The Only Rights We Have Are the Ones We Fight For

Oftentimes in life, just showing up to a fight is enough to end it. Thus was the case with my most recent battle a couple of days ago. My landlord attempted to take me to court to get me to pay for renovations they were doing. Yes, that is totally unfair, as well as completely illegal, but if I hadn’t gone to court I’d have been charged more than $2,600 in absentia. They tried to lie and say we’d damaged a floor that had been in the building since it had been built. I won’t bore you with all the details, but I will say that the guy who did our walk-through when we were looking at the place said they would fix the floor before we moved in. They didn’t, but that tells you the damage was pre-existing.

The end result was that as soon as they saw we had shown up to court (they saw our names on the sign-in sheet) they decided they would be willing to go through a mediator rather than the adjudicator. Fancy that! We presented numerous pictures showing the water damage in the apartment that could only be pre-existing, and entirely out of the realm of our control. The roof had leaked for a long time, there’s a wall in which there’s a leaking pipe, and there is so much mold and mildew that I can no longer use my bedroom. By strange coincidence they were no longer interested in pursuing damages. Happily this mediation gave us the opportunity to bring up their numerous illegal activities without actually reporting them, but they took them a little more seriously at least. It also gave us the opportunity to let them know we’d happily be vacating the premises at the end of March. Yay!

Things became remarkably friendly during these proceedings, considering how nasty they tried to be. They talked about what great tenants we were, because we were quiet and always paid our rent. I guess they figured we were so nice that we would happily roll over and pay for them to replace the floor in our apartment. Right. The funny thing is, they truly have no clue how absolutely nasty I could have been. I could have forced them into bankruptcy had I chosen to make my complaints known with the appropriate legal parties. If I had chosen to be vindictive, the city would have come in and shut the place down. They would have been charged many thousands of dollars just to be able to continue as landlords.

Instead, I simply stopped them from screwing me over. If they had chosen to keep on with their case, I would have pulled out all the stops, of course, if for no other reason than to show the true state of their general character. Their blatant dishonesty would have been more than enough to have my case thrown out. As it is, that’s what the end result was here, and they were forced to swallow the application fee of $170 for filing against us. They’ve also told us they’re going to provide us with a good reference, etc. I don’t care if they’re doing it to placate us, as long as they don’t screw up our reputation as tenants. Here they tend to keep a record, and it becomes really difficult to find a place to live if you’ve been a bad tenant – similar to having a bad credit rating.

It just goes to show, though, how far some people will go to get you to pay their bills for them, and how little you sometimes have to do to stand up for yourself. Just because there are laws that exist to protect us, does not mean we won’t be taken unfair advantage of. Every time we do not force people in power to abide by the laws, the more likely they are to run roughshod over us. Landlords seem to be some of the worst, because so many of them are owner-operators, basically, uneducated in the terms under which they are allowed to continue said operations. They seem to think that because they buy a piece of property they automatically have the right to rent it out in any manner they choose. They don’t, and the courts can remove their privileges as landlords. They can also be heavily fined and find themselves stripped of their property if it turns out to be unfit for residential use.

There are people in this world who have a gigantic sense of entitlement. They’ve somehow come to believe themselves above the law, or simply better than others around them. They feel like they deserve better treatment than that which they afford others. You find it a lot in wealthier people, who have never had to live through difficult times. People who inherit their wealth in particular, such as the Walton family brats who now run the Walmart empire, and the Koch brothers who now run Koch Industries. They didn’t build their businesses themselves. They just suck every last ounce of profits out of them with no consideration for what they’re doing to others. They simply do not care, and the government lets them get away with it.

Things aren’t a whole lot better in Canada, but all companies are forced to comply with much higher minimum wages, and there’s a lot more protection for employees up here. Yet, somehow, Canada has been listed as the number one country to do business in. A less complicated tax code helps. We have very little local interference in business, too, so businesses generally only have to deal with provincial and federal legislation, and they do not contradict each other in any case I’ve ever seen, because the contradictions have already been dealt with very simply. If the business runs across provincial lines, such as transportation, it’s governed federally. If not, it’s usually governed provincially.

Very few of our laws are municipal or regional. Sometimes they’re managed by regional departments, but the laws are still provincial. I had American friends be confused about how little concern I showed for the mayor of Toronto being a crack-head, but truthfully there is almost no power in being the mayor of a city here. He could have done something stupid like have a garbage truck dumped onto someone’s car, maybe, or change parking legislation, but that’s about it. It wasn’t until it came out that (allegedly) he was abusive to his wife, I even looked twice at him. As far as I (and most other Canadians) are concerned, scandals aren’t really something we pay much attention to in politics. Drugs aren’t legal here, but a lot of people think they should be, so people think nothing of offering to share a joint with their neighbours. My own mother smokes a fair bit of the stuff, which I find funny because I can’t stand it. I don’t mean that I judge anyone who does it. I just mean I don’t like what it does to me, so I don’t smoke it myself.

Over the last few decades, sadly, many people in North America have given up on the idea of fighting for their own rights. We had a big lull where we thought things weren’t perfect, but it wasn’t worth getting worked up about, but now we’re seeing the harsh reality that crept up on us during our political slumber. In Canada our environment is being destroyed. The entire province of Alberta is a disgusting mess. Yes, people still live there, particularly since there are a ton of high-paying jobs, but it really isn’t a healthy place. There are so many toxic spills in Canada, that they’re almost uncountable. Close to 2,000 per year for the last 37 years. About 6 per day.

In the US, there are so many problems that may be unresolvable. The education system was attacked and dismantled a long time ago, so it becomes a struggle just to make people understand that there is a problem, much less what to do about it. George Carlin did a far better job of explaining it than I can here, but it boils down to a system of government wanting a population that is easily controlled. I’m hoping the people in both our countries wake up to the reality, and that we can come up with a solution before it’s too late. However, so many just shrug their shoulders and say, “What’s the point? There isn’t anything we can do about it anyway.”

Of course, that’s exactly what they want you to think. And by “they” I mean the giant corporations that are profiting off our ignorance and inertia. The government itself wouldn’t be a problem if big businesses weren’t there to hand over the cash. In the US it’s even legal to bribe your senators and congressional members. It’s called lobbying. They have to be a lot more circumspect in Canada, but they still manage to a lesser degree. If people are led to believe that nothing they do will make a difference, they simply won’t try. If they don’t try, it just makes it easier for their rights to be stripped, even if those rights are protected by law.

