Why?

I woke up early this morning so that I could run on the trails around Signal Hill before I needed to start work. Halfway through my run, I stopped my watch and sat silently on the rocks with a beautiful view of the Atlantic Ocean.

Today, someone else woke up in Toronto with an ugly view of the world and decided to drive a van into innocent people walking on the sidewalk, killing at least nine of them and injuring many more.

Why? What is this ugliness? Does it exist in everyone (and in me)? Where does it come from? How do we remain focused on what is beautiful and good?

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Lost

“The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.”—Robert Frost

When you’re lost in the woods, you look forward to seeing a road or a marked trail or a small cottage with an inviting light shining through its windows. What’s not comforting is coming across a large and uninviting tent in the middle of nowhere when you’ve been bushwacking off the trail for many minutes. It’s even more disconcerting when there’s a large axe propped up just outside the dark entrance to the tent. I’d be too scared to live out there in the dark, so I figured only someone scary enough not to be scared out there must be living in the tent. I ran quickly through the woods until I eventually found my way back to an actual trail. And yes, I kept looking over my shoulder to see if anyone was chasing me.

I’m in St. John’s for work, so I’d taken the opportunity to go for a short adventure on the East Coast Trail. My plan was to take a taxi to the Cape Spear Lighthouse and then run along the trail back to the city. The trail from Cape Spear to Blackhead was easy to follow with the Atlantic Ocean just off to my right. I didn’t run too fast as I wanted to enjoy the beautiful scenery and I stopped many times to take photos. I probably hiked more than I ran. It was on the next trail section from Blackhead to Fort Amherst that I ran into some navigational challenges.

When I arrived at Freshwater Bay halfway through, I didn’t realize that I needed to cross over the formation of large rocks that stretched from one side of the bay to the other. Instead, I ran up an old fire road only to find the path completely flooded out a few minutes later. Then I ran back down to the water and found another trail that turned out to be a “trail in progress.” It didn’t take long until I wasn’t on any trail at all and just scrambling through the woods in circles.

It was at this point that I got a bit worried, especially when I came upon the tent … and then came upon the tent a second time. While the first 80 minutes of my trail run had seemed perfect as I travelled close to the ocean, now that I was disoriented in the woods with evening approaching, I began to wonder whether this beautiful place would become my resting place.

Before I left Toronto I’d prepared a running backpack that contained two emergency blankets, a whistle, a flashlight and some food. But in the busyness of the weekend with my family, I’d forgotten to put the pack in my suitcase before flying this morning to St. John’s.

Thankfully I found my way back to the trail and returned safely to the city, but I could have easily broken my leg or ankle and been stuck outside by myself overnight. The crazy thing is that it’s an easy trail to navigate except for that one specific section I managed to screw up. Regardless, since I was running this route for the first time, I should have been better prepared, particularly as a husband and father. There’s no excuse not to carry some basic safety items with me when hiking or running in the woods, especially if I’m travelling by myself in an area with no cell phone reception.

What I found most interesting about this experience is how quickly I transitioned from feeling invincible to vulnerable. I suppose this is similar to other situations in my life when the paths I’m following suddenly change. Perhaps I need to pack a bigger bag?

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Labels

Stranger: “Excuse me, I see your son is flapping his arms. Does he have autism?”

Me: “He’s actually quite happy and excited at the moment. I hope you’ve found something to be happy about today as well.”

I may be overreacting, but I’m starting to get annoyed when people ask whether someone has autism. The way I see it, our social identity is generally based on how others view us and the labels they assign to us. So when we refer to a “child with autism,” this can lead others to regard autism as something bad that happens to people or that afflicts them, such as an illness or disease, and also suggests that it’s something that can be cured or fixed.

If you don’t believe this happens, take a look at this feature from CBS News: https://www.cbsnews.com/pictures/autism-9-warning-signs-every-parent-should-know/. Actually, don’t even click on the link. It’s horrible. These are the first two sentences: “Parents fear autism, and rightly so. The mysterious brain disorder devastates a child’s ability to speak and interact with others.”

I find this so, so, so, so offensive.

Given that autism is a neurological difference, it’s not something that can be taken away or healed. As such, there is no such thing as a “child with autism,” but instead an autistic child. It’s not something you have, but something you are. When I read media reports such as the CBS feature referenced above, I get quite frustrated as I think they only contribute further to the exclusion and objectification of autistic people.

Although the use of “autistic” still contributes to identity, the meaning is subject to change. This emphasis recognizes that language not only shapes how we view the world, but also constructs it for us. Just as our cultural understanding of blackness or femininity changes continually, so, too, can our understanding of autism adapt over time. The signifier “autistic” can also contribute to the self-identity of autistic people, as autism is part of who they are as opposed to something they have.

