Monday, 13 February 2017

Less Judging, More Empathy Please

We have lived in downtown Vancouver for a number of years and have watched a number of individuals roaming our streets, often talking to themselves...or someone we can't see.

We all have a habit of judging someone as normal or not normal, placing them in the boxes we use to organize our myriad of thoughts and to guide our behaviour. I have been pushing myself to gain a broader perspective, or to use fewer boxes, when seeing the people around me, with less judgement and more empathy.

Oddly enough, I want to thank Netflix for providing shows for me to watch that portray individuals who display behaviours that are different for reasons sometimes unknown or sometimes stemming from mental illness. What has been truly amazing to me is watching the supporting characters to those individuals learn to live or work with them.

Let me tell you about three examples:

1) The Bridge

This is a Scandinavian crime television series featuring Saga Noren, who is a member of the Malmö County Police Department. It is suggested, but never stated, that she might have Asperger's syndrome or appears to fit somewhere on the autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) scale.  She is portrayed, however, as "completely oblivious to social norms, but a brilliant and devoted police investigator". 

Here is a little clip with a colleague to help you see her behaviour: 

What caught my attention in the show's episodes was her captain who seemed to fully appreciate everything Saga was and accept everything she wasn't. Whenever her behaviour would move in an asocial direction, her captain had a wonderful way of redirecting her attention. He never overreacted -- just a gentle redirection. 

2) River

River is a BBC One TV show about a detective named John River "who lives among the dead and dying victims and killers from the murder cases he’s trying to solve. Through time spent with these imagined lost souls, River is able to piece together the truth behind the crimes he investigates." Spoiler alert: it takes a while to figure out that River is actually talking to one particular lost soul -- but you begin to appreciate the reality of the situation for River. 

This show reminded me not to judge and to be more empathic when I see someone interacting with themselves (or with others I can't see) or even just behaving differently. 

3) Please Like Me

Please Like Me is an Australian television comedy drama series, dealing with realistic issues with humorous tones, featuring the main character, Josh, who finally comes to terms with being gay and not having any clear direction in life. 

Josh's mom has been hospitalized following a suicide attempt, who deals with depression and displays manic behaviour. While in the hospital, Josh visits his mom and meets others in the same hospital with various mental health conditions. Josh has a wonderful way of speaking with these fellow patients as regular people and doesn't buy into their mania. But it is more than that...

Josh ends up dating Arnold, a young male patient who has been in and out of the hospital with severe anxiety attacks and depression.

One of the most gripping scenes was in Episode 25 (YouTube), called "Champagne". There is a scene where Arnold has a panic attack while in a giant observation wheel and Josh uses Arnold’s love of math to calm him down. The exchange is beautiful and heartwarming -- and provides a wonderful lesson in helping someone diffuse their anxiety. [Notice: profanity in play]


So now you have three more shows to add to your watch list...

And perhaps you will join me in throwing out some of those boxes?

Monday, 26 December 2016

My Wish for 2017

I'm going to keep this simple. My wish for 2017 is that the world finds a way to fix racism. 

For me, racism is born out of fear and misunderstanding, believing those who don't look like us are somehow dangerous or barbaric or otherwise lesser than ourselves. 

I was inspired by the bravery of my friend Dr. Gurdeep Parhar who spoke about his own experience during his TEDx Talk, Fixing Racism:

There are simple steps you can take to disrupt racism which I would encourage you to become familiar with because you never know when you will have such an opportunity.

I found the Racial Justice Network's 5 Ways to Disrupt Racism a great resource for some incredibly practical ideas:

When we peel back the colours of race, we can actually begin to see we are truly born of the same soul and humanity.

And that is a beautiful place to be.

I hope you will join me. 

Sunday, 27 November 2016

Raising Awareness of Cycling Safety

The irony wasn't lost on me. The weather forecast said no chance of rain. Yet the rain fell soon after we received the news of the tragic accident involving a group of Gastown Cycling Racing Reds which left Brad Dean dead and two others in critical and serious condition respectively, following a head on collision with a Lexus on River Road. Three others had minor injuries.