Every time we allow someone to step on us, we contribute to the larger issue. In fact, there’s a butterfly effect. I’ll use my own example to illustrate what I mean. Let’s say I hadn’t fought my landlord on this, and they got my money to pay for their renovations. There’s no way they would have stopped with me. They would have found it a very easy way to renovate the whole building, and would be encouraged to try it with everyone, knowing that it was unlikely anyone would try to stop them. Every single person in this building (about 30 apartments) would most likely have been taught that they’re just going to be screwed over for the rest of their lives. Maybe that’s an exaggeration, but I don’t think it’s too far off the mark. The people who live here are mostly uneducated, and they’re all poor. Nobody would live in this building if they were bringing in a decent income. In my case my daughter makes minimum wage, and I’m on disability. Even still, we’re moving on to better things. I’ve never lived in a place this disgusting in my life, and I don’t intend to stick around.

Back to my point, however. So, you have a building with 30 families, all being taught that they have no power and no rights, because none of them here will likely have read the Residential Tenancies Act. In fact, most tenants never read even excerpts from it. I’m an exception, apparently. I like to learn new things, and I like to know what my rights are. My landlord is far from unique when it comes to bending and breaking the law. I don’t think I’ve ever come across a landlord that wasn’t breaking the law in some fashion or other. Most of them violate entry laws, most violate anti-smoking legislation, most don’t pay interest on deposits, and most do not maintain their buildings mechanically or health-wise in accordance with the law. When tenants don’t fight back against them, they simply continue doing business in the way that brings them as much profit as possible.

Our homes are the places where we spend most of our lives, usually. At the very least we usually sleep in them. To have our rights taken from us in our own homes is very meaningful. This mentality invades all other parts of our lives. When you stop to think about the fact that most employers also violate the rights of their employees, there are very few ways in which citizens are not being stepped on. It becomes a constant, daily thing. Again, so few actually read about employment legislation, so they don’t even know that their employers are supposed to provide them with a copy of the Employment Standards Act in order to educate them on their rights. When employees don’t know that, they don’t ask. They don’t know where to go to get the information, because they aren’t researchers by nature.

Even thinking about the ways we’re always being taken advantage of is exhausting. There are just so many battles to be fought. I haven’t worked for anyone other than myself for a long time, and even then I worked in payroll and human resources, so I was the one making sure the employees were not having their rights stripped. My employers weren’t thrilled, but I didn’t care. I wasn’t going to be a party to it. These were people that were paying themselves a million-dollar bonus at Christmas, but they didn’t want to pay two hours of overtime to an employee. This attitude is typical, and I’ve never worked for an employer who wasn’t like that. I’m sure there are some nice employers and landlords out there, but like most people I haven’t been lucky enough to run into them. In many cases landlords and employers don’t even know they’re doing anything wrong, but it’s their legal obligation to know these things, so I feel no sympathy for their plight. If you’re going to hire people, or rent property to people, then do your due diligence.

At work and at home we’re getting screwed over constantly, and then there are all the other things that are coming down on us. Our lands are being stripped and destroyed, the environment is becoming toxic, and in twenty years there’s a good chance we’re not even going to have breathable air unless something is done immediately. There will be continuous changes to what we can do in our leisure time, simply because there will be places we’ll no longer be able to go. People are discriminated against for their gender, race (theirs or their spouse’s), religion, and sexual orientation.

This is why every single one of us has to stop in their tracks and say, “Enough already!” We have to stop this on a daily basis. We have to fight against it. We have to share information with one another about what can be done. We stand to lose every one of our rights without a single battle being fought, simply because we don’t want to deal with confrontation. I’m well aware that confrontation sucks. I absolutely hate confrontations. I hate drama and fighting. I don’t watch reality TV, and that’s one of the biggest reasons. I don’t mind sports like UFC and boxing, because there are rules and they’re not based on personal issues. It’s about technique and skill in the ring.

When it comes to fighting ‘city hall’ as they say, it’s different. The results matter. They have an impact on your life, so it’s scary to fight against someone. I guarantee, however, that if you don’t fight, the results will be far worse than if you do. If I hadn’t shown up in court the other day, they would have ruled that I owed the money, and I would have been charged for the filing fee as well. I would have been stuck owing almost $3,000 for something that wasn’t even my debt. Not showing up for a fight is basically considered tacit consent. Courts will almost always rule against the party that isn’t there. You simply must refute the claims of those that would take advantage of you. If you don’t, your neighbour is going to be the next one footing the bill.

If it’s your boss taking advantage of you, your co-workers are likely getting the same treatment. I actually had a friend go to work for a company that had screwed me over in the past, and they did even worse to her. I helped her fight it, and she won, but she would likely have never been put in that position if I’d fought them when I had the chance years earlier. An employer that’s forcibly reminded by the courts that what they’re doing is illegal, will think twice about doing it again. An employer that is never challenged will keep doing the same things, and will likely get progressively worse. In some cases they never learn, but as long as people keep fighting, then there’s a good chance the company will end up getting shut down and the employees will be awarded what they’re owed.

It’s always worse in lean times when there are few jobs and few places to live. People are afraid of losing their jobs and apartments, because they know it’s going to be tough to find another one. That fear is what keeps us all down. We fight when we know we’ve got the upper hand, or we fight when we know things can’t get any worse. The common person rarely has the upper hand, though, and if we’re in a position where we know things can’t get worse, that’s a terrible place to be. It’s easier to give up then.

I’m of two minds when it comes to unions. I know they’ve served a purpose, but I also know the unions aren’t exactly the benevolent organizations they pretend to be. In some cases they simply clog up the works and take hard-earned money from their members for doing absolutely nothing. Their existence, however, is a benefit in that they’re a constant threat to the employer. I’m well aware that it was union efforts that organized the workers and they were responsible for getting us our shorter work weeks (and many other benefits), so we certainly need to show our gratitude there. However, I’ve also worked for a company where I have been harmed by their presence. It’s a sort of catch-22. All in all, though, I do think they’re needed, if for no other reason than the silent threat factor. Any company that has a union in place is well aware that they’re being constantly and closely monitored, and not just by a single individual. They aren’t faced with only one employee that knows their rights, but every employee that has an ironclad contract. That can make a big difference with a crappy employer.

