On being ... admirable

By Ingrid Sapona

Finding a title for today’s column was hard – not because I couldn’t think of one, but because there were too many to choose from. I’ll give you a few examples of those I vetoed in a minute, but before I do, let me explain what’s been weighing on my mind.

What’s set my mind awhirl this week is Trump’s – and his advisor’s – comments about my Prime Minister (Justin, as Trump likes to refer to him) in the aftermath of the G7 meeting. I know the story got some play in the U.S., but I also know it was swiftly overshadowed by Nobel Prize (self-)Nominee Trump’s meeting with Kim Jong Un.

As you might imagine, north of the border we took note of Trump’s post G7 tweet that Trudeau is “dishonest and weak”, not to mention the comments his staff made on the Sunday political talk shows. The best that can be said about Peter Navarro’s comments that Trudeau’s behaviour was “amateurish”, “rogue”, and “sophomoric” is that Navarro clearly has a bigger vocabulary than Trump.

But, Navarro’s comment about a special place in hell seemed truly over the top to us. (Actually, always a sucker for a pun, I smiled when I read one commentator’s reference to Navarro’s special place in hell comment as “especially incendiary”.) And yes, Navarro’s subsequent admission that the language he used was “inappropriate”, made the news here too. I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that by our standards, that didn’t cut it as an apology. But never mind…

And yes, we also heard Larry Kudlow’s comment about Trump not wanting to appear weak to Kim. Though I’ll get to why we found that explanation odd – it did help us understand that Trump’s comments were not really for our benefit. Instead, they were apparently meant to paint a picture for Kim, who was next up in Trump’s speed dating overseas adventure. But, we can’t quite understand why Kudlow and Co. don’t understand that Kim could, in fact, see the President’s bullying of his closest allies as reason to not believe anything he hears from Trump at the negotiating table. But never mind…

Anyway – with this background, I offer up some of the other titles I considered for today’s column, along with the reason I decided against each.

On being … baffling – too obvious.
On being … insulted – too obvious.
On being … an unprecedented attack – too obvious.
On being … an abrupt shift – too obvious.
On being … bizarre – well, this is true of pretty much everything Trump says and does.

As it happens, these are all descriptions reporters and commentators here used to describe Trump’s sudden decision to end the budding bromance he and Justin had going.

While all these terms certainly reflect the astonishment we feel, they don’t really capture the genuine concern we feel with Trump at the helm of the neighbor we’ve shared the longest undefended border with. Bluster and antics aside, how would you interpret the President’s statement that Trudeau’s comment after the G7 meeting is going to cost the people of Canada a lot of money. The common interpretation of that was that Trump is intent on punishing the people of Canada. That kind of confirms our view that the national security justification for imposing tariffs on Canadian steel and aluminum is a ruse.

Regardless of the intended audience for the insults and exaggerations, given what’s at stake – in terms of both trade and having an on-going working relationship between the two countries – clearly you’d expect the Canadian government to react. And it’s precisely the calm, dignified reaction of Trudeau and his cabinet that has caused me to write today’s column.

I thought it was brilliant that Trudeau, rather than dignify Trump’s bullying and personal attack, had Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland respond. And I loved that her comment was that “Canada does notbelieve that ad hominem attacks are a particularly appropriate or useful way toconduct our relations with other countries.” A couple days later Freeland, who has been Canada’s main representative in the NAFTA renegotiations, also reminded people that, “From day one, we have saidthat we expected moments of drama and that we would … keep calm and carry onthroughout those moments of drama.

And it wasn’t just Trudeau’s governing party that took the high road. Andrew Scheer, leader of the opposition party, was similarly professional. Scheer said, “Divisive rhetoric and personal attacks from theU.S. administration are clearly unhelpful.

I find it most admirable that our Prime Minister is able to eloquently articulate our values (that Canadians are polite and reasonable but that we will also not be pushed around) AND that our representatives live those values.

