Spotlight, Canada and the Fear of Priests

I recently watched the movie Spotlight about the uncovering of abuse by priests in Boston. It was a very good film – shocking but great. It was incredible to see how the American public reacted to the news about the Catholic Church condoning the actions of pedophile priests.

Sadly this has not been the end of abuse by priests. In a recent article in the Independant, Bishops do not have to report child abuse to the police, only internally. Vatican machine protects its members quite well. Victims of abuse are still largely left to deal with it alone. Here is the link to that article:

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/bishops-do-not-have-to-report-child-abuse-vatican-says-a6866061.html

One thing I have observed is the way in which abuse survivors are treated. Not all are treated the same. In Canada the emphasis has been placed on the atrocities committed on aboriginal groups by the catholics through the residential school system. Since I was abused outside of such a system, my story has not been regarded as having importance. As far as many Canadian beliefs go, only aboriginal people were abused by the church.Many people in Canada still live in fear about speaking out about abuse whether it be through the Church, or other groups that pit power above people.  In the United States, the reporting of pedophile priests is much more active and there is more support for all victims of such abuse. Because I belong to a “privileged” Canadian class I faced ridicule when I reported the abuse. The local newspaper in Hopeless took the side of the church, and people wrote in to voice support for the “poor’ priests being accused of abuse. A neighbour of my parents laughed about the situation at the local Tim Hortons – he thought the abuse I endured was hilarious. Another “friend” of my parents became an ad hoc spy for the local church where the abuse occurred. She reported to them what we were up to so they could take care of potential witnesses stepping up. She was successful as there was a victim willing to speak out. My parents shared with her that there was another victim ready to join me in my pursuit of justice. But the night before this person could be interviewed by my lawyer, he was paid a surprise visit by a priest and suddenly refused to speak out – fear prevailed.

We all react differently to traumatic news. I think that many of these people could not come to terms that this was happening in their back yard. Sadly, I have never felt comfortable returning to Hopeless since news of the abuse was made public.

Yet the larger organizations continue to help their members dodge accountability for the crimes they commit. The survivors try to understand why these things happened to them, and then spend the rest of their lives wondering if they deserved being abused, if they provoked it, and why they were picked. And yet the larger community still regards survivors of abuse as outsiders. We are the people you are uncomfortable around. You pity us. You don’t like to talk about abuse with us. You wonder if we perhaps are abusers as well. You stigmatize us. You are lucky. You are not one of us.

Please let me tell you, as far as I am concerned, you will find that many abuse survivors are quiet, empathetic, gentle and unassuming. We just want to be heard, and treated fairly. I know that I am standing up more and more for my rights and my voice in this world. Slowly, I am taking my power back. It has taken years of healing to be able to do so. I have no tolerance for bullying and for being pushed around. There was a time I did not want to stand out and up for my rights. Now, finally I am doing just that. I have spent years of my life trying to get people to like me, and to not rock the boat – to go with the flow. Of course humour will always be a part of me – I like to think I am good at it. But it no longer is my survival reflex. There are times to be kind, compassionate, considerate, funny, and times to take a stand for what is right. Like everyone else, I am a unique individual and must be allowed to exist.

In Star Wars, the Rebels embrace all forms of life, all species and all races. Each of these unique civilizations are united in their cause. The Empire strives for uniformity, and does not share such a heterogeneous view of the galaxy. The world is a large place, and surely there will come a time when we can all live freely and without oppression, poverty, and fear. But in order to do so, we all must take responsibility for our actions and learn to speak out against all injustices. It is our obligation as citizens of this planet, and our duty for our future heirs.

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Soldiers and Survivors – PTSD is Something We Share

My father was a WWII veteran. He served with the 1st Canadian Parachute Corps. It was a division of the Canadian army that was comprised of servicemen from all across Canada and the US. It was not a regional regiment. The people who belonged to it were from a mix of ethnicities and cultures and I believe it was the first military regiment in Canada to be “inclusive”. (Of course I may be wrong in my assumption, but I think I can safely say it was a fairly new concept in Canadian military composition.