Organized protest is always what leads any social change. A single person can be responsible for a great deal, and usually that’s because they’ve managed to gather together a group of like-minded individuals. The shouts of a group become loud enough that the governing bodies can’t tune them out. The public starts hearing their voices, and they often add their own then. Social change happens because the majority of people want it, and they force the legislators to acknowledge that it’s what the public wants. Government is supposed to work for the people, but it doesn’t unless the people force it to. Government simply goes on doing whatever it’s doing, often being bought and paid for by big business, unless the citizens put their collective feet down.

The other part of understanding social change, is that we have to realize it starts small, and it starts locally. If we want change, we start with our neighbourhood, because it’s really not that hard to get a few hundred people together. Then we can move on to our city. Once we have our cities back, we can deal with state or provincial government. After all, if every major city has changed, the province or state no longer has a choice, really. Once each state or province has changed, that changes the whole country. It’s not that hard to remove the corrupt government officials if we band together and decide we don’t want them. We hired them, and we can fire them.

All of this begins with showing up. Until we show up for the fight, we will be walked on. Once we show up, we can plead our case. Enough people together, fighting for the same rights, and you’ve got big change. It may not be changes to the law, because the laws might already be on the books. They just have to be enforced, and if you don’t fight for your own rights, then who do you think is supposed to do it for you?

What’s in a Name? Kin, Labels, Etymology and More!

The seemingly simple topic of names is actually chock full of complexities that nobody fully understands. There are so many layers and levels to it, that it boggles the mind. Every one of those areas has differing schools of thought, too, and all cultures are different. When you’re talking about something so personal as a name, people can’t even agree on whether or not it is personal. For instance, there are those who think it’s nothing but a label, and we should do without labels entirely. I have to say, this would be a very confusing world if we had to say, “Hey you!” in order to get someone’s attention. The artist-formerly-known-as-Prince-and-was-subsequently-known-as-Prince-anyway is probably the best illustration of what happens when someone doesn’t have a name (or label if you will). Most of us would agree that we prefer to have a name rather than a serial number, and find even social security (US) or social insurance (Canada) numbers to be dehumanizing. Besides, names are easier to say. Usually.

So, let’s all pretend to agree that we need names. On to the next step. You have a kid, you stick a name on it, you register the birth and name with the government – I assume that all depends on what country you live in, too, but I’m going with what I know. In Canada you can’t even leave the hospital without register a name for your kid, and in the US you used to be able to wait a while before settling on a name if my understanding of the system is correct. I don’t personally understand that approach, but at the same time I’m also reading the Game of Thrones books (no I have not seen the TV series – I’m debating whether or not I even want to – it is TV after all), and there are customs in there where people don’t name their kids until they’re about two years old because it’s considered unlucky and too many kids die before that age. Hmmm. I’d think you’d want a name just in case they do die, so there’s something to stick on a headstone, but I suppose the idea is to not get too attached to them. Good luck with that.

Now anyone I’ve ever known who has had a kid, myself included, has sweated the choices. Most of us realize that it’s a bad idea to name your kid something they’re going to be picked on for, but then there are those who don’t want their kid to be like everyone else. Being one of the ones who was picked on, I would advise prospective parents to think twice about weird names. In fact, if you have a weird last name, it might even be time to bite the bullet and make some legal alterations to it, so future generations don’t grimace whenever they speak it aloud, or get pissy when they constantly have to correct people who misspell it. My last name is the perfect example of that. Everyone assumes there’s an R in it. There is not, and the last time it had an R in it was probably centuries ago. Just because there’s another group of people out there who chose to leave the R in their name, does not make it true of my own family. In my case I no longer have to worry about spreading my name about. My daughter doesn’t share it, and I’m beyond the point of having more children.

On the flipside there are those who have had family pride instilled in them, so that their name makes them stand a little straighter and throw their shoulders back. More power to ya. In my case I had some decent relatives, and then there were the ones with the yellow buck teeth – first cousins who tried to get me into bed. Yes, I know. Ick. Both the teeth and the cousin part. First cousins might be legal in some places, but I wasn’t going there voluntarily. Those teeth were a good reminder of why first cousins are a bad idea, in fact. Not only inbreeding, but inbreeding with visible flaws.

So at one point I seriously considered legally changing my last name. I can’t remember what it was that caught my attention, but at that time I realized something. My name would be what I would make of it. After all, it’s not a very common last name, so there are no massively famous people (for their celebrity or for their infamy) that I had to live in the shadow of, or overcome their reputation. I’m not a Lincoln or a Sheen, or even a Smith, which is so common no one would assume any relationship these days anyway. Not being in touch with any of my family members makes this easy as well. I will make my name what I want it to be, and so it doesn’t matter at all what it meant in my home town. This apple fell very far from the whole orchard.

Beyond what’s common, popular, known or there’s a built-in reputation that comes with it, there’s the meaning of the names themselves. Now, looking at my last name you would think it means land of sticks. It doesn’t. It translates from another word altogether and means land beside the hill. Weird huh? Of course, last names are like that. First name are usually the big conundrum for new parents. Boy names, girl names and gender-neutral names. I like the latter idea. If I’d had another child, Alex would have been a seriously-considered option. My daughter ended up with a name that was so common she usually had several other girls in her class with the same name. It wasn’t like that when I named her, or I’d have chosen something different. Something not weird, but not overly common either. Instead she got buried unwillingly in the popular.

Baby naming books or websites will always be needed. We want to know we’re not naming our kid something that means ‘pile of dung’ or something. Kids are cruel, and if they discover this, your kid is doomed. Yes, doomed. That will stick with them in every possible permutation for the rest of their lives. I was briefly nicknamed Spike in junior high (an 80s hair thing). People remembered. People almost got punched for remembering, but they remembered. I was okay with it in grade 8 – not so much in high school and later years. If I were faced with naming a kid now, I’d also be doing a Google search on the name, including middle and last, varying what I entered. You just never know. Maybe you haven’t heard the latest news about that serial killer in California, or the politician who just got caught doing the nasty with a chicken. With the internet now, kids will find out about those things. Sometimes people are bored and Google a person’s name at random. It’s not possible to completely avoid that kind of thing, but do your kid a favour and at least make an effort to do so.

