Posts tagged social responsibility

Alpha Male vs. Housecat

English: Papio hamadryas, alpha male

Image via Wikipedia

If researchers were to place an alpha male wolf and a housecat in the same cage, what do you suppose they would find? Assuming the cat survives the first 24 hours, the researchers would probably find both animals in a severe state of agitation. The notion of placing two such creatures in a shared living environment is ludicrous, of course, which is why I’m scratching my head as to why God chose our family to conduct this little experiment.

 Today as I walked to school I found myself asking God this question. Why on earth would You have chosen to put Teddy and Sammy in the same family? I’m sure those who know our boys will agree that the animal comparisons are surprisingly accurate: our alpha male is the leader of the pack. A very social animal, this lead wolf is anything but a lone wolf. He feels that he bears the responsibility for justice in the family unit, and will enforce it in whatever way he sees fit. He is dedicated, loyal, and ambitious, although often misguided in his efforts to secure justice for all (primarily himself).

 Our housecat is soft and cuddly, often brushing up against us so that we’ll scratch him behind his ears. This is particularly true in the early mornings when he softly slips out of bed and seeks a warm lap to curl up in. When it comes to a sense of duty though, he is no match for the Wolf. He expends as little effort as possible to net the most advantageous result. A solitary animal, he is content to play by himself. He will hide away, occupying himself with paper fish and pouncing on the sneaky kitten that dares to interrupt his play. Luckily for the kitten, the Alpha Male is always on duty, seeking to mete out justice to the oppressed, with predictable results for all concerned. Scratched egos, ear-piercing screams, and teary faces abound.

 It’s been that type of day, I’m afraid. And yet, just when I was starting to despair of parenthood, I was handed some encouragement on a silver platter. First, Teddy’s piano teacher commented that, although he is a challenge to teach in many ways, he is a respectful student. Respect is one thing Daddy and I can do something about, so I will take that as a compliment and pass it on to Daddy when he and I can finally put our feet up tonight.

 Then his school teacher commented that he is very helpful in the classroom; one of the more cooperative children in the group. Although I’m completely perplexed by this elusive “spirit of cooperation,” I am not surprised by his helpfulness. I know my kid to be one to make himself available when he sees a need. Just today he was telling me that he and a friend had given up their recess in order to clean 40 markers. Apparently Teddy has offered his teacher that he will gladly stay inside with her the next time she’s not on yard duty and help her with whatever needs doing inside. That’s saying a lot for a kid whose favourite subject is recess.

 And finally, as we were walking home we passed two older boys: Justin Bieber and his friend, Justin, if I remember correctly. One of the self-assured young men casually tossed his empty pop can into the creek, even as he was standing not 5 feet from a trash can. Teddy looked from the boys to me, almost as if to say, “Alpha female, did you just witness this grave injustice? Because if I saw what I think I saw, integrity compels me to act now.” To my own shame I confess to hesitating. I imagined the conversation with the Justins to go about as well as a confrontation between me and a pair of raccoons: those cantankerous creatures know that there’s no gumption behind that club I’m pointing at their noses, and it’s mostly because I know I’d get in trouble with the Humane Society if I actually used it.

Teddy doesn’t know about ornery raccoons or the Humane Society. All he knows is that his Mama taught him that metal is not compost and someone, somewhere has to clean up this mess, so with all his 7-year-old bravado he stood up and said, “Why’d you do that?” At which point the boys turned around, surprised, and Teddy’s Mama was shocked out of her silence and gave them the what-fer. Kudos to my young alpha male. As difficult as he is to parent, this kid is going to make a great man.

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Teachable Moments on Two Wheels

Does anyone else out there wish they could use their car less? I have a feeling that given the choice, many of us wouldn’t mind parking the car and saving some cash. For those of us living in suburban North America, however, that is easier said than done. According to a 2005 Statistics Canada report, the average Canadian spends 63 minutes (roundtrip) commuting to work every day. Few of us live within walking distance of a grocery store, and quite frankly, our kids’ activities keep us on the go as we shuttle them to and from swimming/music/dance lessons.

Contrary to what we might think, however, we do have a measure of control over our use of the car, especially in the summer months. During these precious snow-free months, I want to put out the challenge to get creative about how we chose to get around with our families. Walking is an obvious choice (at least for our family…), but how about that ca. 1984 Supercycle in the garage? ‘Tis the season to park the minivan and get the family saddled up on bikes! With a few accessories and a bit of creative planning we can promote the bike from simply being a leisure activity to a feasible mode of transportation from point A to point B for the whole family. All it takes is a bit of thinking outside the car-shaped box.

Our three children range in age from 2 to 6, and only the 6-year-old can ride a bike. A few years ago we invested in a two-kid bike trailer which cost about $120 and has more than paid for itself in gas savings as we have biked hither and yon with our younger children inside. The great thing about the trailer is that it continues to be useful even as the children grow out of it, because it can haul a load of groceries!

