Dare boldly

A blog by Louise Gallagher


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What do you do when staring discrimination in the face?

It is a clear case of ‘profiling’. Of targeting a group of people based on knowing where they come from.

It stinks.

Last week, shelter staff organized an outing for the families staying at Inn from the Cold’s emergency family shelter. A company has generously donated funds for field trips on school PD Days, so for this particular school-free day, the staff decided to take the families bowling.

They contacted the bowling alley weeks in advance. Reserved 7 lanes for 2 hours and on Friday morning, the families climbed onto buses and set off for their adventure.

The children were excited. The parents grateful for an outing where they could spend time having fun with their kids.

It did not go well.

When staff told me how the families had been treated I was saddened. I was angry. I was disappointed.

My feelings are nothing compared to what the children and parents must have felt. Though when one mother explained it away with, “We’re used to this treatment,” I realized there is one emotion many of the families felt that because of my privileged position doesn’t resonate within me.  “Resigned.”

I am not Indigenous. I am not a visible ethnic minority. I am not staying at a homeless shelter. I am not trapped in poverty.

For the families on the outing, all of this is true. This is their reality, as is the discrimination they face everyday, every where.

Discrimination. It’s what people do when confronted with ‘others’ who are different than their view of the world.

The 2 hour bowling fest was chopped in half by staff at the bowling hall. No explanation. Just a curt, “You can have one hour and then we’ll see if we give you a second.” When staff reminded the manager that they’d reserved a full two hours and would gladly pay up front, there was no change in attitude. The families would have to prove themselves worthy of being granted the second hour.

At the end of the first hour the shelter staff and guests were told they had to leave. They had been deemed unworthy. There was no recourse.

They handed in their shoes and the families left, only to have to wait an hour in the stairwell for the buses to arrive.

Throughout the one hour of bowling, the bowling alley staff stood at the edge of the area where the families were bowling and stared. Continuously. They rolled their eyes. Made snide comments about ‘those people’ and even went so far as to banish two young children from the lanes when they sent two balls down the alley. As one staff member exclaimed, “My son goes to birthday parties at that bowling alley. He and his friends are always doing silly things. They don’t have their bowling shoes taken off their feet and their privileges rescinded. If there’s an issue, management talks to the parents who talk to their kids. They work it out.”

That didn’t happen on Friday.

Respect. Consideration. Thoughtfulness. Kindness. Acceptance. Courtesy. Customer service.

None of those were present.

What was present? Discrimination. Racism. Mistreatment. Rudeness. Intolerance. Judgement.

And a host of human affects that do not reflect well on those employing them as a means to shame and shun people who are already marginalized and excluded from societal norms and considerations.

I wonder if the bowling alley staff have any idea how shameful their behaviour was? I’m pretty sure they don’t.

Because that’s the thing about discrimination and intolerance. Blinded by our beliefs, we don’t know we’re acting under its influence. We are simply acting out from an internal script that makes it okay to do what we believe is necessary to protect our perceived right to be judge and jury of others. And that includes believing we have the right to be who we are and act how we do, even if it means trampling upon the rights of others to be who they are.

Under the cloud of discrimination and intolerance, we don’t assess our beliefs. We express them. No matter who gets hurt.

I wish I had a magic wand that I could wave and make hate and injustice go away.

I know I don’t.

Instead, I must use the tools I have available to create better.

Shaming the staff at the bowling alley will not make them more tolerant, less discriminatory.

Inviting them into a conversation where compassion for our differing opinions and points of view is present will create space for understanding to begin. Perhaps neither side will change their positions, but in the process, we will have connected as human beings in search of common ground.

And from that place, anything is possible.

 

 

 


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30 Years of The Miracle of Liseanne

I was asleep when she came into this world.

It is not how I intended it.

Eighteen months before, when her sister came into the world via C-section, I had an epidural. I got to hear her first cries from inside my womb, even before they cut her out.

Liseanne arrived two weeks early. On that Saturday, thirty years ago today, her father and I were putting the finishing touches on the bedroom where her sister would move into so she could have the nursery. I felt my water break and stayed silent. There was a nurse’s strike on. I did not want to go to the hospital during the strike.

When I eventually called my doctor to tell him what had happened, he told me he’d meet us at the hospital in an hour.

“Can’t I wait until after the strike?” I asked.

He hung up on me after an emphatic, “No.”

Liseanne did not want to wait. The world was an adventure worth exploring and it didn’t matter that with the strike I would not be allowed an epidural and hear her first cries from within the womb. She wanted to get on with this thing called living life!

I probably wouldn’t have heard her cry anyway. She doesn’t spend time crying. She spends all her time living. In fact, after she was born, I don’t think I heard her first cry until many weeks later. It wasn’t her way.

She is thoughtful. Smart. Witty. Kind. She will always fight for the underdog. And she will always stand up for what is right. She speaks up in the face of injustice. Stands up to bullies. But she doesn’t cry over spilt milk, lost dreams or broken hearts. She accepts what is, wipes up the spilt milk and does what is necessary to make dreams come true or help a friend heal a broken heart. And then, she gets back to the business of living fully immersed in the joy and mystery of being alive.