I was born several years after my father returned from the war. I like to think I was a happy accident. My parents loved me with all their hearts, and I returned their love as much as I could. They were great parents to me. My father was gentle and loving to me his entire life. Anyone who knew him knows what a gentle, funny and kind man he truly was.

Yet, as a child I learned something about my father when he was sleeping. I could never wake my dad up touching him. He would jump awake if you tried to wake him when he was asleep. I learned as a child that the best way to wake him was to turn the lights on and off and call him. I don’t remember ever approaching him closely to wake him up. This – thirty years after he returned home from the horrors he faced in that war – was how ingrained his reflexes were to being caught off guard when asleep. It was a remnant of his years surviving. There is a name for such things now. We use the term PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome) when we speak of the vets returning now from their overseas duty. In the 1940’s, however, a person returning home would more than likely have to deal with the resumption of civilian life on his or her own. How many vets took up alcohol, spousal and child abuse, substance abuse, crime and suicide as a way of coping or escaping from the experiences abroad?

People are becoming aware of the lingering effects of battlefield stress on soldiers as they re-integrate to civilian life. We think of the effects of PTSD as an unfortunate side-effect of battlefield survival.

At my wedding reception my father and a friend of mine who had served in Vietnam as a soldier engaged in a deep conversation out of the way of the main reception. I noticed the two of them discussing something quite serious – but I was too far away to hear their conversation. When I was finally able to approach them, the conversation quickly turned to a light subject and a “code” of behaviour was adopted between them. In their brief discussion, the two bonded over their experiences. As my father’s son I was jealous that they engaged at a level I could not.

I see this a often with my military friends – there is a connection that vets have that civilians cannot understand. I thought I would not be able to understand this code either. That was, until I began sharing my story of abuse with others.

When I began sharing my story of abuse, I found that other abuse survivors would share with me as well. We shared a common bond of survival. The bedrooms, basements, washrooms, classrooms, closets, locked offices and dormitories were our battlegrounds. Where we fell and fell often – and where we sometimes tried to take a stand if we could. When I meet another survivor I feel a connection that I cannot explain. There is a silent bond that is created. Survivors understand survivors. I have shared many tears with other victims of abuse. They are my band of brothers and sisters. Like soldiers, we have this bond of understanding.

I also believe that we (survivors) have a version of PTSD – for the trauma that imprints on the body, soul and brain of a child is also deeply etched. Only through years of healing and sharing our stories can we begin to feel as though we are worthy of the space we occupy. I am sure that is the same for all who suffer – however small or large – there is comfort in the knowledge that we are not alone, and even more comfort in knowing we are worthy of love and compassion as well.

I know the memory of the abuse will be with me – it is a part of me. It is something that I live with – and I have my ups and downs with it. Some people don’t understand. Others do. Some people don’t know what to say when they learn the story of abuse. They don’t have to say anything. They just have to “be”. No judgement, no advice. Just “being with”. That is all we need at times.

We don’t earn medals, we don’t have stories written about our battlefield days – but we have the power to heal. Like the vets, we will soldier on. I hope that one day there will be more meetings for survivors. For while we are loved by our families and friends – the bond between survivors is something we need to continue to build upon.

Obi Wan Deserves His Senior Discount…

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As a child watching Star Wars A New Hope, I really did not spend too much time thinking about the character of Obi Wan Kenobi. Obi-Wan, or “old Ben” as Luke refers to him, was played by Sir Alec Guinness. Obi Wan spends his senior years in isolation living like a hermit and keeping watch over young Luke Skywalker. He is a dedicated Jedi and keeps his watch as promised.

