder what I had been missing in the way I handled my career progression all these years.

What really set the flags off, however, was when I was invited to a second interview and the agent slickly suggested that my wife be present as well to "bring her on board" with my career strategy, the specific "methodology" the agency was using, etc. This is when I started wondering just what bill of goods was I being sold. When I inquired on who covered the costs of all of the agency's efforts, I was told that “part” of the cost would be shouldered by me in the form of a "retainer" fee but my qualifications were so good and they had such a positive indication on how fast they could place me that, in my particular case, the "retainer" would be rather small - I would be an easy sell to potential employers. Requesting that I be given at least a range within which the "retainer" moved were deflected with explanations on how they did not want to mislead me with the wrong number until they had an opportunity to perform a thorough assessment of my profile against their job database. After all, I was lucky to have them do this as they only chose to represent about one out of seven people that they meet with.

I nodded my way through the rest of the meeting but, as soon as I got home, I reached out to Google and found multiple complaints about the fraudulent tactics employed by this "agency". In essence, they tend to target new Canadians in particular, taking advantage of their cursory knowledge of the mechanics of the job market. The goal is to make the potential client believe that imminent employment, with a much higher salary than you had expected up to this point, is just about guaranteed and it appeared that there would be little to no effort on your part as the deal was almost in the bag - just leave it to the "experts with all the diplomas on the wall". The end result of the smooth sales pitch is a fee in the $3,000 to $7,000 range although no numbers were quoted to me – I found that out by researching online after the “interview”. With a sale that sizable, I assume Pathways technique includes bringing in the spouse at the second interview to close the deal with both partners and offset buyer's remorse cancellations. Once the payment is made, you find that you have to take your chances like everyone else - they just help you improve your resume and train you on presenting yourself at potential employment interviews. The quality and value of those services is unknown as some of their clients never even get a job interview. All those imminent job opportunities seem to vanish!

The entire approach and pitch is very accurately exposed in this CBC Marketplace Investigative Report: "RecruitmentRip-Off". It was deja-vu watching this report as I heard the same agent in the report video utter the same words to the undercover CBC investigative reporter (with a hidden camera) that were said to me. So perfect was the match that you could tell the agent had it all memorized complete with an entire arsenal of buyer objection rebuttals.

Well, was I relieved to have found this out in time! Needless to say, I abandoned the entire thing but thought I should spread the word around as far as I could. Feel free to pass this on to family, friends and colleagues who may be out there, seeking that dream job. Pathways is not the place to find it!

Sunday 22 July 2012

Child Imprisonment

I grew up on the street.  Pretty literally.  No, I was not an orphan and my family wasn't homeless.  It was a perfectly normal middle-class family in Eastern Europe, like any other.  Basic necessities were not a concern.  Everything else was pretty close to illegal, immoral or, in the very least, sternly frowned upon.  Unless you had an "in" with the authorities.

Authoritarianism and corruption aside, however, I was a kid like any other you could see growing up in the folds of socialism.  We were pretty playful, somewhat ambitious, somewhat paranoid but mostly care-free.  And we all grew up on the streets.  As much as the weather allowed, we would be out playing with our play pals from the time school finished, lunch was had and homework was done until the sun set and sometimes even later than that.  Small parks and playgrounds, lanes between old houses, back and front yards, anything and everything that was covered with grass, mud, asphalt or cobblestone - those spaces were ours.  They belonged to the children with only a scarce parent around pushing a stroller and, most often, not even that.

Communications with the mother ships consisted of loud hollers from balconies and windows beckoning us for dinner or having our noses wiped.  We were supposed to be within ear shot.  Not always, though.  And, if we could not hear the call, it wasn't such a big deal.  Sooner or later, rumbling tummies would send us back home for a few scorns and some home-cooked food and then it was out again.  Out, where we were happy, free, unconstrained with walls and scant collection of toys.  Where our imagination would build fortresses, mountains and oceans where we'd turn into knights, cowboys, criminals, Mohawks, kings, divers and whatever else we could come up with.