Her way.

When she was in middle school, a teacher suggested that Liseanne needed to pay more attention to doing her own work, not helping out the special needs students in her class.

“It is her way,” I told the teacher.  “And once Liseanne has figured out her own way, there’s very little chance of getting her to take a different path.”

Liseanne has always known what works for her. What is right for her. What is best.

It is her way.

And in knowing of her own path, she accepts that others may not see it her way or want to be on the same path. And that’s okay. There is always room in Liseanne’s life for others to have their own unique paths, their own unique expression of themselves. There is always room in her heart to accept you just the way you are.

It’s just who she is. Accepting. Forgiving. Understanding. Loving.

My youngest daughter turns 30 today.

I was asleep when she came into this world, but this journey with her has kept me wide-awake to the wonder and awe of life (not to mention the humour and the unexpected.)

Through her quirky humour, her willingness to explore the world, her fearlessness and curiosity, her ability to accept everyone without judgement and make room for many points of view, and her capacity to forgive and Love deeply, my life has been made richer, my journey that much brighter.

I was asleep when she came into this world. I am so grateful and blessed I got to wake up to the miracle of Liseanne.


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Self-Love: Where all things are possible.

I hope it is the start of a revolution. A new way of being and doing and connecting at work.

This past week, a co-worker, friend, a woman with a beautiful heart, attended Choices.

She fell in Love. With herself.

And from self-love, all things are possible.

On Wednesday, I dropped by the hotel where the seminar is held to leave a card for my friend and to say hello to some of the coaches.

It’s been a year since I’ve been in the room.  Last year, as I struggled to keep up with the pace at my former job and then started a new job, I took time off from coaching. It was needed medicine for myself. Time to simplify  my life, to create space to be more present to what was in my life without feeling stressed by all the “To Do’s” I had on my plate.

At least, that’s the story I told myself.

Walking into the seminar room on Wednesday morning I realized, it’s time I went back. It’s time I immersed myself in the joy, beauty, Love of that space where all things begin with self-love. Where all things are possible.

People often ask me why I volunteered so much of my time to the program or why I stayed involved.

When I suggest they try it out to find out for themselves, I often get a nervous laugh and a, ‘it’s not for me’, kind of response.

Choices is for anyone.

But often fear of the unknown prevents us from stepping beyond the edge of our familiar. Sometimes, it’s the fear that comes from believing inside ourselves is too risky a place to explore – what if it’s too dark to see? We tell ourselves that to explore our inner depths could put us at risk of completely falling apart with no way of being whole again.

All of that was true for me, yet, once I went through the program, I realized, as Winston Churchill famously penned,  I had nothing to fear — but fear itself.

In fact, my fear paled in comparison to all that I gained.

When I walked into the seminar room on Wednesday morning, even though I was only there for a few minutes, I remembered why I gave so much to the program and the people involved.

Because I receive so much more in return.

In my life there have been very few times when I felt 100% safe to be ‘all of me’. In the Choices room, I know I am safe.

In the Choices room, I know that people are not whispering behind my back, talking about my flaws, complaining about how I say this or do that or how I’m not participating enough or not doing it right.

In the Choices room, there is no judgement. Only Love.

So often in this world, we learn to not trust love. To be distrustful of one another.

To cope, we build up walls and defenses. We guard against possible hurts. We defend our position of remaining separate, believing that we need to protect the core of who we are against attack.

In the Choices room, I know I am 100% safe and from that place of feeling safe, I can be me. Completely me. All of me. Beauty and the Beast. Wisdom and Wounds. Perfections and Flaws.

It is an incredible gift. A beautiful thing.

And that’s why I’m hoping my friend’s having experienced the Choices revolution will create its own revolution at work.

Choices provides tools to live your life outside your comfort zone, wide awake, 100% in Love with me, myself and I and the world around you.

My dream is to have our entire leadership team experience the program so that we can connect on deeper, more authentic and meaningful levels. From that space, all things are possible. Including, ending child and family homelessness.

Namaste.


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Be the reason someone smiles

No one wakes up in the morning and declares, “Today I shall be the reason someone cries.”  At least I hope not.

I believe we wake up with an evolutionary impulse, even if we are not aware of it, that continuously declares our human intention to create better.

What if we decided we don’t have to change the world, we just have to be our own kind of change in the world.

That making a difference isn’t about finding the cure to some disease or a new star (both of which would be lovely) but rather, difference-making comes when we choose to shine our light and be brave, bold, daring in our presence in this world.

What if we realized difference-making is created when we choose to be conscious of our impact on everyone and everything around us.

And what if, we decided to begin right where we are? That today, rather than think about all the things that are not going well in our life, or all the things we need other’s to change to make our lives better, we chose instead to focus on ‘What can I do in this moment right now that will make a difference to those around me?’

