Have A Great Weekend!

You don’t have to go back too many years to remember when the majority of workers had weekends off. Search your memory banks and you can probably recall sitting on the back deck with your feet up, enjoying a refreshing beverage, putting the work week behind you and letting your mind drift off to Never Never Land. Zzzzzz.

Where was I? Oh, right – weekends. Well, unless you’re one of the few fortunate souls who still works Monday to Friday from 9-5, those days are long past. In addition to the normal busy parts of life (family functions, charitable endeavours, kids’ sports activities, etc.), most of the world is now burdened with a variety of tethers that tie them to their jobs 24/7, even if they’re far away from their physical workplaces.

In the “old days,” they used to say certain types of work required people to be “on-call.” What an antiquated term that seems today. Now we’re all on-call, around the clock, wherever we are, even if we’re, technically, on vacation.

Some of that may be a requirement of our employment, but much of it is self-inflicted. It’s our choice to carry our smartphones or other technological umbilical cords with us at all times, glancing at them like Pavlovian dogs every time we’re summoned, whoever is beckoning us. We can’t seem to turn them off – and most of us wouldn’t be inclined to do so whether or not we had the choice.

It’s bad enough that most of the non-stop interruptions that keep us from doing something useful with our lives involve Facebook updates (“I just bought a hat!”), tweets (#cleaningthesink), selfies (me and a lint ball), YouTube videos (Cat licks paw!!!), or whatever.

It really starts to get sad, though, when all roads inevitably lead back to our jobs: checking our emails, making notes to ourselves, calling the office, dealing with customer concerns and, of course, actually working from home for 10, 20, 30 or more additional hours a week.

At some point, we all need to shut it down and give our weary brains a much-needed snooze. In a Scientific American article from last fall entitled Why Your Brain Needs More Downtime, author Ferris Jabr says, “Throughout history people have intuited that such puritanical devotion to perpetual busyness does not in fact translate to greater productivity and is not particularly healthy.”

Instead, we should be searching for ways to disengage ourselves from work, rather than trying to perpetually add more to our overflowing plates. Quoting an essay from The New York Times by essayist Tim Kreider, Jabr says: “Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets.

“The space and quiet that idleness provides is a necessary condition for standing back from life and seeing it whole, for making unexpected connections and waiting for the wild summer lightning strikes of inspiration—it is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done.”

How very true. Jabr adds, “Downtime replenishes the brain’s stores of attention and motivation, encourages productivity and creativity, and is essential to both achieve our highest levels of performance and simply form stable memories in everyday life. A wandering mind unsticks us in time so that we can learn from the past and plan for the future. Moments of respite may even be necessary to keep one’s moral compass in working order and maintain a sense of self.”

As well, just what are we doing with all that additional “work time?” Not much of any true value, to be honest. Quoting a 2010 study of 1,700 white collar workers from the U.S., China, South Africa, the U.K. and Australia, Jabr says, “On average employees spend more than half their workdays receiving and managing information rather than using it to do their jobs.”

It’s easy to offer advice on how to consolidate or eliminate much of our “busywork” but, in the long-term, how effective will those efforts be if we don’t make our own commitment to downsizing our lives, resisting the temptation to peek at our electronic devices whenever they call out to us, choosing not to spend that extra hour or ten at our workplaces, deciding not to sacrifice our nights and weekends to “catch up” on our mountain of neglected employment spewage and, generally, making a choice to put leisure time ahead of our jobs.

Or maybe all of that is some unrealistic, out-of-date fantasy. Have we come so far in our evolution that we’re ready to give up all the things we’ve always cherished and that have provided us with an antidote to our jobs?

If so, perhaps it’s time we rewrote that 1981 Loverboy classic, Working for the Weekend. In today’s frenzied world, maybe it’s time to come up with some lyrics that truly reflect where we’re at today. In that case, we’ll just retitle the song, Working on the Weekend and be done with it.

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This Is Not Bullying

Another week, another horrific story of “bullying.” That word is in quotation marks for a reason. The recent death of 17-year-old Rehtaeh Parsons goes so far beyond any traditional definition of bullying that it’s almost impossible to make any comparisons. And it leads a person to believe the world is going down some horrific path from which we’ll never return.

Sometime about 18 months ago, it’s believed this bright and beautiful young woman from Nova Scotia was savagely raped by four violent thugs. As brutal as that is, Rehtaeh’s nightmare had just begun. The offenders posted pictures of the sexual assault online and emailed them to others, boasting about their twisted triumph. From there, the story went in a new, disgraceful direction with schoolmates and others harassing, belittling and ‘bullying’ this young victim until she believed there was no way out except to take her own life.

And now, too late, there are plenty of people pointing fingers, without any real answers about what needs to be done. Prime Minister Stephen Harper put the death in perspective by taking the whole matter out of the realm of mere bullying. In a statement that was widely reported by several media, including the CBC, he said, “I think we’ve got to stop using just the term bullying to describe some of these things. Bullying to me has a kind of connotation … of kids misbehaving. What we are dealing with in some of these circumstances is simply criminal activity. It is youth criminal activity, it is violent criminal activity, it is sexual criminal activity and it is often internet criminal activity.”

Harper is absolutely correct. Even in its broadest definition, it’s incomprehensible that Rehtaeh’s story falls under the category of what most people consider bullying. If you have any doubts about this, you should take a few minutes to read the heartbreaking blog post made by Rehtaeh’s father, Glen Canning, the only statement he’s made about her death.

“The worst nightmare of my life has just begun. I loved my beautiful baby with all my heart. She meant everything to me. I felt her heart beating in my soul from the moment she was born until the moment she died,” he writes. “The life I had with my daughter was a rare thing. It was wonderful, it consumed me. I was defined by it. It made my life rich and beautiful. She was amazing.”

This is a man who believes the entire community let his daughter down. And he’s right. In addressing Nova Scotia’s Minister of Justice, Canning says, “Rehtaeh Parsons thought the worst outcome for her case would be no charges against the men who raped her but we all know better. The worst thing that could happen would be charges. That they would be found guilty, and that Rehtaeh would sit on a court bench and listen in utter disbelief as they were given parole, or a suspended sentence, or community service. All for completely destroying her life while they laughed.”

Canning is in disbelief that his daughter is gone while the people who helped contribute to her death still walk the streets. “They took photos of it. They posted it on their Facebook walls. They emailed it to God knows who. They shared it with the world as if it was a funny animation. How is it possible for someone to leave a digital trail like that yet the RCMP don’t have evidence of a crime? What were they looking for if photos and bragging weren’t enough? Why was this treated like a minor incident of bullying rather than a rape?”

Someone needs to answer Canning’s questions and those of others who have lost children to the escalating violence that all gets wrapped up conveniently in the blanket of bullying. This is not one person’s crime. This is everyone’s responsibility.

As Canning puts it, “My daughter wasn’t bullied to death, she was disappointed to death. Disappointed in people she thought she could trust, her school, and the police. She was my daughter, but she was your daughter too.”

No one can help Rehtaeh Parsons. Or any of the other young people who are gone because they believed there was no way to survive a life where ‘bullying’ was tolerated or ignored or dismissed. But, perhaps we can all help the next Rehtaeh before it’s too late. Maybe a good start would be to stop calling it bullying and come up with a word that’s more appropriate. Harper calls it “criminal activity.” Some might even call it “murder.” Call it whatever you want. It just has to end. As Glen Canning says in his statement: “For the love of God do something.”