©2018 Ingrid Sapona


On being ... a wonder

By Ingrid Sapona

For twenty years, I’ve made a living as a plain language communications specialist. My goal is to make information as clear and understandable as possible to all audiences. As a result, I spend a lot of time thinking about ways that people might misunderstand what’s written. Clients are often surprised at how straightforward word choice can create ambiguity. (A simple example I always give people is the word sheet. Not a particularly technical word, and yet, it can mean very different things. If you’re talking about sailing, a sheet is a rope. But what if you’re making a bed? Or what if you’re using a printer? Or what if you’re replacing a window? In each of those situations, sheet has a different meaning.)

Obviously, underpinning my work is a belief that with effort, you can make information understandable. Then, along came the news story recently about the internet meme[1] that got lots of buzz: the recorded pronunciation that some people heard as “yanni” and some heard as “laurel”.

I first heard about it in a morning news story on t.v. As part of that story, they repeatedly played the audio clip and I unequivocally heard “yanni”, “yanni”, “yanni”, though the word “laurel” was up on the screen. Given the mismatch between what I heard and what I saw, I was confused. I figured I must have only caught the tail end of the story.

The next time I heard it I was standing next to someone who was also hearing the audio clip. This time I heard “laurel”. I couldn’t believe it was the same clip. But, the person standing next to me said they heard “yanni”. While part of me found the whole thing unbelievable – given that I had heard it as “yanni” at one point and “laurel” at another point, I couldn’t deny that you could hear the same word very differently. Various on-line polls of what people heard show that the split was pretty much dead even (50/50).[2]

Shortly after the meme went viral, explanations about it came out. The difference apparently has to do with the frequencies we hear.[3] As for how I could have heard yanni one time and laurel another, it has to do with distortions in the frequency that could happen as a result of the audio clip being recorded and/or played via different devices. While I found the explanations interesting and believable, the fact that a word can be heard – and therefore interpreted – so differently is quite disconcerting to a “communications specialist”. Does the yanni/laurel discrepancy mean that no matter how much effort and care you put into making things clear, there is, at best, a 50/50 chance people will understand what you intend them to? Who knows…

A few days after the yanni/laurel story faded, I was out with my mother. Even with her hearing aids, her hearing isn’t terrific and she often complains that I speak too fast. As we were getting ready to leave someone’s office, she asked which direction to head. I told her to turn right. She headed out a bit ahead of me and when she got into the hall, she promptly turned left. When I caught up to her, as I pointed in the other direction, I reiterated that we need to head off to the right.

As she turned around, she adamantly said, “You said turn left”. I’m quite sure I had said, “go right” but, as I was about to object (ok, argue), I thought of the yanni/laurel phenomenon. Maybe she heard left, even though I said right. Who knows…

As you can see, the whole yanni/laurel thing has really given me pause. On the one hand, I’m going to try to keep it in mind as an explanation for when friends and family seem to have not “heard” what I said. On the other hand, it sure makes it seem that it’s a wonder that human beings are able to communicate with each other at all…

© 2018 Ingrid Sapona

[1] For those of you who may be unfamiliar with the term “meme” (as I was until pretty recently), here’s one of the ways Merriam-Webster.com defines it:  an amusing or interesting item (such as a captioned picture or video) or genre of items that is spread widely online especially through social media
[2] The Atlantic reported that one poll on Instagram showed 51% heard yanni and another Instagram poll showed 53% heard laurel, https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2018/05/dont-rest-on-your-laurels/560483/
[3] Here’s a video that provides the best explanation I’ve found: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3km896XZ-J0


On being … open

By Ingrid Sapona

A nearby theatre company does “Secret Theatre” events. The other day they sent out an email announcing the tickets for the first Secret Theatre of the year. To get tickets you phone the box office. I’ve tried in the past, but by the time I got through, the tickets were gone.

The other day I was successful and I nabbed a pair. A day or so later, I got an email from the box office with a bit more information. Basically, they told us where we’d meet, that it was rain or shine, and that it would last about 45 minutes. That was it – no other details.

After ordering the tickets, I phoned a friend to see if she’d like to join me. I told her the little I knew about it, but that it sounded fun. She agreed and so we had a date. Since it was my idea, I offered to drive and said I’d figure out where we might have dinner before the play.

