Monday, 29 September 2014

Gender Equality and #HeForShe

Gender equality and feminism gets very complicated very quickly and many people (myself included) are afraid to speak up or discuss this issue because we are concerned that we may get something wrong or offend someone.  We don't take the time to become truly informed about how others are treated based on their gender so instead we choose to be silent.  I am ashamed at times that I do not speak louder and I have only just begun to understand the privalege that I have to be a white, cis, male, married, have two kids and live in a typical sub-division home.  I have never before understood (nor do I claim that I fully understand now) the impact of my privilege or how life might be different if those characteristics of myself did not exist.  I am inspired to write this post because of Emma Watson's #HeForShe speech at the UN.

For those of you who are new to the idea of privilege I would encourage you to go and take a look at this blog post by Jeremy Dowsett, What my bike has taught me about white privilege. Dowsett discusses racial inequality and one way to understand it. I would encourage you to read the article and his follow up post. Inequality of any group for whatever the reason results in a breakdown of society and a lack of progress in our world.  Ms. Watson graciously lays out the major inequality between men and women and that inequality needs to be addressed. She advocates for the need to stop seeing equality as a He vs. She debate. Both men and women can be confined by their gender and this is where the conversation needs to be.  For more on this project I would encourage you to visit  I visited the site and I made a commitment to gender equality. When I visited the page and made my commitment I was number 78 668.

As of October 29, 2014 this number has climbed to 160 342.  I am encouraged by this and I am challenged.  I continue to learn everyday that I need to unlearn patterns of behaviour that I have unconsciously adopted.
My most recent challenge is to stop complimenting people, women specifically, solely on their appearance.  I always believed that I was doing a good thing by complimenting people on looks and appearance but these things can easily slide into an offensive category if you have not already developed a relationship with them. The typical male backlash on this idea is why is it wrong to tell someone they look good.  My response is that it isn't wrong in its own right but if that is the only positive thing that you notice about someone then you are fully missing the point. We are all extremely complex individuals and our outward appearance is only one small part of what makes us who we are. People want to feel loved and they want to know that those they care about find them attractive.  Your goal is to make people feel valued.  I know that I feel valued when someone notice the work that I have accomplished or the support I have provided, I feel valued when I am asked for my opinion.  How do you feel valued? How can you make others feel valued? For those that are close to you, you would hope they notice that you made a slight change to your appearance but to everyone else this is not a relevant point.  This is the time where I remind you that I do not understand what it is like to be a women in today's culture with such high emphasis placed on a physical appearance.  All I know is that I need to concentrate on placing more focus on the person and their skills and abilities and less on their physical dimensions.

To expand the point of equality, we all have to fight for equality between all groups of people.  If you do not fight for equality when you are in a position of privilege or power when that position becomes compromised no one will be fighting for you.  If history has taught us anything we know that your position in society or the influence that your particular demographic holds is in no way going to stand forever.  Beyond this equality is the right thing to do. Fight for religious, gender, and racial equality now, identify your privilege, learn from it and support and fight for others with it.  Fight for your mothers, daughters, sisters, neighbours and strangers.  Equality.

Ms. Watson has stood up for something and she has been criticised, shamed and even threatened for it.  I know that I will never received the same type of criticisms which is why I need to stand up and state the system we have now is massively broken.  Not only do we have to stand and say enough, but we have to call out that guy who makes the ignorant remarks.  Make a point that this is not how we develop a equal and fair society. This is my challenge and this is my commitment. I stand for equality, what do you stand for?

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Waterloo are you up for a challenge?

Waste management is something that I have been thinking a lot about recently.  Our famiy just finished up a self-imposed challenge to produce 1 bag of garbage for an entire year.  We recycled, used our green bin and modified our buying habits resulting in a successful completion of what we challenged ourselves to do.  If you are interested in more about our 12 month challenge you can read One Family, One Bag, One Year.  We had meant to blog a bit more but life got in the way.  The challenge itself was rather natural for us and we were able to complete it without  as much stress as we originally thought.  The stress came in when everyone wanted a piece of this story. We all know the phrase "Haters gonna Hate" but the impact is significant when they are "hating" on you.

