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Monday, January 12, 2015

be kind or die?

For my first post of the year I had planned on writing something inspirational; combining ideas about creativity and hope and artistic expression. The following quote had been sloshing around in my head and not letting me go:

May your coming year be filled with magic and dreams and good madness. I hope you read some fine books and kiss someone who thinks you’re wonderful, and don’t forget to make some art – write or draw or build or sing or live as only you can. And I hope, somewhere in the next year, you surprise yourself. – Neil Gaiman

While today I still find this quote great, there is now a dark, heavy blanket sent from Paris, smothering my light-hearted thoughts. You, readers, know that I’m not a critical writer. It’s not that I’m not a critical thinker, but I live my life and write my words being über-careful about not causing unnecesary hurt or disrespect to others. Some surely say that I err too much on the side of caution, but I think offensiveness creates barriers between us and I don’t like when I see it coming from myself or others.

So I want to write about the power of creating - using clay or paint, pencil or charcoal, pen or keyboard, piano or playdough – the materials ‘to each his own’. But, I want to discuss the idea of art within the confines of responsibility; creating while being kind. Is this a necessary discussion in order to live together as a fruitful and thriving global community?

An intelligent, artistic friend of mine, in response to my questions about Wednesday’s tragic events at Charlie Hebdo, said this,“It is of course ridiculous and appalling that people find it necessary to kill for a concept. Allah and Muhammad just cannot be that sensitive. I do believe in critical analysis and critique, especially of religion. But analysis can be done respectfully. I like the Buddhist philosophy of right speech: before you speak, consider, will it improve upon the silence? Is it kind? Is it true? Is it necessary? If all of these things aren’t true, perhaps it doesn’t need to be said. I think it’s fine for people to get angry and be offended, but to deliver a piece of truth to people in a way that inflames and disrespects, how does that advance truth? It only builds up walls between us.”

I am thoroughly moved by #jesuischarlie and #jesuisahmed for the unity it shows and because with certainty those 17 people in Paris did not deserve to die last week. I absolutely believe that a fundamental human right should be the freedom of expression and freedom of beliefs; but with the caveat that these freedoms cannot impact others negatively. And that’s where things get murky. Most people are against expressions of hate, or they should be, and those purveyors of slander, racism, bigotry, etc can be prosecuted in, I think, all democratic countries. But what of humour, satire?

“The world has become so serious that humor is a risky profession.” – Bernardo Erlich, Artist

Satire is: "The use of humour, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people’s stupidity or vices, particularly in the context of contemporary politics and other topical issues" (Oxford Dictionary). I’m only asking the question: Should there be boundaries when artistic expression hurts and offends? Or should we be willing and ready to die, if not? Both could very well be ludicrous questions.

So where is the line between being creative and being disrespectful or should the two live irrespective of each other? Is art, art - without boundaries or responsibility? I think humans are pretty two-faced about it unfortunately. The stronger power who’s offended wins, right? If Hitler was around nowadays, hitting the talk show circuit promoting his ‘Mein Kampf’ wouldn’t there be an outright ban? Would he be free to express his sick views of the world even as satire or in cartoon form? Who decides?

Yesterday, I desperately wanted to join the million people rallying in Paris for unity, for freedom of speech, for just plain ol' freedom. If I had the extra 150€ I would absolutely have taken the 4-hour train ride and marched along with the normal folks, religious and world leaders, journalists, artists and every other pencil holder; in honour of those who lost their lives last week. But, I would also have been marching for the thousands or more who’ve also lost their lives because of hatred and conflict in other places around the world last week - like the 2000 women and children massacred in Nigeria. I would walk for peace and kindness – wishing that in the midst of disagreements, differences of opinions and even anger, we could all just be kinder to each other and possibly prevent some killing.

How amazing it was to see on television, Netanyahu and Abbas, along with many other world leaders, standing beside Jewish, Christian and Muslim leaders in Paris yesterday. What an incredible display of respect! Will all of us who look up to our respective world and religious leaders follow suit with those standing next to us on the street, in the bus or on the train platform? 

Why can’t we just be kinder, more respectful to each other - starting with the people who live on our street, extending all the way across the world? Don’t hate him because he looks different. Don’t belittle or make fun of her because she acts differently. Don’t disrespect or offend them because they pray differently. Don’t kill me because I believe in something different from you. Talk to each other. We don’t have to be friends, but we can be kind. Everyone. Everywhere. Why not? Then everyone could live their lives in peace - could live until nature takes its course. That is all anyone wants to do anyways - to love and live in peace, right? I, you, they, we...need to start being kind so that we will all be free.

Some say a target like Charlie Hebdo and its cartoons is just an excuse – that the plan to terrorize and hurt just needed a bullseye. Maybe art in this case was not the true catalyst of anger. An interesting blogger, Hayden Trenholm, wrote of the attacks and said, “
There is plenty of blame to go around I suppose, and we can point in every direction we want but the reality is all the blame here belongs in one place — the three men who committed these crimes and, perhaps, the half-dozen or so who abetted them. They had a mad grievance against the world and, like all grievances, it required them to point their rage somewhere. They chose to point it at a group of satirists and cartoonists but they just as easily could have pointed it at a soldier standing guard at a war memorial or a group of school children quietly going about their business in… Connecticut. The ideology of hate knows no bounds.”

So why do people begin to hate? Why do people feel isolate, disenfranchised; having nothing to lose but their lives? Isn't treating people like you want to be treated a great beginning - like dousing ice water onto the simmering embers of hate. Think about this proverb - we’ve all heard it before. Think about what it really means. How do you want to be treated by neighbours, strangers, foreigners? I think we all want to be treated fairly, respectfully, kindly. Let's do it. Employ people. Train people. Talk to people. Hear people’s stories and listen while they speak. Try to understand where they’re coming from – believe me, when you happen to land somewhere where nobody knows you, the most important thing is having people try to get to know you. Give people the opportunities that you also want to have. Share. Share. Share. 

My wish for all of us in 2015 is that we will be brave in our kindness even when others are not. Be brave as the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists were, and still are, to draw. Be brave to use pens instead of swords. Be brave to create that which builds bridges instead of walls. Be brave to be kind. What do we have to lose other than our lives?

Of all our dreams, today there is none more important – or so hard to realize – as that of peace in our world. May we never lose our faith in it, or our resolve to do everything that can be done to convert it one day into reality. -Lester B. Pearson

Thank you to Lisa Hallerbach for inspiring me with her creations and her spirit.


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