In choosing the restaurant, I wanted to find a place I thought my friend might like. I did my homework – checking out their menus on-line to see both what they offered and the price range.  Because the place I chose didn’t take reservations, just in case we couldn’t get in to my top choice, I had a fallback picked out too,

Driving to the event, we talked about what to expect. Since I knew nothing more than what I had told her earlier, my only comment was that I figured it’d be like a Fringe Festival play, but with higher quality acting.

After dinner, we headed to the Surprise Theatre designated meeting place. At the appointed time, they led us (a crowd of about 60) on a brief walk to where the performance would be. The gentleman who welcomed us told us that during the production we’d have four short walks that the cast would lead us on. He also casually mentioned that he was especially pleased that they managed to stage this particular play on this particular weekend. From that, I think we all guessed the play was going to have a Mother’s Day theme.

Then, without further ado, the play began, right where we were standing. Out marched five actresses all dressed in black, with one of them sporting a distinct baby bump. The first “scene”, if I can call it that, was a monologue by the pregnant-looking one about what the baby feels like inside her. As she went on, I was overcome with contrasting emotions. On the one hand, the speech was very powerful and interesting; on the other hand, I worried about how my friend might take it. Neither of us has kids, so it’s not like we could personally relate to what the actress was saying.

I was very concerned with whether it was making my friend uncomfortable. I kept thinking, “Oh please, don’t let this end in a screaming birth scene”. It didn’t. The monologue gently described a few contractions and then crescendoed with the actress fondling an imaginary baby.

They asked us not to tell people too much about the play itself, as they might replay it at a future Secret Theatre. So, I won’t describe it more than to say it focused on the trials and tribulations of being a mother.

Since seeing it, I’ve been unable to get the play out of my head. It was a rare combination of sweet, yet poignant. It was well written and cleverly staged. I’ve also been thinking about how long it’s been since I saw or read something that surprised and delighted me. For sure, part of the reason I enjoyed it so much had to do with the quality of the writing and acting. But it wasn’t just that. It also had to do with the fact that I went in with virtually no expectations and I was open to the experience.

If you think about it, it’s pretty rare that we go into a show or even a restaurant without knowing something about it. With movies, we see trailers and read reviews. With restaurants, we can look at their menus on-line and read diners’ comments. With plays, we usually at least know who the playwright is, if not something about the play itself. Heck, even in Fringe Festival productions there’s a line or two description (often quite misleading, mind you) meant to entice people to attend. What I think we fail to think about is the down side of having all this information: that it often builds expectations – some reasonable, some unrealistic.

The Secret Theatre outing has reminded me of the unexpected joy that can come by experiencing something with an open mind, free of expectation and pre-conceived ideas. What about you? Do you find yourself truly open to things? I hope so. If not, maybe you should give it a try… 

©2018 Ingrid Sapona


On being … unrushed

By Ingrid Sapona

One day last week, as I was driving home I had on an AM news station to get the traffic report. After hearing it, I continued listening, curious for an update about Kate Middleton’s delivery. Instead of hearing about the royals, the news was about a rental van that had jumped the curb and struck pedestrians in a neighborhood at the north end of Toronto.

Though I didn’t know it at the time, I was hearing some of the first news reports. The details were sketchy. For example, they didn’t mention any casualties. But, a few things made it clear that it wasn’t a normal accident. For starters, though they continued to provide frequent traffic and weather reports, they didn’t talk about other news at all. The fact that the subway up at that end of town was not running, nor were buses, also seemed odd to me.

Later, as I made dinner, I turned on an FM station. During their brief news update I heard there were 9 dead (at that time) and about 15 injured. I think they also mentioned the van driver was in custody, but they gave no details about him. They played a few interviews of witnesses and from those accounts, it was clear it wasn’t an accident.

That evening, a few friends and relatives from the States contacted me to see if I was ok. After I reassured them I was fine, they asked what the police were saying about who did it and why. I told them the details were still sketchy and that the police aren’t as quick to release details as they are in the US.

