Monthly Archives: November 2013

Slacktions Speak Louder Than Words

When you support a charity’s good works, do you use social media to spread the word? If so, then oops. You may have cost them some cash. According to new research from the University of British Columbia’s Sauder School of Business, when we publicly show our enthusiasm for a cause – such as clicking “Like” on Facebook – we are actually less likely to donate money towards it. I guess we figure that by clicking or sharing or tweeting or messaging, we’ve already done our part.

Apparently we have a need to look good in front of our social network (admit it, we’ve all Facebragged about our exotic vacations, our brilliant kids or our, ahem, writing awards). Showing our support for a charity satisfies this need, say the researchers, so we’re less likely to open our wallets later. It’s known as slacktivism.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m a huge promoter of cost-free good deeds. After I did 50 good deeds in 50 days, I cheered the fact that three quarters of the good deeds hadn’t set me back financially by a single penny. But on the other side of the coin (pardon the pun), these non-profit groups do depend on donations to carry out their work. So perhaps it’s helpful just to be aware that by applauding worthy causes in front of all our friends, followers or contacts, we may end up a little tighter-fisted than we intended. And that won’t change the world, my friends.

The Twenty-Five-Thousand-Dollar Question

There’s this mom in Portland, Maine, who does what many moms the world over do in 2013: She blogs. Kari Wagner-Peck blogs about her son’s birthday party, his art class, his brand-new motorcycle-themed backpack. And because her little boy also has Down syndrome, Kari blogs about disability rights.

Like many of us who know and love people with disabilities, Kari has a particular distaste for the word “retard,” a word that is only ever used hurtfully. As Elvis would say, “Don’t Be Cruel.” Why would anyone want to use a word that causes deep pain every time?

And why, Kari asked in an open letter two weeks ago, would the ethics columnist for The New York Times Magazine, of all people, want to use it?

On her blog, Kari cited several examples from Chuck Klosterman’s oeuvre in which he sprinkles the word “retard” for cheap laughs. (So not worth it, folks.) “Please enlighten me,” Kari wrote to him. “What are the ethics of using the R-word?”

A rhetorical question? Apparently not. Chuck Klosterman saw the letter, read it, then responded swiftly. Was he defensive? Dismissive? Nasty? None of the above. He was profoundly apologetic.

“I have spent the last two days trying to figure out a way to properly address the issue you have raised on your web site,” his message reads. “I’ve slowly concluded the best way is to just be as straightforward as possible: I was wrong. You are right.”

Next, Chuck Klosterman was generous. “I would also like to donate $25,000 to whatever charity… you recommend,” he writes. Uh…. how much?

We’re blown away. Where “sorry” might have been enough, this guy is putting his money where his shut-my-mouth is. “I have done something bad, so help me do something good,” he says. Chuck, you have proven that it’s never too late for redemption. As for me, I took the pledge several years ago. I don’t use the R word, and I try to spread the word. But now, in honour of Mr. Klosterman, I vow never to use “upchuck” in a sentence… ever again.

Kari’s son in costume: I’m trying to guess his superpower… a smile warm enough to melt icebergs, maybe?

Kari’s son in costume: I’m trying to guess his superpower… a smile warm enough to melt icebergs, maybe?

An Ounce of Prevention, A Pound of Care

A town in Ontario’s Renfrew County has hit on a way to cut in half the number of 911 calls and hospital visits from seniors. It’s pretty simple: From time to time, knock on their doors.

The lone nursing home in Deep River, Ontario, is full. That isn’t much help to aging residents here who need special care and medical advice – there are 32 of them. But through Deep River’s community paramedics program, these men and women are visited once a week by paramedics who proactively check them over, and answer their questions about nutrition or physiotherapy or diabetes control.

After five years, this program has had such success that some of these seniors aren’t even on the nursing home’s waiting list anymore. And did I mention the reduction in 911 calls and trips to the hospital? A little care and attention is making the difference between being able to live at home or not, and reducing medical emergencies. The county’s chief paramedic estimates that the program has already saved the health-care system over a million and a half dollars.

What’s nice – and maybe not accounted for in the program’s policy manual – is the strong bond that has developed between some of the paramedics and seniors. One of the workers, Chris Day, told a reporter that he gets such a kick out of visiting 82-year-old Wilt McCarthy, he often drops by on his own dime. That solid-gold friendship is worth even more than a million-and-a-half dollars, don’t you think?

Other communities have picked up on this program’s awesomeness, and are now planning to put something into place in their own jurisdictions.

A Custodian, a Banana Peel, a Tennis Ball (or Two)

Maybe it’s because my high school reunion is coming up this month (spoiler: I’m not going), but I’ve been thinking a lot about those old public school days. I grew up just outside of a tiny, remote hamlet. When our meager population was finally deemed robust enough to justify the construction of a modest elementary school, I was among the first students.

There are many things about that fresh little K-5 school that stick in my mind. Like the brightly painted foursquare and hopscotch patterns. The shiny, 1970s-modern play structure (poor Marnie E., who fell from it and broke her leg). The proximity to the candy store.

I also remember Mr. Hamilton. He was the small school’s one and only custodian. He was cheerful, skinny and (I thought at the time) incredibly old. He smiled often and wasn’t perturbed by much.

So there I was, a fifth-grade, ostensibly goody-goody sort of student, under the influence and the thumb of my best-friend-at-the-time, Christine M. Christine was smart and creative and bold. In grade five, a person with that special constellation of qualities was considered a troublemaker. (Unbeknownst to me, a teacher had already contacted my parents to suggest they try and break up the friendship.) When, at lunch recess, Christine dared me to throw my banana peel onto the one-storey building’s flat roof, I complied.

I got it in one shot. Unfortunately, I also got caught – by the teacher on yard duty.

She sent me inside to the custodian’s office to apologize forthwith, since he’d be the one stuck cleaning up my roof garbage. I hadn’t thought of that. And truth be told, I had very little experience owning up to my misbehaviour, since I didn’t display much of it in the elementary school setting.

I nervously went down the hall and, trembling, approached the janitor. “Mr. Hamilton?” I said in a tiny voice. “I’m very, very sorry, but I threw a banana peel on the roof.”

Good old Mr. Hamilton (who probably wasn’t all that old). He grinned broadly at me. “Oh, that’s okay,” he said. He reached for his desk. “Do you want a tennis ball? Here, have two tennis balls.” He handed me the treasures and sent me away. Seems Mr. Hamilton didn’t collect only garbage from the school’s flat roof.

I don’t remember much else about that incident. But I remember how relieved I was that the janitor wasn’t mad. And puzzled that he’d rewarded me with a gift.

I’d like to say that it was a major turning point, that Mr. Hamilton set me on the straight and narrow with his simple act of kindness. It would make for a great story. It wouldn’t be true, though. I would have continued to more-or-less behave no matter what. Christine M. and I drifted apart as we got older (she’s all grown up now with three beautiful daughters, which shows what you can do with intelligence and creativity). I got good grades and got into the regular measure of trouble that most teenagers manage to find. No, Mr. Hamilton didn’t do anything earthshattering that day. He was just nice.

But I think it’s enough that I never forgot it.

“Hey, something’s wrong – my wi-fi connection is down!”

“Hey, something’s wrong – my wi-fi connection is down!”