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My Volunteer World (Pt. I) July 31, 2006

Posted by earthlingconcerned in Volunteer.

It was just over a year ago that I went from having a slight interest in knowing what goes on outside of my country to one bordering on obsessive. Throughout 2005, my job pretty much allowed me to read whatever I chose on a full time basis. As someone who is fairly convinced by the age old adage, the truth is stranger than fiction, most of my time was spent with works of non-fiction. After reading several popular books (Jared Diamonds recent works come to mind) as well as the works of some of the greatest political theorists of the 20th century (Karl Popper and Bertrand Russell), I began to delve into 20th century history. One book that made an impact on me was The Fate of Africa: From the Hopes of Freedom to the Heart of Despair (Martin Meredith). My eyes opened ever so slightly, and from that point onward, my interest in world outside my own became more and more important to me. As my interest in this genre of thought continued, I decided that I should make an effort to make any positive change that I could. After researching a few NGO volunteer agencies, I followed the lead of a friend and began the application process with Youth Challenge International. The organization had ongoing projects within several countries around the world, but since I was new to all of this, I decided it would be best for me to travel somewhere that I could communicate in my native tongue. Guyana and Grenada were the two countries I checked off on the list and before I knew it, I was selected to join a group of volunteers destined for Grenada.

To suggest I knew much, if anything at all, about the culture of the small Caribbean island would be foolish on my part. I was aware that Hurricane Ivan had happened, but not aware of the long lasting toll it took on the psyche of its population. I hadn’t heard of Emily until after my selection for the project. In looking back, I won’t say that I necessarily should have known anything about Grenada. It is a country with a population of just over 100,000 and is known for spices and rum more than anything else. In the months prior to my departure, I did a lot of reading on its history. Grenada, an island which lost its indigenous population once the Europeans arrived, always seemed to be involved in some sort of tug of war between the world powers of the time. England and France both claimed it to be their own several times throughout the last few centuries. Shortly after independence arrived in 1974, the country became a playground for the Cold War super-powers. With a short lived flirtation with communism squashed by a US invasion in 1983, Grenada was finally free to exist in a the democratic style preferred by the United States. And somewhere along the human time line, I entered the equation. A speck of dust, en route to Carriacou, one of Grenada’s sister islands that has a permanent population of just over 5,000. Supposedly, there is a need for our labor and very general skills.

After a week of orientation with my fellow volunteers, we were on our way. No turning back. We were fortunate to have a small house donated to our cause. With it, surprisingly, came the standard comforts of modern life (electricity and running water). We took some time to adapt to the temperature, pace, and cultural differences before doing what we all flew thousands of kilometers to do. The mind of an idealist will always conflict with the actual way of things. The group was divided into mini projects that would take up the remainder of our time on the island. I was deemed worthy to be part of an effort to help establish PAM, Program for Adolescent Mothers. This was a program that had been in place on Grenada for a decade but was only in its infancy in all aspects on Carriacou. Early enthusiasm on the part of myself and my partner dwindled as the realities of volunteer work took hold. There were questions of acquiring the funds required (the Grenadian government, UNESCO, and the United Methodists all had representation at early available at early meetings), of who would in charge of the program, the time line, scale, and pretty much everything else one has to deal with in regards to such a creation. And as volunteers, it was our job to be patient while all the details were squabbled over. In an attempt to initiate something on our own (with a guiding nudge of our group leader), we spent most of our time working on a workshop for adolescent girls on the island. This became our own. We had to live with promoting PAM through our own workshop instead of working directly on PAM, as there wasn’t much of a PAM to work with at the time. The preparation and eventual facilitation of the workshop, some furniture building, house painting and helping with other volunteer programs was what I ultimately did on Carriacou. Two months working on a tropical paradise, in my forgivably naïve attempt at being the first creature to be truly altruistic. I failed in achieving this selfless ideal, but I suppose understanding this only makes me more human. Going into the project, the idea that we couldn’t save the world was drilled into us early and often. If you can make a positive difference in one person, then you’ve achieved your goal. This always made a lot of sense to me, and throughout my trip I would always try to find that person. But until then, there were several hurdles to overcome (or at the very least, understand).

