Surround yourself with youthful enthusiasm

Last week, I had the opportunity to spend an hour at the Frontenac, Lennox and Addington Science Fair at Queen’s University. The fair is for students in grade 5-12 and this year there were 289 exhibits. Clare was the very first student to register her exhibit on global warming.

Clare didn’t win any prizes, but was rewarded in so many other ways.

Dr. Neal Scott spent a full 40 minutes talking to her about the Arctic and promised to email her pictures of polar bears from one of his summer expeditions to the Arctic with his students. The very next day we were looking at incredible photos of polar bears in our inbox.

Dr. Arthur MacDonald, one of the leading physicists in Canada, and the keynote speaker at the fair also spent time talking to Clare about her project. In his keynote address, he talked about her, saying it was wonderful to see such youthful enthusiasm and passion in students today.

Here were a few things I learned touring the exhibits:

  • Even though music has no scientific impact on the growth of plants, plants that were exposed to heavy metal music grow faster than plants exposed to classical music (go figure!)
  • An arch bridge made of popsicle sticks is stronger than a truss bridge made of popsicle sticks
  • Swell water bottles are the best for keeping water cold and were twice as effective as a regular plastic water bottle
  • Ball spin, and the dimples on a golf ball help make them fly farther
  • Beet juice is a secret weapon for melting ice, and could help reduce the amount of salt we use on the roads in Canada (although I couldn’t help thinking it would be weird to be driving on pink roads all winter)
  • Potatoes may be our next fuel source

It was exciting to see these wonderful bright minds tackle some of the world’s problems.

Then this week, I had the pleasure of spending an evening with an equally inspiring group of young people. Grace was asked to speak about her transition to high school to a group of Grade 8 students with autism as part of an orientation night.

We spent time learning how to open a combination lock (kids with autism often struggle with fine motor skills), reading schedules and talking about the challenges they’ll face making friends. Their honesty, courage in facing the unknown and often unfriendly world, and sense of humour impressed me beyond belief.

The next time you hear someone despairing about the next generation, and “kids” today who seem to be forever on their devices, I can safely say, don’t worry, our future is in good hands.

This week’s #HappyAct is to spend some time with the future leaders of tomorrow. Let their passion and youthful enthusiasm infect and inspire you.

science fair exhibit
Clare’s wonderful playdoh depiction of the earth 30 years from now when our green forests and blue oceans transform due to global warming

Say what you mean

cat in the hat say what you meanWhy can’t people just say what they mean?

Being clear and honest would solve so many problems.

Relationships would be stronger because we would forge stronger connections from shared understanding.

There would be less uncertainty and confusion in the world.

We would make less mistakes.

We would save precious time from trying to interpret what the other person is saying or what they want.

Saying what we mean could also help advance our interests.

Look at Donald Trump. One of the key reasons he has gotten this far in the U.S. presidential race is because he says what he means. If Hillary Clinton stopped playing the political game, and just once, came out and blasted him, and said what she really felt, I wonder if she would see a spike in the polls in her favour.

Our reluctance to say what we mean is even more of an epidemic at work.

There are some professions where I swear they actually train you to speak in euphemisms and jargon. It drives me crazy.

Last week I got an email from a colleague. The first line was, “Here is the PPT that I presented to the RLT based on the work that the INV team did.”

Now, as it turns out, I actually understood the email because sadly, I’ve worked there long enough that half of these terms are second nature to me. But god help any new person in the organization, or someone who isn’t exposed to jargon and acronyms as much as I am.

Saying what you mean is even more important for some people, for instance, people with autism.

Because Grace has a tendency to interpret everything I say literally, I’ve learned to be as specific as possible in my language. For instance if I said, “I don’t care if you want to do X, you have to get your homework done first” or whatever the issue we were discussing, she would literally interpret it that I didn’t care about her. Having an autistic child makes you think about your language choice very carefully.

Of course, there are times, when it is better to not say what you mean. Here are some golden rules of communication to keep in mind:

  1. Think before you speak.
  2. If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.
  3. Always think about whether your words could be interpreted the wrong way or how they would make the person feel.

As Maya Angelou once said, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

This week’s #HappyAct is to say what you mean, keeping in mind the golden rules. Share a comment. Why do you think people don’t say what they mean?

Diss the dis in disability

This past week, Sesame Street introduced a new character with autism and launched a new website called “Sesame Street and Autism: See Amazing in All Children”.

This is a bold, exciting step. It’s time we finally dissed the “dis” in disability and see the strengths and gifts people have to offer, regardless of their limitations or challenges.

I have a bit of experience with kids with autism. I remember attending a play group of kids “on the spectrum”. The first week, you could tell the parents sitting on the bleachers were comparing mannerisms and skills of their kids. Some kids had more overt stimming behaviours, movements kids with autism do to self-stimulate. Some were better at the physical activities they had the kids do. Others clearly struggled with speech or making friends.

What was interesting was by the end of the third week, the parents didn’t see this any more. They saw a beautiful little boy Damien, with the most gorgeous smile and sweet disposition. They saw a tall, lanky and athletic girl named Georgia, who had a wonderful heart and tried to help the other kids. They saw past their disabilities to see their abilities and strengths.

As humans, it’s natural for us to like people like us. But those who are different have so much to offer and give.

This week’s #HappyAct is to diss the dis in disability. Fight the impulse to label someone the next time or your child meets someone and thinks they’re “weird” or “different”. Be open to who they truly are. If we can all do this, the world will be a more peaceful, inclusive and happier place.

Ed. Note: As a follow up to last week’s federal election, I was heartened on election night to see the faces of our new members elect of parliament. A record number of visible minorities and women were elected to our new parliament. That in itself is a great outcome.

Hug a dog

Girl hugging dog
Grace giving Bella a bear hug

There’s an incredible story circulating on the internet about a seven-year old German Shepherd in Italy and its devotion to its owner (watch this one-minute video).

It made me think, what makes us so devoted to our dogs and pets? I think the answer is simple. They are devoted to us, and like children, they give us unconditional love. They also instinctively know when we need comfort or companionship. Whether we’re laid up in bed sick with the flu, in tears after an emotional day, or curled up on the couch enjoying a coffee on a snowy Sunday morning, they are always there by our side. (Even now as I write this, I say Murphy’s name and he starts thumping his tail, raises his head, looks up at me with his big brown eyes and groans in contentment.)

Studies show that pet owners tend to be happier people. Pet owners exhibit greater self-esteeem, are more physically fit, less lonely, more conscientious and socially outgoing, and have healthier relationship styles. I swear that my father lived longer because of our old dog, Bailey.

Most hospitals or long-term care facilities have programs where they bring dogs in to visit with the residents, and there have been some inspirational stories about the positive effects dogs have with children with autism. From a practical standpoint, they are also one of the best home security systems you could ever have (I used to work for a home and property insurer, and I can unofficially tell you we’d rarely get claims of stolen goods from houses where there was a dog.)

Yes, dogs are incredible creatures.

This week’s Happy Act is to hug a dog (or cat if you have one). If you don’t have a dog, offer to take a neighbour’s dog for a walk, or better yet, drop in to your local animal shelter. Most animal shelters are looking for volunteers to help exercise their clients. And when you’re finished, don’t forget to give them a big hug and a pet. Leave a comment, what do you love about your pet?