It Might Hurt, but I Refuse to Toughen Up

It’s been more than three weeks since I’ve written anything, other than an e-mail to a friend and some private messaging on Facebook. Ever since I finished off my word count for National Novel Writing Month (also known as NaNoWriMo…or insanity) on November 30th, I haven’t felt the slightest urge to write a single thing. There was a writing contest I had intended to enter for The Prepper Journal, but I could not bring myself to even seriously contemplate a topic. Maybe I’ll send them something at a later date and ask if they’re interested in publishing it, but I desperately needed to take a step back from working for a little while. Luckily it coincided with the Christmas break for the show I produce, because I’ve been a completely lazy git for the last three weeks.

Not that I can blame myself for it. Most people don’t write a book in the course of less than a month, edit it in three weeks, and then write half of another book, while overlapping the editing of the first book. For two and a half months I worked every single day, usually from the time I woke up, until I finally fell asleep about twenty hours later. I’d take the odd break here and there, usually to binge-watch the X-Files with my daughter (we just finished season five and watched the movie a couple of days ago), but mostly I worked. Not that it felt like work at the time, because I was enjoying the hell out of it, but in reality I was busting my butt.

The problem didn’t really come until after my book was published and I started receiving negative reviews. The first couple were great, and I consider the majority of them to be positive. However, the negative ones were pretty bad, and in some cases downright rude or wrong. Believe me when I tell you that writers are very sensitive to criticism, though we’re told we just have to suck it up and move on. It’s not anywhere near as easy as it sounds. Even when a review is dead wrong (to the point where you believe they didn’t even read the book, or they skipped half of it), it gets in your head and plays a tune on you whenever your brain gets a little too quiet. I tend to have a lot of quiet time, so my brain poked fun at me quite a bit.

So, since the end of November I’ve been having a pity party along with my burn-out. In addition to that I’ve had to suppress my irritation with people. I mean, unless you’re stupid you don’t respond to the reviews on Amazon. It’s bad form, for one thing. For another, it’s a no-win situation. Not only is it rude to the person who left the review, but then other people start thinking you’re a jerk. For that reason I’m not going to talk about specifics even in my blog. People should be allowed to review. I do think Amazon should consider their review policy, such as disqualifying reviews from people who haven’t bought a product, or who are blatantly attacking or bullying someone, but other than that people have to be allowed to express their opinions.

I just can’t imagine expressing my opinion in such a rude fashion as some people do. Maybe it’s because I’m Canadian, and the whole mud-slinging thing is anathema to me, but there are rude Canadians, too, so I don’t think that’s entirely the issue. I think it’s simply a change in how people behave when they’re allowed to be anonymous. There’s an expression I like that applies to this.

“The true test of a man’s character is what he does when no one is watching.” ~ John Wooden

We’ve all seen what’s been happening online these days, particularly when it comes to inflammatory issues. Women are subjected to rape and death threats online, just for stating an opinion. Muslims are seeing hateful rhetoric in a constant barrage. Gun-control advocates are getting threats that they’ll be shot by ‘responsible gun owners.’ If these people were sitting face-to-face, in most cases the majority of their words would not pass their lips, and that comes from all sides of the arguments. It doesn’t matter if a person is a liberal or a conservative, a man or a woman, a Christian or a Muslim. We’re all guilty of it.

When it comes to my personal situation, I tried to make myself feel better by looking at reviews other authors had received, and it actually made me feel worse. Sure, I felt like I was in pretty good company. Well-known authors (such as Nora Roberts, Karin Slaughter, and J. K. Rowling), were subjected to major abuse in their Amazon reviews. I started seeing that the reviewers who spoke like that had some issues. Often they were extremely hateful. Teenagers were leaving nasty reviews about the Harry Potter series, and I have to wonder how they even have access to leave comments. In order to review an item you have to have made a purchase on Amazon, which means you must have a credit card of some sort. In most cases that would mean it’s the parents’ accounts, and yet the parents are okay with their kids leaving those sorts of remarks. It doesn’t bode well for the future of society.