As I have aged over the years, I think more about this character. In the movies, Obi-Wan is well on in his years, and is regarded by Luke’s uncle as a crazy old man. Luke is told to stay away from him. But once Luke meets Ben while searching for Artoo, he is introduced to a more complex person. Ben becomes more human and deep than we are first led to believe. He lives simply and shows compassion for young Luke. Ultimately he sacrifices himself in order to perhaps teach Luke a lesson on the Force and the sacrifice for greater good. Luke finds a friend and mentor in Obi-wan. He becomes a “cool” senior in the Star Wars universe.

Several months ago I was at an opening for a play in Vancouver. I saw an elderly woman who was sitting away from the buzzing crowd – not because she wanted to be alone, but because she found the only place available to sit because of her mobility issues. She sat there, watching the “important” people move past her to compliment the actors and the director on a splendid job. Perhaps because I have an elderly mother I approached her and engaged in conversation. She seemed a little puzzled when I first approached her. I introduced myself (and what my role had been with the production) and her initial suspicion disappeared. She eagerly engaged with me about the arts. I learned that her father had been a fencing champion many years ago. I took an active interest in speaking with her and she seemed to enjoy our conversation. She was witty, intelligent and I learned so much from her during our brief visit. Soon enough other people had approached me to converse and I made a point of introducing her to them. She thanked me for coming over to her to talk. I thanked her for speaking with me.

The other day I was walking down the street and saw another older woman with a rolling walker. She was trying to open a door to a shop, but was having difficulty with her walker and the door. I asked her if I could open it for her and she was very happy to have my assistance. She told me she wished the door had a button to push to have it open and I agreed with her. I wished her a good day and carried on with my errands.

As I have written earlier, I have an elderly mother. She is amazing, and has a wicked sense of humour and endless incredible stories about her career in the banking world as an early female executive in what was then a man’s world. She is a tall woman – almost six feet tall. As the years and stress have taken their toll, she walks with a bent back, and needs to take time when walking. When I have been out with her I notice how people tend NOT to look as she makes her way in and out of stores. It is so sad and upsetting to see this. We, as society, often go about our own business and don’t take the time to see others around us. Younger shop assistants tend to ignore older customers because it takes too long, or they would rather spend time chatting to their peers. Seniors deserve more than this. These people have a wealth of information and stories that we all can benefit from. Ben Kenobi turns out to be a Jedi Warrior and a mentor for young Skywalker. Initially Ben is referred to as a “crazy old man” – but he is essential to helping restore some balance to the galaxy. How many great people go on being ignored as they age? Why do we do this to them? I had a student once who told me that “old people” scared him. Why? To me, age is a badge of honour. It is an accomplishment that we should celebrate.

There is another way younger people react to the elderly. If we are not busy ignoring them, then we tend to treat them like children. If they are slow to speak, we rush in to finish their sentences, or we rush them. In doing so, this becomes frustrating to them and they shut down. They become silent, and they withdraw.

Luke shows Ben Kenobi compassion and treats him with respect. If there is anything we can do for the elderly (and the children as well) it is to treat them with respect, compassion and reverence. If we take the time to listen to them, to hear them – really hear them – perhaps we will learn something new. Our elders have a knowledge and experience that can only come with age. It is time for us to take notice of them, for they may prove to be the Jedi Masters who live amongst us.

 

Bullies and the Magic within Harry Potter…

Bullies. They come in all shapes and sizes and from all walks of life. They are around us all. As we continue to collect data from our everyday interactions, we take on many roles each day. We find ourselves playing the parts of the victim, hero, the coward, braggart, soldier, the defeated, gossip, the friend, enemy, the achiever, the procrastinator, lover, destroyer and many more almost daily. And yes, we even find ourselves playing the part of the bully. I am not saying we are all bullies, but I believe we all have the potential to become bullies and we also have the potential to do something about it.

Let’s face it, no one likes being bullied. Having been abused throughout my childhood and into my adulthood, I have experienced a wide array of bullies – from the child bullies, to adult abusers and teenage power seekers. As an adult looking back I can see that there is one consistent theme with the bullies whom I have encountered. They feed on fear and manipulation.

