Zack Gross
Zack Gross

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Change is Hard but Impossible to Avoid

Brandon Sun “Small World” Column,  Monday, March 30 / 15

Zack Gross

Life has a habit of telling you that you are not keeping up with the modern world!  As someone who is always among students, business folks, politicians and others who are active and engaged in day to day life, my assumptions in life are often challenged.  And this is coming from a guy who is active in social issues, often pushing others to move their thinking forward.

Here's an example.  A recent immigrant to Manitoba from Nigeria, West Africa, a young man with good English, came to my office to ask me about opportunities to find work in his field.  I was friendly and interested to meet him, but assumed that he had few skills and little education.  Was I being racist?  Probably, in a “nice” way. 

Ultimately, after I likely insulted him with my assumptions for a good while, he handed me his resume which clearly showed that he is better educated (and from better institutions) than I am! After he left the office, I confided my error to a colleague who is also from Africa and she said, “Well, at least you realize it and have learned something”.  Many people, she said, never realize that their biases are just that – biases – and immigrants have to endure these slights every day.

In my work in Winnipeg, I do a lot of speaking in university and college classrooms.  So many of the students are from Asia and Africa, or of aboriginal origin here in Canada.  They are proud of where they come from and add a new and interesting aspect to the classroom experience.  They share their histories and challenges with one another, as well as recipes, fashions and music!

Another example.  So many of us travel now, for winter vacations or as part of our jobs, to Mexico, Australia, Europe, China, you name it!  But how many of us really take the time to connect with “ordinary” people in these countries (if we can) or to consider how their culture works or why they do things the way they do.  I tire of hearing folks who have spent a week in a resort down south ranting about how folks in a certain country need to get organized, pull up their socks, be smarter and so on.

But, it's hard for us not to think that because we are well off (compared to the rest of the world), we know best.  Indeed, many of us likely still think that being of European stock contributes to our dominance in the world, and they are correct!  But not in a good way.  As a celebrated contemporary author tells us, it was guns, germs and steel that got us to where we are today.

One has to congratulate Brandon which has been transformed – and seemingly peaceably – over the past decade with a wave of migrants from around the world.  As I was walking along Rosser Avenue recently, I was struck by conversations around me – mostly in Spanish!  When my wife and I first moved to the Brandon area thirty-five years ago, it seemed that the area would always keep its traditional white, English ways.  Now I hear the praises of business people and professionals from Asia, workers from Latin America, and students from Africa.

The struggle for many immigrants in Manitoba includes isolation from their religious institutions and education and a feeling that the rest of us see that background, likely Muslim, as a negative.  Of course, our weather is another challenge.  Our recent brief ice, snow and wind event sent a shiver of paranoia and depression through immigrant communities across the province!  So, change comes hard for them, too.

Speaking of global warming, that's another issue that people find hard to change their minds on.  But evidence shows that Canadians are taking on the issue and are willing to change how they do things.  When Danielle Smith, the Leader of the Wild Rose Party, just before Alberta's last election, opined that she didn't really buy the science of climate change, she suddenly dropped to second place in the polls and lost the vote.  Now, their party has merged with the Conservatives and she is an ordinary MLA.

In the USA, long a bastion of wishful thinking, two-thirds of the population now believe that global warming is a human-made reality.  However, only about a third would vote only for a candidate that expresses concern over the issue.  Others don't see it as that big a priority.  How can we change people's minds about their consumption habits?  The UN says that if everyone on Earth lived like Canadians, we would need four planets to provide what everyone expects.  And this is the cause of global warming.

The time change happened not too long ago, and the seasonal change to spring is now underway.  As we again enjoy the return of wonders of the natural world – beautiful flower and vegetable gardens, lakes and beaches, long and warm summer days – let's change our habits to make sure that people and the planet are treated well.

Zack Gross is a former Executive Director of the Marquis Project in Brandon.

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