The humility of being humbled

There’s few things more gratifying than watching some loudmouth get put in his place.  You know the guy – usually drunk and obnoxious, bullying everyone else until he gets clocked by someone half his size, or his pants fall down, showing off his Buzz Lightyear underwear…or no underwear at all!

Mortified, he runs for cover while everyone laughs at him.  At least, that’s what you hope for.

There’s gotta be a million You Tube videos out there of karmic revenge on the annoying or stupid.  We love the modern telling of David and Goliath.  Rooting for the underdog against a jerk-faced foe is something we can all relate to.

In Hollywood movies, it’s the villain who is the most annoying, hated person and ends up with the most spectacular death scene, not only getting shot 100 times in slow motion, but falling into a pit of molten metal, while being eaten by zombies or something.

But, have you ever been that guy (or girl) who is the unwelcome star of these little vignettes?  C’mon, sure you have.

I was retelling a story the other day about something that happened to me a long time ago that kind of fits this scenario.

For the record, I wasn’t drunk, and I was just doing my job.  I’m sure, though, that the other characters in this little scene were just as pleased as those watching the bully run away with his pants down.

I had a job once where part of my duties included making sure that my customers followed some expected level of quality, since they represented our products to the world.  This could make things a bit tricky at times, seeing as I needed these customers to buy stuff from me, but I also had to act like a Mom telling her kid to clean his room….without the folded hands and tapping of the foot….you know the look.

I used to wear a suit.  Not because I had to, but because I thought it was important to look professional….what a jerk!

Anyway, I had to meet a customer who’s business was in desperate need of the ‘angry Mom’ look.  The owner was very casual and would always tease me about wearing a suit all the time, ‘Geez!  Even the Mayor doesn’t dress like that’.

Fully suited up, just to make a point, I parked a block away from the store, again making a point about giving the best parking to the paying customers, and walked into the rear entrance of the store.  Very smug and probably abusing my power, I’m quite sure they were not happy about this visit.

As I walked the store with the owner’s wife, pointing out how bad the business was, I started to notice a foul smell.

I said, ‘Another thing.  Do not smell that?  It smells like dung in here.’

She acknowledged that she too smelt it, then motioned at my shiny dress shoes.  I looked down at the same time, and saw where the smell was coming from. I guess somewhere on my pretentious strut to the store, I stepped in a steaming pile of doo-doo.

I glanced back to see the owner on his hands and knees, scrubbing the disgusting footsteps I had taken all through the place.

I turned as red as the goal light at a Leafs game!

Mortified, I carefully took off my shoe, and hopped out the back door to find a stick.  I think I just went home after that.  Any sense of superiority or authority was left on the stained carpet behind me.

Of course, I had no way of making an elegant exit from that train wreck.  I think I mumbled something about why there would be horse poop on the sidewalk outside the store in the first place, then quickly got in my car, and drove home with one shoe on.

I stopped wearing a suit after that.

The Red Suit Conspiracy – believing in Santa

WARNING:  THIS BLOG MAY MAKE FOR AN UNCOMFORTABLE CHAT IF LITTLE ONES READ IT.

As a kid, I was pretty gullible.  I tended to think that what anyone told me was the truth, otherwise, why would they say it?

I also spent a lot of time getting sucked in to things.  Maybe that’s why I hate gambling so much.  Not that I have a moral stance on it, but just because I’m lousy at it.

When you’re really little, like pre-school or Kindergarten aged, Santa is like God to you.  What an incredible being, who rides around at night in a sleigh being pulled by flying reindeer, leaving presents under the tree for every kid in the world. It’s no wonder kids run screaming from him at the mall.  He’s super human!

Of course, toddlers don’t think in practical terms.  We are told about Santa, we see the gifts, so therefore, Santa is real.  Simple.

As you get a bit older, you start to see some cracks in the Santa story, though.  Mostly, it’s from older kids laughing or beating up some poor sucker who blathered that they still believe.  Who wants that kind of Christmas gift?

I remember when I lost my ‘Christmas Virginity’.  It took a while, much like my rea…..never mind.  Anyway, it started out with little things like opening the gifts with Santa’s signature on them, then going to our cousins house to see similar Santa gifts with different hand writing on the presents.  That sure seemed odd.

Then there would be Christmas Eve when we were tucked not so neatly into our beds, and I’d hear what sounded like Mom and Dad stumbling down the stairs with something big.