Finally there’s equality. Woman got sick and tired of losing their last names, for one thing. For another, when you have a career and have built up a reputation, changing your last name can do a lot of damage. There’s no way to properly format a resume to state that at one place your name was one way, but then at another it was a different way. It might be alright if we all married once and stayed married. We just don’t now. Or very rarely. Sure, you can use the antiquated “nee” with your former last name after it, but seriously? Let’s be realistic about corporate life. Women who do that are looked at more than a little contemptuously. It tells everyone there that you gave up your identity for a man. If you’re willing to do that, the assumption may be that you will not take your career as seriously as a man would. Then starts that whole, “Women don’t belong in the workforce. They just can’t be relied on to stick with it.” They also tend to assume you will be taking time off to raise a family, and they will not make that same assumption with a husband. They don’t have a clue what you and your partner have decided to do about a family. They simply assume, and it’s not a career boost.

Beyond getting married and women not always changing their last names, or at least hyphenating them, babies come along to challenge your equality ideas yet again. After all, it’s no longer written in stone that children automatically take their father’s last name. Women are starting to say, “What? My last name isn’t good enough? My family is less important than your family? I don’t think so!” In fact, this isn’t such a new phenomenon as we might generally think. Royal families intermarried – one country’s prince to another country’s princess, and that sort of thing. These high-level marriages did not completely subjugate the family names of the brides, simply because that would have been an insult to an entire country. If the idea behind the marriage was to bond two countries, that sort of insult would nullify any benefits achieved by the marriage. Even among the lesser peerage, especially when the woman’s family was considered a station or two above the family of the man, women often retained their own titles of some sort. I’m foggy on specifics, but I remember seeing it on many occasions when I was doing research. Titles would be handed down to the children at any rate.

What I’ve been seeing as some of the latest trends are girls being given their mothers’ last names, and boys getting their last name from their fathers, or even the reverse. Sometimes the couple each retain their own last names with no hyphenation, but the kids get the hyphenated name and the boys & girls have the same last names. Again, there’s very old precedent in a way. Think of Nordic last names. The son of Odin was Odinson (like Thor Odinson). His daughter’s would have been Odinsdotter or Odinsdatter. They’re called patronymic names when they’re named after the father, but there were matronymic names, too, apparently. Laws changed and in some cases this practice was forbidden, but then laws changed again so people could go back to doing it.

I guess in a world where English-language people (like myself) are so openly egocentric that they assume the world revolves around their own basic culture, there were many who got confused by the ‘alternative’ practices. Then again, there’s a large portion of the world that places the family name first, and the given name second. So, in those countries the custom would be for me to be called Stickland Rain. I know that it’s like that in China, as well as in Hungary (or was anyway). Certain Chinese celebrities have swapped their names back and forth, confusing the masses of movie-goers, but if those movie-goers are too lazy to learn about other cultures I feel no empathy for them. Having worked in payroll and human resources, it was my job to know this stuff. In one place we had a large number of Chinese employees who were permanent residents, and I needed to know which name was the family name. As far as I was concerned, I needed to be respectful of the differences.

This brings up other issues with regard to this topic, doesn’t it? The whole thing about being an immigrant. See what I mean? A seemingly innocuous topic has turned into something fraught with meaning on every possible level. There are many who feel that if you come into a country then you should adopt your new country’s ways. Sure, legally I can see that. You obey the laws already in place, because by crossing that border it’s tacit agreement that you will abide by them. That does not mean your culture needs to be tossed out the door or disrespected. I know in Canada it’s always a struggle to accommodate certain religious beliefs, particularly in employment situations where there’s a uniform involved. When it comes to names, though, there are many who sneer at foreign names. I see it more in the US, but I see it in Canada as well. Racism is nowhere near dead, folks.

I have a friend whose last name is technically pronounced differently, but in high school he chose to anglicize it for ease of use. He refers back to the ‘when in Rome’ analogy. His family members were adamant that it should be pronounced the original way. I pronounce it the way he wants it pronounced, but my ex’s family is from the same country and he was taken aback by the way I said it. My only response was, “If that’s what he uses, that’s what I’m calling him. It’s his damn name.”

In the end that’s really what it should be as far as I’m concerned. My daughter is debating on changing her name. She does not like its popularity. She’s considering a variety of options, and some of them I think she would later regret. However, it’s her life, and I really don’t blame her for not being happy with what she has. Maybe George R.R. Martin and his Game of Thrones are closer to the truth on this one, though we certainly need to be able to call our kids something other than, “Come here you little…” when they’ve drawn on the walls in Crayon for the umpteenth time. The thing is, do we even know what to call ourselves as time goes on? Do we pick a name that sounds cool later in life, but then realize ten years down the road that it wasn’t exactly our best idea?

Thankfully it’s not horrendously expensive to change your name these days. I think it’s only about $170 in Canada, for a full, legal name change. Less than the price of a DIY divorce at any rate, and probably a lot less confusing. Having gone through umpteen dozen name changes myself – two marriages where I actually changed my last name, and the rest were from childhood and were not by my choice – I can tell you, it takes people a while to get used to the new name, yourself included. By the time I got married for the third time (and no, that one didn’t stick either), I was really sick of changing my name. My ex didn’t like it, but by then the most I was willing to concede was a hyphenation. We didn’t last long enough for me to make the change, which at least saved me from having to change it back.

Would a rose still smell as sweet by any other name? You betcha. It would just have to hear it a few times before it would answer to it.

Arguing With Myself About Hobby Lobby, Hypocrisy and MRAs

As opinionated and vocal as I am about certain topics, I’m sure many people think I ‘shoot from the lip’ as it were, and don’t really take the time to think about what I say or believe. Most especially after I’ve written something about it already. That’s entirely untrue, however, as I have continued to examine my beliefs throughout my life, wondering where a belief came from, and why it is so entrenched in me. I do want to know those things, because I don’t want my beliefs coming from indoctrination of any kind. I want them based on real facts, too.

Having said that, you will maybe understand why I choose to write more about SCOTUS and Hobby Lobby. Just so you know, though, I have not kept up with the latest developments, other than what I discussed in the comment section of my last blog posting about it. There may have been other developments, but I’m not able to discuss them knowledgeably at the moment. That’s not what this is about. It’s about the types of hypocrisy we see from the opposite end of the spectrum, but we’ll get to that in a bit.

Every time a company acts out of ‘religious interests’ we need to ask ourselves this:

Would I hold the same opinion I do now, if this was a different religion (or lack of religion) being represented?

Would you hold the same belief if it was a Muslim company, as you do if it’s a Christian company? Would you think differently if it was a Buddhist company, rather than a Sikh company? How much of what we believe is true about the Hobby Lobby decision from SCOTUS, would still hold true if they were practicing Muslims who were in favour of imposing Sharia Law?