As the children grew old enough to sit on a two-wheeler (but not yet accomplished enough to keep up), we attached their little bikes to one of our adult bikes via a bar called the “Trail-Gator” (handed down to us, but available at Walmart for around $85). The great thing about this bar is that it attaches the child’s regular bike to an adult bike quickly and easily, and can just as easily be removed again.

The final accessory I find useful as I do errands on muscle-power is a good-quality bike lock, available for $20 – $30. This past week I have locked up my bike at Shopper’s Drug Mart to buy toilet paper, the Medical Lab to take care of blood work, and Happy Rolph’s Bird Sanctuary on a picnic with the family.

The total price tag of about $225 for all of the above may seem a like a lot, but consider how much it costs to fill up the gas tank on most minivans ($60 at least). By the end of the summer you will have easily spent $225 on gas alone. Compare this to the number of years you will be using your bike and your accessories, and you may find it worth your while. My bike, for instance, is over 15 years old and hasn’t needed a single repair or drop of gas. I’d like to hear anybody say that about their car.

When it comes down to it, choosing the bike over the car, for most of us, is a matter of convenience. We would rather drive to the gym and work out than hop on our bikes to go buy milk at the Avondale. If we are serious about calling on big industry and government to cut emissions, then we must be willing to change our own attitudes about the things that are in our power to change.

I’m not sure how much money I saved on gas this week, nor how many emissions were not emitted from our van’s muffler. I don’t know how many calories I burned riding my bike to places I would normally drive to. What I do know is that our kids are learning something as they see our family choosing the bike over the car whenever possible.  As we sat on the picnic blanket at Happy Rolph’s we couldn’t help but notice the canopy of beautiful trees overhead. We began explaining to the children how God made trees, animals, and humans to co-exist in a beautiful balance – how we are dependent on one another in so many ways. We found ourselves explaining to them how the destruction of global forests is affecting our climate, which caused some obvious distress. The teachable moment was right; our kids are beginning to understand the significance of small choices like walking to school or riding their bikes. Let us be intentional about instilling these common sense attitudes in our little ones while they are still under our influence.

*Note: To read a related article I published in the St. Catharines Standard on September 9, 2008, please follow this link.

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It’s been a while since this site has seen any traffic. That’s what happens when the owner is wearing about 26 different hats, juggling everything from motherhood to spring cleaning (both inside and out) to a kitchen renovation. Throw in starting up a small business in her spare time, and blogging drops down to the bottom of the heap. And therein lies the inspiration for today’s blog. My life consists of yardwork, homework, housework, (and very seldom) paid work. Sometimes there’s room for some rest, but almost never in large quantities. For most of us living in the developed world, this probably describes what occupies 80% of our time. (For those of us who have no dishwasher, that figure might rise to 85%.)

It all seems so right until we start looking a little beyond our borders to see what’s occupying the time of much of the world’s poor: scavenging for food, scraping together enough materials to establish some kind of shelter, begging, caring for dying children. The contrast is stark.

I’ve been reading and hearing a lot about the underdeveloped world lately. Last week I met a missionary surgeon who left a successful group practice 8 years ago to apply her skills at an under-staffed clinic in northern Ecuador. Her job description involves laparoscopic surgery, banana harvesting, cyst removal, grass cutting with a machete, foot amputations, goat milking, and directing a clinic in which she is the only trained medical professional.

I just finished reading a book by a couple who, upon receiving their PhDs, took off to war-torn Mozambique in the 80’s to take in orphans who had been living in the most inhumane conditions with unimaginably broken pasts. Judging by the Baker family picture, they themselves have adopted around 20 children (in addition to their own two). Take that, Brangelina.

Then there was the Mennonite surgeon, Dr. Frank Duerksen, whose book, Mission with Passion was another eye-opening read. His work among the ostracized leprosy patients of South America and Ethiopia is extremely interesting and inspiring. He poured his life into becoming a world-class surgeon who rubbed shoulders with people whom the rest of the world didn’t want to touch. He spent his time dispelling myths about leprosy, performing reconstructive surgery to those ravaged by the disease, and traveling to remote corners of the bush to connect with those who needed a doctor. Perhaps my favourite story was the one of him delivering a breached baby (butt-first) by moonlight in the back of an oxcart on a cold night.

So where does that leave me? Why do I have the privilege of being well-fed, and living in a middle-class neighbourhood in Canada? I do not think that we all need to leave our lives and join the poor in the slums. But are we even aware of them? Are we so busy with our work and leisure that we’re not even aware of the plight of 80% of our brothers and sisters? What are our bank statements saying about where our money’s going? Is any of it making a difference in the life of even one poor person?

I’m coming to the realization that I can chose to be a cog in the wheel that turns to level the playing field for the world’s people. I was put here to serve a greater purpose than just to support the status quo with my money and my time. Just this morning I read an anonymous quote with which I’ll end:

            “Don’t pursue – don’t even dabble with – the seemingly safe, self-focused, self-satisfying route that our society…affirms and rarely questions. Living half-hearted and with regrets should be the thing that scares us most.”



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