I honestly thought I would feel better about my own bad reviews if I was in good company. I mean, hey, if it can happen to some of the best (or even most popular, whether or not you agree they’re the best), then it should be okay that it happened to me, too. Instead I feel scared by it. I’m scared of what we’re turning into when it becomes okay to belittle people online. I know that there are people that get off on hurting others. I know there are trolls and bullies. I know some people try to feel better about themselves by showing off and criticizing other people for doing something they themselves cannot do. I see it all the time on Facebook. I’m a member of some movie groups for some reason, and I see people panning movies left, right and centre, when I sit there and think, “I’d like to see you do better!” If they can’t do it themselves, then at least they can cut down someone who has already done it, in other words.

That’s the real test, though, isn’t it? A friend of mine reminded me of that saying, “Those who can, do, and those who can’t, teach,” and said he didn’t think that was a fair thing to say. I agree completely. You can’t teach something if you don’t know how to do it. He said those who couldn’t would just criticise those who do, and again I agree. But I’m still very worried about society. There’s a damn good reason I don’t leave the house much. When people think it’s okay to issue threats over books or articles, there’s a serious breakdown in our humanity. People are shooting people over idiotic things. Young men think they have a right to kill a bunch of people because young girls won’t send them naked pictures of themselves. The sense of entitlement on this planet is growing all out of proportion with what we actually deserve.

Part of me is saying that I should just toughen up and get on with my life, and the other part of me is saying that’s entirely the wrong thing to do. Why should I toughen up? Why should I be any less sensitive than I am? The real question is, why should I change because of what other people are saying and doing? Yes, I will have to suffer if I don’t toughen up, but I also won’t lose the part of myself that refuses to become desensitized to aggression and violence – and that’s what it boils down to. People are being rude and angry toward other people, for no good reason. They’re taking out their own insecurities on others, and we have to stop tolerating it.

I don’t believe in all the old-school manners and etiquette, but by the same token we should treat one another with respect. Even when another person has shown they don’t really deserve it, we do not need to sink to that level. We become that other person if we do. I’ve made it a habit the last few months to simply stop arguing with people the moment they become rude. I refer to one-on-one encounters online. If a person calls me a name I tell them I’m done with the conversation for that reason, and then I actually leave the conversation. I don’t care what they say after that, because the name-calling just invalidated their argument for me. A debate is fine. Even an argument can be fine. When you step across the line to abuse, I’m done with it. And I wish more people did the same. It might teach these rude people that it’s not socially acceptable to do what they’re doing.

Of course, far too many people thrive on drama, and often cause it. It’s like those people who like to gossip. I can’t understand why they have so much of an interest in someone else and how they live their life. It makes no sense to me. And yet they sit there and talk about another human being in the worst possible way. It might sound terrible to say, but I honestly don’t have that much concern for what other people are doing, so long as they’re not hurting anyone. I’m more than happy living in my own little world, while everyone else lives in theirs. I like my solitude. The only people I make an effort with, to find out what’s going on in their lives, are the people I love. Other than that, I can’t be bothered. I’ve got too many other things in my life to do, that I find far more interesting.

Today I finally wrote an article for a friend of mine who asked me to contribute to his online magazine about a month ago. I wrote about dealing with criticism, because it was what I’ve had on my mind for some time, and his site is about happiness and mental health. I’ve worked through a lot of it, though I still get somewhat irritated when I stew about it too much. In my case I can’t resolve the criticism with a confrontation, so I have to vent in other ways – like this blog post.

I don’t want to be a whiner or a wimp, but I also don’t want to lose touch with my honest feelings. I’ve distanced myself from people in many ways, in order to prevent loss of emotion on my part. It may sound counter-intuitive, but I find too much interaction with people I don’t know can result in me shutting down my emotions just to get through it. I did it when I worked in the corporate world, and I worked too hard as a teenager to regain my emotions (after a childhood of abuse) to lose them now because of strangers.

So, instead of toughening up I’ve examined the criticisms, learned what I could from them, determined what parts might be accurate, and then tried to get a handle on why people would feel the need to behave in such a fashion. Allowing myself to understand their motivation has been a big help. Any disparaging remarks will hurt, but knowing why they were made makes them easier to deal with. And of course, just because someone has an opinion, doesn’t mean they’re right.

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?

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.