Religious prejudice does still hold sway in Canada, much to my disappointment, and I have seen it at work in my career. In fact, the last company I worked for would not give corporate shares to one of their executives because he did not attend ‘their’ church, and even though this practice is completely illegal here, and falls under discrimination laws, it still happens. Just not as often as it does in the U.S. We face it with the Catholic School Boards when it comes to their hiring practices, and the debate is very, very sticky. Anti-discrimination versus religious freedom. Do we tell people they have to share a religion in their personal life in order to be employed by an organization based on a religion? Especially when it’s not a for-profit enterprise.

The reverse is also an issue to ponder; non-religious companies telling their employees to keep their religions out of the workplace. I do honestly believe that there’s no way Hobby Lobby would have received the same court decision had they been Muslims. Not when there were 5 practicing Catholics in SCOTUS. My personal belief has always been, and will always be, that corporations have no business practicing religion of any sort. They’re nothing but a business enterprise with no beliefs of any kind. They’re there to make money, and they have court protection only because they took a step back from the personal beliefs of the owners. However, that swings back to me, too.

You see, I have a registered business, which you will already know if you read my prior post on Hobby Lobby. I have very strong beliefs about non-involvement in people’s personal lives, and think people should be able to do what they like in their own lives. But…is that really what I think deep down? How would I feel if I found out my employee was doing something I completely disapproved of, that wasn’t really any of my business? What if they were abusing animals in their spare time? Perhaps that’s not the best example, since animal abuse is actually illegal and opens up other options, but what about things that are a little more esoteric?

How would I react if my employee was attending MRA meetings? (Men’s Rights Activists – believe me that’s not as benign as it sounds, as they have a tendency to threaten women and have been known to promote violence toward them.) If the employee has done nothing illegal within the scope of his own beliefs, would I be able to get past it in the workplace? Knowing the content of some of these meetings, and having met a few of the trolls online, I would definitely have an issue with a person like that working within my organization. I’d be very worried about it, actually. I have to fear the potential for violence against female employees, the discomfort the others might feel in their presence, and the simple knowledge that the employee would think less of me as a human being because I’m female. As long as the employee does not bring those opinions into the workplace, do I have any grounds whatsoever to let him go?

Well, from a legal perspective he could not be fired for this specific reason. It’s discrimination. He is legally entitled to his own opinion. If he insults female employees, harasses them, is belligerent toward his female employer, or a number of other behaviours that are discriminatory on his part, then I absolutely have the right to fire him for it. I can not fire him for what he thinks, or what he does in his personal life. I can let him go because I don’t personally like him, of course. That’s always been legal. I just have to give him termination pay, and possibly severance pay (depending on the duration of his employment in the area where he’s employed). But is it the right thing to do, believing what I believe about business being separate from the personal?

My business isn’t incorporated so I have more personal leeway with respect to that sort of thing, and I’ll get back to that later, but what about corporations? Take a look at the big employers, like Google and Facebook. Look at their investments, and where they donate their money. Liberal companies, basically. Sure, they can choose to donate where they like, considering it’s a tax write-off and good for PR and the bottom line, but is it really something that corporations should be doing? They are, in fact, expressing an opinion about moral and/or political issues.

Hiring practices deal with the same issue. You try to find people who ‘fit the corporate culture,’ but what is a corporate culture if not an enforced moral compass for the employees? Sure, it might be an easy one to follow, like wearing blue jeans to work, but if one employee is more comfortable in his or her job wearing a suit to work they will not fit in. The position itself might even require a suit and tie because they’re meeting outside clients who will be more traditional in their mode of dress. That big, colourful slide at Google’s offices might look like fun to a lot of people, but some – possibly even me – would be a little taken aback by it. Some of us like a more traditional office where we aren’t distracted by such things. That doesn’t mean we’re incapable of doing the creative work required of a company such as Google. I spent most of my time being creative, and I work in bed half the time (and my pajamas all the time), so I have an arguably relaxed environment, but do I really want a ball pit to play in? Nope. Knowing me I’d probably break a bone, or would get beaned by an employee.

If companies donate to Planned Parenthood, aren’t they guilty of the same thing as Hobby Lobby in a sense? They’re taking the company profits, given to them through the hard work of their employees, and sinking them into something the employees might very well disagree with wholeheartedly. Sure, it’s the company’s money by that point, but those of us who are angered by the Hobby Lobby decision don’t believe a company should be able to tell employees what to do, either. Admittedly a very large part of that anger comes from the fact that they’re still funding vasectomies and Viagra, so they seem to think men should have unencumbered sex, but not women. I’m not going to get into all that again, because the hypocrisy of the company is not the issue right now. It’s the hypocrisy of those who think ‘liberal’ companies should have the freedom to do what they want, and be able impose those beliefs on their employees.

Should companies be forcing any moral standpoint on any employee? That’s the real question. I’ve heard myself say no a million times, but deep inside I need to be sure I’m expressing that for all sides of the equation, and not just my own personal belief system. Do I like the idea of donating lots of money to animal protection groups, and organizations that help women who have been raped? Sure I do. Do I think it should be a part of my corporate culture? If I responded emotionally, I’d say yes, but there I’d be trapped by my own logic about business. As a business, I really have no business doing anything from an emotional standpoint.

Getting back to the MRA, I think I’d be one of the hypocrites if I said I would even hire him in the first place if I knew about his activities, but maybe not. I can justify the action by saying he would most likely not fit in, and would make the other employees uncomfortable. I’d be acting like I can predict the future, of course, because I can’t honestly say with any certainty that what I think will happen will in fact occur. The odds are on my side, but odds aren’t facts. Would it be right for me to base a decision on that? Well, yes and no. As an employer I have an obligation to hire people that I don’t think are a risk to their fellow employees. MRAs represent a risk to not only the female employees (including myself), but also to the male employees who don’t feel that way about women. They will likely be placed in untenable situations where they see things they don’t like, and have to decide whether or not to speak up against them, possibly placing themselves outside their peer group’s approval.

An employee such as that is very likely to poison morale, and as an employer I have to consider that very seriously. I want all of my employees to be able to come to work and know that it’s a safe environment for them. If I’m going to be completely honest with myself, though, I have to admit that my gut decision would be not to hire him for very personal reasons. It would be my very first emotional reaction to a man like that. My distaste would be quite pronounced, in fact. Still, knowing myself as I do, I also know that I would force myself to think about it very seriously and continue to regard him as an individual human being. I’d have to determine within the scope of an interview if I really believed he was part of that fringe group where violence against women is not only condoned but encouraged.

