8/15/2018

On being … an ambassador


By Ingrid Sapona

Last week a friend emailed me a link to a story from the Buffalo News. From my quick peak at it, I guessed the link was to a travel piece about Buffalo. There had been a travel article on Buffalo in the Toronto Star that week, so I figured some syndicated story was making the rounds. Good for Buffalo, I thought.

Because I was in a hurry when the email came in, I didn’t read the story. But, I didn’t delete it either. Later, when I came across the email again, I clicked on the link and read the story. Turns out, the Buffalo News article wasn’t a travel piece at all. It was a feature about why the Times of London’s newly appointed assistant travel editor chose Buffalo as her first place to write about.

Yes, there was something odd about that angle, I thought. You mean, even the Buffalo News couldn’t imagine that a London newspaper would do a travel piece on Buffalo? Well, it was the most delightful story. Indeed, after reading the Buffalo News piece, I went on-line to find the actual Sunday Times travel article about Buffalo and it was good – but not nearly as interesting as the story behind the travel story.

Apparently, in 2010, Julia Buckley, the Sunday Times writer/editor, lived in Las Vegas. During her year-and-a-half there, JetBlue was running a deal where you could fly to any of the airline’s destinations. Curious about Buffalo wings and knowing that Buffalo was the stepping off point to visit Niagara Falls, Buckley thought it would be fun to fly to Buffalo.

On her first flight to Buffalo, Buckley ended up chatting with a flight attendant who was from the Buffalo area. The two hit it off so well, the flight attendant invited Buckley to stay at her home. They have remained friends and, since then, Buckley has made other Buffalo friends. So, when asked where she wanted to write about, she chose Buffalo because what really stood out to her during past visits was the friendly, genuine nature of the people.

As it happens, a couple weeks ago I was in Western New York for the wedding of the daughter of friends from Buffalo. It was a surprisingly international affair. I knew there’d be some folks from the UK because the groom’s a Brit. But there were also folks from further afield, including people my friends got to know through AFS, an international youth exchange program.

In high school, my friend (the bride’s father) had done a summer abroad through AFS. It made a real impression on him and so, when his kids started high school, they got involved with AFS as a host family. As well, their daughter (the bride) went overseas as an AFS student – I’m sure that experience had something to do with the fact that since graduating from university she’s lived abroad.

I always admired how generous my friends were with their AFS kids. In addition to providing food and shelter to the students for the entire academic year, my friends went out of their way to make sure the kids had an unforgettable experience. Every year my friends would even bring their AFS son or daughter here to Toronto to visit, making sure to take them to a restaurant that serves food from their home country. My friends ended up becoming quite close to some of the families of their AFS kids, and my friends have visited many of them overseas.

Because AFS is primarily for high schoolers, since my friends’ kids are all grown, I figured they were no longer involved with AFS. But, last week my friend mentioned they had just run the orientation program for the new crop of AFS students who’ll be calling Buffalo home for the next 9 months. When I expressed my surprise that they’re still involved with AFS, my friend had a very thoughtful explanation. “As we tell the kids during orientation, it’s all about reaching out and making change, one person at a time. I really believe that,” he said.

These anecdotes share more than just a Buffalo connection, I think. We’ve all had an experience where we’ve “clicked” with a stranger – as that flight attendant no doubt did with the travel writer. But that flight attendant took a leap of faith and went further than most of us would. She opened her heart – and her home – to a virtual stranger. In doing so, she made an indelible impression – one that ended up reflecting well on all of Buffalo. Similarly, the graciousness my friends have extended to the exchange students has helped change the way they – and my friends’ family and friends – relate to others in the world.

I think the main thing these stories have in common is that they both are about the influence each of us can have on how others see and experience things. They helped me realize that in every interaction we have with strangers, there’s an opportunity to be an ambassador – to show – and share with – others the things we value in our lives.

© 2018 Ingrid Sapona

7/30/2018

On being … chef-y


By Ingrid Sapona

As I was sitting down to write today’s column, it dawned on me that readers may end up thinking I’m a chef wanna-be. My immediate reaction to that is a simple No. But then I realized perhaps I should reflect on that a bit, as maybe there’s something to it. So let me get back to you on that later…

I don’t know about you, but my friends and I seem to share more meals over the summer. There’s something about sunshine and all the fresh fruit and vegetables that inspires me to invite friends over and to trying new recipes. And, this summer I’ve been working on upping my game by trying to be more “chef-y”. Ok – that’s a term I’ve coined – but I’ll explain what I mean.

Obviously, chefs have specialized training and know a whole range of things about food. They also know where to find all sorts of exotic ingredients. For example, not too long ago I had a pasta dish that had little teeny tear-drop shaped peppers that I had never seen before. Turns out they were Sweety Drops from Peru.

