The Sandbox

Over a period of years a long time ago, on my daily walks to and from work through a local community park, I used to watch groups of pre-schoolers playing in a very large sandbox.  I was always struck by their singular focus on the primitive sculptures and projects they were building.  Oblivious to events going on around them in the park, they directed all their energy towards the activities in the sandbox.

A few of the kids looked to be cooperating with each other, working diligently in pursuit of whatever objective they had settled on.  Their interactions were punctuated by short bursts of conversation, lots of smiles, and the occasional whoop of glee when something came to fruition.

Most of the others in the group played alone, apparently unconcerned with the endeavours of their companions—typical of that age and stage of development.  Quick flares of temper occasionally gushed forth, and angry exchanges, when one person’s endeavours somehow impinged upon another’s, but on the whole, the mass of children in the sandbox managed to coexist.

Their mothers—no fathers, alas—watched with a mix of pride and bemusement as their offspring played, secure and happy in the park.

As time passed, those children got older and left the sandbox, but they were replaced by a seemingly inexhaustible supply of similar youngsters, and the pattern remained the same.  And everyone in the sandbox was concerned only with what was happening within its confines, no one with the goings-on in the rest of the park.

I noticed changes in the park at large, however.  In the early years, it had been a sylvan haven for children and families—a place to gather with friends, to cool off under the trees on mid-summer weekends, to escape the pressures of the daily grind.  As time passed, though, I began to miss the family gatherings, as many of those parents, some of them working two jobs, were no longer able to come.  And at the same time, more and more older children began to frequent the area, not playing the sorts of games I was familiar with from my own childhood, but just hanging out.  Loud music could often be heard, smoke hung over many of the conclaves, and occasional fist-fights would erupt between different groups.  In time, the park became, not so much a family destination, as a place for the neighbourhood’s teenage kingpins to gather.

The children in the sandbox were affected by these changes, of course.  Now, they had to avoid issues with the older kids if they hoped to play their games.  But, for the most part, they were able to do that, and in their exuberance and innocence, they continued their childish pursuits, interacting with one another as their predecessors always had.  None of them cared that the de facto ownership of the park had been co-opted.

To be sure, it never became a dangerous place, one to be avoided.  I continued my daily walks with no fear, but I was aware of the changed dynamic, even if the sandbox urchins were not.

Today, long-since retired and no longer walking in that park, I think of it as an allegory of sorts to the present situation with our government.  When I watch Question Period, for example, whether federal or provincial, the elected denizens of Parliament focus so much of their energies and time on what seems to me nothing more than spurious activities, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing, as Shakespeare wrote.  As I watch and listen, I see again those pre-schoolers in their sandbox, engrossed in the small world they are occupying.

To be sure, legislation does get passed, much of it to the benefit of the country or province as a whole, even if never fully satisfying everybody.  And that’s good.  But I find it akin to the completion of those sandbox projects and sculptures that so pleased their creators—not insignificant, beneficial to their future growth and development, but accomplished only with such fuss and foofaraw as to be laughable.

A more serious situation, however, has developed outside the sandbox—the Parliament—in terms of who is really in control.  While elected officials busy themselves with their daily perambulations, much as those pre-schoolers did, private-sector interests are busy trying to take over the park, so to speak.  Be it wealthy, corporate entities, land-developers and real-estate companies, foreign-based media ownership, legal, banking, and financial firms, or myriad other lobbyist organizations, the environment around Parliament has undergone a radical change.

The ownership and culture of a local park are things to be gained or lost by the residents of the community in which it sits, according to their wishes and level of activism.  Depending upon how a community responds, their sandbox may be lost.

But the ownership and culture of our provincial and federal Parliaments are embedded in our constitutional rights—they belong to us, the citizens of this country.  Do we want to lose them?  Have we entrusted them to the finest possible stewards, our best and brightest?  Is there a fix for the encroaching, pernicious influence of the big-moneyed interests? What are we to make of foreign influence on our government?

More of us need to pay more attention to these questions, or all of us may end up losing our sandbox altogether.

Lest We All Die

Like most of us, I suppose, I have a set of values and principles to which I try to adhere.  Perhaps the most important of these is the belief that we should all treat each other with the same respect and dignity with which we hope to be treated.

