Working together, people can make the world better

Lana Payne
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"The Grinch hated Christmas! The whole Christmas season! Now, please don't ask why. No one knows the reason. … I think that the most likely reason of all may have been that his heart was two sizes two small."
"How The Grinch Stole
Christmas" by Dr. Seuss

And with that pronouncement, Theodor Geisel, better known to children and parents as Dr. Seuss, explained a lot about the ways of the world.
Of course, the children's classic ends with a message of hope as the Grinch realizes that Christmas doesn't come from a store, but from the heart.
It makes one wonder why the heart is not used more often in decision-making, not just at Christmas time. Instead, decisions are often made with our hearts tucked away, encased in steel armour, as if emotion has no place in the political or business boardrooms.
Does anyone understand how the mayor of St. John's could flatly reject a family's plea for a crosswalk in their neighbourhood after their six-year-old was killed in a tragic traffic accident?
"You can't let an emotional response just completely influence your decision-making. There are other factors that have to be taken into account," said Andy Wells.
The mayor says there is not enough traffic to warrant a crosswalk.
The real problem is deeper than that.
It is a culture of emotionless decision-making. It is why in Canada, a country of such wealth and privilege, we have people living on the streets - a tragedy of epic proportions, and yet it continues year in and year out.
I recently was in Toronto. It was cold. I could see my breath as I walked along the downtown streets. People huddled in doorways under blankets trying to stay warm as a Merecedes and its driver searched for a parking space three feet away.
The spirit of Christmas is not unlike the values we like to believe are the foundation of our nation, the threads that hold us together. Things like compassion, sharing, caring, community and peace.

Changing values
Yet these values are slipping. We pick and choose who gets our compassion, who deserves it, who we share with, who we care about, who is part of our community and who is entitled to peace.
My vision of our country is one where these values are part of everyday decision-making, but that vision is still very much a dream. Because the cold, hard facts are something different.
The rich and the powerful assuage their guilt or hone their public-relations image by choosing a charity for their considerable donations. They do this while lobbying for tax cuts - moneys that might make charities less dependent on corporate goodwill. Money that would make the country a more equal place because it would mean we share the wealth we create.
And then there are those who can't even muster emotion at this time of year. Just ask the workers at Toromont Cat in this province. With workers on strike since August, the employer's solution is to use scabs - not a very modern approach to problem-solving or labour relations.
Then there's the C.D. Howe Institute, which recently released another report full of meanness and venom. Situated in the "centre of the universe" - the same place where homeless people freeze to death in the winter - the institute claimed that the problem with Atlantic Canada and Newfoundland and Labrador, in particular, is our labour markets are too rigid.
What they really meant is that the federal government should get rid of the country's unemployment insurance system because it helps people, and if it weren't there they'd have no choice but to move, to abandon their communities and their life's work.
I guess the C.D. Howe Institute hasn't heard about the thousands of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians travelling west to work every week. It's hard to know that, though, when you're safe and warm in an ivory tower while homeless people seek shelter from the wind chill in a nearby doorway.
Of course, there are a number of problems with the C.D. Howe's simplistic approach, not the least of which is that it assumes people are little more than robots, with no families, no community ties, no community. It completely misses the point that seasonal industries are a fact of life in Canada. It fails to understand that some of us believe that living in a place where community still matters and where people take care of each other is a heck of a lot better than the alternative.
And just when you feel like there is too much of this rigid thinking and that hope is as distant as what my daughter calls the Christmas Star, an act of humanity changes everything.
In November, the kindergarten and Grade 1 teachers at my daughter's school started the penny project. They challenged the children to bring in their pennies, and the teachers would match their total. The money would be used to buy presents for the Happy Tree.

Valuable lesson
The children learned that pooling their pennies can make a difference - just as many of us know that pooling our resources can make a difference on a bigger scale.
They also learned that the world is not always a fair place, but they could, by working together, do something about that.
And sometimes when you think your heart can get no bigger because of the actions of a small child, you find that indeed it can.
My six-year-old and her classmates, as part of their school Christmas project, made wishes. And when I saw hers, posted outside her classroom, neatly printed with a beautiful picture of a little girl and a star, my heart grew, for she wrote: "If I could wish for something it would be peace in the world."
Me, too.
(Have a safe and happy Christmas with family and friends.)

Lana Payne is a former journalist who is active in the labour movement. Her column returns Jan. 6, 2008.?

Organizations: C.D. Howe Institute

Geographic location: Atlantic Canada, St. John's, Toronto Newfoundland and Labrador

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