The first kind of bully I encountered as a child was the bully within a power position. Not only were my early educators bullies in this sense, but they were also pedophiles. So at an early age I became fearful of adult males in any authority role. As a functioning survivor I am perhaps more empathetic to people and situations around me. In spite of my (intimidating) 6’4″ stature and build, I believe I am a compassionate and caring man.

When I was a young adult, I found myself avoiding social places because I encountered a different type of bully. I call it the “small-man” syndrome. Since it is not often I can literally look another male in the eyes without looking down, and because of my build, I found I was a target for smaller men looking to “prove” themselves in some primitive test of strength. It was not so uncommon back then to be sitting in a bar or club and to be approached by one of the “small men” who would accuse me of something or insult me, or challenge me to a fight. It really is a sad pathetic attempt for such people to gain a feeling of strength and power. Often I would walk away so as not to engage in such primal behaviour. Because of this I was at times labelled a coward or a chicken. Though I was able to remove myself from such conflicts, inside I was terrified. Yes, I could have defended myself, but what people failed to see was that the person whom I was becoming was still afraid of conflict.

There seems to be a movement towards bully awareness. I have seen programs set up in workplaces and in schools focusing on bully prevention. I worked on an Opera about bullying. This is good. This is not enough. While I applaud the efforts of such organizations to create awareness, the healing from bullying is not supported. It still rests on the individual to come forward and to seek help. I find that people continue to make sweeping declarations about their stance for anti-bullying campaigns, yet when they think they are not being heard, they continue to bleed their caustic energy around them. I see it daily while driving, at work and in public. I have witnessed people who were upset at their precious coffee order throw their cup at the barista – letting the cup splash hot coffee on the employee. I have been denied a parking space because the person who cannot wait for a space decides to cut in front of me to take the space and in the process flips a defiant middle finger my way, while they yell at me. At one workplace I was told I would lose my job if I questioned how things were done. I was coerced into executing an extremely dangerous stunt on a film set without proper safety considerations, and as a result was injured for several years because of it. I am sure we all have examples of such things. There was a point when I had enough of it. We have passively allowed bullying to continue because we continue to live to a degree in fear. I can’t get involved. What if they turn that anger towards me? What if I get bullied instead of my co-worker if I stand up for them? What will happen to my job if I reveal the fear tactics used at work to get results? The reasoning as to why we can’t get involved continues to grow. We look down into our smartphones to distract us from engagement. Bullies then continue to thrive.

If we really cannot accept bully behaviour in our daily lives, then we must report it. We have to acknowledge that the behaviour of bullying is wrong. Only when we stand up and speak out will we see a more effective change. But it is up to us.

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I was recently watching Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire with my young daughter. Harry is really quite a resilient character. He survives and continues to do what he feels is right. He has the support of his teachers, and he has his friends that stand by him. My daughter was beaming watching the film. What struck me is the support the faculty of Hogwarts gives to the students. Of course we can argue about the different houses and how there is rivalry and fighting within the dynamics of the school – but even so, Harry helps other students, often doing what he feels is right as opposed to ignoring events unfolding around him. My children are learning about the power of real friendship as demonstrated in the Potter films. Of course they have their moments of sibling rivalry, but it warms me to see them still holding hands when they are out together. I know they ultimately love and respect each other, and to me that IS the greatest and most powerful magic people can create.

We cannot stamp out bullying, but we can stand up to it. To simply let it happen and do nothing is not acceptable. Feigning ignorance towards witnessing bullying is also not acceptable if we are to change human behaviours. As the Ministry of Magic states: Ignorantia Juris Neminem excusat (Ignorance of the law excuses no one). We can also learn to take time to acknowledge the achievements and accomplishments of our peers. The more we can let go of petty jealousies and bully-like actions in our day to day lives, then we are really working towards making the world a better, more magical place. Of course perhaps there is good advice to also be found in the Hogwart’s motto: Draco Dormiens Nunquam Titillandus. At least wait until it is awake, and good luck to you if you do.