But, I’ve observed a handful of things chefs do that I think end up making a big difference and I’ve been focusing my energy on these. The first has to do with planning the meal. I used to decide what I wanted to serve and I’d go in search of the necessary ingredients. The past few years I’ve taken a more chef-like approach. Now I narrow it down to a few different recipes and I don’t make the decision until I’m at the market. Then I choose whatever seems the freshest and best value. It seems a no-brainer, I know – but it does require a level of flexibility.

I’ve noticed that chefs also pay a lot of attention to texture in dishes. For example, a sprinkling of pine nuts on a plate of pasta or a handful of shredded cabbage tucked inside a pulled pork sandwich is probably more about adding crunch than about adding flavour.

Colour is also something I’m sure chefs consider and it’s something I’m paying more attention to too. While you won’t catch me adding squid ink to make my risotto a dramatic black, I do look for ways of adding colour. For example, I may add sliced red pepper on top of a green bean salad, or a spear of roasted carrot alongside a scoop of rice. I also try to make sure there’s colour contrast between the main and sides.

Another chef-y thing is how they combine interesting, unexpected flavours. Pickled veggies seem to be a favourite way of adding a bit of tang, while chutneys and compotes are often used to add some heat. While I enjoy some chutneys, I’m not keen enough on them to bother making them. But, I’ve been playing around with quick pickling things ever since I read somewhere that it’s a great way of using up leftover veggies. My current favourite is adding quick pickled corn to arugula salad – it adds colour, zest, and interest. Very chef-y, don’t you think?


Mind you, some combinations chefs come up with seem to work better on paper than in reality. The other day, I ordered a burger because I was intrigued by one item in the description: tomato jam. I’d never heard of that and so I was curious to see whether it was just some fancy catsup. Turns out it was truly a jam – very sweet. I’m not a fan of mixing sweet and savoury, so it kinda ruined the burger for me. So, it’s not something I’m going to try to imitate, but I don’t mind saying it’s nice to know that not every combo a chef comes up with is necessarily a winner either!

And of course, there’s plating the food, which chefs have raised to an art form. Whether it’s a thin streak of pesto along the edge of the salad plate, or a carefully sculpted pyramid of saffron rice next to a flakey piece of fish – chefs clearly have an artistic vision for each dish. And, when they plate something, they always manage to add a few little grace notes – perhaps a couple wafer thin radishes or a curly garlic scape for good measure.

Of course, because a restaurant menu features many different dishes, a chef has all sorts of interesting ingredients on hand that can be used to add pizazz. It’s a bit more of a challenge to have a variety of little things to add to make a plate look interesting when you live alone. But, if you were to peak inside my refrigerator this summer, you’d see that I’ve been making quite an effort in this regard.

So, I’ve been having fun playing around with all these things – from planning the menu, to adding texture, to trying unusual combinations and being more creative in how I plate things. But, does all this mean that somewhere deep down inside I wish I’d have become a chef? I honestly think the answer is no. I love learning about cooking and I enjoy trying to make different things. But, I wouldn’t want it as a career because I’d hate for it to start to feel like a job. Instead, I’m happy just trying to be more chef-y.

© 2018 Ingrid Sapona



7/15/2018

On being … in the dark


By Ingrid Sapona

As the story of the Thai soccer team in the cave was unfolding, I chose not to read articles about it. Part of the reason I avoided the details was that I couldn’t take the whole roller-coaster of emotions. The headlines alone took me – and the rest of the world – from fear, to disbelief, to worry, to sadness, then doubt, and ultimately – thankfully – to relief.

Whenever I did reflect on the story, my thoughts were very much about what the boys’ parents must be going through. As the days elapsed before the divers found them, I wondered how the families could have maintained hope in what seemed a hopeless situation. Then, I imagine the news that they’d been found must have seemed like a miracle. But, before the families could relax in the knowledge that their prayers had been answered, there came news of the rising water, the depleting oxygen level, and the coming worse weather.

As the news emerged about how treacherous the route into the cave was, I was struck by the bravery and selflessness of those involved in the rescue effort. And, on news of the death of the diver, my thoughts shifted to his family and how devastated they must feel.

I also began thinking more about the boys’ feelings. I wondered whether they knew that someone died trying to help them. Frankly, I hoped that the boys weren’t told at the time because the news made clear the difficulty of the situation and the danger. Nonetheless, I couldn’t help think that if they got out, survivor guilt may haunt them for the rest of their lives.

The story also made me think about how quickly an innocent decision can turn into a nightmare. Indeed, it brought to mind a cave adventure friends and I set out on years ago. We were staying at a lodge along a river in southern Belize. It had rained quite heavily the first couple days we were. As parts of the path between our huts submerged, we were reminded that it was hurricane season. Even so, we were surprised at how quickly the river rose around us. But, there was nothing we could do, and the locals seemed unfazed.

One of the excursions we had been interested in going on was cave swimming. I had a bit of trepidation about it, as I worried about bats. I think my friends had some fear too about possible claustrophobia. But, we all decided to conquer our fears and we signed up for it.

To get to the cave we took a boat and then had a slippery, miserable half-mile-or-so walk. When we got near the cave, we were told to wait while our guides went ahead to check the cave opening. When they returned they said the water was too high to go in.