Brad is on the left - 2015 BC Provincial Crit

I felt sick to my stomach. I struggled to keep the tears back in public. My heart ached for the friends and family of Brad Dean and I felt extreme sadness for the 19 year old driver who remained at the scene. 

The news travelled quickly through the local cycling community and it hit home hard. I had just been talking to other cycling friends earlier that week about how small this cycling community is after discovering yet another connection (it's 2 degrees of separation, not 6). I was clearly thinking only of the amazing group of friends who share a passion (or obsession) for cycling. Now I realize that this tight knit community would also share the burden of grief and sadness.

Brad is on the right at the 2016 Donkey Cross

I also anticipated the rhetoric that would follow challenging the right of cyclists to be on the road (I can only imagine how the horses felt when the cars came -- I'm sure it will just take time, they said) and the need to share the road (some people just never learned to share and they probably have attachment issues). 

What I didn't expect were the questions about whether or not the cyclists were wearing helmets. What self-respecting cyclist would not be wearing their helmet?! goes with the kit!

Note the helmets...

However, at the end of the day, the question was rather moot. No helmet was going to protect against the impact of the vehicle in this situation. 

This truly was a tragedy that had nothing to do with the previously mentioned rhetoric. If they had been in a car, that driver would have struck their car. The only difference then would have been seat belts, airbags and a lot more steel. 

For me, this speaks more to a 19 year old who is going to live the rest of his life knowing he made a decision which has had significant consequences for others. And my mind turns to my firm belief that teenagers particularly (but I will extend this to all new drivers), should take a high performance driving program, like the one offered by ProFormance Racing School. This program will teach you how to be a better driver. It worked for me and I've seen it work for others. Something to ponder. Either that or Jedi mind training (stay on target...stay on target).

That got me thinking about what else could be done to make our roads safer for cyclists and drivers alike. 

1) One idea came to me while driving to work about the many different factors a driver must be aware of -- other cars, pedestrians, cyclists, unsuspecting squirrels and geese, "road furniture" and integrated bike lanes that complicate right hand turns: so what if cyclists rode in the opposition direction of the cars? Much easier to see and certainly removes any right hand turn complications. (Yes, I might be was just an idea.

2) I also admired the many closed circuit tracks around Sydney, Australia that I saw back in June, like the old WWII tank training tracks used by the Randwick Botany Cycling Club, and I wondered what it would take to create more of that here (higher quality though). 

Randwick Botany Cycling Club

I know we can use the Mission Raceway, hosted by the Phoenix Velo Cycling Club. And then I heard about the Vancouver Island Motorsport Circuit and I immediately saw options for an amazing cycling event to be held there. 2.3kms of beautiful roads... But what if we could rally funding and support to create more cycling paths that would facilitate longer, safer rides throughout the Lower Mainland? 

Europe seems to have a better handle on this and I can't wait to see what the final 101km traffic-free bicycle highway in Germany is going to look like: Radschnellweg Ruhr.

3) Then there is the "Dutch Reach" which is a cheap yet effective counter to the ever worrisome car door experience: simply opening the car door by reaching across the body with the more distant hand. While the technique doesn't actually carry this name in the Netherlands, drivers taking their license exam are required to open the door with their right hand, thereby turning their torso and allowing them to see any oncoming cyclists. So simple...

4) I also thought I might also share some other tools cyclists can give their loved ones during their rides. This requires the cyclist to have a mobile device with a data package and the loved ones with either a mobile device or computer with internet access. 

a) We started off using Garmin Connect but then switched to Strava this past year which has a much better map and normally works better (you know, if it's not on Strava, it didn't happen). Yes, I know this sucks up your battery life but it is really nice to check every once in a while and to see that little dot moving. The map also helps loved ones know whether any stoppage is on the road (might be a flat or some other mechanical disaster) or at one of your favourite coffee and pastry shops (and if so, you better bring one of those pastries home!). 

b) The Find My Friends app on the iPhone or any Android is also a great tool and one I will be using next year with group rides where I have been asked to take photos! I will finally know where you will be instead of just guessing and anticipating your arrival. I have fond memories of Coach Assaf and I losing the Pender Men's Masters team for 20 minutes in the Californian canyons last March when they went off course. Find My Friends would have been helpful then... 