We didn't all like each other.  The world was quartered off between friends, so-so's, bullies and outright strangers.  We were cautious with each other because of that because we all had to somehow get along or the game would be ruined.  And we would sometimes end up insults and bruises, with scratched elbows and knees and there were the occasional broken bones and bloody noses.  And it was still all fine and it was glorious.

And, once in a while - very rarely, though - something serious would happen.  It was part of the course.  It was something we learned to both live with and protect against.  The same lectures you would hear today about not talking to strangers or getting in cars - we had all that.  Because children are naive, in general.  But they also learn faster.  We did learn faster.  And they can be intuitive, if need be.  And we were, by necessity.  We were street-smart.  And it did not destroy our childhood, it did not necessarily make us tougher and rougher.  No one really worried about that.  It did, however, make us a bit more adept to the world of the grown-ups where things have many more dimensions.

Fast-forward to present day and I am a parent myself.  Raising two children in the West.  In Canada.  As a parent, I am the cat's ass.  Here everything is provided; or can be bought.  Order is strictly maintained; or at least so it seems.  Social values are embedded in laws; or at least the ones that make the agenda.  I am a parent proud that I have made it.  My children are healthy and safe.  They have what they need; they are encouraged to grow, to learn, to make something of themselves.  They are always sheltered from the evils of the world.

And yet, something is missing.  Looking at my ten year old son, with all of the joy and love in his eyes, I see something missing.  Not in him or me, but in his life.  It seems in our strife to eliminate all dangers and risks, we have taken something away.  We have taken away adventure and risk, these key ingredients of adolescence and the joy of life.  We have taken away the unpredictable, the unexpected.  We have scrubbed their environment so well from all risk and unpleasantness, no matter how improbable, that we have ripped them away from their own childhood.  It reminds me of a thought someone once proposed that, if children grow up in an environment that is too sterile, they become more susceptible to illness than if there was always at least a bit of dirt for them to roll in.

I know lawmakers and parents are all well-meaning.  That is why we have laws against child abuse, neglect and abandonment.  And there are cases where grown ups and even parents should be held responsible.  But, in the effort to eliminate all risks to children, have we sterilized their childhood too much?  Have we forced parents into a second full-time babysitting job?  Worse yet, have we forced them to be the entertainers, the clowns that children need to distract them from the dull-drums of their pallid existence?  How much resentment have we bred that way, of parents against children and children against parents?  Yes, we all find ways to deal with that but is a childhood that depends on computers and video games to fill in the socialization gaps what all parents want?  Or where play time is rationed in fixed time slots of play dates that depend on matching family schedules and availability of parent chauffeurs?  Where, for convenience sake, playtime is closed off between four walls or outside time is paid for with the last remaining minutes of free time of the parent forced to sacrifice?  Where, for the most part, children are left to their own devices in a home with two tired, grumpy, busy parents.  Isn't it obvious how this makes our society even more alienated?  Who wins out of all this?  Is this what we all wanted?

I am not saying that child molesters and abductors don't exist.  They do and they are a very real danger.  But they have always been around, even when I was growing up as a kid.  I had my own exposure to that when I was forced to touch a man's penis and another where I was felt up on the bus.  Pretty innocent compared to what could have been.  Can I say I enjoyed it?  Of course not - I was violated.  But can I say that it ripped my life apart?  Not at all.  It made me a bit more shrewd about the perversity of humankind, a bit more cautious and alert.  It was a lesson I would have hardly learned as well if it was just hearsay from the grown-up tales.  Was I scarred for life?  Singed a bit, maybe.  But I quickly learned what "hot" means.

I do not wish a single parent to undergo the horror of losing their child.  Neither do I wish a single child to be the subject of violence, however "mild".  But what I keep on questioning is whether, in our diligence to protect our children, we have not ripped apart their childhood altogether and taken away the unpredictability that makes childhood what it is - the learning experience that prepares us for the really messy grown-up life.

I will admit, I am confused.  But of one thing I am certain - there has to be a better way!

Sunday 4 March 2012

Is the Grass Really Greener on the Other Side?

