Wheels down in Dublin, Ireland. A long time coming trip with a good friend found me in Europe. I had always wanted to go, but had never been. We’d been saying for at least 10 years that we needed to do the trip, planned and then didn’t follow through. Until finally I said,” fuck it, we could be dead tomorrow, let’s go!” Thankfully she’s the planner of us and planned and booked our entire trip! First stop… Temple Bar! If you’ve been, you know what I’m talking about. Personal space and fire relations are clearly not priorities for anyone! As she and I were still “coming down” and hadn’t yet gotten into vacation mode we still twitching, checking our phones, etc. As the drinks started piling up, I began to notice that we were the only ones using our phones. People were engaged in conversation. They were listening to the music, chatting. And here I am, half way around the world and texting people home while in a bar with my best friend. WTF? The next day, sitting in a park eating salad we had picked up from a fast food venue (yes, these exist!) watching people playing, conversing and relaxing, I again didn’t see anyone on their phones. And I thought, hmmm… at home we’re all engrossed in our phones… connected 24/7 to the world around us but we’re heavily disconnected from the people directly in front of us. Our addiction to our phones/social media/internet/screen time is helping us feel connected, but it doesn’t really feel right does it? We’re awkward in social situations. We’re not looking at people while we’re they’re talking to us. We don’t know how to have friendly conversations with strangers. We don’t really know how to connect without our phones, do we? In Ireland, I realized, we’re doing something wrong here in Canada. We’re connected with the world but we’re disconnected with the people we eat dinner with.
Wheels down – Amsterdam. I will admit I was a little nervous. With the red light district, prostitution, drugs and coffee shops, I really didn’t know what to expect. I never once felt unsafe in Amsterdam. In Amsterdam, we were called uptight. HA. Me? I’ve been called a lot of things in my life, but uptight was never one of them. At first I was offended until I realized, they’re right. We’re so obsessed with what’s “right”, putting people in their places, focused on judgement… we like people who colour inside the lines, we like people who do what they “should”, we like “rules” and we don’t like people who don’t behave within what society deems acceptable. And in the words of my good friend Jeff Candow, we live in a “sit down, shut up, be good, do what you’re told society”. In Amsterdam I was in awe. Yes, there are prostitutes. Yes, there are coffee shops. Yes, I ate a muffin from a vacuum sealed package in a coffee shop (hey, when in Rome errr Amsterdam), yes I went to a live sex show (don’t waste your money!) But I also relaxed in parks, ate on patio’s where musician’s stopped in the street and played for the sheer love of it. I checked out the canal’s, Anne Frank House. There is so much more to Amsterdam than the Red Light District. Since we get what we focus on in life, the Dutch have changed the focus of drugs and prostitution from an underground, drug and sex trade industry to legitimate business… they remove the stigma of casual drug use and are able to keep the money in the above ground economy, instead of the underground economy, able to then access that money for use in social programs, education, and such.I am not naive enough to think there’s not issue’s stemming from this legalization, but they seem to managing better than some countries (like us) who make everything a crime!
The bikes and the fitness level astounded me! I was truly in awe of everyone riding their bikes. One girl – in a slinky black dress in sky high heels on a date! Yes, they were riding bikes together. Can you imagine if a man asked you on a date and picked you up on his pedal bike here in Canada? Ummm… but when you look around, the overweight people you see are mostlytourist. Their society and culture includes bike lanes and places to store and keep your bikes throughout the day. Everyone has a bike. Here in St. John’s riding your bike is taking your life in your hands – drivers with road rage and a sense of entitlement to the roadways makes bike riding an adventure seekers thrill! And let’s not forget that the few bike lanes we have we want to remove because they’re affecting property values… we’re not concerned that our lack of activity is reducing our lifespan’s though!
I actually saw a woman put a newborn into a carrier that in Canada we would carry a doll around in and get on her bike and ride away, no helmet or strapped in. If you did that here, how fast do you think Social Services would be at your door? I’m not saying we shouldn’t have rules for safety… of course we should… but seriously, you’d be internet shamed until you had no choice but to move because you got fired from your job and you’d be like the Brittany Spears fiasco when she had her baby in her lap driving her car… everyone has an opinion. When we do anything society deems not ok, we come out with the pitchforks. We seem to have forgotten that not that long ago most of us were riding around in the pan of a pick up! In Amsterdam, I couldn’t help but wonder “When did we become so uptight? When did we become so overwhelming focused on forcing everyone in society to conform to one set of rules?” And I couldn’t help but think, we’re doing it wrong.