As someone who is neurotypical (I think), I obviously can’t speak for autistic people, but I do want to ensure I love and value my son for who he is without trying to turn him into someone he isn’t. As my friend Rhonda noted the other week, it’s time we move away from autism awareness and embrace autism acceptance instead.

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The Collective

Leadership is not about us as individuals; rather, leadership is about us in relation to others. This may seem simplistic or idealistic, but when leadership is viewed less as personal attainment or privilege and more as a component of healthy community, leaders will speak, act and respond in ways that benefit the collective, not just those in positions of authority.

When we view leadership within this context of relationship and community, we can focus on developing the leadership skills that will enrich not only our own lives but also the lives of those around us. Our Western culture, however, promotes leadership as something we should aspire to and fosters individualism and personal achievement.

It is far too easy to see each position of leadership as a stepping stone to greater levels of status and authority. Not only does this shift the focus from working for the collective good, it also creates a sense of competition between leaders as they jostle for positions and recognition.

In my experience, this is most clearly demonstrated by how people treat the leaders above them. If we work to undermine our leaders, we will only inherit followers who are conditioned to do the same. I also think we need to have the same integrity as followers that we want our leaders to demonstrate.

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Space Portals

At work today I was called down to our reception area to speak with a man who wanted to talk with our CEO. I’d already met with him last week, so he wasn’t pleased to see me again. He desperately wants to partner with our organization and invest $500 Trillion into the creation of a portal that will allow for space travel from one dimension to the next. He said that he’s already discussed this project with Trudeau, Putin and Trump (and apparently set in motion their elections 1,500 years ago) and feels passionately about including us in this opportunity. I had to firmly but politely let him know that while we appreciate the invitation, it is not possible for us to enter into this partnership with him. He seemed confused and disappointed by my unwillingness to discuss his proposal further.

The man appeared to be well-dressed and fed, so his basic needs are likely being met, but I felt sad that I couldn’t provide more support with his mental health challenges. He wasn’t aggressive or disruptive with me, but he is making some staff uncomfortable and nervous with his frequent visits to our office. Hopefully there is someone else in his life better equipped to offer assistance and a listening ear. Part of me wants to be more generous with my time, but I also know I can’t encourage him to keep coming to our office to speak with people about space portals and magical formulas to create currency.

It’s easy to say that I want to be a kind, compassionate and patient person, but some relationships and interactions with others are more complicated than following simple platitudes. Even though I’m well into my 40’s, it’s still challenging at times to know what is the right thing to say or do in certain situations. I guess I’m still a work in progress.

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Yesterday Passed

“Today is today and yesterday passed, this is certain.

Today is also tomorrow, and I left
with some cold year that passed,
that year left with me and took me with it.”—Pablo Neruda

Like many nine-year-olds, my son, K, enjoys creating things with LEGO. What makes him different, however, is his obsession with the instruction books. Although he enjoys reading the book 365 Things To Do With LEGO Bricks, he much prefers reviewing the basic instructions for LEGO sets he’s already built. He carefully reviews the steps outlined on each page before turning to the next one. If we allowed him, he would spend hours flipping through his collection of instruction books, over and over, and do this day after day. He doesn’t want to rebuild the LEGO sets, but he finds comfort in repeatedly reviewing the steps he’s already followed.

As I watched K pore over the LEGO books this evening, I thought about how I can obsess about situations and events from my past. I’m not able to go back in time and reassemble what happened, so I’m not sure what I hope to accomplish by repeatedly imagining how I could have spoken or acted differently. While some introspection is healthy (and also necessary for personal survival and growth), there comes a point in which further reflection on past experiences is no longer helpful or healthy.

I need to recognize when today is also tomorrow, so that I can embrace the freedom to create something new.

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Indomitable Spirit

My son, B, attends Tae Kwon Do classes twice a week. Participating in the martial arts provides him with a great opportunity for extra-curricular fun and fitness, but the experience is also helping him to develop self-discipline and improve his ability to focus and listen.

The school he attends focuses on six character traits: modesty, courtesy, integrity, self-control, perseverance and an indomitable spirit. It’s amusing to hear the youngest students try to pronounce “indomitable.” This is not a widely used word, and during the first few classes I kept thinking about Bumble, the Indomitable Snowman who appears in the 1964 stop-animation movie Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer.

Despite what the character of Bumble implies, indomitable does not mean angry or ferocious but rather someone or something that is impossible to subdue or defeat. The martial arts program is striving to develop young people who will be unassailable and unshakable. With all of the negative influences in the world trying to corrupt and tear down our young people, it’s wonderful to have programs available such as this which exist to build confidence, self-awareness and respect for others.

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