We were not prepared for the status our story would achieve nor were we prepared for negative comments that began popping up on online articles about us.  So we backed away from the attention the we received not wanting to do any more interviews. That being said we are still very proud of what we were able to do.

That was a significant tangent introduction but the inspiration for this post is the University of Western Ontario.  My wife and I recently took a trip to London and we saw amazing waste diversion and recycling opportunities in what appeared to be regular waste receptacles. To top it all off we also saw a simple garden composter in the garden in front of the Student Services building.   We saw all of these things being on campus for only a few minutes so I can only assume they are all over the UWO campus.

I am an alumni of the University of Waterloo and I have been a staff member for a long time and I am tremendously proud of Waterloo and the innovation that is sparked all around the region.  However, I think that UWO has us beat in waste diversion opportunities and I am thinking we need to step it up.  I am reminded of an old memo that is hanging on a bulletin board in our work area that talks about Waterloo's Fine Paper Recycling System and how the university has been selling paper recycling for many years instead of paying for it to be sent to a land fill.  I wonder what kind of other opportunities we could find if we followed Western's example.

I am encouraged by many businesses who have started using new garbage bins that encourage people to sort out waste to improve our waste diversion throughout our region. Now the next trick is to get people to read and follow the directions.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

My Happiness Project - My Happy App

My Happy Project: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 |

My three gratitudes for today:
1. The health care system that I have access to that I freely use for me and my family
2. Friends / co-workers who break into my office to ensure proper decoration for a variety of occasions
3. Trust and respect from co-workers and managers

Today I would like to share a small project of my own.  Being inspired by Plasticity and Shawn Achor I developed a simple messaging application for my fellow co-workers.  The application plugs into a pre-existing intranet that we already use.  The reason I would like to share this project is because it is a direct result of looking for the positive in every day life.  It is realizing that The Golden Gate Bridge Didn't Collapse and looking for more positivity in the videos you watch, the books you read, or the people you are with.  The constant pursuit of this does change the way you think, it makes you more positive.  During a recent employee review meeting with my supervisor I was struck by how much I wanted to try and implement these ideas in my own work place.  I don't mean to say that my work place is a negative environment, but every place could use a bit more positive.

I woke up one morning with Achor's 5th point in rewiring your brain, "Random Acts of Kindness - write one positive email praising or thanking someone daily". I thought to myself why don't I just do that.  I realized that the social norms don't really allow you to compliment someone sincerely out of the blue it just feels awkward.  In addition, compliments from your supervisor or a friend while welcomed sometimes feel like a compliment from your Mom.  You enjoy it but you evaluate the source.  My idea was a method  of sending messages to fellow co-workers anonymously.  This would avoid the awkwardness of the initial note and well as the inevitable return compliment from the recipient.  The recipient would not automatically message you back with the best thing they could think of at the time but would send another individual a more genuine message because they would be unaware of the original sender.  I am hoping that this will cascade and spread positivity throughout the workplace versus a single closed loop of I message you and you message me and we are now even.

All of these thoughts were happening in that quiet time between me getting up and preparing lunches for the day and the children crashing down the stairs looking for breakfast.  My last thought before this inevitable moment was, "How can I make this safe?"  With any anonymous messaging service you always have to be concerned about the very tiny chance that someone takes the opportunity to take that anonymous jab at someone which would complete defeate the concept of the application.  My solution to this was to record both senders and receivers on any message and store the message in the database but to not display the senders anytime the message is viewed.  This would allow me to investigate any rare situation where a message raises a problem.  In order for this to be accepted there would need to be some trust in me as a gatekeeper to this information.  I have never been as excited to get to work as I was that day to code out this application.

I just "launched" this messenger application today with a presentation at a staff meeting.  My beta tests of the application were received very well and management was very happy with the potential.  I look forward to how the rest of the staff receive and buy into this compliment system.

I would also like to share this Google Talk by Shawn Achor (~60min).  This talk is an informal discussion where Shawn discusses more of his understanding of happiness and gratitude.  It is worth watching if you have the time.