My heart still weighs heavy for the friends and family of Brad Dean and the rest of the Gastown Cycling Racing Reds. I'm sure it will for months to come...

I think it is important that we stick together and we keep this conversation going. 

What better way to keep the conversation going than to participate in the next Ride & Remember (or you can find them on Facebook). This originated with the JustGiver4PD and Gastown cycling teams who organized the first Ride & Remember in honour of Brad. 500 cyclists came out to show their support and it was pretty powerful (these photos capture just a piece of that).  

2016 Ride & Remember

This annual ride will strive to unite the cycling community each year to honour those lost and help raise cycling safety awareness across the country.

Please join us in raising awareness for our cyclists' safety.

RIP Brad Dean 2016

Friday, 20 May 2016

What We Leave Behind

I have been thinking a lot about what we leave behind when we die. 

There are a few reasons why but before I reveal these, let's take a look at what typically gets left behind.

Some people only leave their belongings behind, in the absence of any relationships, leaving some families to disintegrate in their efforts to take as much of it home with them. Not much is left in those instances. And it can take decades to heal those wounds, if ever.

Some people leave all their money to other organizations, much to their family's chagrin sometimes, in order to create the gift that keeps on giving to others through enterprises such as new buildings, endowments, or scholarships. Foundations love these!

But what has really struck me are the stories that emanate from those who once knew the one who passed away. 

Sure, there will be the stories that make everyone laugh or cry. 

Perhaps you have enjoyed watching Wes Anderson's The Royal Tenenbaums and couldn't help smiling when the tombstone of Royal Tenenbaum was revealed, clearly depicting his own vision of his legacy. This, by the way, is a great example of revisionist history -- which can often happen as well.

But the best stories come from those who speak about the way their lives have been changed because of their relationship with the one who is no longer here.

There are also the fairy tales that have a way of sharing hope in the face of loss, like Kenneth Branagh's Cinderella. On her deathbed, Cinderella's mother imparts a world of wisdom to her young daughter, asking her to promise to always have courage and be kind. Talk about guiding principles!

Then there are the stories from real life, like those about my husband's aunt Ann who passed away after a very short but tragic illness. The minister shared Ann's own hopes for what people would remember of her during a beautiful service - to be remembered for her kindness - surrounded by gorgeous flowers and a splash of red. 

There were the words of the minister herself who described Ann as being the epitome of grit and grace. And they were perfect.

However, stories were flooding in from previous students or colleague about the impact she had, like this one: 
Ann... had a major impact on my life, helping to shape my life views on politics and faith and my responsibility to help make the world a better place for everyone, not just a select few. But her influence went far beyond that. She invited me into her home and shared her wonderful daughters...with me. She comforted and counseled me through several personal struggles and pushed me to be strong and brave. She even influenced my personal sense of interior decor.
 Still brings tears to my eyes...and there are many others.

I am also working with a small group of UBC alumni to gather the stories of former president Walter Gage who passed away in 1978. This all started after meeting Dr. Jim McEwen at an RBC dinner last year who asked me why UBC wasn't doing more to recognize Walter Gage. 

It was an interesting question, given my former mentor, Dr. William A. Webber, had imparted his own story of Walter Gage to me before he passed away - a man who never forgot your name. (By the way, Dr. Webber was also known to be "a great role model as a scholar, friend and compassionate human being." From the UBC Archives. To this I can attest!) 

I woke up at 3am after that dinner with my mind swirling with ideas of how we could do something more. Sure, there was Walter Gage Residence, the Walter H. Gage Memorial Fund and Walter Gage Road (found on any good map). But none of these capture the essence of the man who had an amazing way of making every student feel not only special but finding a way to give them exactly what they needed in order to succeed. Talk about inspiration! And that's the kind of president we should be talking about...