You may have often heard this curious English idiom uttered in a derisive way about someone who is not content with their circumstances.  It may have even been said in an accusatory way: "What, you think the grass is greener on the other side?" implying that, by wanting something other than what is, the person has somehow sinned against the greater common and put under question the values that bind us into a well-functioning society.  Yes, I think the judgment even goes that far.

But I'd like to argue that this yearning for something else is not only normal, it is what defines us as a species in the most peculiar way, beyond mere anatomy and measurable differentiations.  Derision and accusations aside, we should probably celebrate the uneven hues of green on the lawns of our Universe.

In my understanding, "reality" does not "really" exist.  Or, if it does, it isn't all that important.  Shocked?  Don't be!  Remember that all we "really" know about "reality" is our perception of it.  We don't really know for sure that what we think is solid matter or a red colour or a warm breeze is really there.  There is the perception consensus that tells us that "everybody knows" that a rock is heavy, hard and lifeless and that the rainbow has all colours but, in the end, each person perceives those things in their own way and there is no way to be certain that they see, hear, feel and experience the things we talk about in exactly the same way as us.  Sure, there must be some commonalities or some of us would be able to walk through walls and others wouldn't, but no one can really know what an individual's experience of "reality" is unless they somehow stepped inside their skin, saw through their eyes, felt with their touch.

So, when we chastise someone that they think "the grass is greener on the other side", we are really only passing judgment on their perception.  We really cannot know whether, from their point of view, the grass really IS greener out there.  We just assume it isn't; based on our equally subjective, perception.  For all we know, they could be closer to the truth than we are.

Going back to the perception consensus, judging others' views is really about conformity, about making sure that we all march to the same tune and we don't have the odd black sheep disturbing the flock.  If we weren't concerned with that, why would we care whether a person wants to change their status quo, whether they are dissatisfied with what is or see an alternate state as better?  Yeah, enforcement of the common view!  And, to those of you who claim that they really care and that your advice for the curious cats to reign in their yearnings is only to protect them from harming themselves, the fact is that you may only deem they are at risk because the multitude would judge and punish their deviation from the perception consensus.

Let's take this a step further, however.  As dubious as the benefits of progress may be (more on that some other time), none of the things we take for granted today: electricity, the modern car, indoor plumbing, modern medicine, would be possible until someone, sitting in the dark, anticipating a long walk to a germ-infested outhouse to answer Nature's call, thought to themselves "There's got to be a better way!"  You got it, they were yearning for greener pastures.

It can be argued that discontent is embedded in the human condition.  From the time humans gained self-awareness, the time it occurred to us that each of us is a separate entity from the rest of the Universe and from other human beings, the concepts of the ego, the "I" and the "other" were born.  The fence separating us from that greener patch of grass on the other side came into being.  And, since then, we have wanted nothing more than to get rid of it.  It is a defining moment for humanity.

So, now that we have theorized all this, what happens when someone wants to get to the other side?  Do we still try to talk sense into them?  Do we help them?  Do we smugly watch as they rip the bottom of their pants over the barbed wire?  And, isn't our judgement over these nosy oddballs really a different way of yearning for the greener grass?  For a world where we wouldn't have to be challenged by those nuisances?  Where we can lay back and enjoy our misery because we simply wouldn't know better?  Is it fear or just mere laziness that stops us from being a nuisance ourselves?

The bigger question really is: "Is the grass really greener over there?"

In reality, it probably isn't.  Or better yet, no one knows and no one could know.  And better yet, it doesn't matter.  But, until we get over the fence or figure out how to dismantle it, anyone peeking over with yearning should be celebrated for being an active agent of who we are as a species, at least at the present time.

Nothing wrong with understanding and accepting yourself as you are.  It is the only path to figuring out who you want to be and how to get there, on that greener patch.  On the other side.

Tuesday 28 February 2012

To My Beloved

So, we are different, you and I.  That I know.  After over a decade together, after seeing the children through the tough early years, the promises we promised not to make but secretly hoped the other would keep without uttering - I know now.  We are different and separate.  You do not complete me.  I do not complete you either.  You never could and neither could I you.  No one completes anyone.  One can only strive for one's own completeness, completion and beyond.  The only hope, your own self.  There's nothing more than that.