Thanks for reading.

My Happy Project: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 |

Friday, 14 March 2014

My Happy Project - The Business of Happiness

My Happy Project: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 |

The 3 things that I am grateful for today:
  1. The sun and the warmth that spring bring (it has been a long winter)
  2. The freedom at work to explore new ideas
Maybe that last one was a bit over emphasized but I finally entered the new age and splurged to buy a Blackberry and I am pretty excited about it.

The story that I want to share today is the story of Jim and Jen Moss, I have been captivated by this story since the first time that I heard it.  This is a talk that Jen Moss did at the TEDxDistilleryDistrictWomen titled, "The epidemic of smiles and the science of gratitude"

Jen shares the wonderful story of her life and she says that 50% of happiness and optimism are from personality and genetics leaving 50% of those qualities that can be learned.  We can learn to be happy but we have to consciously choose this path.  The question for us is, how do we take the pause to look for the happy thought in the times when we are in a very negative situation.

Jim and Jen made it through this situation and started The Smile Epidemic which then transformed into a start up company Plasticity.  This company has developed a software platform to promote and encourage happiness at work.  Companies work with Plasticity to improve their bottom line by improving employee happiness.  This message resonates strongly with me as I have stated earlier. As an employer it may not be your responsibility to make your employees happy but your business will benefit significantly if you have happy employees.  Shawn Achor talked about rewiring your brain to achieve the Happiness Advantage. Plasticity shows us this is not only good for your mood and own productivity it is key to achieving business success.

Over the last number of weeks I have been trying to focus on the positive and the result is that I find it.  I encourage you to look and tell me what you find.

Here are a few more videos about Jim and Jen and Plasticity if you are interested in further understanding the business of happiness.

My Happy Project: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 |

Monday, 3 March 2014

My Happy Project - World is getting better but we still have work to do

My Happy Project: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 |

Continuing with the ideas of gratitude I here are the 3 things that I am grateful for today:
  1. My office window allowing me to feel the warmth of the sunshine
  2. A reliable car that will get me to where I need to go
  3. The internet allowing me to access information on any topic

Today's video is not directly about happiness but it continues along the same ideas that Hank Green discussed in my previous post.

I have a special place in my heart and mind for Bill Nye as my high school science teach used to play Bill Nye videos quite often in class.  The class would have to shout along with the intro, "BILL BILL BILL BILL, Bill Nye the science guy!"  This is Bill Nye many years later still passionate about science.  This video is titled, "Bill Nye, Science Guy, Dispels Poverty Myths"

Bill explains that the following about child deaths 5 years and under
  • 6% injuries
  • 11% non-communicable diseases (i.e. cancer)
  • 83% communicable / preventable diseases
Bill further explains very quickly that foreign aid has helped reduce child mortality by half. "We have a real opportunity to leave the world better than we found it."

I am uplifted by this very quick video because it shows that we can change the world and we already have made significant improvements to child mortality.  I wonder what else has been accomplished by humanity that we don't even realize. Changing your energy to realize what we have accomplished will motivate us to work harder to try and tackle the next big challenges.

My Happy Project: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 |

Monday, 17 February 2014

My Happy Project - The world isn't as bad as we think

My Happy Project: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 |

For those who know me, they know that I am just a regular guy.  I have no special training or qualifications and this blog is just where I throw out my thoughts that might be of interest to you.  My my previous post I shared a TED talk by Shawn Achor talking about the happiness advantage.  I would like to start off this post by sharing 3 things that I am grateful for today as Shawn suggested.
  1. My wife for the love and support that she constantly provides to me.
  2. My children for teaching me more about life every day.
  3. My parents who I learn to appreciate more every day as I try to be a parent.
In the past week I have been trying to focus on the positive and look for the good with the purpose to realize how much good there is around us.  Today, I want share this VlogBrothers video from YouTube entitled "The Golden Gate Bridge Didn't Collapse!!" In this video Hank Green, in his style of humour, talks about our human perception of events.

