Open Letter To Our Teenage Sons

As I watch you develop and grow, and I think back to my childhood, I’m amazed at what you are accomplishing in life.  Whether it’s school, sports, guitar, cooking, your ease with technology, or simply just who you are becoming as exceptional people, I’m often in awe.  But I’m also concerned.  I’m concerned because, well, frankly, you have advantages in life that I didn’t have. And, yes, that concerns me.

Let me start by saying that this is not about being happy.  Happy is the most important, but it’s a bigger topic for a different day.  Today is about earning your way in life.  That’s one element of being happy, but it’s just that – one element. Let’s be clear, I’m not saying that our life is easy, but it is privileged. You kind of came along after much of the adversity was behind us. That concerns me, because I’ve come to believe that adversity is important.  It’s how we develop and grow.  It prepares us for the variance that is life. It doesn’t seem like it at the time, but the struggle is what makes us successful.  It’s what makes life good.

And our life is pretty good.   So I think it’s important that I offer you some advice. I’ve been waiting a while to say this — until you were old enough to understand.  Now is that time. So here it goes.

Have you noticed that we’re rich? Not rich rich, but rich enough that we have a nice house, nice cars and we generally we have a nice lifestyle.  We go to Hawaii, or somewhere nice, every year. Life is good. But here’s the thing. We’re not all rich. Put another way, your mom and I are rich, but you’re not.

Now, that’s not surprising, as you’re just 12 and 15, but it is important that you understand that you’re not rich. Sure, it seems like you’re rich, as you live in the same house as your mother and I do, ride in the same cars and vacation wherever we go. But that’s our lifestyle. You enjoy it because you’re living with us, but after you move out, after school, once you start working, you will most definitely realize that you’re not rich. So I’m offering this advice to give you a head start.

Sure, when the time comes you’ll get a job, or start a business, and you’ll have money for rent, food, an iphone and who knows what, but that’s not “inner city house paid for” money, not luxury car money, not Hawaii money.  If you want that — if you want that lifestyle — you need to achieve that on your own. You need to earn that.

That means more than getting good grades just because you can, choosing what’s easy over what challenges you and much more than believing that good, is good enough.

You need to work hard, really hard, at whatever you do. Sure, you get to play video games, watch TV and relax, but that should be the break from the hard. Good at math? Be great. Good at cooking “for your age” — be great for your age, be great period. Guitar, football, whatever you choose to invest your time in, go all out.  Be curious and don’t be put off. Speak up and care about whatever you’re doing.

Look, I don’t know what you’ll be passionate about when you’re older, and I’m sure you don’t yet either, so just be open to every opportunity and work to be great at whatever you do. Do that and one day you’ll wake up to discover that your dreams are coming true.

Then you’ll be rich. Probably not rich rich — but then again you never know.

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Since when has mocking led to greater understanding?

OK, as the vaccine debate turns increasingly ugly, I have a few thoughts about the importance of searching for the truth, rather than defending a “position”. These thoughts are based on my experience as both a political hack and as a litigator. In both those arenas there is more harm done by pursuing victory at any cost than any other phenomenon.

If you cut through all the pro and anti-vaccine rhetoric, it seems pretty clear that:

1) vaccines work (some better than others) and have saved hundreds of millions of lives;
2) the medical community says they are safe;
3) by “safe” they mean statistically safe, which is to say if 1 out of a million people die, then that is statistically safe as the rate of death is “statistically insignificant” (unless you’re 1 in a million, in which case it’s pretty significant);
4) society is safer as a whole if everyone gets vaccines; and
5) despite #4, people currently have the right of self-determination, which is to say that they can choose to refuse vaccines, both avoiding the risks they pose (usually small, although the risks appear to be higher in younger, older and physically compromised individuals) but also losing the benefit vaccines bestow of likely immunity from whatever that particular vaccine would have addressed.

The real shame is that the debate is so heated. Pro-vaccine commentators suggest that folks who don’t vaccinate are addle-brained, or worse. Anti-vaccine folks suggest that by calling vaccines safe the medical community is perpetrating a fraud on the public. The truth, as always, is somewhere less extreme.

The pro-vaccine lobby might well be more successful by acknowledging, instead of skirting, that while adverse reactions may be rare, and severe reactions even more rare, they are nonetheless real and do occur. Rare simply means they don’t happen that often statistically. That might give skeptics more confidence in the information they are receiving.

Similarly, the anti-vaccine folks could also benefit from being more open to the science in the area, or at least science not funded by pharmaceutical companies, and by examining more critically theories that question the overall effectiveness of vaccines. It might also help to keep in mind that most health care professionals simply accept the information they are given that vaccines are “safe”. That doesn’t make them part of a conspiracy.