The economy of the island is primarily based on tourism, and this is apparent on the surface level. With air-conditioned hotels and stores running from an inefficient and environmentally unfriendly power source, those visiting Carriacou are kept happy. With a demand for a brand recognizable product base, the imports suffocate any efforts at an actual sustainable local industry, so that those visiting Carriacou are kept happy. With virtually no recycling happening on the island, the growing landfill is kept far away from where the visitors would generally find themselves, and they remain happy. Sustainability. A notion that was stapled into my skull early on remains one of the big question marks on the island. Keeping visitors happy only works as long as there are visitors. After Ivan and Emily arrived in consecutive years, many of these folks changed their travel plans and soon enough, an island geared towards promoting leisure too all those who could afford it wasn’t able to do so. Nothing about an economy based on tourism is sustainable in the long run. What was I to do about this? We did speak of sustainable livelihoods and local economies in our workshop. But in reality, there was absolutely nothing I could do. When it came down to it, with my patchy understanding of the inherent flaws of a tourist economy, I myself was a tourist. I indulged in the lifestyle, by reasons of necessity and comfort alike. People in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones, isn’t that what they say?

I don’t have any statistics regarding the monetary losses Carriacou endured after the hurricanes, but I do know that another ongoing short term solution, helped ease the pain for a lot of local residents. Aside from it being a tourist economy, it is also one that relies heavily upon income from family members working overseas (in most cases, Canada, USA and England). Many of the youth who I talked to while on project acknowledged that after they complete their secondary education, they will spend their working lives in one of the aforementioned countries. During a game of dominos, I once took part in a conversation with one of these expatriates in an attempt to brainstorm some ideas as to what can be done to remedy this cycle. He said that he sends relatives who remained on the island money, modern gadgets, general supplies and the like on an ongoing basis simply because he wants to help out those close to him. I can’t argue with that logic. He did see the problem in such a cycle. If money was always sent in from abroad, those receiving it begin to expect it and become less motivated to work for themselves. Also they become more intrigued by the possibility of living in these faraway lands of opportunities without thinking much about their homes. In effect, it is an economy based on reliance. Whether relying on wealthy visitors or well off family members. It was rather difficult for me to imagine how my actions during my tenure as a YCI volunteer would make any impact at all. I suppose I was warned.

As time went on, it became fairly clear to me that all of this wasn’t an issue specific to Carriacou. What did become clear was that the island was one by geographical properties alone. It was indeed part of a larger world. The ongoing brain drain is seen all over the world. My Canada is definitely one that suffers in this regard with highly trained professionals in all fields. A sustainable environment in the great white north is an illusion based on the sheer size of the country. Who am I to be a moral guide to anyone? One resident of Carriacou once asked a fellow volunteer why we flew all this way to “help out” when all of the problems present on Carriacou could be found in our own backyards. That question stuck with me, for I didn’t have an answer that could ever satisfy. I try to relate to this man. What would I think if I saw a group of volunteers from a faraway land come to my door step and suggest things are better from whence they came. That they could help me out, as long as I was willing to acknowledge that I needed this help in the first place. Who are they, who am I, to have the confidence in these assertions made? This awareness in myself, I believe, did indeed make the trip a success. I am quite certain I did indeed help one person. I was taught how small the world really is, no matter how big it strives to be.


Additional Peacekeepers towards Hezbullah and Israeli Conflict a Grave Mistake July 26, 2006

Posted by earthlingconcerned in United Nations.

As someone who isn’t particularly well versed in the history that is behind the current conflict between Israel and Hezbullah, I wasn’t planning on commenting on the issue until a later date. I have been following what has transpired in recent weeks via the regular news outlets but feel my knowledge of the region lacks a certain big picture understanding that can only be found with oodles of research and attention to first hand testimonials. What did Hezbollah expect when they first attacked the Israeli forces and took their hostages? It has recently been made clear that they didn’t expect the reaction that Israel gave. Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah remarked, “The truth is — let me say this clearly — we didn’t even expect (this) response … that (Israel) would exploit this operation for this big war against us,” and that they expected “the usual, limited response.” But that isn’t what they got was it? Shortly after the initial attacks, Israel’s chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz was quoted, “If the soldiers are not returned, we will turn Lebanon’s clock back 20 years.” And that, from what I can see and hear, is exactly what has since taken place. Hezbollah and Israel have since been firing rockets at each other. Much of northern Israel is living in a constant fear and more of the Hezbollnese, correction, Lebanese countryside, has taken a tremendous toll (both in loss of lives and physical infrastructure). Most of the civilized world (yet not all, thanks to some long standing unbreakable alliances) have condemned Israel’s reaction against Lebanese land as excessive and unacceptable. So who is more at fault for what is happening? I worry, that as an outsider, that answer will never be clear to me. But I know for certain that with my knowledge of the situation, I am only able to reiterate what has been broadcast through the media.

