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Enough with the rampant sexism…please

September 8, 2016

I want to know: is there one sector where we don’t find rampant sexism? When is this going to stop? Who’s going to show leadership in the boardroom, the classroom and everywhere in between?

I really don’t have to write anything. Just scan the headlines:

Those are mostly stories of women doing their jobs. Sometimes we’re just walking around, travelling, attending class. There are stories about a woman assaulted while sleeping on a plane and the many,  many stories about sexual assaults in cities. Too many to list so but here’s just one: Edmonton wants a safer city for women; police still searching for assault suspect. You can find your own version in a city near you – Burnaby, Toronto, Ottawa. Not to leave out the hundreds of Canada’s missing and murdered aboriginal women.

When will 50% of the population be treated with the dignity it deserves? First – and most importantly – because we are humans. We are your mothers and sisters. We are half the work force and, often, more than half of consumers.


Why I shower with TED

August 26, 2016

shower headI bet that headline got my husband’s attention – if only because he often reminds me to please turn the volume down on the radio in the en-suite. I’ve taken to listening to TED Talks and Podcasts in the shower and I need the volume cranked up HIGH.


TED Talks and podcasts are a great way to get a quick hit of information or inspiration as I start my day and, at worst, give me fodder for conversation.

I can choose something to help me research a project or to work on my business. I can choose something to help me with parenting or just to inspire me. Sometimes I cheat and listen to the podcast instead of reading a business book.

Coming in at around 20 minutes these snippets are the perfect length and, since they are presented by some of the world’s foremost experts, a credible source of information. They also serve as good models for presentation skills: storytelling, use of pauses, illustrative language, using questions… you know the drill.

Here are some of my favourite TED Talks:

Sometimes I cheat on TED and hang out with folks at Stanford Innovation Podcasts. I’m also never disappointed with Under the Influence with Terry O’Reilly. His show is a must for marketers and communicators.

You know what they say, you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with. I like to start my day with some seriously smart people. With whom do you recommend I spend some quality time with ?


Art: Instant empathy booster

August 12, 2016
tags: ,

I am currently working on a project about art and its impact on community belonging – one of the most significant determinants of well-being.

That’s how I came across a book called Gifts of the Muse* which explores the personal and social benefits of exposure to – and participation  in- art.

One aspect that intrigued me was the assertion that being exposed to art and literature gives us  different ideas and insights into unfamiliar cultures or contexts. This new knowledge makes us more empathetic. I filed that under “Hmmm…. Interesting.”

Then today I listened to a story titled Gone With A Trace: The story of lost items on the US/Mexico border on CBC’s The Current. It looks at the work of California-based photographer Richard Misrach and composer Guillermo Galindo who are bringing attention to the plight of  thousands of desperate Latin American migrants who scale the border wall between the U.S. and Mexico each year.

These two artists are using everyday objects that are lost or abandoned along the border to create art and, in the case of Guillermo, haunting music. Guillermo uses very sensitive, low frequency microphones to record sounds made by items that have been left behind – often by children. These are items like a Blues Clues backpack, a pair of tiny tennis shoes, a child’s bible, pesos, a ball, etc. It struck me that, through Guillermo,these items gave a voice to these voiceless, possibly missing children.

I started my day thinking about getting my kids to camp and a looming deadline. Thanks to the magic of radio and the power of art I have to say I have an instant boost of empathy for the plight of these unaccompanied children. Quite frankly, I am haunted by what I heard.

I invite you to take 20 minutes to let art enrich your day too.

Don’t have 20 minutes? Take 5 to check out 7 art initiatives that are transforming the lives of refugees. I especially liked the girls reclaiming themselves and their space in Saddam Hussein’s castle in Castle Art.

Has art ever given you deeper understanding of an issue? Has it ever propelled you to act? I’d love to hear your story.


*McCarthy, K. et al. (2004) Gifts of the Muse: Reframing the debate about the benefits of the arts, Rand Corporation, 125p.

Taking the civil out of civilisation?

July 30, 2016

I love words. I love the history of words and discovering new things about them. For example, when I realised that “benediction” literally means to give a good word it completely shifted the context of benediction from something we receive at church to a blessing we can all extend.

This week’s “a-ha moment” came when I was listening  to former Governor General Adrienne Clarkson’s 2014 CBC Massey Lectures, Belonging: The Paradox of Citizenship. Since 1961, the Lectures invite a leading thinker to prepare five one-hour essays on a given topic. These are then presented in five Canadian cities, broadcast on radio and published for posterity — and further deep thought.