On our way back to the lodge, the guides told us this was the first time they had ever decided against going in. They said we could try again in a few days, but we decided not to. Now, when I think about it, I realize how lucky we were to have experienced guides. It never occurred to me that if we had gotten in, the water could continue to rise. Clearly that young Thai coach and those boys never thought about that possibility either.

After the rescue of the soccer team, I went back and read some of the news stories I had purposely avoided. I was struck by how sweet the notes were that the boys wrote their families. They seemed to go out of their way to reassure everyone that they were alright. I couldn’t help wonder whether notes written by a bunch of North American teens trapped for so long without the basic necessities (not to mention connectivity) would be so pleasant.

One detail in particular got me thinking about how the boys coped during the 10 days before they were found. Apparently the coach, a former Buddhist monk, had taught them how to meditate. That struck me as a truly inspired idea, and – again – one I think few of us from North America would even think of.

The whole story has caused me to reflect on how I would have managed in the face of such a turn of events. How would I cope with the cold, the hunger, and not knowing whether anyone was looking for me? Would I manage to stay calm? Would I manage to remain hopeful? Or would the darkness get to me? I don’t know for sure, but I have my doubts…  

What about you?

© 2018 Ingrid Sapona

6/30/2018

On being … a statement


By Ingrid Sapona

I was driving home when I first heard about Melania Trump’s visit to Texas to tour a shelter housing children the U.S. government has separated from their parents at the border. I’ll admit, my first thought was that sending the First Lady to see the children was a clever PR move. I thought that until I heard about the jacket she wore as she left the White House.

Though I figured there must have been some truth to the story, a number of things about it seemed unlikely. The first was that Melania would wear a $39 jacket from Zara, a Spanish retailer known for its low-cost imitations of others’ designs. I just can’t picture her shopping at Zara. I also wondered how anyone would immediately recognize it was a Zara jacket. (Of course, just because I don’t pay attention to fashion doesn’t mean others don’t.)

The other part of the story that seemed truly unreal was that there was writing on the jacket that read: “I really don’t’ care, do you?” I imagined the only reason we knew that was because some paparazzi with a super zoom lens must have noticed writing on the jacket. But surely they misread it, I thought. Later, when I saw the pictures of the large white lettering on the back, it was clear that no zoom lens was required – all but the visually impaired could read it. 

In the 24 hours that followed, there was a lot said about Melania’s jacket choice. Her communications director insisted it’s just a jacket and there was no hidden message. But even her husband took issue with that explanation, tweeting that the message on the jacket was an expression of Melania’s views about the “Fake News”.

Where do you stand on the matter? Do you think it was just an innocent clothing choice? Something grabbed in haste as she was heading out the door? I’m in the camp that thinks the jacket was a statement. I just don’t see how it couldn’t be. First off, as others have noted, as a former fashion model she must have a heightened sense about what clothes represent. Furthermore, even if she didn’t realize when she moved into the White House that her clothing choices were newsworthy, by now she must. The buzz about her high heels as she boarded Air Force One en route to Puerto Rico after hurricane Maria surely was a teachable moment for her.

As for what statement she was making, as a plain language specialist, given the clarity of the words and the simplicity of the sentence structure, I’d say the message is pretty clear. Of course, you can argue that precisely what she doesn’t care about isn’t clear. Those who believe actions speak louder than words say the message she was sending by heading to Texas was of compassion – regardless of the words on the jacket. After all, she was going to visit innocent children – victims of the cruelty inflicted by her husband and his administration – clearly, she went because she cares about them. Interestingly, those who argue her actions speak louder than words ignore the fact that her wearing a coat with that commentary emblazoned across the back was an action too.  So, which of her actions speak louder, err, clearer?

Another way to try to understand someone’s meaning is to consider their intent. Of course, we don’t know what Melania’s intent was when she wore that jacket. But, if you want someone to know your intent, it’s up to you to express it clearly. And, if you feel your intent’s been misconstrued, it’s within your power to clarify what you meant. Keeping silent when controversy is swirling around about something you said – or did – is a statement too.

I can certainly imagine mindlessly pulling a jacket from a full closet as I head out on an errand. (Can you say autopilot?) But I can’t see myself buying something with that message on the back and not thinking about what others might think if they read it. And, I’d certainly think about it if I was wearing it when I was going out on business.

I think there’s a lesson in this for all of us: everything we say and do is a statement about who we are and our beliefs. Indeed, it seems it’s a lesson Sarah Sanders might have picked up on this week if she hadn’t been busy feeling virtuous about how politely she exited a restaurant when the owner asked her to leave. Sanders’ subsequent tweet about the restaurant owner’s actions saying more about the owner than about Sanders makes it clear that Sarah doesn’t get it. She doesn’t see how her standing up and lying for Trump speaks volumes about her own values and standards.

© 2018 Ingrid Sapona

6/15/2018

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

5/30/2018

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

5/15/2018

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


4/30/2018

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