With this, I wish to make clear that any opinion I have on the current situation, and its history, relies on emotions more than anything else. Once again, this is an opinion that hasn’t factored in the big picture because I do not know yet what it is in fact comprised of. What I am fairly clear on, however, is what won’t alleviate the situation in terms of loss of life. On July 21st, An Israeli bomb destroyed a United Nations post that had been marked as such for much longer than the current struggle between Israel and Hezbollah. UNIFIL (United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon) has been in the region since the late seventies. Along with this irresponsible, and inexcusable destruction came the deaths of four peacekeepers from several regions around the globe. Upon word of this news, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan condemned Israeli forces by saying, ”I am shocked and deeply distressed by the apparently, deliberate targeting by Israeli Defence Forces of a UN Observer post in southern Lebanon.” Israel claims the attack was unintentional and that the Secretary-General was too quick in saying the attack was intentional. It appears though, that regardless of how unsafe the region has proven to be, the international answer to everything that is taking place is to send more. Many of the EU nations, Australia, the United States, among others have been pushing for additional peacekeepers in the region. Politically, the idea makes sense. Something has to be done to help secure the region, this is something, and the general population of any country will take more kindly to sending in keepers of peace, then let us say, keepers of war, brutality and hatred. But we don’t live in a world where semantics translates into anything remotely resembling reality. Since the end of the Cold War, peacekeepers have had a terrible record and it has all to do with their ability, or lack thereof, to perform any significant duty other watch and wait. Romeo Dallaire, in Shake Hands with the Devil, his stellar account of what took place during the Rwanda genocide paints a clear picture of the problems of modern day peacekeeping. He writes, describing peacekeeping missions during the Cold War:

In these operations, lightly-armed, multinational, blue-helmeted, impartial and neutral peacekeepers were deployed and interposed between two former warring factions, with their consent, either to maintain the status quo, as in Sinai from 1956 to 1967, or to assist the parties in implementing a peace accord, as was at the time the case in Cambodia. The key principles of these operations are impartiality, neutrality and consent. Classic peacekeeping had worked well during the Cold War, where the two camps had used peacekeeping to diffuse conflicts that could draw in major superpowers and lead to nuclear Armageddon. – Shake Hands with the Devil by Lt. Gen. Romeo Dallaire

If the peacekeepers of the era were ever in too deep (as was the case several times), there was always the overhanging threat of the super powers intervention. Threatening, at the very least, of the total annihilation of the planet. As this threat is no longer an immediate concern, peacekeepers no longer have this otherworldly sense of protection and ultimately power. Without this security net in place, it’s not hard to imagine why peacekeepers became direct targets to attacks by those, who for the most part, don’t report back to the governing body within the region of conflict, and therefore, have no representation on the UN General Assembly. With no representation, and therefore no fear, why not act brutally against those in place to keep a peace that they may not be seeking in the first place. And as Dallaire writes regarding a peacekeeper that was killed on duty in Bosnia, one that was originally thought to have been killed by an accidental mortar explosion, “I found out much later that Gunther had actually been hit in the chest by an anti-tank rocket that had been fired from a shoulder-held grenade launcher. He had been deliberately targeted, and murdered.” If I am to believe Hezbollah represents an outright terrorist group, and Israel, with an impeccably unreliable record in following UN rules (It took them 22 years to remove their forces from Lebanon after UN Security Council Resolution 425 was established). Paul Kennedy writes the following about the results of the peacekeepers presence within the region during those earlier times in his recent book The Parliament of Man,

“The hapless international troops were insulted, disregarded, kidnapped, and shot at by all sides, taking many casualties, yet had neither the firepower nor the authority – as at the beginning in Congo – to respond in force and subdue the awful mayhem. There was nothing in the Charter or in earlier experiences to give guidance; and the Security Council was bemused and dumbfounded.” – The Parliament of Man by Paul Kennedy

And that was during the Cold War. The failures of the 1990s in Srebrenica, Bosnia, Somalia and Rwanda proved exponentially more costly. There has been success, but the magnitude of the failures outweighed these greatly. I repeat that in dealing with failing, and collapsed states, the UN Peacekeepers have little or no power to do what they were brought in to do. I would hesitate to say Lebanon is a collapsed state, but with Hezbollah representation in parliament, a large portion of the population supporting its cause, and the continued Israeli onslaught (and subsequent anti-Israeli sentiments by the Lebanese), it is on the verge of being a failing one. I hesitate to say this, but I feel that the only good more peacekeepers can accomplish in regards to stabilizing the region is by being attacked upon more and more frequently until the governments who sent them, are pushed by their people to come in with a more traditional military force. This is what I see, this is what I fear. A possible ceasefire in the region will put all of this on hold, but for how long? The longer the situation continues, the shorter the ceasefire will be.