I want to leave you with a quote from Maya Angelou that sums it all up nicely from my perspective: 
At the end of the day people won't remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel.
So after reading all this, what do you want to leave behind? 


Tombstone photo from The Constant Reader. All other photos are mine. 

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Inspiration Found in California...Again

We had the most amazing trip to California in January. It was only for a long weekend but the effects will last a lifetime. 

The idea for the trip came from Marianas Trench's Hey You Guys tour announcement in December 2015...wouldn't it be fun to see them again in another city? Like Los Angeles? Then we could see B and Lo in Palm Springs as well?

Here are the highlights:

On the way to YVR (my favourite airport), we read a great article about Marianas Trench in the Georgia Straight -- if we weren't ready before, we certainly were now!

An afternoon in Santa Monica

Once at LAX, we rented a car and drove to Santa Monica. After a lovely lunch sitting outside in the sun at True Food Kitchen, we wandered through the nearest outdoor mall. I made him model for me before I was approached by two different security guards (oops! No photos, ma'am). He could be a J Crew model in those clothes or a Timberland one with those shoes. Tee hee! 

We then strolled outside, past (and not to) the Santa Monica Pier into Tungva Park to see Weather Field No. 1 by Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle...

Past this stunning City Hall...

And back to the parkade to catch a photo shoot in progress. No, I don't know who they are. But they certainly look good!

Overnight in West Hollywood

We then headed to West Hollywood to the Beverly Laurel Hotel to check in.

We found this fabulous farm to table restaurant across the street, called Market Provisions, for dinner.

We used Uber to get to the infamous Troubadour to see Marianas Trench up close and it was unbelievable. A stadium performance on a small stage but Josh Ramsay owned it like he's been doing this for decades. He couldn't do this without the rest of the band who are incredibly solid. We found a place to stand upstairs with this view.

We weren't the only ones enjoying the show. There was one guy who will soon be heading up a Marianas Trench tribute band...or a Glee episode.

This setlist came home with us.

The next morning we had a tasty breakfast at Swingers Diner just next to the hotel before heading to Palm Springs. This was part of their feature wall.

We sang our hearts out to Marianas Trench all the way to Palm Springs.

Palm Springs

A special treat was getting to spend time with our friends, B and Lo, who are staying in Palm Springs for a few months and meeting new friends, Helen and Bob. 

After a tasty lunch at Clementine's, a few of us went to the Austin Art Projects to see Karen LaMonte's latest show, Nocturnes. Words cannot express this experience for me except to say two things: it brought tears to my eyes and I am determined to one day own at least one piece of her work.

Then there was Bob's 1950s Ford Convertible.

Relaxing at B and Lo's with Olivia (she wasn't supposed to be on this chair).

And dinner at Mister Parker's at the iconic Parker Hotel.

The next morning delivered these views.

And while the gents went for a bike ride...

The ladies checked out the Desert Willow Luxury Wedding Showcase -- not for us but a bride-to-be. Did you ever think of having Ben & Jerry's at your next event?

The weekend ended with the gents hitting a few balls at the local golf range. This is B laughing while Lo looks on, looking luxurious as always.

While I spent time in heaven nearby.

Then it was time to head to PSP to fly home.

We are pretty sure we will remember this trip for the rest of our lives. At least I know I will. I was present for every moment. And I am pretty sure that made the difference.

Sunday, 22 November 2015


November 11th...the day we are reminded not to forget. Not to forget those who gave their lives fighting for their country.

In Canada and other commonwealth countries, we call it Remembrance Day

I know there are some people who would like to forget. And while war itself brings about numerous negative reactions -- and for good reason, I also know that the world we live in now would be quite different without it so there is a silver lining.  

Note: I won't spend time elaborating on this debate. Check out this short yet thoughtful overview of the pros and cons of war if you are interested.

