Saturday, November 23, 2013

The tangled webs of deceit

Image courtesy of "Boaz Yiftach/
Image courtesy of Boaz Yiftach/
There must be a whole lot of smoking pants in the corridors of power. It seems that every week, new information about the Senate scandal or Rob Ford comes to light. Still, the truth is elusive and the people involved are evasive.  In my recent column, I reflect on "the truth will set you free".  

No one is perfect

I agree with Rob Ford, the beleaguered mayor of Toronto, on two points: no one is perfect and we all make mistakes.  We have all done things that we regret and (hopefully, for our own good) we had to take responsibility for our actions. Over the course of my life, I have learned that it is always better to be forthcoming with the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth than to persist in a web of lies, and that I am at peace with myself when I accept responsibility for my actions. The truth is freeing. 

A couple of years ago, I stumbled upon an episode of Oprah’s Life Class on the theme, “The truth will set you free”.  If the hundreds of people who participated in the episode are even remotely representative of the general population, many people seek freedom from deception. While we want to stop deceiving others about ourselves, fear of rejection holds us back.

In my worldview, the truth that frees goes beyond owning up to a falsehood, and leads us to discovering our deepest identity.  I believe that there is a divine spark in every person that orients us towards truth. While, for me, this spark is rooted in the Judeo-Christian tradition of a loving, caring God, the notion of divinity within each person is common to many traditions throughout the ages. A rendering of Platonic thought describes us as “fired into existence with a madness that comes from the gods”, and legends from cultures around the world speak about the transcendent origins of the human person. There is something within each of us (I call it a soul) that is uniquely special and worthy; despite any deep-seated feelings of unworthiness that we may have, there is no need for lying.

We dislike deception
In fact, our brains and our bodies dislike the very act of lying.  We are wired towards truth. Measurable changes occur in blood pressure, pulse rate and breathing when we tell a lie. When we are lying, we sweat more, experience tightness in the torso, a loss of physical strength, and we may feel sick to our stomach. Experts in body language and law enforcement officials can usually tell when a person is lying because lying expresses itself in things like posture, language, and how someone uses their hands when speaking. 

No, we do not like any type of deception; maybe that is why when we finally come clean, we say that a weight has been lifted off our shoulders. When we admit the truth, we feel a sense of relief, even if the consequences are unpleasant.

Simplicity is integral to truth
Lying is complicated. One lie leads to another, and maintaining the original lie takes a concentrated effort. Sir Walter Scott expressed it poetically, “Oh what a tangled web we weave, when we first practice to deceive”.   In contrast, simplicity is integral to the truth.

(Pinocchio, public domain)
Between the Senate scandal and the Rob Ford story, Canadian politics has given us plenty of evidence of the complications of deceitful behavior. Some public figures have failed to be forthcoming with the whole truth, and by degrees, more damaging information has come to light. Some have steadfastly refused to accept responsibility for their mistakes, preferring to make excuses and blame others even as the web unraveled.

"Don't you have any occhio?"
When I was growing up, my father had a favorite question, “Don’t you have any occhio?”  Occhio is an Italian word meaning “eye”, and my dad used it to mean “foresight” – to think things through before acting.  The question was a reprimand before a lecture and ensuing consequences, but it encouraged me to consider my actions in a moral context and to behave accordingly.  If I felt the need to lie about something, then the action was probably wrong, and I should avoid it.  It wasn’t so much the consequences that kept me on the straight and narrow; it was the intuition that I was in touch with my deepest identity when I behaved in a morally good way.

Yes, we are imperfect, and yes, we all make mistakes. And though it is tempting to hide our flaws and errors in tangled webs of deceit, the truth overcomes a multitude of sins providing we have the courage to own it.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Church teas and bazaars

Who doesn't have fond memories of the annual church tea and bazaar? I enjoyed them as a child, and I continue to enjoy them. They are wonderful community gatherings, but, as a fundraiser, they make little sense. My recent column looks at their mysterious fundraising logic that  tugs on our hearts and keeps the annual tradition thriving.

The mysterious fund raising logic of church teas

Image courtesy of Apolonia/
The annual fall church tea and bazaar has withstood the test of time. While it is assumed to be a good fundraiser, the real benefits of the event lay in its ability to strengthen the community. In fact, if we consider the cost of the event versus the funds raised, a church tea and bazaar, at least where I live, is an inefficient way of raising funds.  A few examples will illustrate my point.

At a church tea I recently attended, for the price of my $2 tea ticket, I received the equivalent of a sandwich and a selection of sweets, plus my beverage.  Certainly, the ingredients alone cost more than the ticket price.

This is also true for the bazaar where the value of the goods donated exceeds the sale price, and I am not even considering the value of people’s time and skill level. At the sewing and knitting tables, one can buy expertly made items for less than the cost of the materials. The same thing happens at the bake table.

Image courtesy of Marcus/
To give an example, I purchased cupcakes for 25 cents each.  Made from scratch (using butter not margarine), a frosted chocolate cupcake, in a paper baking cup, costs 69 cents.  Made from a cake mix, it’s 44 cents.

The mystery table is the most illogical of all
The mystery table, while extraordinarily fun, may quite possibly be the most illogical fundraiser ever conceived.  At this table, people purchase gifts that others have donated, wrapped, and labeled with the age range and sex for which the gift is most appropriate. Even if someone “re-gifts” an item, its value is greater than the standard mystery table price of a loonie or toonie.  A person can easily donate $20 or more in mystery gifts, only to sell them for a whopping $4 or $5. 

As a matter of economics, the logical conclusion is that the church tea and bazaar is inefficient as a fundraiser. So, why bother? Wouldn’t it be better if we all just made a cash donation?

Making money isn't everything
My unequivocal answer is, “No.” Not everything needs to make economic sense, nor are the most important things measured in dollar amounts.   There is more at stake here than making money.

While it is true that the event attracts more involvement from women than men, it brings together members of the church whose paths may typically cross only on a Sunday. It gives people the chance to work together towards a common goal despite their varied interests and abilities.

In a small town, at least, the church tea and bazaar is an ecumenical gathering as well as a popular gathering place for the secular community. At the church tea and bazaar, people renew acquaintances, catch up on family news, and make arrangements to get together.  There is a hustle and bustle about church teas that has more to do with relationships than with money.

Memories of the fishpond
I have wonderful memories of church teas that go back to childhood. The highlight of the bazaar was the “fishpond”. A nickel bought us a “fishing rod” that we dropped behind a bed sheet. We would pull up our fishing rod to find a paper fish attached which we exchanged for a prize.  I can still picture Mrs. Mallot, the woman who ran the fishpond for my entire childhood and beyond, sitting on a stool, surreptitiously attaching a fish to the paper clip.

As a young mother, the Saturday afternoon outing was a highlight. It gave me a chance to socialize with my peers, and the children looked forward to the little sandwiches without crusts, being with their grandmothers, and seeing their friends. Now, I enjoy helping out (you’ll find me at the mystery table) or simply attending the tea. The church tea and bazaar continues to enrich my experience of being a member of a community.

It fullfills the need to belong
The church tea and bazaar has withstood the test of time because it helps fulfill the basic human need of belonging. It is an inclusive event in which everyone, regardless of age, socio-economic status or belief, can participate.  The profits, though helpful for the church, are secondary to the task of bringing people together. We would be less of a community without it.