After everything I have written, it may seem like I am against what the United Nations represents, and I would like to make it clear that that is exactly the opposite of what I feel. My intention, prior to writing this article, was to discuss the essential nature of having a world body. Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither was the UN. But I am certainly weary, and I hope I made abundantly clear, of sending neutral forces into a region where neutrality isn’t an option.

Thank you, Günter Schabowski! July 25, 2006

Posted by earthlingconcerned in Uncategorized.

By 1989, the Cold War was approaching its last hurrah, its death rattle if you will. However, you’d be hard pressed to convince the then newly elected Bush administration that anything was going to be drastically different than it was since the stalemate began nearly half a century before. Even though the Soviet economy had been in decline for well over a decade. Their newest leader Mikhail Gorbachev genuinely committed to bringing the major players closer together. And the Brezhnev Doctrine, one which demanded immediate Soviet involvement if another communist country was showing signs of defecting towards capitalism, was a non-factor since the mid-80s. These were still times of great mistrust. And with enough nukes in place to destroy most of the civilized world, there remained a great difficulty in easing these tensions. But that was then, the cold war did indeed end in the years that followed, the camels back had been broken. Günter Schabowski, was the straw that broke it.

As a member of the SED (the ruling communist party in East Germany), Schabowski was given the rather straight forward task of being the administrative spokesperson to the media for a day. On that day, November 5th 1989, the message to be delivered was one that was to relax the rules restricting travel to the West. Something that had already been taking place, albeit accidentally, after Hungary began dismantling their barbed wire fences along its western border because of the outdated nature of the blockade. Several thousand East Germans would travel to the, then, communist country on their vacations and flee to the west. And with the Brezhnev Doctrine already being a relic of the past, there was little anybody was going to do about it. SED officials knew they had to ease travel restrictions or this back door exit would continue to be exploited. To do this, Egon Krenz (the new leader of the SED) had a hurried meeting with others high on the political step ladder and rushed a out a decree of compromise. This decree was given to Schabowski, who was not at the meeting, so that he could present it to the waiting press.

The announcement he made however, did not relax border restrictions like the decree demanded. What it did was denounce them altogether. After hastily announcing that the citizens of East Germany were indeed allowed to leave “through any of the border crossings,” the astonished media personnel asked when this might take place. As the enormity of what he had just announced took hold, he quickly and confusingly looked down at his papers again and stated, “According to my information, immediately.” So it was said, and so it was done. The news spread like wildfire and thousands of ecstatic Germans rushed to the border so they could enter the west. For many, for the first time in their lives. The guards on duty, with no instructions on what to do considering the events that had, and were continuing to unfold, opened the gates and the rest is history.

To say that Günter Schabowski ended the Cold War would be a colossal error on my behalf. The reunification of Germany was barely guaranteed, the Soviet Union wasn’t dissolved as a governing entity until Christmas day two years later, and the rest of the Warsaw Pact countries were still intact (albeit with several surface cracks beginning to show). Regardless, If there was indeed a single piece of straw that caused a heavily strained ideal to collapse, Schabowski and his public statement was that straw. The statement was supposed to allow for order to continue, a compromise if you will, but the unintended statements resulted with the people finally having it their way. And so in the centre of a divided Berlin, in the centre of a divided Germany, in the centre of a divided Europe and ultimately, in a divided world, one persons error helped  correct another that had been terrorizing the world for so long. Terrorizing, how quaint.

The Social Stagnation Present in Modern Public Transportation July 25, 2006

Posted by earthlingconcerned in Western Culture.
1 comment so far

With about 2.3 million daily customers, and the remarkable distinction of being the third most heavily used transit system in North America, it appears that the TTC (Toronto Transit Commission) has done a great job providing a public service that continues to grows. It is hard to complain about those newly minted transferable metro passes, or the noticeable performance upgrades to the Day Passes. However, the stagnation that I propose deviates from this specific aspect of growth and will concentrate instead on the social character of the TTC. I think the current trend in social behavior on public transportation is counter intuitive and ultimately damaging to society as a whole.