Of course, maybe the point would be moot. Maybe all I’d have to do is ask him about it – simply tell him I know about his outside activities, and ask how he proposes to reconcile that with the fact that he will not only be working with women, and for a woman, but also working for a woman who is in fact a feminist. Any sort of negative reaction to that would be more than enough to tell me he would be a problem, and not worth hiring. If there’s no reaction at all, I have to let the issue go and judge solely on his skills and experience, as well as his personality as a human being. I mean, bosses will never hire someone they think is a jerk, unless that’s the personality they’re looking for – which does happen for certain positions. Sometimes you need an employee like that.

If he’s already an employee? Well, it boils down to this: I can’t legitimately fire him, even if I can do so legally, if he has never done anything wrong to justify the firing. I might have to grit my teeth for a while, every time I’m in his presence. What he does in his free time is none of my damn business. It never was. How he behaves at work is entirely within my province as his employer. Case closed. I may not like it, but I’ll not go down in history as a hypocrite if I can help it. There may be times I do it where I’m unaware of it, but hopefully it will be pointed out to me by one of my very intelligent friends.

There are plenty of employers out there right now who are showing off their ‘good deeds’ with expensive PR campaigns. Starbucks is one that’s always doing that, and I’ve lost track of the stuff they promote about themselves. One minute one group loves them, and then the next it’s a different group who loves them and the original group is ticked off. JC Penney riled people with an ad about a lesbian couple that were parents, and when there was an outcry they responded by showing an ad with two dads – another gay couple. Emotionally I can cheer that, because I believe wholeheartedly in marriage equality, and I’m proud that my country has had it for about 9 years now. Logically, I’d like to know why companies are even making stances like this. It may advance a cause, but it creates a dangerous precedent, much like the Hobby Lobby ruling. One company is allowed to do it, and is in fact encouraged, but then people get angry when a company does something they disagree with.

I find myself again stating that people can’t, or shouldn’t, have things both ways. Companies can’t have separation from risk without separating from having personal rights. They stop being people and become nothing but a business. The same needs to hold true for the public when they view these companies. If we’re going to get angry about companies taking these moral stances, we can’t be cheering others on when they do the same thing just because we happen to hold the same opinions. We are personalizing bricks and mortar, and not seeing them for the non-sentient entities that they are supposed to be. By all means, cheer on a fellow human being for taking a moral stance you approve of, but not a corporation.

Hypocrisy in the Crafting World – Hobby Lobby is Run by Twits

I wasn’t going to do it. I wasn’t going to get on my metaphorical horse and joust with idiots again, but…I have to. I just have to. I’m pissed off, and the odd Facebook status just isn’t going to cut it for me.

Today Hobby Lobby in the United States won in Supreme Court the right to refuse to cover birth control for their employees, supposedly based on their religious beliefs. By law, with the relatively new Affordable Care Act in place, certain types of employers must provide prescription drug coverage, along with coverage of certain medical devices. Hobby Lobby refused and sued for their supposed religious freedom.

Point one. Corporations are not religions. They are not people. They are legally-defined business entities in existence for the purposes of for-profit practices. Period. They do not have religious beliefs. They do not have feelings in any way, shape, or form. Now, I have a bit of experience in business, so I’m pretty familiar with what it means to run one. I didn’t choose to incorporate my business, and simply registered the company name. Still, my company, a sole-proprietorship, would never be used to tell people what they are allowed to do with their own bodies. As much as I might like rules and regulations in some ways, because I’m anal-retentive that way, in other ways I’m very much the rebel. The thought of anyone telling me what to do, especially with my own body and reproductive choices, is enough to steam my clams so to speak. The first person to try something like that with me would be walking funny, male or female, because I’d be kicking them in their own parts whichever set they happened to be carrying on their person. They try to control my body, I try to control theirs – rather unpleasant for all concerned.

Point two. Birth control is not always used for birth control. There are a very large number of women who are on birth control for medical reasons, such as endometriosis and migraines. Very real, and very debilitating medical conditions. So, these women are now to be denied coverage for these very necessary medications, unless they decide to make exceptions under those circumstances. However, therein lies another issue – the issue of medical confidentiality. These women would have to open up their medical records enough to show that they need these drugs to control their conditions. Now, as a business-owner and former HR employee with a multi-national company, I have always felt that I needed to remain one step removed from the medical insurance provided to employees. I do not want to know what they are being treated for. I really do not want to know. Billy could have gonorrhea, and Carol might be HIV positive. This is none of my business, unless their illness interferes with their work and they can no longer do their jobs to the standard they were hired for.

Point three. This is where the first part of the hypocrisy comes in. Hobby Lobby invests in multiple pharmaceutical endeavors, which encompass pretty much everything they told the Supreme Court was against their religion to support. IUDs, Plan-B, and actual medical abortion to name a few. I’m not kidding. The mutual funds they invest in for the company are involved in all of those activities. So, the religious grounds fall a little short there, don’t you think?

Point four. Part two of the hypocrisy. They didn’t decide to fight coverage of Viagra. Um, excuse me? You can help men with their erections, which is in no way medically necessary, but you refuse to cover birth control pills that can enable women to live healthy lives? You believe anyone who has sex should be willing to have children? Hmm. Okay. So what about maternity leave? I guess that’s a non-issue since they’re not required to pay for it down there. However, when an employee does leave because they have a baby, that costs a company money. Even if the employee comes back within three weeks, they still have to have other employees cover the shifts, or hire on temporary help. It’s a costly disruption from an employer’s perspective. If the employee chooses to leave permanently, it’s even more expensive. Hiring and training don’t come cheap.

Point five. The United States was supposed to be a land of religious freedom. For people. Not corporations…people. This decision means an infringement on the religious rights of the employees of this company. They’re being told that the corporation’s religious stance is more important than the beliefs of its employees. When I myself do not believe I should be telling anyone what they may, or may not, do with their own bodies (me being an actual living human being), there is no way a  company should ever have that sort of influence. The managers can set rules of conduct to be followed during work hours and on work property. They cannot tell employees what to do otherwise. If the VP of marketing wants to have a three-way or six-way which involves jumper cables, a circus clown and a banana, she can do that. The religious beliefs of the company do not enter into it, even if a lot of other things might. If the dock supervisor wants a frenulum ladder piercing, that’s entirely up to him, even though I really don’t want to see it (however much fun it’s supposed to be).