Cohabitation Conundrums and Pet Peeves

Okay, so you’ve been seeing someone for a while, presumably happily. Then one of you gets a bright idea. Possibly you both think it’s one of those lightbulb moments, and that it’s brilliant in its simplicity. Perhaps it doesn’t even pop up as an idea per se, but rather a talking point in a conversation, and somehow you wander off the beaten path into “Destination: Insanity,” where no one in the relationship has ventured before. Maybe one of you thinks the other needs a frontal lobotomy, and vows to run away at the first opportunity.

For the sake of argument, however, let’s assume both parties in a relationship are happy enough together that they actually want to share living space, and that when the idea floats into the nearby airspace no one is swatting at it like a pesky mosquito. That being established, now what? Do you scout the apartment listings and hire a moving company?

Well, first things first. Determining whether or not it actually is a good idea is probably an idea destined for induction into the Brainiac Hall of Fame. There are a few question that need to be asked here:

  • How well do you know each other? It isn’t necessarily about how long you’ve known one another, but how well. Some people can be dating for a year and barely know one another – for three reasons. One, they hardly spend any time talking, or in each other’s company. Two, they don’t talk about anything in-depth that will allow any mutual knowledge. Three, they’ve never had to face any difficulties as a couple and have no idea how their partner processes those situations. Screaming fits might not be desired.

In other words, do you have any idea what it’s going to be like to be around this person all the time, and are you absolutely certain you’re not going to end up in jail for killing them at some point down the road?

  • Are your goals for the future compatible? Let’s face it. Many people romanticize relationships and picture a moment of church bells and stale cake to be smooshed into one another’s respective faces. There’s nothing wrong with that, if that’s what you both want. If only one of you is cherishing those dreams, you’re more likely to be smooshing dog crap into the upholstery of their cherished La-Z-Boy.

You need to talk about every single deal-breaking dream you’ve got, whether those dreams involve an infestation of rugrats, ball-and-chain ceremonies, or trips around the world to look at that exact spot where Ghandi went on a hunger strike. When I say deal-breaking, I really mean that. We all have them. We each have many dreams, but not all of them are things that we absolutely must have in our lives before we die. Sometimes there are compromises, but quite often there aren’t.

  • Are you spiritually compatible? Spirituality is often only an issue if you’re planning on having the aforementioned ankle-biter invasion. If one of you is a Catholic and the other is Hindu, or even if one of you is an atheist, you could experience a few “Holy crap!” moments once the short humans with the overly large heads arrive on the scene.

Discussing how you intend to raise your children, and what portions of your faith you wish those children to adhere to, could save you major arguments in the future – not to mention a divorce and court hearings. If you’re not willing to compromise on the faith of your children, you absolutely must choose someone who is either of the same faith, or who honestly does not care what faith is chosen for their offspring. Do not assume because someone is an atheist that they don’t care if your kids practice Judaism. They may be dead-set against it.

  • Are your daily habits compatible? If you’re even considering cohabitation, you’re probably not against pre-marital sex, so let’s assume for now that you’ve managed to get some nooky during the whirlwind that is known as courtship. Leaving aside sexual compatibility for the moment, which is a book in and of itself (but I’m willing to tackle it in a paragraph a little further down anyway), we need to figure out if Person A puts the cap on Exhibit T, and Person B puts the seat down on Exhibit L. If you’re doing the hunka-chunka, and are considering sharing a residence so that you can presumably do the hunka-chunka on a more regular basis, you’ve probably spent a night or two together. If one of you is running off ten minutes after knocking boots, it does not bode well for the success of your future cohabitation.

Toothpaste tubes and lavatory lids aside, maybe your schedules conflict in such a way that would make regular bed-sharing difficult, or one of you is a neat-freak who gags at the site of slovenly socks. Is your partner a sports nut that screams so loudly at the television that the neighbour’s rugrats have gone deaf? Maybe you bring your work home with you all the time, and your partner acts more like a frat boy who has to smoke a bowl with his bros.

  • If you already have your own children, do they get along with your partner and any children they have? Do you get along with your partner’s kids? This one is a biggie. You can’t take your potential future step-child to the pound if there are incompatibilities here, much as you might think it would do them a world of good. Plus, they may go so far as to bite you if you try.