Can you have civilisation without civility?

Massey Lectures are extraordinarily well researched and presented simply and thoughtfully. They provide five hours of rich, challenging ideas presented without slides, gimmicks or drama . They offer a refreshing change from the endless bombardment of Twitter’s 140 characters, a quick TedTalk or the constant pulse altering drums and dizzying graphics of the 24-hour news channels. The Massey  Lectures are a buffet of rich food for thought that is to be savoured. It is the antithesis of sound-bite junk food for the mind.

So it was during Adrienne Clarkson’s third lecture: “The Cosmopolitan Ethic” that I found my recent epiphany. She said:

The whole function and idea of democracy lies within each of us and our ability to accept and include the Other… We have obligations as citizens not just toward the state and its institutions but toward each other as individuals and as equal citizens. One who does not behave this way betrays his own citizenship.

For us to function as a truly democratic society, we must be civil with with each other and treat each other with the respect that is due. (Adrienne Clarkson, Belonging: The Paradox of Citizenship, House of Anansi Press – emphasis mine)

Whoa… hold the phone. Is Donald Trump, with his complete lack of civility actually undermining civilisation? YES! 

The Presidential candidate has said he will exclude all Muslims from his country. He has called Mexicans “rapists” and often ridiculed women for their gender or appearance. He has labelled an endless stream of people, including senators, governors and journalists as “losers” and repeatedly called his opponent a criminal*. This is not civility. This is not acceptance and inclusion of the Other. This is not “sticks and stones” stuff. The names will hurt me because this behaviour erodes trust and democracy – no matter who does it. This is shutting down voices in the debate by not focusing on policy and ideas but on distractions and personal attacks.

As a Canadian, I am not at all involved in the American Presidential election but, like most people in the Western World, if not the globe, the antics of this presidential campaign are impossible to avoid. As a student of trust, I know nothing good comes from candidates tearing each other to shreds during a campaign and then turning around to say “trust me.” There is nothing to inspire confidence from people, other nations or financial markets when people behave this way.

Looks like Mom was right. You’d better mind your manners because bad things happen when you take the “civil” out of civil society and civilisation.

*The New York Times compiled an extensive NYT list of Trump insults of the 250 people, places and things Donald Trump has insulted on Twitter since declaring his candidacy.  I hesitate to share it because it just brings us deeper into the muck but I wanted to illustrate the point.

Empowering the champion within

June 1, 2016

I haven’t written a blog post here in eight months, partly because I was working on Special Olympics Ontario 2016 Provincial Spring Games and on a report on CFC and TrueSport Report: Sport and belonging for Community Foundations of Canada. So imagine my surprise when I found that the last blog post is about why it’s ok – and important- to encourage everyone to participate in and experience the transformative power of sport. Seems like there’s a theme to my year.

powerlifting medal presentation

During Special Olympics Provincial Spring Games this past week-end I met truly gifted athletes who, without the additional support and opportunities provided by Special Olympics, would never have discovered their gift. It reminded me:

  • Look past the first impression – not just at this event, but always – to see each person’s effort, intent and unique talent.

I also met athletes whose performance was clearly not as polished as others but who were just as proud of their efforts and personal bests as those on the podium. I saw teammates in the stands cheer more loudly for friends on the podium than they would for themselves.

  • Couldn’t we all use a little more pride in our efforts and in our teams?
  • Don’t we all deserve to feel like we belong?

As one athlete was leaving a venue sporting a shiny new medal, a police officer told him: “You’re a champion.” The athlete replied “Yes, I am a champion. Would you like my autograph?” The officer said he would, so the athlete took out a piece of paper and a pen and used the officer’s back to scrawl his signature. The athlete told the officer “You take that home and frame it. Tell people you met a champion.” The signature was a scrawl – barely better than a toddlers’  – from grown man who undoubtedly encounters challenges in his everyday life that most of us can only dream of but he felt ten feet tall. He had pride and goals and dreams of qualifying for nationals.

  • Shouldn’t we all seek the champion in others and in ourselves?
  • How can we empower others to feel like champions in all aspects of our personal and professional lives?
  • How can we strive for the authenticity, presence and dedication found in Special Olympics athletes?

Thank you Special Olympics Ontario for the extraordinary privilege of working with you this year and the gift of connecting with your athletes.

rhythmics gymnastics


Why returning ribbons is cheap, disrespectful and destructive

September 19, 2015

I’ve been troubled by the story of NFL player James Harrison returning his kids’ participation trophies since it surfaced in August. CNN called it his “war on the trophies kids get for simply showing up and playing a sport.”

The Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker says he’s very proud and supportive of his children, but believes everything in life should be earned and they shouldn’t feel entitled.

Harrison wrote that he wants his kid to earn a “real trophy.”

This is the antithesis of encouraging kids – or any people – to put themselves out there and to try something new. It’s the opposite of focussing on achieving personal goals. It’s the Donald Trump perspective of winners and losers.

It’s cheap, disrespectful and destructive. Here’s why:

  1. participation trophiesIt’s cheap – or “mean” in the truest sense of the word. Encouragement costs nothing. Participation ribbons cost as little as 20 cents. A trophy costs a little more. This year, my son won “most improved” on his flag football team. The coach gave him the game ball from the last game. No cost to the team but priceless for my son. He has no illusions that he is the MVP. He does not mistake it for a Super Bowl Ring. It’s just a symbol to him that he tried his best and it was recognized in a small way.
  2. It’s disrespectful. Kids know exactly who came in first through tenth at the track meet. Those kids get a different ribbon. To this day my daughter tells me about the kid who squeaked past her friend to snag the coveted #10 ribbon while her friend received “participant” years ago. You can bet her friend will step on the gas next time. Kids have a more elaborate scoring system than who goes home with which trophy – they know who scored the most goals, who was played and who spent more time on the bench. So what’s wrong with recognizing they were part of a team? Maybe they had a lot of assists but not a lot of goals. That does not make them a “loser.” It does not make the trophy less “real.” Runners focus on a personal best. That’s what we should be encouraging our kids to do. Give them a little credit. They have an acute sense of justice and they know where they really rank. And if not… so what? Life will show them otherwise quickly enough without having their dad return their trophy. Add to that, the field is not always level. I ran in one community 10K a few years ago. When they announced the winners, one was receiving a provincial triathlete award, another had represented Israel in international competitions. So I’m not a world-class runner… yeah, I knew that already.
  3. It’s destructive. Returning a kids’ trophy because they didn’t “deserve it” isn’t really the parent’s call, is it? Your child knows if they did their best. The coach has a better vantage point. You don’t get to erode their self worth.

Would you let your child return your paycheque and say “Sorry Dad, Jones did a better job this week. His sales are much higher.” Who are you to judge what they have earned?

And, what’s the advantage of separating “winners” and “losers”? Lots of kids are trying much harder than the naturally talented kids. That does not make them worth-less. More importantly, for the kids who struggle with athletics, a participation ribbon pinned on their board is a tangible reminder that they did it. They can see themselves as a person who runs, skates, swims, … whatever. In psychology parlance, it changes their cognitive post.

Adults love a little participation swag too. Don't they "earn" it by signing up, training, raising funds, finishing? I think so.

Adults love a little participation swag too. Don’t they “earn” it by signing up, training, raising funds, finishing? I think so.

As a person who quit gym class the minute I could, it took me years to decide to even try a 5K or masters swimming. I had told myself long ago: “I’m not good at that. I don’t do that stuff.” I did not see myself as an active person. I withdrew from opportunities to be more active because of the way I saw myself – which is self perpetuating. You don’t try, you don’t get better. Now when I  participate in a tri-a-try or a 5K I’m going for a personal goal or feeling good about supporting a cause. Still,  the participation swag is a nice touch. Talk to my friends who have run in the Oakville 10K because the medal is a Mercedes symbol – or completed the Disney marathon. They do not feel “entitled” but they did earn it.

If you enjoyed this post. You may also like Why encourage those in the middle of the pack and those who are dead last?



Special Olympics +an Open Letter to Ann Coulter = A lesson in communications

September 13, 2015

Source: An Open Letter to Ann Coulter

This week I read an extraordinary blog post written in 2012 by John Franklin Stephens, a Global Messenger for Special Olympics. It was his response to Ann Coulter’s use of the R-word in a tweet after a Presidential debate during the last election.

While the Twitterverse reacted with vitriol and personal attacks on Coulter, John wrote a response that was:

  1. thoughtful
  2. engaging
  3. informative
  4. respectful
  5. challenging
  6. inspiring

While so many took an instant, 140 character low-road, John took a day to reflect and to refine. He took the high road and chose to educate.

Integrity is vastly more effective than an immediate, angry tweeted response.

How often do you read a blog post and come away with a fine example of communications, a new perspective and a new hero? This piece did that for me.

Respect. It’s the new R-word.


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