Cover

OUR CHANGING LIFE

BARBARA WICKENS December 17 2001
Cover

OUR CHANGING LIFE

BARBARA WICKENS December 17 2001

For seven-year-old Jenna, a school trip to the Childrens International Learning Centre in Hamilton was more like stepping into a fairy tale. A giant, red, papier-maché Chinese dragon with large white teeth dangled from the ceiling. A multicoloured, life-size replica of the Hindu goddess of wealth and prosperity, Lakshmi, hung from the wall. In the middle of the room, a native motif: piles of fake fur surrounding a mock bonfire. And all around were soft, white Christmas lights. “Its so beautiful,” the Grade Two student exclaimed. “I want to touch everything.” Jenna and her classmates at Hamilton’s Thornbrae Elementary School are among the nearly 1,700 youngsters who have toured the not-for-profit centre since October—a 30-per-cent increase over same period last year. The organization, established in 1970 to encourage respect for all peoples, changes its displays regularly. The current one, Festivals of Light, shows how people around the globe celebrate significant religious and cultural occasions this time of year. In addition to the exhibits about Chinese New Year, the Hindu celebration Diwali, the Six Nations’ midwinter ceremony Ongehhoweh and Christmas, visitors can learn about the Jewish festival Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, established in 1966 for people of African ancestry worldwide to reflect on their background, family and community, and Ramadan. The exhibits motivated Shahriyar, who moved to Canada from Bangladesh in 1997, to show his classmates how he prays during the Muslim holy month. Jessica took it all in. “It’s very important for us to learn about other people,” she said earnestly. “There’s been a lot of misunderstanding in the last little while.”

Out the of the mouths of babes.

It has become a truism to say that Sept. 11 changed everything. For many Canadians, this has manifested itself in a host of everyday ways: dealing with increased airport security; greater line-ups at border crossings to the United States; the exacerbated effects of terrorism on an economy that was already slowing. The shocking spectacle and sheer magnitude of the tragedy also engendered a strong emotional response that prompted many Canadians to ask, ’’What can I do?"

Where they find their answer depends on their ethical, religious or spiritual values. For some, it lies, at least in part, in good works, whether volunteering, donating to charity or performing humanitarian deeds. Others are turning to their religion—and genuinely trying to understand the beliefs of others. That reaching out, according to some, is the silver lining. “The terrible tragedy prodded us to do things with each other that we had been talking about for a long time,” says Reuven Bulka, chairman of the inter-religious affairs committee of the Canadian Jewish Congress and rabbi of the Congregation Machzikei Hadas synagogue in Ottawa. “Our position is that spiritually we are all on the same page. We are all united against what happened.”

Some of these reactions are reflected in Maclean's eighteenth annual year-end poll, to be published in full in the Dec. 31/Jan. 7 double issue. According to the survey of 1,200 Canadians, since the terrorist attacks, 72 per cent have become more appreciative of family life; 26 per cent have less interest in material wealth and possessions; 23 per cent feel a stronger need for religious beliefs; and 16 per cent have a stronger desire to go to a place of worship. The poll also found that a solid majority— 73 per cent—had not changed their view, for better or worse, of the Islamic religion because of the terrorist attacks. And while 16 per cent replied their view had changed for the worse, nine per cent said their view had actually changed for the better.

For many people, the challenge lies in sustaining the changes they’ve made, however positive or noble their intentions. The most immediate way to feel like they were helping, somehow, was to donate to charity. Since Sept. 11, the Canadian Red Cross has received about $14 million in donations earmarked for U.S. victims of the terror attacks. But fundraising professionals are concerned that the initial impulse may have faded, and are anxiously waiting to tally their critical, year-end, money-raising drives.

Houses of worship have already started to witness some backsliding. Immediately after the attacks, people crowded into churches, synagogues, temples and mosques—many for the first time in years. Since then, attendance has been dropping, although not necessarily back to pre-Sept. 11 levels. That decline comes as no surprise to Father Ken Koep of St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church in Regina. “We’ve seen this trend before,” says the priest, who is also president of the Regina Council of Churches. The only religions still attracting big crowds, he adds, are fundamentalist ones, where morality is more cut and dried. “When some people are frightened,” says Rev. Koep, “they look for things spelled out in black and white.” There are those whose consciences will not let them sit idly. In Nova Scotia, about 20 women launched Yarmouth C.A.R.E.S. (for Community Afghan Relief Efforts) to raise money for Oxfam Canada’s humanitarian work in the war-torn country. One of their fundraising projects is selling small candles set in recycled glass, designed by local artist Anne Cain and made for them by the Atlantic Candle Co. “It’s fantastic to see what $10 can do,” says Linda Coakley, a member of the ad hoc women’s group. “Each candle buys either one blanket or 6.4 kg of food.”