Is this desperation?  Far from it, I hope.  I love you.  More than I knew I could, I think.

I am a crazy bastard, I know.  I get mad at you, I lecture you, I try to guide you and I sometimes impose my authoritative opinion over you.  I am sometimes possibly even downright rude to you.  And you get mad.  And you are right to be mad at my disgusting tactics.  And then you sometimes agree.  And sometimes I am triumphant that you did, and sometimes I am mad because you should have got there on your own.  I am a curse to be with, I know.

And none of what good it may bring you makes me right.  None of it makes doing all these nasty things right.  And yet it still does not mean I don't love you.  Because I do.  Because we are different and yet I want you.  Not just in the carnal sense though that is nice, too.  But because I want you to be happy.  No, not in a limited, controlled way that would please me.  Cast me away after you are done with me, for all I care.

I want you to be complete on your own.  Strong, independent, powerful and capable to deal with every challenge you face on your own.  Able to expand upon that quantity we self-deceptively think is limited and call the "I".  To seek your ultimate breadth, to find the passion that ignites you from within and lets you burst through the muddle of life with fire, with purpose and obstinate but mindful determination.  I want you to reach sublimely above yourself and feel the fervent tremors of knowing you can.  Barely, maybe, and possibly doomed to failure but to just feel, if even for brief moments, the dizzying ecstasy of being something beyond your wildest dreams.  To feel that you are truly, madly, deeply alive.  I want that for you.  If I could only help you get there...

And we are different.  And you probably don't even want that.  And you probably don't even care that I want that for you.  And you are right not to.  You are probably comfortable and safe where you are, under your cozy blanket, safe from the big, mean Universe out there.  But that won't stop me.  I am rude that way.  I can care less about your fears, about what you think may be nice and comfy.  I am a bastard that way.

Because I want you to be free.  I know nothing better in life, I could treasure nothing more.  Even my own life I could care less.  It is the best I know.  So I want you to have it.

Sunday 6 November 2011

The Rental Mortgage

If you live in North America, you probably believe that it is much better to own your home rather than rent.  I mean, who would want to fill the pockets of the landlord instead of diligently paying down your mortgage, building equity and, in essence, saving and investing for the future, right?

If you do believe that, you are in the majority.  Congratulations!  You are in good company.  Your opinion is supported not only by your neighbours and the army of your fellow home owners but by countless hordes of real estate agents, mortgage brokers, bankers, construction companies, furniture manufacturers and retailers, building supplies and home decor experts, newspaper subscription-selling teenagers and the occasional encyclopedia-pushing door-to-door rat.  It's an entire economy!  My apologies for all that I have probably missed!

But prickly little me is the kind of pain-in-the-ass, know-it-all snot-face who always seems to think that common sense generally stinks and it is neither that common nor does it have much sense at all.  Annoying I am, I know.  In my defense I will say that I was particularly unnerved by the chorus of relatives who, as soon as they saw me and a female hitched together with a couple of smaller would-be-humans in tow, launched a campaign of persuasion on why and how we should, could, ought to and downright MUST buy a house.

"The kids need a back yard to run around in," was the first and most compelling reason they presented.

"But a reasonably comfortable house is, like, three hundred and fifty THOUSAND dollars!"  That was all I could think of at first.  Definitely the wrong answer!

In a consumerist society, it does not really matter how much something costs.  What matters is how willing you are to get it.  Kind of like a motivational pep-talk: If you can conceive it, you can achieve it!  The rest of it is just a simple exercise of rationalizing your decision.

I pointed out that we did not have that kind of money.  The chorus of relatives did not believe me.  After all, we could get a mortgage, like everyone else did, and by paying it off we'd have a nice little nest egg, an investment in our own home.

I pointed out that the return on investment on real estate is, on average, about 4-5% lower than the average of the stock market index.  That did not help either.  Stocks are risky, the chorus said.