Point six. This could also come under the first point, but I’m keeping it separate for the purposes of detail. The whole idea behind incorporation is to separate the personal from the business. It protects the business owner from a certain amount of financial risk. The corporation is meant to stand alone as a separate entity. Not a religious/sentient one – just separate. If a company gets sued, the owner doesn’t have to lose his house, basically. Now the way it works here in Canada is if you pierce the corporate bubble/veil by interfering with the business in a personal way, such as dipping your hand in the company till for personal expenditures, you as the owner suddenly lose corporate protection and open yourself up to personal litigation. Now here comes Hobby Lobby looking to have things both ways. They run a corporation to protect themselves legally, but then impose their personal beliefs on the corporate entity. Talk about having your cake and eating it, too.

Point seven. If you want to run a business, then run a business and keep your nose out of everyone else’s. If you want to run a religion, then you register as a non-profit religious organization where you’re no longer allowed to make those kinds of profit. Oops. Suddenly things get sticky. That’s not to say religious groups don’t bring in lots of money, because we all know they do. There’s a great deal of profit to be had with most of them, and operating your own cult and setting up as a guru of sorts will get you all kinds of fun stuff. In some cases a lot of sex with a lot of different people, along with the tons of money people sign over to you. Hmm. Methinks it’s time to become a religious leader. Then again, I think I’d have a very hard time keeping a straight face while touting the wisdom of The Great Gazoo or the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

Ignorance is Only Bliss to the Ignorant

“Where ignorance is bliss, ’tis folly to be wise.” Thomas Gray, Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College

This phrase is constantly misinterpreted by the masses. In fact, until I researched it I didn’t realize there was any more to it than the commonly uttered, “Ignorance is bliss.” Once you see it in context, however, it’s readily apparent that Thomas Gray was in no way promoting ignorance. He was, in fact, being nostalgic about his youth.

Ignorance has never been blissful to anyone other than those who are ignorant, and even then the ignorant suffer for their lack of knowledge and understanding in life. Far too many people choose to be uninformed about far too many things, and generally we are punished for it whether we know it or not. When we aren’t the ones punished, it’s always some other creature or person who is.

Animal rights is one good example of ignorance working against everyone and everything. As much as I hate the thought of animals being abused in general, I’m not going to look at this from the perspective of their suffering this time. From a completely unemotional and selfish human standpoint, let’s examine why animal abuse is bad. We’ll take bees as the first example. Not too many people spend much time thinking about them, other than perhaps beekeepers and those in the agricultural and environmental fields. The funny thing is, bees are one of the most vital components in the mechanism that keeps people alive on this planet. I won’t post the quote attributed to Einstein about bees, because research has determined that Einstein probably never said it. Einstein wasn’t a botanist, entomologist or biologist of any kind, so talking about bees wasn’t exactly his schtick. However, the message within the quote remains somewhat valid. Without bees to pollinate, we would lose a very large portion of our food supply. Not all of it, but a huge amount. That’s the direct impact. The indirect impact is that many of the things pollinated by bees are what support animal life in the wild. This affects anyone who might hunt for food.

I’ll give a second example of how animal cruelty impacts humans, and then we’ll move on to something else, but it’s important for people to make connections like this. A second example is necessary to demonstrate a completely different sequence of events that many do not consider. How about we go with any sort of breeding facility for meat products. Pigs, cows, chickens and their ilk, are most often raised in sub-standard conditions. I’m not saying illegal, either. I just mean animals that are penned in tight quarters, given growth hormones and antibiotics that are unnatural to their systems, and that are often treated very badly. There are plenty of videos out there showing the beatings and abuse inflicted on farm animals, so if you’re interested by all means Google it, but I won’t include them here because I can’t stand to watch them.

My point is this: These animals are not healthy. They’re not allowed exercise because the meat becomes tougher. They confine them to keep them tender for our chewing pleasure. How healthy are the humans you know that don’t get any exercise at all? The ones who stay firmly planted on the sofa, and often don’t even get up to go to bed because they sleep on the couch – those are the ones I’m talking about. Chefs talk about the ‘marbling’ in the meat that makes it so juicy – well, that’s nothing but a fat, out-of-shape animal. Now start adding those unnecessary antibiotics or growth hormones.

The other issue regarding close confinement is the fact that it spreads disease very rapidly, and quite often that meat finds its way into our grocery stores and onto our tables long before they discover anything is wrong with it. Generally people have to die before anyone notices that “X” farm’s beef is not quite the safest thing around. If you confine large numbers of people in buildings, disease spreads just as quickly. Think of everything from the common cold to swine flu. Well, the same thing happens with animals who are closely quartered.

Going beyond animal treatment and things that actually impact each of us directly when we’re ignorant of the facts, I want to talk about the more altruistic concerns where ignorance is harmful to others rather than ourselves. In these situations, selfish people simply aren’t going to care, but I believe most people do actually care about their fellow humans. I think they often choose to shield themselves from inconvenient facts, though, so they don’t have to feel guilty for pretty much everything they do in their daily routine.

One daily routine that’s almost universal, is getting dressed after we wake up and changing into pyjamas when we go to bed. The question becomes, where are you buying your clothes? Following that line of thought, where are the stores you shop in getting the clothes, and/or materials the clothing is made from? Are your clothes free-trade and cruelty-free? If you’re buying from Walmart, and a wide variety of other retailers, there’s a good chance your clothes were made by people who are working in unsafe conditions and aren’t even being paid enough to eat anything more than a bowl of rice per day.

Maybe you saw something about this in the news in April of 2013 when 1,129 workers were killed because a factory collapsed on them. Originally the death toll was 1,127, but two more people died within a month. A number of companies selling the clothing that was made there signed an agreement to improve conditions. Walmart did not. Another seven people died in October 2013 from a fire in a fabric mill in Bangladesh. Lack of transparency from many retailers makes it difficult to find clothing you don’t have to feel guilty about, but if you’re interested you can get some information here on where to find it. That link also provides information on the companies not doing so well, and in some cases provides a link where you can express your concern or take action in some way. Sadly you’re likely to find some of your favourite brands and companies on that list, including Disney.