But there are others I profess, too; among them—

  • love is better than hate;
  • honesty is better than mendacity;
  • tolerance is better than small-mindedness;
  • civility is better than rudeness;
  • rational thought is better than baseless opinion;
  • equity in race, gender, and economic security is better than inequity;
  • freedom is better than enslavement;
  • peaceful coexistence is better than open warfare;
  • rule of law in our collective society is better than anarchy; and
  • majority rule in our collective society, however flawed, is better than the tyranny of a minority.

Like many of us, I imagine, I try to inject the values I espouse into my daily doings.  At my age, alas, the range of those doings is growing increasingly smaller, my influence is shrinking among my social circle, and the spectre of irrelevance is looming ever larger.  Where once my thinking was valued and reflected upon by those around me, it is less entreated as the years slide by.

My greatest impact is felt now through the writing I do—or so I choose to convince myself.  In the almost three-hundred essays I have posted to this blog since its inception in January 2016, I have touched on a multitude of subjects influenced by my value-set, some of them repeatedly.  A partial list includes—

  • parenthood; children and grandchildren; family and friends; education of the young;
  • racial and gender inequality; socio-economic issues and child poverty; wealth inequity; discrimination and prejudice; women’s reproductive rights; aging; civility and respect; pandemic unpreparedness; the future of work; artificial intelligence; right-wing Christian nationalism; peaceful coexistence;
  • famine and food scarcity; freshwater scarcity; forced migration; climate change; biodiversity loss; water and air pollution; global warming; ecological collapse; overpopulation; species extinction;
  • government overreach; politics and authoritarianism; corruption; warfare and nuclear threats;
  • freedom of speech; media and a free press; big tech; alternative facts and disinformation; and  
  • humour and whimsy; reminiscences; childhood; life eternal.

I also believe that certainty is the enemy of an open mind, and that we should not believe everything we think.  Therefore, I remain quite prepared to hear about and learn from contrary viewpoints.

Unlike a few people who persist in doing so, I have never tried to impose my values on anyone through my writing.  I believe in persuasion, not mandate or fiat.  Everyone is free to read my blog-posts if they so choose; they are also, and importantly, free to agree or disagree with what I’ve written; and they are free to offer comment.  There is no pressure on anyone, explicit or implied, to come over to my way of thinking.

I accept other people’s right to believe as they do, to say what they wish, and to act as they will, but with one critical proviso—they are not free to harm anyone else in so doing, or to foist their beliefs on unwilling others.  

I know this view is not popular with the social, political, and religious zealots, partisans, and proselytizers who brook no dissent.  Nevertheless, I believe it is in keeping with my aforementioned values and principles, and I continue to espouse them.

To ensure our continued coexistence, my only plea is that we live and let live.

Lest we all die.

Making Sense of It All

Do you ever wonder at the chaos and disruption going on all around us during these tumultuous times, and wonder what to make of it all?

I certainly do, and the only way I seem able to make sense of it is to examine things through a very simple example.  A long, long time ago, I attended elementary school in a big city where everybody looked like me.  And as every Christmas season rolled around, the entire school was festooned in merry decoration—more of the Santa Claus variety than church décor, mind you.

Gaily-festooned trees inhabited every classroom, and carols of the season played before and after class on the public address system.  Every pupil in the school understood everything about the rituals and the reasons for marking the occasion because, almost without exception, we were a middle-class, white, Christian community.

Years later, I found myself employed as a teacher, then principal and superintendent, in the same school system.  But oh, how things had changed.  The schools were populated still by Christians, but in ever-diminishing numbers, as the city grew to include people from all over the world.  They were of all colours, from a multitude of nations, speaking different languages, practicing different religions.

By the late 1980’s, the school jurisdiction included not just Christians and Jews, but students who were Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, and more.  We welcomed them, of course; they were all children, all happy to be in Canada, all eager to learn, all wanting to belong.  We made a point to celebrate our differences, even as we rejoiced in our togetherness.

Our mission was to empower every student to learn, to achieve success, and to participate responsibly in a pluralistic, global society.