By using the term social character, I hope to describe the customary behaviors that are all too common in modern day public transportation. Throughout this essay, I will refer primarily to the Subway system over any other type of public transportation. This is done for reasons of clarity and not as a limiting factor. I would now like to convey a few relating observations of TTC ridership to clarify what is meant with “customary behaviors”. I speak in reference to any given weekday morning rush hour subway train; I see a microcosm of modern urban society. There are people from all pockets of the world doing their best to get from point A to point B in a quick and orderly fashion. I see you scanning cautiously throughout the train trying to learn more of the other passengers only to quickly glance away when another just like you discovers your curiosity with their own. I count the number of iPod ear buds hanging down and see only an excuse to further promote the unnecessary isolation. I see closed eyed, the reason remains the same. A TTC passenger is indeed a predictable animal. In what I would hardly call an exaggeration, the social character of the aforementioned subway car promotes isolation in an area that would in most other instances promote social activity.

Public transportation differs in structure from other common modes of transportation in that they are generally built around the idea of privacy. It is almost unthinkable to walk down a busy downtown street and spark up a conversation with one of the several million faces that have their own routes and urgencies. A car is limited as well in that, just like walking; it is part of a private organism. Private automobile rider ship depends on previously achieved relationships to the car owner, be it of a personal or business nature. The following is a short list of reasons why I see public transportation in another light. Firstly, regardless of what has become a visible practice of isolation, a subway car forces close contact with strangers within a temporary, controlled and manageable space. These people, who by the nature of transportation itself, have a lot in common with you the moment you enter the train. A Subway train is quiet enough for discussion to occur, many people spend more time with their head down on a transit vehicle than they ever would in similar social seating arrangement (I.e. coffee shop). A subway car is also within the range of what British anthropologist Robin Dunbar considers to be the limit of direct and significant personal relations. The Dunbar Number (recently made popular in Malcolm Gladwell’s “The Tipping Point”) is based on a theory that proposes that you can have a stable one on one relationship between a maximum of 150 individuals. Beyond this range of interactions, it is said to be harder and harder to establish true and meaningful connections. I must admit, that the inclusion of the Dunbar Number as an argument for a subway community is flawed in that it’s tough to imagine having so many things in common with the people of an entire subway car, and that the number of relationships that could be discovered will ultimately conflict with others already prominent on your personal 150. I would only like to suggest that the limited enclosure of a subway car allows for important connections to be made. Whether these connections will ever be seen on a large scale is yet to be seen. The characters on the television show Train 48 seemed to have gotten the idea (prior to its cancellation of course). Why is it then that this phenomenon of silent ridership exists?

I can think of several reasons, all of which I believe depend on vague, unwritten social rules of TTC ridership. One can argue that there simply isn’t enough time to become acquainted with another person in such a short period of time. Firstly, this argument depends entirely on of the duration of the specific trip taken, but I do think there is a grave misunderstanding of what is required to be converted from faceless stranger to a temporary friend. Here are a few situational examples of what I mean with temporary friend. If you’ve ever charged towards a train to make it on before the doors closed with someone just like you, you’ve made a temporary friend. If you’ve ever snickered in unison with another rider when noticing an aberration in the train’s social character, you’ve made a temporary friend. Even asking someone for the time brings out an understanding between two people, a shared experience, a connection that had only moments before, not existed. It is more likely that you’ll realize when that person goes through his pockets or leaves the train now that this temporary friendship has been established. I suggest, from personal experience, that these brief and unexpected occurrences are capable of heightening ones mood and sharpening ones mind in a similar way that any interaction based on similar experience might. However, these instances of impromptu connectedness are extinguished as quickly as they are established because the event conflicts directly with the current social character of a Subway car. These instances fail to progress beyond this initial level because once the moment of connectedness is acknowledged, the link is torn apart by the nature of the lonely crowd. With this in mind, I will repeat in saying that the “lack of time to establish common thoughts” argument is an excuse more than it is a reason. The next argument that I will attempt to argue against is one that I can relate to, yet hardly defend.

It is possible and at times, completely probably, that the lack of interaction has to do with a preoccupation of unrelated matters. One might think, I can’t be bothered to talk to strangers when an important deadline is approaching, an important test is mere minutes away or simply because the music being played is genuinely for practical enjoyment (instead of as a way to be excused from any social interaction). All of these, and many more reasons for silence exist, and have to be accepted only if they are genuine in nature. If these people continue on with their isolated behavior, not out of fear of making a peep or being heard, but because it is current a expression of self, then all the power to them. There are days when the last thing you want to do is draw any attention to yourself, but this should always be caused by an active choice, rather than one placed upon you. Forced isolation such as this, condones the development of stereotypes, segregation and ultimately a certain illusionary level of antisocial comfort.

