Monthly Archives: May 2014

What Does it Mean to be and Activist?

I’m a university student. We are notorious for our discontent with how the world is run. Many of us get involved in some sort of activism. But what does it mean to be an activist? Some people aren’t content unless they are standing outside with a sign or camping out in a park like the protesters at Occupy Wall street. Others write about issues almost exclusively. Some simply participate in ‘slacktivism.’ Is one form of activism more likely than the others to bring about change? Is one ‘not real activism’? Or are they all necessary to bring about change?

Personally, I’m inclined to believe the latter. I have done all three forms of activism. I have held a sign to counter-protest at an anti-abortion protest. I have written about problems in our world. And I have hit the ‘sign this petition’ button on an e-mail I have received. I think all forms of protest are necessary to bring about change. And there is a lot of change that I want to see happen.

For those activists out there, how do you fight to bring about change? What change do you want to see in the world?

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Religion in Education

In the US, there is a lot of news about schools who have violated the separation of church and state by teaching Christianity. This is likely not surprising to anybody who is reading this. But, where I live, we seem to have a different problem. We don’t have separation of church and state, but we do consider ourselves a cultural mosaic. We have people from many different cultural and religious backgrounds living in one country. As such, we have Catholic schools and private schools with various religious backgrounds for parents who want their children to be educated in their religious tradition. However, our public school system shies away from any mention of religion. They refuse to mention Christmas and instead refer to ‘the winter holiday.’ They do all sorts of weird things for Halloween to allow kids to celebrate it without acknowledging it’s history.

I find those practices more silly than anything. It’s silly to take Christmas pageants away ¬†from children because a secular pageant may offend some Christians and a Christian pageant denied other belief systems. Yes, Christmas is the Christian version of a holiday that has been celebrated for thousands of years. Calling it the winter holiday does better acknowledge others. But they didn’t just change the name, they also removed the usual activities that go along with the holiday. When I was a kid, we had a pageant where we would sing songs, play games, and get candy. It was fun and I only had one teacher who tried to make it religious. As for Halloween, it’s fun. Many schools have taken away the kids’ opportunity to where costumes lest they be seen as offensive. Other schools have very strict rules about what costumes are acceptable. I think that the rules that the school board in my city are trying to implement are an example of political correctness taken too far.

But that is not my biggest concern with this issue. I am far more concerned with the fact that there is no talk about religion in our public schools. The Catholic school system does a better job of teaching children about other religions. Insistently, they also do a better job of turning out atheists. But that’s not really important. I would like to see the school board education children about different religious traditions and different cultures. The children are going to grow up believing that they cannot talk about their beliefs in public, which will lead to adults who naturally assume that everybody believes what they believe, which will lead to tension and miscommunication. I say this because I have already seen it happening at my university. Rather than understanding each other and exposing ourselves to different people, we cannot fathom each other and we isolate ourselves in groups where everybody is just like us. A great metaphor that I heard once is that mosaics have borders and none of the colours ever cross the borders. This seems unhealthy to me. Instead of embracing diversity, we are hiding from it.

This isn’t to say that children should be indoctrinated into a religion. I think that one of the greatest fears that I hear is that if we implement a religions education program in schools, then children will be indoctrinated into whatever religion is being taught. That seems silly to me, and it underestimates the critical thinking skills of the children. All that need happen is for the teachers to speak in a ‘this is what some people believe’ manner. I’m sure the older children would even enjoy teaching the children their own religious traditions.¬†

Religion is an important part of many peoples lives. Schools shouldn’t be used to isolate children from differences or to accept a signal belief system. Children need to know that diversity exists in the world and that diversity is okay. They need to know how to approach people and how to deal with difference. Children should also be given the tools to determine what they believe for themselves.

A Freethought Conference

Last summer I went to a skeptics conference in Las Vegas. Over this last weekend I went to Kamloops, BC to attend a secular humanist/freethought conference. This coming weekend I may be going to a logic conference. There are plenty of conferences around for non-believers. But there are none where I live. I must travel to attend these conferences. This fact led my partner and I to decide that Calgary needs a conference. We are hoping to be the ones who make it happen.

The problem is, conferences take a lot of planning, work, and money. We figure it will take us a few years to manage to get the conference going, but we also think the work will be worth it. Our first goal will be to do as much networking as possible. We need to meet people. We need people who are willing to help us. We need people who are willing to donate to us. We need people who are willing to speak. And, of course, we need to be able to make a name for ourselves. People need to know who we are, otherwise nobody will consider our conference. We need people to want to come.