Christmas was still important, naturally, to our Christian families, but equally important to the newcomer families were the religious celebrations of their different faiths.  And because there were many of those, the schools gradually moved from their previously-universal focus on only one to smaller-scale acknowledgements of them all.

In short, we changed.  We encouraged coexistence and tolerance.  And to me, immersed in the evolving culture, the change seemed both natural and justified.  But to some, particularly among those heretofore part of the WASP establishment, the transformation was abhorrent.

Those people are taking our country away from us!  If they come here, they should follow our ways!  If they don’t like it, they should go back where they came from!

Racism and bigotry—which had always existed, if not always visibly—became ever more prevalent.

In the 1990’s, I moved to a smaller, rural jurisdiction well north of the city.  To my astonishment, I found the schools under my aegis there to be almost identical to those I had attended in the 1950’s.  As I visited the schools at Christmas, I felt as if I had stepped backwards in time.  Almost everyone was white; almost everyone, including the Indigenous families, was Christian.  As opposed to the seventy-six languages spoken by the families of students at the high school where my wife had worked in the city, the entire community spoke only three—English, French, and Ojibwe.

To my dismay, however, I found the same racism and bigotry among some (although by no means all) of the local populace.

Why do the Frenchies get their own schools?  They should go to Quebec if they want to speak French!

How come the Indians get a free education?  Us taxpayers are paying for it!

Today, more than twenty years later, as I look at events going on in the larger world around us, I hear and see many of the same sorts of things, most often from those who have always enjoyed the privilege and advantage that come from having been part of the establishment.  Racism, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia—expressed in all manner of vile ways across social media, particularly.  And too often voiced, or encouraged, by people who purport to be leaders.

The reason such things happen, I believe, is fear.  It is our fear of change—the fear of being displaced, overtaken, cast aside.  Collectively, we seem unable to recognize that there is enough here for all of us, that hoarding what we have from others diminishes, not only the hoard, but the hoarders, as well.

 So, I try to remember how, back in those long-gone, halcyon school-days, we tried to accommodate each other—people of all races, all religions, all genders, all socio-economic circumstances.  I try to remind those of my cohort from that era of the same thing.  And I try to convince the younger generations, those who have grown up in a meaner, less-tolerant, get-it-while-you-can society, how it could be so much better if we put ourselves in the shoes of the other.

That really is the only way I can make sense of it all.


There’s a bumper sticker out there that neatly sums up the means to solving the world’s problems, including war, famine, pollution, drought, overpopulation, greed—

Coexistence sounds so simple, yet over the millennia it has proven impossible to attain.

An old joke goes like this:  “You don’t know when you’re dead; only other people notice.  It’s the same when you’re stupid.”

Never having been dead, I can’t vouch for the first premise; for all I know, no one will notice when I’m gone.  But the second part might well be true.  Why else do so many of us ignore the certainty that humankind’s current practices are dooming our planet?

Nation against nation, race against race, religion against religion; endless resource extraction; massive defoliation and overfishing; reckless despoliation of our environment, including the very air we breathe—all in the name of what?  Geo-political supremacy?  Last one standing wins?  It’s sheer, rampant stupidity.

In his poem, Ozymandias, Shelley wrote these lines—

…on the [shatter’d] pedestal these words appear:
“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains: round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

Where the glory, where the triumph?  Nothing left in a vast wasteland but a smashed relic of one man’s vainglorious attempt to take control of his world.

Think of two anthills in a garden, one bustling with industrious black ants, the other alive with equally busy red ants.  Everything is peaceful in the garden until, one sad day, the two colonies discover each other.  And then madness, folly, turmoil, mayhem, as each tries to subjugate the other.  Warfare unto the death, until the gardener brings his stomping boots and smashing shovel down on them.  And they are all annihilated, indistinguishable in their lifeless remains.

Is there a celestial gardener, I wonder, who looks upon our planet, this earthly garden, and despairs?  Do we appear as nothing more than those foolish ants, scurrying hysterically to and fro, intent upon the destruction of any who are not like us?  And will we avoid the gardener’s heavy boot?  Or is it already too late?

Coexistence has many synonyms: reconciliation, harmony, accord, synchronicity, collaboration.  All are needed if we are, indeed, to live together on our fragile planet.

Coexistence also has one supremely important result: survival!