Indeed, I was surprised to see the story on the US network news that evening. The US news noted that the police hadn’t released the driver’s name, but they said the driver “was known to police”. None of the Canadian reports I heard mentioned that tidbit, and I wondered why not. Nor was there any speculation about terrorism or motive. Instead, the mainstream Canadian media simply reported the facts as they became known. As it turns out, the reason the “known to police” comment was never mentioned by the Canadian press is because it was simply not true.

By the next morning, some information about the driver (his name and age, for example) had been released by police. From that, reporters began uncovering additional details about him – where he went to school, where he had worked, and so on. Also by the next day, speculation about motive was emerging.

But, details about the non-violent arrest of the driver by Toronto police constable Ken Lam also got a lot of coverage. Const. Lam’s behaviour in the course of the arrest was remarkable. Apparently, Lam was on traffic duty when the call came in. He headed to the scene alone in an unmarked police car, siren whaling. He got out of the car and approached the driver, who was out of the van and who looked to be holding a gun.

Lam walked toward the driver, yelling at him to get down. When Lam realized the cruiser’s siren was still going, he went back to the car and turned it off. As soon as it was off, Lam headed back toward the driver, yelling for him to get down. The driver said he had a gun in his pocket, but Lam yelled back, “I don’t care!” Lam continued to yell for the driver to get down. As Lam got closer, the driver yelled “shoot me in the head”. Lam continued calmly toward him, ultimately wrestling him to the ground and handcuffing him.

Like all Torontonians, I was impressed by Const. Lam’s unparalleled bravery and skill. As one commentator noted, every action Lam took – from taking time to turn off the siren to engaging the driver in conversation – was deliberately intended to try to calm the situation. The whole confrontation between Lam and the driver took only about 37 seconds, which in the scheme of an hour, let alone a lifetime, seems like nothing at all. And yet, Lam’s 37 seconds of level-headedness meant he had time to implement the specific steps Toronto police are trained in to diffuse dangerous confrontations.

At the risk of sounding Pollyannaish, I’m very proud of the Toronto police, media, and general citizenry’s reaction in the face of this unspeakable tragedy. As everyone was struggling to make sense of something so senseless, there was no fearmongering or rushing to conclusions. Instead, there’s been lots of talk about how the multicultural nature of our society has helps unite – rather than divide – us, especially at a time like this.

In the aftermath of such events, there’s always talk about lessons learned and consideration of how the impact of such acts might be physically prevented or reduced. (Things like erecting barriers along the sidewalk, or making rental car companies do background checks have been mentioned, for example.) At times like this, I think it’s also useful to focus on the benefits gained by the police, media, and citizens’ willingness to not rush to action or judgement.  

©2018 Ingrid Sapona


On being ... appreciated

By Ingrid Sapona

The last of my father’s siblings died a couple weeks ago. Though the service for my uncle Orestis was in South Carolina, assuming I could get there in time for it, there was no question in my mind that I’d attend.

All my life, whenever I told anyone about him, I always referred to him as my favourite uncle. When anyone asked why he was my favourite, the only thing I could tell them was a story from the first time we met. To be honest, I don’t have a personal recollection of this happening, but given what I’ve always felt about him, it certainly feels true.

So, the story goes like this: when I was two or so my father’s army reserve unit was called up to active duty. While my father was away, my uncle came for a visit. Apparently, when I saw Orestis – who looked a lot like my dad and had the same lovely Greek accent – I thought he was my father. Seems I crawled onto his lap and wouldn’t leave. I’ve always attributed the start of our special relationship to that alleged incident.

While we were waiting for the memorial service to begin, I heard my cousin say that he and Jacob, his oldest son, would be speaking. Though I’d met Jacob on a few occasions, I didn’t know him too well. As he walked to the lectern with his cell phone and nothing else, I thought he’d probably been “volunteered” to speak. And, given no paper or other sign of prepared remarks, I thought he’d probably just share a few stories and memories before stepping aside for his father (my cousin) to speak. Well, I couldn’t have been more wrong. 

