Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Life’s Expanses

I’m a graduate! My time at the University of Calgary, which has encompassed my studying at National Taiwan Normal University and Beijing Language and Culture University, has come to an end in a ceremonious fashion. Even though I’ll not be attending my official convocation due to life’s next big step which is serving a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Vancouver BC, official it feels nonetheless. 

The jolt of adrenaline that ran through my veins when I read that my application for graduation had been approved is hard to describe; it’s one of the best feelings in the world.

Now I’ve never feigned to put education on a pedal stool, as a means to bolster my status or worth as a person, but the reason it resonates so much within me is because it’s recognition that you CAN accomplish what you set out to do.

The real prize I believe is not in the attainment of the goal but the striving for, and success in reaching that achievement. I’m not one to arbitrarily romanticize so bear with me when I use the adage 'goals are just dreams with a plan and a deadline'. 

In this sense I am a dreamer. 
In this sense I have high hopes and idealistic views.  

There were two things when I started University that I endeavored to keep; my faith in God and my faith in humanity. They're mutually reinforcing in my mind and I was quite aware that education would try to knock the one down, and life would knock the other out, if I didn’t make them a priority. It’s been a struggle but I’m glad to say that I’m not jaded. I still believe in doing good and that we each have potential for remarkable things.

The best lesson I’ve learned from my Father is to enjoy working. University was my "job" so I had to work hard. Whenever I got tired of the repetition or paper citations I just remembered what I had to be grateful for. Once the laptop was shut, there was always food nearby and a house to return to. Whether that food was sticky rice and dumplings or steak and potatoes it really didn’t matter. If the house I returned to was a basement suit or a dormitory falling apart at the hinges it was still a place to call my own and for that I was happy.

Education as a right is a privilege of my generation. 

It’s akin to a physical pain when I’ m around those who treat school lightly, especially if they’re gifted. I have my own qualms about higher education but if you’re in the race then do your best. Just yesterday I had lunch with an elderly couple born in 1939, raised in Alberta. Neither had the chance to go to college and for the one, an eighth grade education was the highest they ever attained. Life is satisfying to them but the question remains what might have been if they were given the opportunity to pursue a vocation they had an interest in? The answer is we don’t know, and for countries with a burgeoning young population there are thousands of boys and girls who will never find out due to civil unrest and lack of access. This can then quite easily lead to disillusionment and even more violence.

If we feel that education is an important tool for social development then we first must use it in our own lives. Learning doesn't only develop our intellect but is proven to assist in day to day life, take for example the correlation between female education and reduced infant mortality. Knowledge doesn’t necessarily equate to understanding but it’s the gateway to it, and it's understanding ultimately that equates to a change in behavior.   

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

April 8th

For a healthy person I sure get my butt kicked when I’m sick.

I turn from a powerful 5’2 nothing woman into a pile of crawling mush. Suddenly everything becomes impossible to do and still images of children with whooping cough and measles from 18th century England sweep my brain.

In Anne of Green Gables, a favorite book which is now a movie, it has a part were a child is bowed over a giant bowl of steaming water with a towel over his head. The idea is to cause the steam to go into his lungs and clear his chest. A fire is burning on the hearth and the room is stuffy and filled with whimpering sounds. That’s what I think of whenever I get the slightest bit nauseous. A doctor then comes in and smothers the fire, throws open the windows and loudly declares “this child needs fresh air!”

 Even though that’s what’s best in most cases of non-severe illness it’s the exact opposite of what you feel like doing. Why go run outside when you can groan in comfort within your own home? It’s also always best if there’s someone around to pity you and answer to every whim, but unfortunately I've already moved out of the house and have no younger siblings to inconvenience.

This does give me an opportune moment to write though, which I have been slacking on. 

April 8th is similar to doomsday in my head since it’s when my massive paper on Ethiopian Pottery is due. Since a class I needed to graduate wasn't offered this semester I decided to be creative and make one up. It seemed like a good idea at the time, and I've learned a lot, but the pressure is intense. Every time I meet with the Professor she just smiles sweetly never knowing I am internally freaking out. Not having much of a yardstick to measure my work against others I've just written my best and prayed for salvation.

It is interesting to note however that I have the capability to write a 28 page paper. The thought of failing frightened me so much ahead of time that I started “early” and ended up accomplishing the task a day before it was due. This might not seem spectacular in your mind but understand that I'm a person prone to procrastination. I also haven’t had to pull any all-nighters or have had any writer’s block leading to breakdowns this semester making it a step above last year.

Overall this semester has gone by so fast. I've been incredible fortunate to have good things come my way and I cherish the moments. Graduating seems more and more like a possibility but I’m still not completely convinced. In order to do that it would require a culmination of 5 years of schooling, 2 years of China, and one tiny body that’s supposed to hold all that knowledge and use it for some greater purpose in society.