I then argued that a mortgage is a risky proposition as well.  A $300,000 mortgage financed at a low interest rate may have a sweet low monthly payment but a single percentage point increase in interest rates would jack up your monthly payment by $250.  Does not sound like much?  Try a three- or a four-percent increase.  How do you budget for an extra $750 or $1,000 per month?  Do I take a part-time job at the local Starbucks?

"What about retirement saving?  Your home is the perfect place to safely put money away for that."  OK, I answered.  But how do I get that money out when I retire?  Sell my home?  Where would I live then?  Buy another home yet again?  Or set up a reverse mortgage?  Make yet another insurance company even richer?  I might as well buy whole life insurance.  To the reader: Please don't get me started on whole life insurance, or I might bore the life out of you with piles of proof why it is a bad idea.

"Buying a home is a safe investment."  This one felt like an index finger being waved at me.  But I was bold cause I knew better.  OK, you have a $350,000 home and a $300,000 mortgage.  You lose your job and can't find another.  You are forced to sell because you can't afford the mortgage, property taxes and, the repairs to the roof which conveniently just caved in.  So, your home is now worth $200,000.  No matter how you spruce up the flower bed in front of the house, you are eating a $100,000 loss and that's it!

"Paying rent is like throwing your money to the wind," chanted the chorus.  I argued that the interest on a mortgage is throwing money to the wind as well.  In addition, I'd have to throw more money to the wind in heating bills, property taxes and maintenance costs which, as a renter, I did not have to worry about since my rent includes them all.  I pointed out that the rent I pay is a fee for a service.  I pay to have a comfortable place to live in without having to worry about unexpected maintenance expenses, the logistics of hiring and overseeing trades when something needs to be fixed, without having to mow the lawn and shovel snow and without having to keep a small warehouse of tools, machines and implements to do all of that work myself.  Somebody else does that for me.  Outsourcing at its best while I am concentrating on my core competency: enjoying life.

"But you cannot make your apartment exactly how you want it."  The war drums pounded and the chorus swayed with the rhythm.  I hummed a bit on that one because, at one point of time, I did dream of living in a fully open-concept space, knocking down all the walls except for the bedrooms and bathrooms.  But, with time I realized that, as much as that might have been a nice thing to have, its absence did not bother me that much at all.  What I did realize, however, is that, with the average home ownership spanning over only six years, it was not likely I would go gang-busters on setting up a space to be exactly how I like it.  Between work, kids and trying to enjoy life as much as I can, chances are it would take me all of the six years to make the home exactly how I like it.  And then?  A rise in interest rates, loss of a good job, kids moving out to start life on their own, or god knows what other surprise life might serve me, I might find myself stuck with a big house or a big mortgage payment that I am no longer willing to carry and having to sell in market conditions that may or may not be as good as I hoped.  And if I sold wherever would I live?  Buy again?  Pay legal and real estate fees on the sale and on the purchase?  Start the six-year renovation project to turn the new home into exactly what I wanted all over again?  Egh!  Repetition is the mother of boredom.

"How do you even live in an apartment?" the chorus chanted, "there's no space for anything."  I tried to wave this one off.  I had always lived in small spaces, since I was a kid.  It isn't a disaster by a long shot.  You just get used to keep fewer things around and can focus on getting quality versus quantity.  A forced saving, if you will.

"And what about the back yard?"  Easy.  We have a large park behind our building and an outdoor swimming pool.  Sure beats twenty square meters of grass and a rusty barbeque in my book.

I seemed to be gaining the upper hand so I thought I'd move in the offensive.  What happens when the kids move out and start a life of their own, I asked.  I'd be stuck with this huge house which I now have to clean and look after and where I'd have to put GPS devices on me and my wife so we can find each other whenever we are both at home.  Or, again, I'd have to sell and buy, pay more realtor and legal fees and start the whole 6-year project of making the new home my own space.

HELL NO!  I had it!  No matter how I look at it, it seems to me that a house is a temporary thing that I don't particularly need.  So why the hell should I buy one?  So I can enslave myself paying ridiculously high amounts for a living space, miss out on all the vacations and fun I could be having in my younger years and then be burdened with unloading this harness of my shoulders when I am old?