What if we decided to be the reason someone smiles?

Or laughs, or feels good about themselves or sees the miracle they are because we’ve acknowledged their magnificence by letting our magnificence shine through our smile?

What if we got conscious and accepted our presence makes a difference and when we shine our light (Smile! You’re on Candid Camera!), the world is a brighter place?


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From the Archives

This post originally appear, January 24, 2012.  Thank you FB Memories for reminding me.

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I was there when he took his last breath. I held his hand and waited in anticipation of an exhalation that never came. And in that one final breath in, the life-force left his body and James A. Bannerman was gone.

James was a client of the homeless shelter where I worked. Just after joining the team, I started an art program. One day, a box of throw-away cameras arrived in my office and I gave them to clients with the request they take pictures of their world. James was one of the ones who agreed to participate. From then on, a camera was never far from his sights. Whenever he wandered the streets of Calgary doing what he did everyday, picking up bottles along the riverbank, he would take photos. “Bottle pickings my civic duty,” he used to tell me when I’d pass him as I walked into work in the mornings. “I’m helping keep the city clean.”

Photography became his way of life.

That little box of a camera became a conduit for him to express the light and darkness of the city all around him. He became indefatigable in his ‘picture-taking’ as he liked to call it.  Homeless for over 15 years when he received that first camera, picture-taking became his passion and, he laughed, maybe even his retirement plan. He became so immersed in his art that eventually, he saved up enough money from his odd jobs and bottle collecting to buy himself a digital camera, and then a laptop. And his picture-taking became an insatiable desire to express his awe of the world around him. Whenever we held art shows James would always turn up. A man of view words, he struggled to connect through words to those who passed his booth. He didn’t need words to speak. His photos spoke for him and to the hearts of those who purchased his work and gave it a home.

And then, cancer came and within months he was gone.

But not his photography. Not his view of the world  he inhabited that he captured tirelessly where ever he went throughout our city. He didn’t take photos of people. He only took photos of buildings and bridges and water flowing in the river and frozen footprints in ice and the patterns of a manhole cover and an image of a street through the broken glass of a bus shelter.

James A. Bannerman had an eye for beauty and next week, on the day that would have been his fifty-fourth birthday James A. Bannerman’s first solo exhibit will open.

Yesterday, I met with the curator of the exhibit from The New Gallery (TNG) and two individuals who are part of hosting this year’s inaugural, This is My City Festival to finalize the selection of photos that will appear in the exhibit. As we sorted through Jame’s photos, looking for just the right one’s to include in the Plus 15 TNG Window Gallery that will be their home for the next two months, I shared stories of James and his indefatigable spirit and felt connected once again to this man who touched my heart in so many ways.

James would be pleased. His photos are out of retirement.

This is a difference worth making. This is a difference I have held in my heart since I sat and held Jame’s hand and listened to the last intake of his breath rattling through his lungs in the early morning hours of December 8, 2009. This is a dream I’ve breathed life into throughout the intervening days, a dream other’s have joined with me in bringing to light.

I am happy and I am grateful.

Namaste.

 

 


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In need of balance.

In my post yesterday on A Grandmother’s Code, I mentioned in one of my comments that I was feeling unsettled without access to my studio.

It was packed up on December 12th and is not likely to get set up again for at least a couple of more months. We are still in the throes of renovating our new home, and my studio will be the last piece in the puzzle of putting our home together.

As I lay in bed this morning thinking about not having a place to create with abandon (because that’s what the studio gives me — a place to paint without worrying about splashing, spills or slip-ups), I realized I need to come up with an alternative plan. A way to create without a studio.

People do it all the time. What am I waiting for?

Fundamentally, my studio represents more than a creating space. It is my home base. My sanctuary. My centering place.

Without it, I have been letting myself off the hook of being committed to my practice of centering, meditating and finding balance.

I have been slacking off.

And that’s not good for me.

Even my meditation practice has been impacted by this move. I am erratic in creating space for meditation and even when I do, I find myself wandering both mentally and physically.

All of which are signs of my inner imbalance.

Moving is not easy. And when the move takes three months, it becomes more about learning to live in transition than just being in transition.

I have not done a great job of learning to live in this new order of things. No matter how transitory, I am in it and need to be conscious of how I go through it.

So, today, I commit to starting a new awareness for myself of what it means to live in transition — while keeping myself balanced and centered with grace and ease.

To begin, I created a ‘path’ for myself to ensure I give myself room for assessment, alignment and action. My steps, as they currently appear in first blush are:

  1. Be conscious of where I’m at — physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually.
  2. Make an assessment of my ‘Balance wheel’.
  3. Decide on the priority areas to address.
  4. Make a commitment to do 1 – 3 things within each area to bring myself back into balance.
  5. Identify the 1 – 3 things for each.
  6. Commit to beginning and when necessary, begin again.
  7. Be gentle with myself.

It’s a new beginning, a new space, a new attitude.

I wonder what I can create?