Wheels down, Berlin. I have to be completely honest. I knew very little of Germany and it wasn’t a place that was on my “must see” list. But my friend had found this photo on her research, texted me and said “can we go here” and I said “I don’t care” so we were enroute to Germany. I knew that they had produced one of the most sadistic people ever born. Other than that, I didn’t know much. Berlin was a stop over. It was beautiful – with the modern and historical buildings juxtaposed to each other showed the history but the new era of Germany. Their parliament building is made of glass with the government officials sitting on the ground floor so when they look up or out they see “the people” who they represent. A government and new era in Germany’s history where they will never repeat mistakes of the past… transparency and representing their people. Imagine what that would be like? In Canada, 39% of people don’t vote… many people feel hopeless when we talk about politics. We know we need reform but we don’t even know where to begin it’s so overwhelming. Many people feel there are more criminals in government than are in our prisons… that’s a despairing notion. A little transparency in our government wouldn’t go astray, would it? I couldn’t help but feel that we’re doing it wrong… our governments don’t represent the people, instead it often feels like we’re being lied to, told what to do, what to believe and the mandate certainly doesn’t seem to reflect what Canadians truly want. I always exercise my right to vote but often have no real concept of who to vote for, because doesn’t it really seem like it doesn’t really matter what party gets in? They’re not listening to the people and so the people stopped listening or caring. That’s not a country that is unified, that’s a country that is divided and feels hopeless to the change we know we need.
Wheels down in Salzberg with a short ride back over the German border to a small town in the mountains called “Berschtesgaden”. As we drove there with the snow covered peaks looming in front of us I was flabbergasted and had the unusually peaceful feeling that I was “coming home”. The adventure started immediately with a gruelling hike in the woods… when we reached the top we found 2 things – a church and a bar. I gave thanks and prayed that I survived that hike and then I sat down and had a beer in the most beautiful place I had ever seen.
The air was crisp and clean, snow peaked mountains nestling us in with panoramic views. It was breath taking. Over the course of the week, we hiked through the alps, drank beer in the mountain huts. On a number of hikes we encountered cows… WITH BELLS! Seriously, they were free roaming and free range animals. They literally came up to us while we were having a beer on a deck in one of the mountain huts. We had to walk around them as they lay in the paths. There were no factory farms to be seen. They were taken in for milking. They were allowed to keep their babies and they were slaughtered when they needed to be. Everything we ate that week came from the local economy from the breads, milks, cheeses, butter, meats, fish and even the alcohol was made locally. It was there I had the notion that “we’re doing it wrong”. We’re fed a pile of bullshit by corporations who profit substantially from the food industry. The picture on the milk carton of a happy cow in front of a red barn with fields of pastures behind him and caring farmer no longer (or are extremely rare) here in Canada or the US now. They have been replaced by factory farms which cruelly keep and slaughter animals for profit. They are routinely seen abusing and neglecting animals… punching, kicking, hitting and let’s not even talk about veal or the milk industry! And let’s consider that factory farming contributes to 2/3 of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. We’re not talking about that are we? Factory farming is a double blow to our world… it’s green house gas emissions are killing the planet and we’re terrorizing animals for what? Profit.
This is free range
Seeing what I saw in the alps made me realize we can live differently. It doesn’t have to be this way. We can choose something different. Each of us, every single day can choose to support local farms. We can support free range, organic farmers who care for their animals. We can support locally grown farms for vegetables and rely less on factory farmed foods, including vegetables. We can have a fully sustainable economy. I felt like I had stepped back in time with all of the modern amenities and technology we have today. I saw a respect for animals I haven’t seen on this side of the world. Dogs were allowed everywhere. Livestock were treated much much better than here. There is a respect for the environment and animals that we don’t have here. In fact this summer in St. John’s, 100 tons of garbage was removed from the outer ring road, a small highway by any standards. That’s not a respect for the environment. That’s a complete and utter disrespect for the world we live in.
So what can you do?
We get overwhelmed when we think of all of it and how we can change it? Commit to eating only organic, free range food. No it’s not convenient, but it feels better. Buy locally farmed foods as much as possible. Not only is better for the environment but it’s also better for your health! Maybe a meatless monday or a few days a week to reduce your carbon footprint. Imagine if we all did that? Individually it doesn’t seem like much, but collectively it moves forward the collective consciousness of creating a better world. And truthfully, we can’t always think of the bigger picture, sometimes we have to think of just what our little tiny impact can mean. What can I do today that can change who I’m being in the world. Be the change.
In summary, when we become more conscious – putting our phones down and disconnecting in order to connect with those around us and the world around us we can begin to see some of the issues that face our world. Often we want that distraction so that we don’t have to think or see all of that stuff that’s not so fun or nice to deal with. But if we want to create change, then we have to connect to the world around us and think sometimes of the suffering we don’t always see. And we can form bigger and better connections within our social circles, families, friends, communities.
Heaven On Earth Does Exist- I’ve been there
We can work with politicians to advance an agenda of creating change. We can show up to vote because it does matter. We can not tolerate the bullshit our governments deliver us. We can stop conforming. We can also lay down our pitch forks and remember that we’re all human. Sometimes we make mistakes or have poor judgment and does that really mean the entire hatred of the internet should come down on our heads? We can accept people who colour outside the lines and not force conformity by our own judgements of other people.
I leave you with, what can YOU do today that can make a difference in the smallest of ways? It’s not about changing the world, it’s about changing ourselves. When we each take responsibility for our own part in this whole fucked up system and we decide we want something different, then we can create change on local, provincial and federal and then global level… but it starts at home. Clear the cobwebs, shake the skeletons out of our own closets before we so adeptly criticize others.
There is a lot we do well on this side of the world, but we can do better. And that comes from not avoiding the issues but taking action to make even the smallest changes in our lives which will then have a trickle out effect into the world, creating the change we so desperately need!