Whatever it is, buying a house is not the only and perfect solution.  In fact, it seems to me that buying a house is just a much more expensive way to rent it.  After all, when I die, I can't take it with me, right?

Sure, if you are a gardening, a home renovation, or a home decor freak, or if there are other reasons why you need to own your space, that may be the perfect solution.  But for all the normal reasons people give, for me, the logic fails.  I am an average Joe who just wants to enjoy the short lease I have on life and buying a home is not my vision of leveraging my existence capital.  I'll rent, goddammit, until I find a good enough reason to revisit this line of thinking.  Wouldn't you agree?

My voice echoed in the empty room.  While I was engulfed in my rant, the relatives had gradually filed out the door, throwing back pitiful glances over their shoulders.  I could see the sighs in their eyes.

"Yet another silly, sad rebel," the sighs said.

PS:  OK, this wasn't a spiritually, philosophically or even emotionally enlightening post.  But it was fun writing it.  And I am still renting happily :)

Thursday 25 August 2011

Throw Out All the Rules!

A few months ago, there was a knock at my apartment door.  It was a nice middle-aged lady selling books for children.  Stories and activity books based on the Good Book, the Bible, the life of God's son.  We all need a little of God's love in our lives.  The books were nice.  Nice illustrations of kind, loving faces, beautiful, easy-to-read fonts and words that weren't too long, easy for the little ones to read.  I found all of that out before I could even open my mouth and I was already holding a few shiny ones in my hands.

I took a deep breath and handed the books back to the lady:

"Thank you!  They look wonderful but I am sorry. We're not a religious family."

"You don't believe it GOD?!"  The lady tried to act surprised even though I am sure it wasn't the first time she heard it.

"We believe in something but it isn't god," I answered.

"But don't you ever wonder?  Look at the world around you!  When you think about it, isn't all of creation miraculous?  The plants, the leaves, the sunshine, the rivers and the mountains.  When you think about how intricate they all are and how they all bind together into this wonderful world around you, doesn't it make you think that there must be someone, a power of infinite wisdom, behind it all?"

A clockwork universe, I thought to myself.


"Really???"  The lady now seemed genuinely incredulous.  "So how do you explain all this?"

I stepped out in the hallway and closed the door.  No need for the kids to overhear a debate on religion.

"I think it is one absolutely incredibly improbable coincidence.  A little miracle in how unlikely it is and yet it still is."



"And it doesn't make you wonder..."


I wasn't trying to be callous.  I meant every word of it.  The lady seemed almost upset so I had to back up a little bit.

"Look, it is a miracle.  Life and everything around us.  And, an even bigger miracle is the fact that we are conscious of our own existence.  But I still don't think god, or at least the way he is portrayed by any church, had anything to do with it."

It took a lot more talking with the old lady to allay her fears.  I was not the antichrist.  I respected everyone's right to believe what they want, as long as they do not hurt anyone.  But we simply believed in something else.

"But you will need guidance some day, when you go through rough times."

Now this was the hard part.

"Look, I've been through a fair bit in my life already.  I've had a reasonably good share of rough times.  But I have always believed it was my responsibility to figure things out.  I believe I am a good person.  I believe that, if I listen well enough to what is deep within me, my humanity, what is deeply inside all of us, I will make the right choices.

"If god didn't want me to make decisions but rather wanted me to follow his commandments, why did he give me the power of reasoning?  And, if I was to have to turn to the church for advice, what makes any priest any more qualified than me to interpret the intent of god's will?  He is a man just like me, isn't he?  Does he have any more experience with life and the challenges I face than I do?  Or does he have a better understanding of what god intended for me than I would if I really looked deep into what god put inside me, if god ever did?"

The old lady left another ten minutes later.  We both respected each other at that time.  She still tried to shove a small book of readings from the bible as she was leaving.

"No, please," I pleaded.  "It will be a waste of a paper.  There are others out there that might need it."

"Well, GOD bless you then," she said as she departed.

"God bless you, too," I answered.  We meant the same thing.  And yet not quite in the same way.