Jacob, a first year university student, delivered a superbly crafted eulogy – one that would make any speechwriter – hell, any writer – envious. Beyond his artful use of rhetorical devices, Jacob did what I had never been able to do: he described the qualities that made my uncle so special to me and to his own children and grandchildren.

Jacob spoke of the adversity my uncle faced on the road to achieving the American dream. Using stories and anecdotes, he told of Orestis’ strength, courage, selflessness, humour, kindness, and the unconditional love he had for his family. 

He reflected on various lessons he took from my uncle’s approach to life. For example, that no matter the obstacle, there’s always a way around it through hard work and determination. And, no matter how hard the struggle, or how daunting the task, you don’t make a big deal about it. As Jacob noted, Orestis probably wouldn’t have even cared about the memorial service, he would simply want everyone to “carry on with fortitude and resilience”. 

Jacob also learned valuable lessons about relationships from Orestis. As Jacob explained it, he learned to love few, but to love intensely and unconditionally. And, he learned that family is all we have in this big scary world.   

It was heartwarming to hear Jacob say that he knows that all the opportunities he has enjoyed are the direct result of Orestis’ hard work and self-sacrifice. I was especially moved by the fact that he didn’t take my uncle’s generosity for granted. 

And somehow, in one sentence, Jacob managed to sum up the way I’ve always felt about my uncle. Jacob said that if Orestis “was running the show, you just knew you were going to be ok”.  Indeed, from the time I crawled into his lap at age two until the day he took his last breath, that’s what uncle Orestis meant to me.

I’m certain my uncle knew how I felt about him and that I loved him – and that’s really what matters. But, I’m grateful to Jacob for putting into words what Orestis instilled in my heart.  Thank you Jacob, and thank you uncle Orestis for being all that you were.  

© 2018 Ingrid Sapona


On being ... dramatic

By Ingrid Sapona

There were lots of things I thought commendable about Barak Obama’s time in the White House. But, what I found most exemplary was the “No-drama Obama” approach. Indeed, throughout my adult life, that’s a way of being that I’ve striven toward and that’s something I look for in friends. The way I see it, dialing back the drama frees up energy you can apply to something productive.

Given Trump’s preference for high dudgeon, you probably think this topic’s been on my mind because of some tweet or comment he’s put out. But, Trump’s behavior isn’t what’s inspired today’s column. Instead, the behaviour of a woman I’m working with (I’ll call her Stephanie) is what’s caused me to reflect on self-induced drama.

By many standards, Stephanie has a charmed life. But, I sometimes wonder how she makes it through the daily drama. A simple example will give you a sense of what I’m talking about. She’s a mere 25 and, with her parents’ help, she just bought a condo. Before moving in, she decided she needed shelving for the bedroom closet. She found what she wanted at IKEA. As you might guess, some assembly was required. Not being the do-it-yourself type, she paid extra to have someone install it.

Having just moved in, her condo building’s directory hadn’t been updated to include her name and number. So, when the installers arrived but couldn’t find her name, they left. The morning after, we all heard about the “unbelievable” jerks IKEA sent who didn’t think to phone her cell. As expected, the appointment had to be rescheduled.

The day after the eventual installation, we heard all about how unbelievably rude the workers were. After showing them to the room where the closet was, she left them alone to start. When she returned, she was SHOCKED to see their tool bag on her bed. “If they needed space they could have moved stuff out of their way instead of putting their filthy bags on the bed. Who does that?” she asked incredulously. (I’m guessing workers who are in a hurry…)

She ranted about having to wash all the bed linens as soon as they left. My reaction was: really? All the linens? Surely she must have only needed to clean the bed cover. Oh no, she assured me – she had to wash the sheets too. Not being able to picture how the sheets might have gotten dirty, I asked if they were somehow exposed. She said they weren’t, but the whole idea of anyone putting anything on the bed was just “to disgusting for words”. Something tells me she’s gonna be doing a lot of laundry if that’s how she feels!