In a recent Toronto Star article, Is Toronto growing more divided (Andrew Chung), it is hinted toward, that the working example of a cultural mosaic that represents Canada (as opposed to the “Melting Pot” of cultural amalgamation found in the United States) is in decline. Differences in presumed socioeconomic and racial backgrounds are more and more frequently keeping people apart due to an obsolete set of stereotypes. A temporary friendship is blind to these old rules. However, it seems that those obsolete set of instructions always outlive the moment and the shared experience fades into obscurity. Allowing for the benefit of the doubt to suppose that people are generally well-intentioned creatures, it is easiest to break stereotypes and promote common interests when one isn’t subjected to isolated opinions. A subway train is often one of the most unique examples of contained diversity throughout the city. It is therefore hard to find a better place to promote social interaction, conditions permitting. If one thinks about accepted behavior on an airplane today, you’d realize that a level of communication between the passengers by your side is commonplace. A large part behind this variation lies in what is considered as acceptably normal behavior in the respective environments. These accepted norms lure you in because there is supposedly a certain level of comfort present within them. Within a subway train, where an attempt to extend the rule of privacy into this potentially social arena has been made, you ultimately find yourself restricted to silence by social pressures rather than personal wants. Anxiety forms an alliance with a social character that already finds itself in err. With this in mind, I will return to the subway car, a potentially valuable way to change the slow progression to further isolation.

If one is to understand my opinion that traditions and stereotypes promote an unnecessary isolation within public transportation, and that it is possible to reverse this large-scale antisocial behavior, I will soon propose a few suggestions on a way to change this behavior. Before I do this however, I wish to make it perfectly clear that I do not think large-scale reform of any social institution is possible without serious repercussions, and am therefore an advocate the piecemeal approach to any form of social engineering. As an approach that depends entirely on small shifts towards any goal, a sort of minimal impact trial and error method of social progress, the piecemeal approach approves of the notion that anything I promote within this article may and possibly should be refuted. Regardless, I think a discussion in any topic is more valuable than no discussion at all. Now, my few suggestions on how to promote social activity as a catalyst within the public transit system.

As with anything else, a popular awareness of the goals one is attempting to achieve is possibly more important than the message itself. If people are expecting something, they are much less likely to react cautiously to it. An article in a daily paper (free or otherwise) for example would distribute the idea to its target audience with little or no distraction from what is currently considered as the social character of the transit vehicle. With this idea in place, if only for a brief period, it is plausible that the riders will already be more accepting to a social presence aboard the train. Suggesting something like “whistle, if you hear someone whistle” will barely breach the current level of anxious anonymousness within the train, yet would promote a low level, high impact form of communication. Bring in traditional bits of culture such as the first half of the “Hockey Night in Canada” theme, hoping for a response in the form of the latter half to follow from elsewhere on the train. It is also important to maintain a level of modesty in regards to this idea. Suggest that all those who wish to escape the realm of unnecessarily isolation should move to the front of the subway train and continue from there. If you’re already with someone you know, use this added comfort to initiate communication. In time, the whistling becomes a reminder, which in turn becomes a symbol. This symbol, a representation of a shared experience, is an essential opening for the temporary friend to exist beyond the initial moment, beyond the individual participant. If the only discussion that ensues out of these thoughts is how unrealistic and unnecessary they are, then the message has succeeded. To know for certain whether any of these suggestions is beneficial in long term societal progress is not possible to know for certain. For example, the idea interaction with strangers conflicts directly with the “Don’t Talk to Strangers” lesson every child is, and for their protection, rightfully so subjected to. Other perfectly healthy social institutions (such as parental rules) can exist and do apply within the newly suggested social character of public transit ridership. There’s also the idea that people already do socialize on public transit. I can’t deny this at all, but suggest that these interactions are primarily established prior to entering the train and tend to be self-contained.

I am hoping to be able to sit down on a transit vehicle in the near future and ask a set of wandering eyes how their day has been or what they think of the winter weather without being subjected to the feeling that I was in someway wrong in speaking up. A better future is altogether absent of any absoluteness. Nonetheless, an effort should be given to ensure that the TTC is truly the better way.