I spent some serious time contemplating this dilemma.  I mean, on one hand, for every Christmas up to now, the manifestation of the great and powerful Santa was clearly evident.  Shopping malls had him on display, Christmas specials confirmed his existence, and our parents and older family members assured us that he was very real.  Then, as sure as the sun would come up, presents were littered around the tree.

Being the gullible kid I was, and knowing I was gullible, meant that I had to take serious stock of things.  I didn’t want to be that kid getting beat up in the school yard for believing – especially if it wasn’t true.

So, I weighed the evidence before me.  The gifts showed up as promised every year, with no trace of them in the house before I went to bed, and all the television, radio, and adult conversation said he was real.  It’s what I was raised to believe.

On the other hand, the idea that one man could circumnavigate the entire globe in one night flying around with magic reindeer, stopping at virtually every house on the planet, and little elves making cool toys like etch-a-sketch and rock-em-sock-em robots didn’t seem very likely.

So, it came down to one key factor.  Was the Santa story a magical truth or an elaborate hoax?  When faced with this at the age of 8 or 9, I decided that the only logical explanation was that he must exist, simply because I concluded that there was no way an entire adult world could support such an elaborate ruse for that long.  Not a chance!

I was happily resolved with my results until one day when I was playing at a friends house, and he said to me, “I don’t believe in Santa.  Do you?“.  Gulp!  The acid test.  Could I stand behind my conviction?

No!  Of course not.  I blurted out, unconvincingly, “No, I don’t either.

Just then, my friend’s mother walked in and scolded us for telling the secret when his little sister was just in the other room.

Wait a minute.  I was lying when I said that I didn’t believe.  Now, this lady unwittingly confirmed my worst fear.  Santa didn’t exist after all.

I was quietly heart-broken.  All those dumb adults really could keep the secret.  So much for logical deduction!

Through adolescence and early adulthood, I was wise and smug about Santa.  I would mentally criticize parents who tried to convince their kids that the jolly old elf was working hard up at the North Pole, so they’d better be nice…..or else!

That is, until I had kids of my own.

When you have children, your cynicism about things starts to soften.  You start to immerse yourself into their wonderful little fantasy worlds.  And along with that, you begin to rethink your stance on the whole Santa conspiracy.

I took a logical approach to Santa, just like I did when I was 8. Putting aside for a moment, just who Santa is, lets look at things:

  • He still comes late at night, delivering gifts to children – CHECK
  • He works all year in his ‘workshop’ so the kids will have gifts under the tree by Christmas – CHECK
  • He brings joy and amazement to little children on Christmas morning – CHECK

I think that if you put a few details aside, like the little reindeer, and the North Pole, Santa is every bit as real as us.  I think we, in our smug, all-knowing youth, had it completely wrong.  The little kids were right after all.

Santa does exist.  There is no conspiracy after all.

Great, old St. Nickolaus, the Bishop of Myra in Turkey who is said to have given gifts to children at the time, was only the first in a very long line.

Now, those honoured enough, and who have a hint of that childhood belief, work all year long in their own ‘workshops’ (office), along side the ‘elves’ (co-workers), and deliver gifts on that magical night to their little children.

What an awesome job to have.  Being Santa Claus. If all those parents slogging away all year, then standing in line at the mall don’t believe in Santa, they are as lost to the magic as any child who stops believing at an early age.

Let me stress that Christmas is NOT about giving and getting presents, or going into debt while burning through your credit limit at the mall.  Christmas is a time to celebrate the birth of Jesus.  In that spirit, however, bringing joy to children seems like a pretty nice way to celebrate God’s love for us.

Don’t give up on Santa.  He’s real, and he’s in each of us.  The sleigh and red suit may be gone, but what he did, and what he represents is as real as ever.

Merry Christmas!

Setting a good example

There’s been a lot of talk about teenage bullying lately.  In the news, we hear tragic stories of young lives taken from us in a final, desperate act, unable to find the help they need to escape this seemingly unrelenting terror that is perpetrated by otherwise normal kids.  Our kids.

None of this is really new.  Bullying has, to one extent or another, been a cruel passage into adulthood for generations.  With the onset of social media, however, there are brand new ways to taunt and torture others in ways that we never conceived of as kids.  Regardless of how it’s perpetrated, it is terrible, senseless and far too often deadly.

Of course, there is some good news. We are also seeing a lot of initiatives, led by schools and governments to do their best to curb bullying, and to identify and understand why this is going on and how it can be stopped.  There are some positive signs that our children are creating a new movement of a more caring attitude towards each other.  Thank God for that!