Kids really make things complicated when they aren’t shared offspring. You have to deal with every one of the above-mentioned issues with your partner’s kids, on top of dealing with whether or not you actually like the spoilt little buggers. You can ooh and aah all you want over your partner’s kid, and put up a good fake front, but you need to be completely honest with yourself about how likely it is that you’ll be able to stand being around them for longer than ten minutes.

  • Do you have compatible pets? Pets usually aren’t as bad as kids. Having said that, they do come with their own set of issues. Some animals are grumpy. Some are predatory and/or jealous. If one of you has a pet snake, and the other a pet mouse, well…you get the idea. Cats and birds are known adversaries, and it’s not always the cat that comes out the winner there – just ask any parrot owner.

Introducing pets is a very delicate process, assuming your pets can’t be kept separate or in cages at all times. If it’s done right you can still have problems if you don’t continue to keep an eye on the situation. However, if it’s done wrong the damage can be permanent. The introduction has to be done cautiously, and only two pets at a time. Both animals need to be fully controlled by their owners, and the experience needs to be a relatively pleasant memory for both creatures. In other words, don’t allow one animal to chomp down on the other and try to shake the life out of it. Have treats handy to distract the animals. Both animals need to feel secure, and know that there’s no threat. Sometimes it’s best if you just allow animals to get used to one another’s scents first, without physically introducing them, if there’s a real danger of one animal attacking the other. Swap their blankets back and forth for a few days.

  • Are you financially compatible? Money is a major bell-ringer for some. If one of you is frugal and the other spends more money than they earn, it’s a big bone of contention when you’re pooling your resources. That, of course, is something else that needs to be determined before shacking up with your new love slave. Are you sharing funds, keeping things separate, or a combination of the two? This is not the time to be making ass-you-me type decisions. If you do you can find that ass handed to you in court if you neglect to pay your portion of the rent because you thought it was ‘our’ money and not ‘yours’ and ‘mine’. Yet another issue with money has to do with large purchases, no matter how you choose to handle your funds. A sofa or bed is a joint purchase, generally, but they’re nothing compared to a house. For that matter, are you willing to even consider the purchase of a house? In this day and age, that’s more of a commitment than most marriages.

In the vast majority of polls conducted, sex and money are two of the biggest reasons people fight. I can’t help you with your sex life – mostly because I don’t want to know what weird things you might be getting up to. I have my own weird things to contend with. Money is one area where advance communication can make a world of difference, though. If a compromise is reached before a decision ever has to be made, and both parties follow through on their agreements, all’s well that ends well. If not, expect your own bell to be rung a few time – or even your ears from all the shouting that’s going to go down.

  • And finally, are you sexually compatible? No, you’re not supposed to actually answer me. You’re supposed to carry on that conversation with yourself and your partner, and leave us innocent folk out of your bedroom Battle Royale. Have you been truly honest with your partner about what you like and don’t like? Have you shared the secrets that you intended one day to foist upon them? Are you happy with the ways things are going there – and if you’re not happy, are you and your partner working toward a solution?

Now this is just my opinion, but then it’s my blog and I’ll have a potty mouth if I want to, but I do not think it’s a good idea to move in with someone (or especially to engage in the matrimonial legal tangle) when you have never had sex with them. Sex being one of those really big issues that people fight about, it makes perfect sense to me to figure out whether or not it’s something you’re likely to fight about. We all have those times when we’ll argue about almost anything in a relationship, but a complete lack of sexual compatibility will result in mind-blowing fights rather than other mind-blowing activities, and quite possibly some nasty insults that your ego might never recover from. Getting your freak on is necessary if you intend to be anything more than friends. I’m sorry, but it’s the truth. If there’s no sexual chemistry or activity, you’re nothing but friends. That’s fine if you’ve spent forty or fifty glorious years together and things have petered out (no pun intended – okay maybe it was), but if you’re just getting started and there’s nothing there you’ve got serious problems and you’re not actually involved in a romantic relationship.

 If, after all this insanely boring self-reflection, you still think it’s a good idea to share living space, there remains the possibility a frontal lobotomy is in order. Maybe not, though. Maybe it’ll be the best thing to happen to you. Nobody can answer these questions for you, but if you’re not asking them of yourself you’re probably going to end up wishing for that frontal.