Not wanting to prolong the drama, I excused myself and got back to what I was doing. Later, a colleague who heard Stephanie’s rant about the tool-bag-on-the-bed incident confided in me that her mom would have felt the need to wash all the bed linens afterward too. Seems her mom doesn’t like it when stuff that was outside is brought indoors. In fact, she said, her mom’s rule was that they had to change into “indoor clothes” as soon as they got home. I said I could see that because if you’re outside playing you could track dirt and grime in. She calmly explained that the rule applied no matter where they came in from.

Though I find the idea of always changing into indoor clothes as extreme as Stephanie feeling the need to wash everything on the bed if someone puts something on it, I found myself more open to the indoor clothes rule because it was explained in such a matter-of-fact manner. The desire to keep one’s home clean is at the heart of both, I realize. But, Stephanie’s rant was also  about the trauma and effort she had to put into maintaining things as she likes them. My other colleague’s mom, on the other hand, made keeping the inside of their house pristine a straightforward exercise.

I basically don’t like drama because it seems a waste of energy. Just do what you need to do and  don’t make a big deal about it, I say. After all, I think there’s enough drama in life that’s out of our control — why create more?

© 2018 Ingrid Sapona


On being … revolutionary

By Ingrid Sapona

Regardless of how old you are, I’m sure you’d agree that many products that were revolutionary in our great grandparents’ day are almost unrecognizable in their current iteration. Take phones, for instance. We all grew up with our own dedicated phone line at home while our great grandparents might not have had a phone, or they might have shared a party line. (My friend Sandy’s parents’ cottage had a party line well into the 1990s, so we’re not talking ancient history here.)

Twenty years ago – in other words, just one generation ago – the idea of a mobile phone seemed like something invented by comedy writers (remember Maxwell Smart’s shoe phone?) or sci-fi enthusiasts. Then all of a sudden, cell phones came on the scene and a mere decade later they morphed into smart phones that are computers more powerful than those used by NASA to send astronauts to the moon.

But it’s not just technology products that have changed dramatically in our lifetime — the revolution is happening in so many areas. Take autos, for example. Automatic transmission and power steering were pretty much the norm by the time I learned to drive, but I clearly remember when cars went from rear-wheel to front-wheel drive, for example. And, of course, the revolution to fully electrical vehicles has already hit and it seems clear that driverless cars are just around the corner. Does that mean that George Jetson’s mode of transportation is on the horizon too? Who knows …

Some changes in the way products are designed are so revolutionary, they amount to almost a definitional change. Take car keys, for example. Nowadays, you don’t need them to enter OR start the car. Instead of a key, you carry an electronic device that sends a signal to a computer in the car that’s programmed to allow the person to get in and to start the car.

This notion about needing to update the definition of something came to mind this past week because of some work that’s being done in my condo building. Last year we found out that Kitec piping was used when the building was built (15 or so years ago). It was a popular piping product in its day, and up to code. But, since then it’s been found to be faulty in that it just bursts — with no warning. Our condo association has decided that having Kitec in the building poses a risk, and so we’re replacing it throughout the building.

So, when I say the word piping, what do you picture? More specifically, does the image in your mind’s eye change if I say “plumbing pipes in a home”? The image that comes to mind for me is rigid copper or some sort of plastic tubing that water flows through. I have this image from the plumbing in the home I grew up in. It was a ranch house and from the basement you could see all the pipes running through the joists. Looking up at the rafters it was clear that, in contrast to wiring that you can bend or twist, with pipes you needed “elbow joints” or other specially made curved bits if you wanted the water to go in a direction other than straight ahead.

Well, it turns out, while those of us not in the plumbing or building trades were busy trying to keep up with the digital revolution, there’s been a revolution in the pipe world too. I found this out this week, as our massive piping replacement project got underway. When the contractor started unloading the supplies, I expected to see long lengths of pipe laying in the hallway, awaiting their installation. Instead, they brought in coiled bundles of stuff that I’d describe as hose.