I cannot quite recall when I decided to throw all the rule books out.  It was probably in those rebellious teen years when individuality is formed and when young people put their parents through hell because they realize that the world is not as happy-go-lucky of a place as they thought, that many things don't make sense and that it definitely can be made better.  Of course, not all teenagers go through that.  But I did.  And it is not as simple as I thought.  Even though it is.

I realized at one point that rules are there to simplify things.  To make decisions easier for people.  No need to suffer through the questioning, weighing things out, feeling and stumbling, trying to figure out how a decision is going to play out for everyone.  Especially for the big, life-altering decisions.  And no need to worry that, if you make a mistake, the burden of the blame will be on your shoulders alone.  Why go through all that?  There are customs, accepted behavours, rules, laws and even commandments out there to cut through all the muck.  Done!  Move on with your life!  If you don't like my decision, go look it up in the book.  It's all there, black on white.  Not my fault!  There's probably something wrong with you if you don't like it!

But that wasn't good enough for me.

The mother of a girlfriend of mine told me once that I was a master at over-complicating things.  She was right.  I hope I still am, to some degree.  Not so much that I want to complicate things for anyone, including myself.  But I definitely don't want to over-simplify them.  Life is complex, messy and difficult to understand at times.  But that's what makes it wonderful.  It is precisely by navigating this complexity, sorting out our own path through all the obstacles and detours and double-backs that we get the opportunity to define ourselves, shape our destiny, become individuals and be of substance, of consequence.

Why give anyone else the power to rule over my life?  To this day, I cannot think of a good enough reason.

OK, maybe a little simplicity here and there just for balance when it all just gets too much.  If I need to be at peace, I'll obey the speed limits on the highway; I'll stare at the walls sometimes, pretending I'm alone in the elevator, when I am too tired; I might even try to eat a balanced diet for a while if I have too much on my mind to listen to what my body wants.

But I'd be damned if I'll allow someone else's interpretations of life as it is shape the important choices I face.  I'll take the wisdom of the sages into account but I'll weight it against my emotions, my beliefs and my understanding of where I want to go in life.  Too much?  Complication is a small price to pay when you need to decide who your friends really are, should you follow family and social expectations, how to seek out what truly makes you happy, where you stand in life and what you bring to those around you.  No customs, rules, laws and even commandments should be allowed to interfere with a person's quest for self-fulfillment, with a person's own integrity and their responsibility to themselves and others.

There are those who would say if we all did that, our world would turn into chaos.  But my answer to that is that the only way you would think that is if you believed that people are intrinsically flawed, that they'd always make a mess of everything.  The original sin, if I recall correctly, it is called.  Naturally, if that was the case, people would need someone to rule over them, to tell them who they should be and how they should act.  THAT I don't believe.

I may be naive, I may be even stupid, but I need to believe that all of us carry a seed of greatness, the power to overcome challenges and be transformed through them into something better.  I need to believe THIS to make it through the day in face of all the proof to the opposite.

Because I don't think it is us who is flawed.  It is our rules, customs, rituals and beliefs which are naive.  There are no cookie-cutter solutions to life's complexity, especially in a world where we are trying to still find out who we are.  The answers are to be found in our faith in our own goodness, in our own integrity, deep within ourselves.  That is what should guide our decisions, not the rules of someone who does not believe in us to begin with.

So let's go through the list of rules, habits, laws and "divine" guidelines and question them all with the strength of our determination to be better.  Let's cross those out that don't make sense or rewrite the ones that could be improved.  One person at a time, one rule at a time, let each of us write our own rule books.  And let's compare notes.  And let's understand that all of us are probably right and wrong at the same time.  And that each decision we make should be revisited again and again, as many times as is necessary until we have exhausted all we can learn from it.  Or better yet, until we lose the capacity to do so.  Because the potential for learning and getting ever closer to the image of ourselves we have put our faith in is only limited by our imaginations!

Let the good work begin!

