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Cover-Wit Will & Angels

So it turns out my mother is a writer too.

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We civilized Canadians should count ourselves lucky

The following editorial was published in the Guelph Mercury, March 13, 2006.

At a time when Canadians James Loney and Harmeet Sooden continue to be held hostage in a lawless Iraq, I find myself struggling to put into perspective my sense of indignation when I feel badly treated according to my principles.

Principles. People die for them. We try to live by them. I’m not ready to die, but don’t ask me to give them up either, because that’s what makes me civilized.

In the scheme of things, the injustices that affect me personally are largely perceived ones, (by me), and inconsequential when held against the seemingly boundless capacity of people to hurt one another. Fortunately, there are no shootings in my immediate world. I don’t personally know anyone accused of grizzly murders in Mexico.

My complaint is the less obviously tragic but systemic failure of organizations of all stripes to operate according to a set of values that are consistent with my own. That doesn’t make me right. Still, I am oddly capable of outrage when integrity, respect and fundamental fairness fails in the course of everyday life.

You don’t have to look very far to see the examples. You could point to Federal or local politics, corporate governance, the consequences of overwhelmed courtrooms, or often sensible community concerns ignored at the convenience of a system that makes it almost impossible for the little guy.

As an unorganized lobby, we Canadians are a voiceless majority. Organizations with power count on that. And while it’s important to vote, let’s not fool ourselves into believing that casting a ballot every few years is going to change anything of consequence.

At times, it feels like that’s about the only semblance of power we have. And fortunately we are civilized, for the most part, especially compared to lands far and wide. But principle and ethics are not always transportable. They don’t lift easily from one environment to the next. Principles are not universally held, and it messes us up.

About basic things, like waking up in the morning, or going through a green light.

These are relatively safe and reliable behaviours, one would ordinarily assume. Unless you are in the Dominican Republic, where a municipal police officer makes the equivalent of $1,000 US per year, and the country’s former President goes on National television claiming the police don’t deserve a raise because they already make enough money from drugs and ripping off the tourists. In this reality, you can stand on the principle that the light was green when you went through it all you want. It doesn’t change a thing.

Being arrested for going through a green light is one of those last-straw kind of things: when something you think is pretty safe to do turns out to be against the law.

Fundamental injustices happen to each of us almost all the time. They are usually not on a radical scale. As abuses go, they are more like a dull, distant throb than an axe to the back of the head. Yet they share things in common. They are usually unexpected; almost always disruptive and costly at some level. And after we’ve dealt with the annoyance, the accusation or the tragedy, we invariably ask ourselves, was that really necessary?

I was met with another dumb example of personal abuse when I returned from my Dominican vacation-from-hell, and found a letter in my mailbox from Union Energy, the company that rents me their hot water tank. The letter thanked me for signing up for their furnace maintenance program, and informed me my account would be automatically billed.

The problem is, I never signed up for anything. I say, fine. Simple mistake. I call them. I explain to Jackie, the customer service representative, that I never agreed to any contract, and whatever do you mean by charging my account?

Oh, but you did agree, she says. “I have the record right here. Frank, our verifier, talked to you on November 30 and confirmed it.”

“That’s funny,” I say. November 30 was the day I drove through the green light and almost landed in jail in Puerto Plata, which I explain with some satisfaction in my Canadian way.

There followed much sputtering and stuttering; the return phone call from Jackie’s supervisor never came.

We are a voiceless majority, all. This is because we are unorganized. Bringing power to that voice may well be impossible. We can’t count on politicians to do it. All we have to enable us is our principles.

We can be thankful that we don’t have to mourn their demise in any real life threatening regard all that often. Still, there are times when that doesn’t make me feel a lot better. 

©Garrett Klassen is president of Crunch! Communications in Elora, Ontario, Canada.


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