So now I have a new project. Hopefully I will be able to pull it off.

Back From INR4

I am finally home after a four day trip. I was hoping to give updates while I was away, but I found myself, for the most part, without wifi. 

The conference was good. I got to meet a lot of amazing people and catch up with a lot of the people that I do know that I don’t get to talk to on a regular basis. The speakers were, for the most part, great to listen to. I got to listen to Hemant Mehta, the Friendly Atheist, talk about why it is important for atheists to check their sources before claiming that some religious group, or person, does something. I later got to talk to him about his talk. He did a wonderful job, and he really is a very friendly man.

I also got to listen to Seth Andrews, the Thinking Atheist, give a very amusing talk. He mentioned the habit that the religious right has of adopting aspects of pop culture for themselves, such as taking the ‘got milk’ logo and changing it to ‘got Jesus.’ I was very happy to be able to introduce myself to him.

I was a little bit disappointed that I wasn’t able to meet Jerry DeWitt, but he gave a very good talk on his experiences as a clergyman turned atheist.

Margaret Downey gave a wonderful talk on her story as a freethinker. She is a very strong and brave woman and I am glad that I got to meet her on Sunday. Her story is featured in the book Parenting Beyond Belief, which I would highly recommend (even if you never want children as it is more a series of stories on how different parents have struggled with raising secular children than it is a parenting book).

Wanda Morris gave a wonderful talk on why euthanasia should be legal. Carolyn Porco entertained everybody with her presentation on space exploration. Annie Laurie Gaylor gave a wonderful talk on her work as a freethinker.

Christopher diCarlo gave a wonderful talk on fairness. I was happy to be able to talk to him about his ideas about education after the fact. He has convinced Toronto’s school board to add a class on critical thinking to their curriculum.

I was very happy with Christine Shellska’s talk on fallacies and rhetoric. She is the Humanist Chaplin at my university and a member of the Freethinkers club, so I can’t help but consider her success a bit of a ‘hometown win.’ Her talk ended with a musical performance by another young freethinker (by young I mean university-aged) on the hypotenuse.¬†

Unfortunately, I missed the talks given by Jerry Coyne, Dan Barker, and Darrel Ray, so I can’t comment on them.

My only real complaint was the Friday night panel discussion. It wasn’t well planned and it wasn’t well executed. I was told that the Friday night entertainment was always meant to be fun rather than serious, but I think it still should have been done better. Hopefully they will stick with fun Friday events in the future. Otherwise, I would recommend that any atheist, agnostic, secular humanist, freethinker, etc. head to Imagine No Religion if you are looking for a good conference to go to, and can afford it.

I will write about my blog plans tomorrow since I haven’t gotten a chance to deal with any of that tonight.

INR4 and A New Blog

Tomorrow morning (May 16th) I will be going to Imagine No Religion in Kamloops, British Columbia. I will try to blog about that while I am there. I will be there until the 18th. When I get back, on the 19th, I will likely be starting a second blog. The second will just be mine, and it’ll just be for writing. I will likely post short stories on there as well as discussions on writing. This will continue to be my random thoughts blog. I am also thinking of setting up a website (on another host site, of course) to make it easier for people to find my blogs. I will also link it to my twitter account, which I recently started.¬†

Which other social networking sites, other that Twitter and Facebook, do you use to get your name out there?

When Do You Feel at Your Weakest?

Social situations are hard for me. I have Generalized Anxiety Disorder and find crowds particularly daunting. When I am in a social situation with a lot of people that I don’t know it is really easy for me to shut down. I have to fight really hard to talk to anyone and, often, have to fight all of my instincts to keep from running out of the room. Noise is the worst. If everybody is talking while I am surrounded by people, or there is loud music playing, it can be too overwhelming for me to handle. These situations are when I feel at my weakest. The biggest problem is that people don’t understand. People often say things like “everybody is uncomfortable, you just have to ignore it and start talking to people.” Often I want to shout “why aren’t you listening to me? It’s not that easy” at them, but what good would that do? People don’t understand because it’s not something that they deal with. It’s a mental health issue, so it is still highly stigmatized and ignored. Many people assume I’m lying when I tell them my issue, so I have only really just begun to trust people enough to talk about it.¬†

My volunteering as well as my interest in writing have forced me to have to fight my anxiety in order to attend conferences and galas and other such events. I’m lucky to have one of the more mild forms of anxiety. I can sit in a room with 10 people and not know any of them without feeling much in the way of anxiety. I ca talk to the people around me and enjoy myself. The anxiety doesn’t tend to be unbearable until there are about 100 people around. That is when I begin to panic. But even then, I don’t have a lot of the issues that others have. I don’t become physically sick, I’ve never fainted. Given how weak I feel when I am suffering from my own anxiety, I can’t imagine how bad that feeling must be for those with the worse forms of anxiety.