I don’t know why some kids just seem to be a target, even when they move out of the area, leaving a sorted past behind.  For me, it was easy.  I was a small, skinny, freckle-faced ‘ginger’ who played the cello…I might as well have painted a huge bulls-eye on my back, right next to the ‘kick me’ sign.  On the upside, I learned to outrun almost anyone, while carrying that huge instrument on my back – good for aerobics, bad for self-esteem.

I believe that parents play a critical role in supporting their kids if they suspect they are being bullied, or perhaps more so if they suspect that their child might be the source of the bullying.

What doesn’t help the problem I think, is that we as adults can often be the worst example of how to conduct oneself around others.  Take a few examples:

If you live in the Toronto area, you know about its mayor, Rob Ford.  Mr. Ford is self-described as ‘330 pounds of fun’.  Some would call him a crusader for the over-taxed citizens of the city, while others would refer to him as a living cartoon-character who has no business being in the business of politics.

I’m not going to take political sides here – I think the Ford administration has created a lot of their own misery.  I also think that his detractors will stop at nothing to destroy his political career.  This is about people dealing with people.

Recently, Mr. Ford has had a number of serious conflicts which, either self-inflicted or thrust upon him by his opponents, have put him under the microscope, politically and legally.

He celebrated a birthday last week.  A few citizens even showed up with a cake, and held a small news conference.  Instead of singing the normal version of ‘Happy Birthday’, however, they added a few more words, asking the mayor to resign and leave office.  How sweet.  What if that were school children, doing the same thing to the class president?  They’d be suspended and put into counseling.

The most recent crisis in Mr. Ford’s life is an alleged video that some drug dealers had of him smoking crack cocaine, and had been selling to the highest bidder.

At last check, the auction had the selling price at $200,000, and that amount had been raised.  The video and its owners, not surprisingly, cannot be located.

At about the same time, a tragic and confusing murder case was unfolding in the media.  A man, selling his pick-up truck online, mysteriously disappeared.   Several days later, an arrest was made, and shortly after, his burned remains were discovered.  This victim was a young father, Tim Bosma, apparently targeted at random, who has left a wife and a young daughter behind.  The motive for the murder is still a mystery, but one thing is certain.  This young family is broken forever.

Some local family and friends of the Bosma’s have set up a trust fund to help support his wife and daughter who are also now without their breadwinner, and faced with huge bills.

Here’s the rub;  It took less than a week to get total strangers to raise over $200,000 to watch a video that may not even exist, to finally push Mr. Ford out of public office. At the same time, we were able to raise less than a tenth of that amount to help a grieving young wife and mother to support her family.

How sad is that.  We’re suckers for a sensational story.

Another example is the now famous Ikea Monkey, ‘Darwin’.  Darwin is a spider monkey, owned by a real estate lawyer, who has, in my opinion, an unhealthy relationship with the little primate.  ‘Darwin’ made the news this past winter, when he was found wandering outside of an Ikea store, dressed in a fancy fur coat.  He had been left in a car while its owner went shopping.  The smart little pet managed to open a window and go for a stroll around the store.

The monkey was taken away from its owner, but now she’s fighting to get him back.

On the day of ‘Darwin’s’ court hearing, another case was being heard in the same courthouse.  This one was a murder trial involving another young person, a lady, allegedly killed by a young man – they were in a relationship.  It was a terrible, gruesome crime.  The courthouse was standing room only – there was no where to park.  Even driving past the courthouse was difficult.

Why was the courthouse so full?  Not because of the murder trial, but because of ‘Darwin’.  In fact, of all the press that were in attendance, only one reporter was covering the murder trial.

Now, we can blame the media – they’re always good to kick around, but the basic truth of economics states that they’re covering it because we want to know about it and will pay to get it.

Just this past weekend a story broke about a kids soccer tournament right here in Ontario, which was cancelled after parents from both teams ended up in a brawl after a controversial call on the field.  14 people were arrested.  It was even topped off with some racial slurs.

Are these the life lessons we’re teaching our kids? Is it our hope that they conduct themselves with respect and kindness while we demonstrate the exact opposite?

It would seem that the concept of leading by example is not aligned with our expectations.  Luckily, our kids are smarter than that.  I think they understand that we aren’t perfect, and we sometimes do the same dumb things that we preach to them as unacceptable.

I wonder how would things look if we treated each situation like our kids were standing right beside us?  I think they’re worth the effort….maybe we can even learn from them.

What do you think?