On being ... more entitled?

By Ingrid Sapona

A comment in a fairly trivial story in the weekend newspaper struck a nerve with me in a way that I’m sure it wasn’t intended to. And of course, that got me thinking about why it got under my skin, so I figured I should write about it.

The news story was about a few bars on a downtown street in a mixed residential/commercial area that were warned by a by-law enforcement officer that they’d be fined if they hang planters on the outside of their patio railings. Seems the bars were basically told to make sure their planters – and patio umbrellas and advertising (sandwich) boards – remain within the confines of their patios. The article made it clear they weren’t charged with a by-law violation – they were just warned.

The article also made it clear that the by-law enforcement officer’s visit was prompted by a complaint the City got about the flowers. The reporter spoke to a few of the bars and a City councillor. One bar manager, who commented that he’s already put out $400 worth of plants for the patio, said they’ve been hanging flowers that way for years and have never had a problem. The manager said the bar complied right away, however, because they felt that failing to do so could negatively impact their liquor licence.

The City councillor’s initial comment was a wisecrack (“A petunia took them down”) but then she said the City could have handled the matter better by working through the local business improvement area, rather than by dispatching a by-law enforcement officer. The councillor also commented that she thought it isn’t something a bar should lose its liquor licence over. (Mind you, there was no report their liquor licences were truly in jeopardy, though the article noted that when a business with a liquor licence violates any City by-law, the liquor commission is notified.)

Another bar manager said the “crackdown” (her term) will hurt business. She went on to complain: “… by draping them inside the fence, we’ve lost space on our patio. Now we have fewer tables, which means less business.”  

Before going on, in the spirit of full disclosure, I feel compelled to say that over the years I’ve occasionally enjoyed a drink or a bite on a couple of the patios mentioned in the article. The flowers and location make them particularly inviting in nice weather. And, to me, the City’s many flower-filled patios – at bars, restaurants and cafes – definitely contribute a lot to Toronto’s charm.

But, I really take offense at the bars complaining about being told they must comply with the by-law in issue. The fact that they’ve gone through the necessary hoops to get a liquor licence and to get permission to have a patio doesn’t mean they have the right to do business however they see fit thereafter. The fact that they’ve already spent money on flowers for the summer, or even the fact that they’ve put planters on the sidewalk side in the past, is simply irrelevant. But more than anything, the complaint that there will be less space on their patios for tables and that fewer tables means less revenue makes me want to scream!

I’m sure many readers simply view this article as a news story about a silly by-law. (Wanna bet the paper was alerted to this story by the bars who clearly feel the by-law is ridiculous?) Or, more cynically, maybe some folks see it as a story implying City money and manpower being wasted by by-law officers enforcing regulations about flowers. I suppose the story could even be written off as a modern-day example of beauty being in the eye of the beholder, given that the article makes it sound like some curmudgeon – a flower hater of some sort – is causing a kerfuffle. (Personally, I think it’s just as likely that the complainant is someone who’s tired of having to navigate around obstacles on the often too-narrow City sidewalks.)

But I actually see this article as relating to a more important issue: the way some people confuse privileges with entitlement. Clearly the bars feel they should be entitled to ignore the by-law because compliance could negatively impact their bottom line. But doesn’t the person who complained about the patio owners violating the by-law have the right to expect the by-law will be enforced? Are the bars more entitled to make money than pedestrians are entitled to unimpeded access to the sidewalk? Indeed, it seems to me one of the main purposes of by-laws is to balance competing senses of entitlement like the ones at play here.

Entitlement is a concept that I’ve struggled with for many years. What makes any of us think that we’re entitled to anything? I honestly don’t know where this attitude comes from, but it seems increasingly common. You don’t have to look too far to find examples of it and articles like this show how a sense of entitlement colours people’s behaviour and sense of justice.

© 2013 Ingrid Sapona


On being ... spellbound

By Ingrid Sapona

The father of a very dear friend died recently. I was unable to attend the funeral, but a few days after it, I visited with my friend and his family. During the conversation he told me about a very moving tribute ceremony some of his father’s friends carried out.

I hadn’t realized that one of his father’s hobbies was magic and that he used to be pretty active in the local chapter of an international magician’s association. When members of the association heard that my friend’s father died, they phoned the family to ask if they could come and do a broken wand ceremony. The family agreed and so, a few days after the funeral, a number of members of the organization went to my friend’s mother’s house to pay their respects and to honour their fellow magician with this traditional ceremony.

The focus of the ceremony is the literal breaking of the deceased magician’s wand because once the magician dies, his wand is no longer magic. I don’t think any family members knew what to expect, and my friend said it was very moving.

Besides being struck by the symbolism of the wand getting its magic power from the magician, I couldn’t help think about other moving customs and rituals related to death and what they all have in common. Though they’re always aimed at marking the death of someone in particular, those that I find most powerful also remind us of others whom we’ve lost but not forgotten. 

After the visit with my friend, I thought about the symbolism of the broken wand ceremony a lot and I thought about whether to write about it. I hesitated for a number of reasons – including whether my friend would mind me writing about his father. I also didn’t know whether the ceremony is considered kind of secret or proprietary and something meant only for members of the magician’s association and their families. I knew that there were non-family members present when they did the ceremony for my friend’s father, but I though perhaps they were asked to not say much about it.

Finally, the other day, I Googled “broken wand ceremony” to try to learn a bit more about it, and I’m so glad I did. It’s clearly not a secret tradition. There are many references to it, including a thorough description of the ceremony, the protocol around it, and even the wording of it on the web site of TheInternational Brotherhood of Magicians. Though my friend’s description certainly gave a flavour of the meaningfulness of the ritual, I found the actual words of the ceremony quite profound. Here’s an excerpt from the non-theist version of it:

“This wand without (the deceased) is now useless. The magic that infused itself into the life of performing on this earth is now broken as we bid farewell when our loved one encounters mortality. … The magic of (the deceased’s) performance is over. The magic and mystery that he shared will remain in our memory … (The deceased) was endowed with the talent to amaze, mystify and entertain. May we, like (the deceased) … use our skills, dexterity of hands and voice to bring happiness and awe to those for whom we conjure our pleasant and benign wonders. … May (the deceased) rest in peace and may (the deceased’s) memories last long with those who enjoyed (the deceased’s) love … talent and … companionship.”

I truly believe that all of us have wands and that we imbue them with our magic. Indeed, like magicians, our lives are the opportunity to use our talents – whatever they are – to do amazing things and to bring happiness to others. And, if we perform well, though the magic our particular wand was used for will cease at the end of our life, we’ll remain alive in the memories of those whom we’ve enchanted with our magic.

My friend’s father’s wand was recently broken, but his magic lives on in many ways – including introducing many to the profoundly meaningful broken wand ceremony.

© 2013 Ingrid Sapona