It is hard for my partner as well. When we are at a conference we are there to meet people. It’s a networking event. My partner wants to walk around and talk to people, but he feels tied to me. I view it as a victory if I manage to talk to a hand full of people in a day, because it’s more than I used to be able to manage. But for my partner it is a wasted day. He could have talked to three times as many people on his own. It is upsetting to me, because those are the days that I am at my strongest. Those are my best days, the days when I feel like I have conquered my fear. When I am at my weakest, when I feel like a failure, is when I can’t get over the feeling of being overwhelmed. The days when I separate myself from the crowd and don’t talk to anyone.¬†

When do you feel like you are at your weakest? How do you conquer that weakness?


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My Generation

Today I listened to a debate about the millennials. A number of ideas were brought up, some I agreed with and some I didn’t. One debater kept referring to the boomers as “the greatest generation.” How are they the greatest? What have they done that is so much better than any other generation? I don’t ask this because I think that my generation is better. I ask this because I don’t think that any generation is significantly better than any other.¬†
One debater brought up how long we live with our parents as a sign of immaturity. But housing prices have risen significantly more than wages have. It seems obvious that it would take longer to be able to afford to move out. And more people are going to university now than did in the past. University is expensive, so living at home is an obvious choice. Personally, I moved out when I was 22 and I was happy to get out on my own. I didn’t want to live at home for so long, but I only moved out because I couldn’t get my degree in the city I lived in.
That same debater also claimed that our generation is more narcissistic than previous generations. One of the people he was debating argued that the millennials volunteer more than previous generations so are actually more giving. Are millennials more giving or more narcissistic? Or neither?
The other debater claimed that millennials don’t have any noticeable traits that will help us in the future. She argued that we’re not significantly better with technology than generations X and Y and will be replaced with machines thus making finding a job impossible. How true is this?¬†
The final debater argued that our generation is an entrepreneurial generation. We are starting businesses and creating jobs on a larger scale than any previous scale. Is this accurate?
What do you think of these claims? Do you agree or disagree with them? What are the advantages and disadvantages of being a millennial?

My Inspiration

It takes a lot of inspiration to write. I would never even had dreamed that I would be able to write my own stories if it weren’t for the fact that I read a lot. And, of course, if it weren’t for all the people who told me that I had a great imagination and was good at making up stories. My dad encouraged me to write from a young age, and my partner is the one who encouraged me to work towards getting my stories¬†published. But my greatest inspiration has been the authors whose books I have read.¬†
Tamora Pierce quickly became my favorite author when I was a child. She inspired me to believe that my sex did not determine my abilities. I instantly fell in love with her characters, especially her female characters who were all different and yet who managed to defy stereotypical gender roles to fight for what they believed in. Tamora Pierce got me interested in the fantasy genre in the first place. She led me to write my first fantasy story when I was 14, which was terrible and ended up being left unfinished, and I found myself with the idea to publishing a novel always in the back of my mind even when I thought that I had given up that dream.
The first adult fantasy that I read was the Valdemar series written by Mercedes Lackey. She is my favorite author, along with Tamora Pierce, to this day. Her books increased my love of fantasy and allowed me to think about a different kind of fantasy world. She is the reason that I don’t think King Arthur-esk story when somebody says “fantasy.”
Brent Weeks has inspired me in two ways. First, I find his stories are the type of stories that I need a weekend off for. Once I begin reading one of his books, I can’t put it down. I want to write those kind of stories. Second, he got lucky in a way few authors do: he got his first book published. My first book is still unpublished. I intend to edit it before I go back to school and see if I can get it published. I don’t know if I will be as lucky as Brent Weeks was, but I hope I am.
Neil Gaiman is my partners favorite author. I hadn’t heard of him until my partner and I began dating. I think that his stories are incredibly engaging. I enjoy his style of writing. I am also a fan of creepy stories. I have always loved horror and thrillers, even when I was a small child. After listening to him speak, I decided that, while fantasy is my favorite genre, I really didn’t want to write just one genre and a certainly don’t want a career based around one series. I would like to write thrillers, dystopian fantasy, epic fantasy, YA fantasy, and graphic novels if at all possible.
These authors are my four main inspirations when it comes to writing. Who inspires you?

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