Comfort wise, I have everything I need and more which makes complaining hard but still possibly if I’m dead-set on it. Even having time to write is a luxury since I usually feel a tinge of guilt as soon as I start which seems to say " you should be spending your time more wisely on other papers since a blogpost isn't worth 20% of your term grade". But if the majority of people all relinquished what made them happy for secular advantage you’d have… pretty much what the world is today.  

Regardless I’ll continue writing since youth breeds contempt. By beginning of May all my classes and exams will be over.  Once again I will be packing up to move, and then start in earnest the next chapter of my life leaving school and all of it’s troubles and successes behind.

Getting older is great isn't it

Monday, 2 February 2015

Black History Month

There are three things that make February a special month.

The first is that it’s the shortest month of the year, making all attempts to rhyme it with the other months and days of the year completely useless and second is that all Canadians get a nice long break to stretch their arms out and grab a good read or take off on an extended road trip during Reading Week. 
The third which is more uncommon to celebrate is Black History month in Canada and the United States. It’s been an official commemoration since 1996 but most wouldn't know that unless they reached way far back into their fuzzy high school memories and remembered that it was asked as part of a pop quiz question alongside with what was the Underground Railway?
The need for a “Black History” month is debated but more often than not it’s just ignored. I know that’s what I've done for many years but this year I wanted to try something different.
 The more I look into what makes up Black Canadian identity the more intrigued I am. The presence of Blacks in Canada pre-dates Dominion Day (1867). This then makes it quite possible to meet a non-immigrated Black Canadian much to the astonishment of those that put their faith in pigmentation over history. The reason for this is because many of Nova Scotia’s early settlers were Black Loyalists fighting for the British Monarchy during the American Revolution in exchange for their freedom. Others then came during the War of 1812, the American Civil War, and in waves from other nations in search of greater economic opportunity and the sustaining of personal rights. Due to this sectionalism of arrivals, and diversity of countries within the black community, there never was developed an “African Canadian” identity that you could juxtapose with an African American one.
This then leaves the question as to why is there a “Black” Canadian identity at all? And why has it been used to constitute the making of a Black History month?
This is when things can get personal. 
In my readings for school I come across a lot of polemics which is the art of using language to defend or harshly criticize another. This then offends my propriety making me harshly critical of them and in a downward spiral we go. Once in a while though a light-bulb moment will come and finally something I’ve known all along but couldn’t put into words finally clicks. This is what happened to me the other day and hopefully is something I can share with the same clarity that it struck me.
  To start I want to bring to the forefront the term “Recognition” which can be defined as the acknowledgment of something's existence, validity, or legality. When we’re recognized for something it can be seen as a testament of our worth. Some yearn for this validation so much that they sell themselves and in the process depreciate the value they already held. But knowing worth comes from within is only useful in as much as it has been planted there.
Charles Taylor a Canadian political philosopher writes:
 Nonrecognition or misrecognition… can be a form of oppression, imprisoning someone in a false, distorted, reduced mode of being. Beyond simple lack of respect, it can inflict a grievous wound, saddling people with crippling self-hatred. Due recognition is not just a courtesy but a vital human need.1
In our World History there has been many instances of groups, peoples, and races who have intentionally been denied recognition. Think about Colonial India, Apartheid South Africa and the Chinese “century of humiliation”. It is often done by foreign powers but more often than not it’s done within a country. It’s an ingrained way of thinking that shows in our everyday interaction with others and what we consider important and of value. A category for evaluating the justice of social institutions given by Iris Young is whether or not cultural meanings enhance the self-respect and self-expression of all society’s members.2   
The history we chose to represent us as a nation should incorporate all those who helped create it. Since contributions by Black Canadian’s tend to fly under the radar there was established a Black History month to recognize their achievements. As with most events dealing with affirmative action a backlash can result in the special permission given to a specific group. If a history month was created for all ethnicities within Canada we would have a very long year to say the least. But if we understand that we’re not celebrating a foreign history counter to “our” history that contention fades into the background. In reality we should be celebrating all groups of people and races that were part of the creation and patchwork of this country. Aboriginal peoples of Canada along with Québécois are important pieces but not the entire whole. As we look to the past take a moment to research how Black Canadians have been a part of the creation and sustaining of this country. It might surprise you and most of all it might lead you to change your perception of what it means to be Black within Canada.

1.    Charles Taylor, Multiculturalism and “The Politics of Recognition,” Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992, p.25.

2.    Iris Marion Young, Justice and the Politics of Difference, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2011, Chapter 1.