There is another sense in which ignorance is really not bliss, and that has to do with how it affects the people around you just in general conversation. You get this a lot with people who like to spout off with statements like, “Political correctness has gone too far.” Says who? Says the person who isn’t being hurt or oppressed in any fashion, (or in some cases they are and don’t know it because it’s so culturally ingrained). This happens with any kind of struggle for equality, be it feminism, marriage equality, racism, etc. Most statements from people who shrug off political correctness are coming from white, heterosexual, non-disabled males who are part of some sort of organized religion. You can get mad at me if you want to, and state that I’m making generalizations, but I was actually pretty specific there. Take a close look at the rhetoric being spewed by many so-called God-fearing Christians in the bible belt. Actually, a close look is completely unnecessary and might actually become a forest for the trees scenario. That kind of attitude is best seen from a distance for a wide variety of reasons.

White people do not generally experience racism. It can, and does, happen in a small number of cases in areas comprised predominately of people of non-Caucasian descent. White people almost never experience racial oppression. When I talk about oppression, I mean the action or force that causes real harm, not someone simply making a snide remark. I’m white, and have never been oppressed for the colour of my skin. Hence, I will never understand what that is like, other than by comparing it to the fact that I’m female and have experienced unequal treatment based on my gender. However, even within the feminist movement there is a great deal of non-inclusiveness when it comes to people of colour.

Men, at this point in history, do not experience gender oppression. There are some cases where they are discriminated against, such as in the case of custody and support hearings, or when they are assumed to be the abuser in a domestic violence situation. My point is that they aren’t told they have less value than a woman because they’re male. There were times in history, and in various cultures, where men were the underdogs. They aren’t now. In a case by case comparison, it is women who are overwhelmingly treated as the less important of the male and female genders. There are people who have it a lot worse than women, however. I refer to those who are transgender, or intersex (someone who is born with both sexes – what most people refer to as hermaphrodites, although that is not a scientifically correct term). Imagine living your life as neither of the accepted genders. There are countries in which you can be legally defined as a gender other than male or female, but in the western world those people are completely discounted by the ignorant among us.

Overweight people are treated like human waste and fat-shaming is standard behaviour. Naturally low-weight people are accused of being anorexic. For some reason our size becomes the definition of who we are, and where we are situated on the social ladder. Admittedly, quite often a person’s size can be attributed to certain psychological factors. Overweight people are often overweight because of psychological issues that compel them to overeat. A number of extremely skinny people are underweight in an unhealthy way, and also for psychological reasons. The problem is, there is no way of knowing which cases is which merely by looking at them. Never mind the fact that if you really stop to consider the reasoning behind either extreme that is the result of unhealthy thought processes, you realize that there is every reason to provide understanding rather than judgment. There is the pain that brought on the issue to begin with, and now there is the pain that results from their issue being so blatant and open to criticism.

Going beyond insulting and hurting people with our ignorance, there’s the simple annoyance factor. Ignorant people are very annoying to people who actually take the time to learn about things. I mean, let’s face it. There really is no excuse for not learning about a topic before waxing enthusiastic on it. You want to talk about how great the bible is? Fine, but maybe you should actually read it first. Don’t leave out all the parts that contradict you. If you want to talk about marijuana legalization, and tell everyone why you think it’s a terrible idea, it’s best if you understand a little something about it. Don’t be like Nancy Grace who mouths off about deaths that never happened, and violence that didn’t occur, not bothering to back up your words with any appropriate sources. Maybe you want to talk about gun control, but if don’t know anything about the current legislation, or the legislation being proposed, your arguments won’t be very effective. You’ll just sound like an ignoramus extremist of some sort, no matter what side you’re arguing on. If you happen to find yourself in a conversation with someone who has some knowledge, you’ll notice that you’re not very well liked or respected after that.

Ignorance is lack of knowledge. When I was growing up people also liked to call someone ignorant if they were rude, though it’s an inappropriate use of  the word – in other words they were ignorant of the definition and meaning of ignorance. However, ignorance often results in rudeness when an ignorant person is shown to be wrong. People tend to get defensive under those circumstances, and will exhibit angry behaviour. There again ignorance becomes an issue to surrounding people. If people don’t like being shown to be wrong about something, then people certainly don’t like it when someone attacks them verbally or physically out of frustration and hurt pride.

Much of the anger we see in political and social issues today is based on ignorance. Quite often willful ignorance, too. They simply refuse to listen to other possibilities or compromises. They don’t want to know why the people on the other side of the argument think they’re right. They don’t want to open up to the possibility that there might be a kernel of sense in a differing opinion. Most often they simply talk over what they don’t want to hear.

“We have two ears and one mouth, so we should listen more than we say.” Zeno of Citium

The quote from Zeno can also be applied to our eyes. We use our eyes to read and learn. If we applies twice as much time to learning and listening, as we do to speaking, our whole civilization would improve instantly. Beliefs do not have to be static. Beliefs should always be fluid and open to new information. If reality contradicts our beliefs, we are left floundering in a state of cognitive dissonance. We can’t honestly reconcile the two things, and that friction can become quite psychologically painful. Conversely, refusal to believe in a thing does not mean is ceases to exist.

It’s impossible to argue with someone who refuses to listen to a counter-argument. It’s called the invincible ignorance fallacy, and is a circular argument in which no evidence put forward is acknowledged. You’re talking to someone who simply denies any validity of the information that has been presented, and it’s something you see a lot in debates between scientists and creationists. Creationists deny any and all evidence put before them regarding evolution, or that contradicts their belief that the world is only 6,000 years old. There’s actually a video you can watch with Richard Dawkins (a very well-respected scientist in case you haven’t heard of him), where he is put through this, and the look on his face is priceless. He simply can’t get over the woman’s refusal to even acknowledge the evidence he verbally demonstrates. The full video is almost an hour long, but there are highlights you can watch where you see the complete blankness on this woman’s face as she repeats over and over that there’s no evidence. That’s one of the best examples of the invincible ignorance fallacy I’ve seen to date. In one sense it makes me laugh, but in another sense I want to hang my head and cry.

I can only hope that people start consciously choosing to open their minds, learn and grow. It isn’t as easy as it sounds, either. We’re all guilty of closing our minds in certain ways. We’re all guilty of jumping to conclusions at one time or another. It is impossible to be the perfect thinker. We work with what knowledge we have obtained, and what abilities we currently have to improve ourselves. Then again, we also have choices. No one can force us to think a certain way. We may be conditioned to do so, and many live in societies where it is forbidden to speak certain things aloud, but every person on the planet has the option of free thought.