I choose to show support for the veterans who serve and who have served their countries each year. We have even visited numerous memorial sites including the Canadian National Vimy Memorial and a tours of the Somme battlefields in France and the Ypres Salient battlefields in Belgium. Sobering. 

For those who want to show their support for our veterans, you can wear a poppy, a practice originated from the poem In Flanders Fields, written in 1915 by John McCrae, a surgeon with Canada's First Brigade Artillery:  

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly.
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

I like the concept of wearing a poppy and I wanted to share a different approach to the traditional throw-away poppy you can pick up from a supporter on the street or at a local shop. 

I was a little worn down by the poppy pins we wore every year...the way I poked myself frequently (not exactly what they had in mind when they ask to give blood) and they never stayed in place (has anyone seen my poppy?). So I kept my eye open for a poppy brooch. Something I could wear every year.

I looked and looked all over to no avail.

Then I saw Kate Middleton sporting the most beautiful poppy brooch I had ever seen. I knew I had to have it.

So I ordered my own from the British Legion shopThis large brooch is gorgeous and works best on a thick coat lapel (as I soon discovered).

As I don't typically wear thick coats, I also ordered the smaller version and I love it. 

If you don't like the sparkles, these aren't the only poppy brooches sold by Legions. You can check out the different styles on the Royal Canadian Legion's shop

They make great gifts (just ask my mom and my mother-in-law) and Christmas is coming... 

I now wear the smaller version proudly on whichever coat I am wearing and the large brooch adorns my Everlane backpack

And don't be surprised if you attract a lot of attention...I don't mind though as it gives me an opportunity to share this story.

Now that I have my poppy brooches, I made a commitment to myself that I would still support my local Legion each year. This year I chose to direct my donation specifically towards the Veterans Transition Program (Trauma and PTSD counseling) through my local BC/Yukon Legion, in recognition of the many veterans who suffer from trauma and PTSD and the concerns raised about the lack of support for these individuals.

Note to all Legions: I would love to see all Legions have an online donation system like the BC/Yukon Legion. This would decrease or eliminate the number of thefts on the street that seem to occur each year and decrease the rubbish left lying on the streets (are those poppies even recylable?). Plus people might give more than the typical toonie or 5 bucks. Something to consider... 

Lest we forget.

Monday, 19 October 2015

Lessons I Have Learned about Leadership & Creating a Respectful Work Environment

I shared the following 13 points with the 2014/15 cohort of the Academic Leadership Development Program at the University of British Columbia at a session on creating a respectful environment. This is my collection of best practices learned from others or born from personal experience:

1. Listen before speaking or ensure you read that email carefully and then take a breath before reacting.

2. Take a non-judgmental approach when confronted with an issue. Start with asking a 
lot of questions.

3. Learn how to effectively run a meeting and consider ground rules such as no interruptions and/or ensure everyone is given the opportunity to speak. Ensure comments are about people’s behaviours and actions, and not about the person themselves.

4. Say “yes and” instead of “yes but”. It demonstrates acceptance and provides an opportunity to build on each other’s ideas.

5. Ensure diversity of opinions and perspectives. If none are given, ask for some. You may just be surprised at the stronger outcome.

6. Face-to-face or voice-to-voice communication is better than an email for discussion. Email is perfect for FYIs.

7. There should be transparency in decision-making and an equitable (not equal) distribution of the resources.

8. Understand the individual needs and values of each one of your team. Show concern and compassion for each person.

9. Be clear in your vision and values, and be genuine. “Leaders must embody the spirit they want the team to adopt. People pick up on phoniness. They trust authenticity.”
–Professor Joel Peterson (

10. Don’t take it personally unless you are personally involved – and then be accountable for your own actions. Don’t be afraid to say “I am sorry.”

11. Our institution should be a place of mind and heart, where we approach issues from a balanced emotional and intellectual foundation.

12. Don’t be afraid to make a decision, even if it turns out to be the wrong decision or the least popular decision.

13. Say thank you. It is one of the easiest and best forms of employee recognition.

Image credits:


8. TLB Creations Photography