Hank Green discusses his opinion why we feel the world is such a bad place and often we believe it is getting worse.  I completely agree with him on these points.  So many amazing things happen daily but as we learned from Shawn Achor, once we do something successfully we just up the conditions for success.  There are so many things that are amazing in life to train ourselves to think positively we need to narrow our view a little bit.  Hank's example of taking the 1000 people that are nearest to us we would experience 1 murder per lifetime.  However, with international news coverage we hear about many more murders across the globe causing us to over estimate chances of those negative events affecting our lives.  Hank states that our brains tend to weigh negative things two times more significant than positive things.  Since the negative makes more of an impact and since media companies like to make an impact, they look as far out as they need to to find the most sensational story.  You mix those two things together and we can understand that we are exposed to more negative news and we weight it more heavily. 

We have to celebrate the good stuff that happens to us and become more aware of the general positive that surrounds us.  The challenge is when I walk out the door tomorrow I should be happy that the snow plough cleared my street and not focus on the fact that it dumped tremendous amounts of snow at the end of my drive way.   I should celebrate the time spend at a red light as a nothing short of a miracle, that others will wait at the red light when I have my green.  The practical applications of these lessons in happiness are the most important to how we move forward.

So do you think the world is getting better or worse?  Do we even have the ability to have an impact to make the world better or are we all destined for failure and destruction?  I would like to believe that we live in a great place and we have great power and responsibility to make the world better.

My Happy Project: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 |

Sunday, 9 February 2014

My Happy Project - Positive Brains

My Happy Project: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 |

The last few days I have been suffering from a significant lower back pain.  The result is me lying down more then I would like to be.  It is difficult lying down flat on your back because you really can't do much very easily, so I have been thinking (usually gets me into trouble).  I have been getting very interested in the idea of happiness and how your outlook on life impacts every aspect of your life.

I am sure that all of us can agree that being happy is probably a good thing.  Today, some employers are also realizing that happy employees are a good thing for the company.  There seems to be so much discussion about this I have a hard time understanding stories I hear from friends and family about overbearing work places that restrict an employees freedom to the point of suffocation.

I prefer to focus on the people who continue to promote happy in a real and meaningful way.  I often come across good resources that discuss this and I find my self empowered by them to make change in my own life.  So all this lying around resulted in a plan to create a small mini-series on my blog devoted to sharing happy resources.  I hope that you will continue the discussion in the comments on how applicable some of these things are to you.

There are many happiness project type blogs, books and 10 step formulas to happiness.  I often find things suspect that someone has discovered the secret to happiness that you can also learn for a low price.  I feel that if I had discovered a way to happiness, I doubt that I could contain it or wait for you to pay me for it.

I welcome you on this journey of discovering happiness resources.

Today I would like start by sharing Shawn Achor's TED talk "The Happiness Advantage: Linking Positive Brains to Performance".

This talk is a humorous approach to the discussion about happiness.  Shawn talks about the reality that we are exposed through social interactions and mass media a disproportionate amount of negative events.  We then tend to believe that this is the normal way of thinking.  We have to intentionally train ourselves to focus more on the positive aspects of life to rewire our brains.  The result of this has the potential to dramatically change the way we experience day to day living.

To accomplish this re-wiring Shawn suggests the following:
  1. 3 Gratitudes - record 3 things that you are grateful for daily
  2. Journaling - writing positive experiences down allows you to relive it
  3. Exercise - teaches your brain that behaviour matters
  4. Meditation - allows your brain to focus on a single thing instead of multiple tasks at once
  5. Random Acts of Kindness - write one positive email praising or thanking someone daily
The result is training our brain to focus on the positive and allows us to change what success is.

I have watched this talk several times and I love the message of intentionally focusing on the positive and going out to find news stories about the positive aspects of life.  Happy is not an accident stumbled upon by someone else, it is something that we need to do.  By doing this for ourselves and performing acts of kindness we will be paying it forward. Consider yourself a happiness ambassador and share your experiences with your friends.

We can choose to do nothing and hope that happiness and success stops by or we can go out and grab them and make them our own.  Tell me what you think.

My Happy Project: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 |