So, in the 60+ years since the house I grew up in was built, water pipes have been transformed into flexible hoses. In thinking about it, I realized I shouldn’t have been quite so astonished because a few years back I replaced the “line” from the water tank in my boat to my little galley sink and that line was a hose. But still, wouldn’t you think plumbing supplies for a 200+-unit condo building would be different from what you’d use in a 25-foot sailboat?

I know change is all around us (even hidden in our walls!). But sometimes, it’s just so surprising. And, as a person who works with words, I find it particularly frustrating when our vocabulary just doesn’t fit with reality any longer. Keys are not keys, icons are not icons, pipes are not pipes any more.

What about you? What revolutionary change has caught you by surprise recently?

© 2018 Ingrid Sapona


On being … vilified

By Ingrid Sapona

News stories related to the Winter Olympics and to the Florida school shooting have left me deeply troubled this week. My concern centers on the propensity to vilify people who behave in a way that others judge – almost immediately – as improper or unacceptable.

The Olympic-related story was about Jocelyn Larocque – she’s the Canadian ice hockey player who removed the silver medal that had just been placed around her neck. After removing it, she kept it clasped in her left hand as she shook hands with the women on the winning U.S. team. While that report describes the physical action Larocque took during the medal presentation, it doesn’t talk about the look of sorrow or anguish on her face. It also doesn’t explain what might be behind her look of utter disappointment. Nope, it doesn’t say anything about Larocque’s team losing the gold as a result of a shootout. But apparently Larocque’s action was enough for many to condemn her as a bad sport, a poor loser, a bad role model, and a “disgusting athlete”.[1]

Yet when I saw the video of the medal being placed around Larocque’s neck, my heart broke for her. Truly. Though I’m no athlete and I can’t possibly imagine what it’s like to compete at that level, I can definitely understand the feeling of utter disappointment. Who can’t, I thought? Well, it didn’t take long to learn that many folks can’t. Not only that, they were quick to condemn her.

The vilification of Larocque ranged from the nasty remarks I mentioned earlier, to headlines in major newspapers that claimed she “refused” to wear her silver medal. That’s not how she behaved. She stood there solemnly as it was placed around her neck and then when the medal presenter moved to the next athlete, she quietly slipped it off. I think anyone with any compassion would see what I saw: a drained, tired competitor who had given her all and who was grieving the fact that, in the end, the effort wasn’t enough.

And then there was the horrific – yet sadly not unusual – shooting in Florida that left 17 people dead. Again, an event that I cannot personally relate to at all. Indeed, for people who live outside the U.S., the tragedy of 17 dead as a result of actions of someone who was legally able to by a gun (whether one labelled an “assault” weapon or not) is simply beyond our comprehension.

Of course, even though most Americans seem to willing overlook the obvious cause of such tragedies (guns), that doesn’t mean they don’t struggle to try to make sense of such an event. And so, in the aftermath, we’ve all come to expect talk of things like the signals law enforcement and parents missed or ignored. And these days, finger pointing is especially popular because it’s the favoured diversionary tactic of Trump, the blamer-in-chief. But people vilifying Florida sheriff deputy Scot Peterson for not taking action – in effect making him the scapegoat – is both unfair and cruel.

I can understand it when an angry, scared teenage survivor of the massacre says “shame on him” because she believes Peterson could have saved so many if he’d have gone into the school. That’s a survivor’s emotion talking – perhaps even a survivor’s guilt talking. But Trump calling Peterson a coward for not having the courage to “get in there and do something” was nothing short of disgusting to me. (On the other hand, Trump’s ridiculous statement that he would have gone in there even if he was unarmed is easy to ignore as self-aggrandizing fantasy.)

Why is it that no one seems to care about Peterson’s emotions in the aftermath? He too is a survivor of the terrible incident, yet few people seem willing to try to imagine what he might be going through. Maybe in the wake of such a tragedy, there’s only so much compassion to go around. Well, I feel for Peterson and his family – what an awful thing to have been involved in.  

I realize these stories are very different in scope and gravity. And yet, to me they both reflect an unhealthy a hardening of people’s hearts and an erosion of compassion and empathy. I hope I’m wrong… What do you think?

© 2018 Ingrid Sapona