Sunday 14 August 2011

A Step

As far back as I can remember, I have always wanted to write.  In my younger days, I felt I knew and understood a lot.  I thought I had a unique, visionary perspective that, if shared far and wide, would help make the world a better place.  I dreamed of being celebrated for spreading ideas that would enlighten humanity and would end the suffering that I felt wrapped us all, no matter what part of the world we live in.  I dreamed of being the genius that would usher in a new era, propel us all to a new level of awareness, compassion and kindness.  I wanted to matter!  Cute, laughable, possibly a touch too cocky - I know now.  But I'll hope you'll forgive my youthful enthusiasm.

Years have passed since.  No, decades.  And a lot of the things I believed in in my youth have fallen away.  The notion that the world can change overnight, if only someone would turn the lights on, has become deeply eroded.  I stopped believing in revolutions.  I stopped believing in fixing the system.  Sure, adjust it as we go, but overhaul-it-from-the-ground-up?  No thank you!  I also stopped believing in pomp and fame.  I think.

The younger generation, my older son included, will brand me as a fossil, a reactionary of some sort that wants to stop the wheel of history that keeps hurtling forward.  I sigh and look at him and hurt at how little do we know each other.  I thought I'd make a better parent, guide or friend.  But, like with many other things in life, with time and the unfaltering certainty of failure, one starts to try to accept reality.  OK, maybe not reality but one's perception of it.  Have I admitted defeat?  No, never!  I'd rather lay down and die quietly, hopefully without upsetting anyone.

But what I think I am trying to accept is a slightly better-informed view of the world where things are both really, really complicated and yet so simple it could make you cry.  Or maybe I am just jaded with my own spectacular personal disasters.  Whatever it may be.

So I sit here, still feeling that itch.  To put words down, to have someone read them, to reach out and touch someone and hope my touch would make a difference.  Yet today I think in a scale that is both a lot smaller and far grander than ever, at the same time.  I want to help change humanity from its core; one person at a time or every single one of us; in one swell swoop or over a torturous stretch of millennia.  Whatever!  As long as we get there some day.

The world we live in is made up of humans, among other entities.  And, while we need to respect all living things, we need to start with ourselves.  I have come to believe in change from within; from within our souls, hearts and minds, for lack of better terms.  If we make us better, we'll make a better world to live in.  We'll learn to be more compassionate, humble and kind and we'll probably be a lot happier in the end.  That is my Utopia these days and, since I have been an incurable optimist most of my life, I'll try to stick with that as long as I can.  If I may be proven wrong, so be it.  But I don't really see the purpose of doing anything beyond that point.  So, I dig my heels in where I am and hope you will forgive my schizoid delusions.

Let's dispense with ceremony, formalities, and other tedious phoniness.  Let's just talk.  Heart to heart.  Openly, honestly, without judgement or feeling personally attacked.  Let's share what we have learned, as misguided as it may be - who we think we are and what we think the world looks like - and hope to stand corrected in the process.

I can promise you that this blog may turn out to be completely unpredictable.  I may post to it often or never again.  I may share some very personal items or may stick to theories only.  At times it may seem really cerebral, at others it may prove to be vulgarly prosaic and uninspired.  You may read about lofty ideas and obscene realities.  I may seem like an angel one minute and a reincarnation of evil the next.

That is all fine by me.  I am not here to make friends in the formal sense of the word.  What I would hope to accomplish is to add my drop to the ocean of attempts to foster an open discussion even if it may seem like a disjointed monologue most of the time.  Honesty and openness as best as I can manage, no matter how misguided and misinformed it may be.  Feel free to comment on what your read here.  As long as I can handle what you say and I don't feel you are taking advantage of anyone, I'll keep the discussion open.  No promises, of course, but I'll try to be the best that I can be and I'll hope you'll do the same.

So, big hugs to all of your ecstatically happy and miserably suffering human beings.  I love you all!  I'll hope I can row the boat at least as good as the worst of you and I'll pray that we land in a better place, all of us, where we can rejoice and celebrate this wonderful gift, life.

Until then, we are all together, floating in the current, without a compass or a very good idea of where we want to go.  Sounds hopeless?  I hope you don't mind but I would love to share that journey with you!