The students of Chilliwack Middle School, in British Columbia’s Fraser Valley, decided they too wanted to put something positive back into the post-Sept. 11 world. They decided to direct their efforts closer to home—the Eden Intermediate Care Centre, a provincially financed nursing home just blocks from the school. After meeting with the residents, whose average age is 87, the Grade 7 to 9 students decided to build them a garden. They staged a variety show, asking the audience to pay admission in daffodil bulbs. They collected 2,800 bulbs and with donated building materials—including railway ties the teaching staff paid for—they’ve spent many Saturdays at the Eden centre building the garden, including raised beds, pathways and a gazebo.

For a small minority, the hateful acts of Sept. 11 opened a floodgate that, to their twisted thinking, freed them to express their own hate. Ignoring the fact that most consider the terrorist acts done in the name of Islam a perversion of one of the world’s great religions, small-minded thugs have subjected Muslims across Canada to at least 90 incidents of harassment and threats.

And not just Muslims. In one instance, arsonists destroyed the only Hindu temple in the Hamilton area. Meanwhile, antiimmigration and white supremacist groups are boasting of an uptick in their ranks. For some Canadian Muslims, the atmosphere of distrust is threatening not only their physical but their spiritual wellbeing. “Their faith is shaken by all of this,” says Prof. Mohamed Elmasry, national president of the Canadian Islamic Congress in Waterloo, Ont. “We haven’t reached the point of people giving up on the religion. But we’ve had to emphasize the beauty of the religion. We are a community that is healing.”

Most Canadians, though, want to break the cycle of intolerance, and some Canadians have responded to the terrorist strikes by learning about other religions. Aaron Hughes, professor of religious studies at the University of Calgary, says the numbers of students taking his class, Introduction to Islam, are “way, way up” since Sept. 11. “Even my class on Arabic has increased enrolment,” Hughes adds.

That reaching out is not restricted to Islam. On Dec. 16 in Toronto, there will be a multi-faith open house at the gallery of the Ontario Heritage Foundation, where adherents of Baha’i, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism and Sikhism will, according to the promotional literature, “display their spiritual wares.”

Karen Mackay Llewellyn, a lay pastoral minister at Trinity-St. Paul’s United in Toronto, says that’s exactly the sort of re-

WORK AND SPIRITUALITY

Well before Sept. 11, Toronto corporate consultant Ann Coombs had detected a change in workplace attitudes. Employees, she noted, were making new demands that had less to do with money or stock options and more with the quality of life at work-including the desire for a spiritually sustaining environment. When Coombs’s book, The Living Workplace: Soul, Spirit and Success in the 21st Century, was published in February, it quickly became a Canadian best-seller. It caught the attention of top brass at the Bank of Montreal-they bought 800 copies, put their logo on the books and gave them to clients-and Oprah Winfrey, who has scheduled Coombs for a guest appearance on her TV talk show in the new year. Coombs’s message is more hard-nosed than it might at first appear. “We’re not talking crystals here,” says the consultant, whose clients include Ford of Canada, Campbell’s Soup Co. and Telus. Organizations risk their bottom line, she says, if they do no more than pay lip service to the con-

sponse to Sept. 11 that members of her congregation are eager for. “I think maybe we’re all becoming more sensitized to one another,” she adds. “If there’s a vision of hope in all the horribleness, it’s that it has pulled us together. I hope we can keep the momentum.”

That’s what they’re striving for at the Hamilton children’s centre. The day the Thornbrae students were there, they may have thought they were playing as they painted mendhi—traditional henna skin decorations common in Hindu wedding ceremonies, among other things—on cardboard cutout feet, or tried on a burka, which in the West has become a symbol of the oppression of women. But Eleanor Chithalen, program director and past president of the centre, says their parents have bigger expectations. “They don’t want to go from crisis to crisis,” she says. “They want to understand their neighbours and they want their children to understand the beliefs and values of others in their classrooms—now, more than ever before.”

With Ken MacQueen in Vancouver and Susan McClelland in Hamilton

cept of a workplace that respects their employees’ spiritual values. “Employees these days are expected to contribute heart and soul,” she says, “but when that sort of loyalty is not returned, when corporations place shareholders’ demands above the additional responsibility of the workers' overall well-being, or focus on short-term financial gains at the expense of ethics and values, there will be a price paid in the long term.”

In the wake of Sept. 11, Coombs’s firm, which also has an office in Vancouver, polled 1,500 employees across Canada about their jobs. Results indicate 59 per cent perceived a greater sense of fear at their workplace, caused primarily by job losses resulting from the attacks; 48 per cent said the tragedy had caused them to reconsider their life’s priorities; and 34 per cent said they were planning on changing jobs in 2002 because of the present negative environment in their workplace. That last statistic is ominous, Coombs says. “The economy is going to get better,” she cautions, “but it will be impossible to get good people back.” Barbara Wickens