I’m generally pro-vaccine, which is to say that I believe the benefits — both individually and collectively — outweigh the risks. But I’m troubled by two things.

First, the mocking/sarcasm/bullying and other forms of hostility being employed in the “debate”, is really counterproductive. I should say that these traits are most often displayed by the pro side, and then most often by folks who appear to have actually not looked into the issue at all. They support vaccines on faith, which is perhaps a poor intellectual position from which to mock folks with a different set of beliefs.

Second, I’m troubled that the public health/medical community choose messages designed to convince folks to vaccinate, without addressing concerns about the risks. I’m increasingly concerned that there are no good answers to the concerns about the dangers of adverse reactions, and more specifically, why adverse reactions aren’t studied more, why physicians don’t receive more training on recognizing and treating such reactions. I’m concerned because if there were good answers to those questions I would expect that we would have seen them by now.

If we, as a society, want better take up rates in what is still a voluntary preventative medical treatment, we need to stop ridiculing concerns and start addressing those concerns. People are generally smart and sensible. If they get objective information on the risks, most will still choose to vaccinate. But if the risks are much higher for vaccinating infants, or for combining multiple vaccines into one shot, don’t people deserve to know that? That is the very essence of informed consent.

At base, I think we’d all be better off trying to have a discussion that leads to greater understanding and truth, rather than trying to “prove” that whatever idea we currently hold is 100% accurate and that the only need is to convince others, rather than critically examine our own beliefs.

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Will we ever stop bullying?

Recent tragic events have made bullying into a topical news story, but that will fade and the problems associated with bullying will continue — unless we start to address the root cause.

I have been involved at the board level with the Impact Society for many years. There is no doubt in my mind that the programs Impact delivers in schools are the foundation upon which educators of the future will build their school curriculum and school cultures.   The heart of the challenges we see in our current education paradigm highlight where the solution lies. Impact finds itself in a situation where the demand for its programs, while growing year over year, has reached an inflection point. The organization is quite frankly in need of significantly more resources to satisfy this growing demand. It is extremely frustrating to be in this position of not being able to help all those that are requesting it today. While we envision a day when Impact will derive significant funding directly from the school boards, currently the main source of funding for the organization remains donations from individuals and corporations.

If you have a couple of minutes to consider these issues, I’d strongly urge you watch the short video found here: Morgan’s Choices.  A player loads, hit play and it runs about 2 minutes.  It explains the importance of what we do better than I ever could.   

You can also visit the website  www.impactsociety.com  to get acquainted with the great work the organization is doing. On the top of the home page is a “donate” button — you know what that’s for.

If you’re interested in getting involved or finding out more about presenting the HEROES program in schools, I would be happy to facilitate a meeting with the Impact team so you can further develop your relationship with Impact.

Thanks for your consideration.

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Hello world!

Welcome to my Blog.  If you’re interested in politics, football, life or standup comedy, you may find some of what I have to say of interest.

Today was a very sad day, for me and so many Canadians.  I attended Peter Lougheed’s Memorial Service at the Jubilee.  I thoroughly enjoyed the big band sound of the Jim Brenan Orchestra, the Gershwin on Jens Lindemann’s Flugal horn, Natalie Fagnan’s voice and the Afiara String Quartet.  Equally entertaining, and more poignant, were the moving tributes by Rex Murphy, Lee Richardson, Jim Dinning, Stephen Harper and, of course, Alison Redford.  Stephen Lougheed also spoke on behalf of the family, doing a marvelous job.   I couldn’t possibly list all the dignitaries in attendance to pay their respects, but the list includes Premiers’ Charest and Wall, Joe Clark, Michael Wilson (my former boss), I believe I saw Marc Lalond, Mayor Nenshi, what appeared to be the entire current  Provincial Cabinet and PC Caucus, opposition leaders, and so many friends and fellow travelers from campaigns and life in years gone by.

Peter Lougheed’s life was honoured and celebrated today by his family, his friends, his colleagues, his opponents and hundreds of people who had never even met him.  It was noted often, and with sincerity, that today each of us lives in Peter Lougheed’s Alberta.  The province was shaped by his ideas, his leadership and his years of service.  The Prime Minister, at least one former Prime Minister and 3 sitting Premiers, were there to honour Mr. Lougheed and to acknowledge his extraordinary leadership and accomplishments.

In some ways Rex Murphy summed it up best when he quipped that this Memorial was a real pleasure for him, as at most other memorials he had to lie.  But not today.

This evening I took my sons to their football practices, another of Peter Lougheed’s passions and abilities, and enjoyed watching them having a grand old time.  Life is very good in Alberta.  Thank you Premier Lougheed.

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