Monday, November 12, 2018

The Arts Build Civil Communities

Saint Andrews is an artists’ haven, swelling into a vibrant community every summer. This past Saturday, I had the opportunity to interview July’s selection of artists’ in residence at the world class Kingsbrae International Residency for the Arts.  The enthusiasm for the friendliness of the town was a common theme throughout all of our conversations. Each artist qualified to participate in this month-long residency through a rigorous application process. There are fifteen such residencies awarded throughout the months of June, July, and August. 

I spoke with a fabric artist from Stratford, Ontario. Who doesn’t love Stratford, right? And there was an immediate sense of belonging she felt here, which will allow her to focus on her textile project. Then I spoke with a woman from Oregon who works as an art instructor with prisoners and is an accomplished painter, this month working on a series of paintings on cardboard. I was delighted to meet a fellow writer from Fredericton who is working on a series of short stories. We share a common interest in children living in abject poverty. I look forward to reading his work. A Chinese artist from New York is working with watercolors, acrylics, and egg tempera, a very unusual medium. It turned out we had studied or known many of the same tempera artists from the same region where I lived for many years. And finally, the printmaker from England was in heaven. Her project is printing the leaves of the garden in a variety of designs. Although these artists are only temporarily in residence, hopefully they will return, as so many do, to this amazing arts community.

At Sunbury Shores Arts and Nature Centre, the summer program is in full sail as it continues to attract an impressive roster of instructors in many mediums. Hundreds of students of all ages and abilities spend various amounts of time immersed in the course of their choosing. With one Canada’s greatest print studios on site, the quality and quantity of a wide array of techniques of printmaking, each one lovingly produced by hand, one image at a time. Studios for making jewelry, stained glass, paintings, pottery and sculpture add to the depth of the artistic community. The centre has successfully become a true community arts and nature center – the oldest in Canada – and hosts art exhibitions and intimate musical shows throughout the year.

Many artist’s studios are dotted throughout the town, and in fact the entire Passamaquoddy Bay region. The Tides Institute in Eastport, Maine has been researching the many forms of cultural expression that have flourished over the past several hundred years and beyond into pre-recorded history. Often passed down from generation to generation through the art of storytelling, the rich fabric of the artistic culture of the area has managed to sustain itself. Because of the agreeable climate and wonderful fresh air, summer artist colonies have abounded for a hundred years or more. 

The Saint Andrews Arts Council hosts numerous workshops and masterclasses in the performing arts. Their season always ends on a high note with their Gala Concert. People travel from all over the world to enrich their lives by the abundance of art programs offered by the Arts Council in this little community. And, the community is richer for it. 

The arts provide a pathway for many people to express their feelings and to feel good about themselves. This ability to express one’s feelings is what will make or break a community. Fortunately, the various arts organizations champion one another in the broader supportive sense with a clear belief that there is more than enough for everyone, and sharing is a good thing. As you can see from the above smorgasbord, the arts are flourishing and there is no indication that they will slow down. In today’s world, where many of us struggle to survive mired in a culture of fear, a healthy distraction is a welcome reprieve. What better place to find it than deep within ourselves. Our abilities to express ourselves lies inside of each of us.

The friendships and deep bonds of trust, which are so essential for a healthy and safe community, can be kindled at cultural centers, especially those where the arts are taught, appreciated, studied, exhibited, and shared in myriad ways. Civilized communities thrive when everyone feels safe expressing how they feel. Artistic expression comes in infinite forms that stimulate one or more of the senses. This expression is a form of communication. We need to return to a time when civil discourse was preferred. Today, arguments turn violent and civility is tossed out the window. Perhaps the arts can retake their rightful place at the table and restore civility where it belongs – front and center.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

How Relevant is Etiquette Today?

At a recent seminar I was presenting, the question arose during the lunch break asking about the relevancy of etiquette today. I have learned to recognize that all questions are good, and this one was no exception. Within a day or two of this question being asked of me, out of the blue an etiquette expert asked if I had been teaching etiquette for long. Taking those two seemingly unrelated questions and pondering them together, I concluded that given that I catered my first dinner party at the age of 16, and have been hosting parties ever since, I should certainly be able to explain the relevancy of etiquette today.

The question about relevancy was posed by a young creative guy who genuinely had never likely considered the importance of a good handshake when making a first impression. Planning an agenda prior to attending a business mixer would likely have never crossed his mind – why would it have? What I have come to realize is how necessary, yet flexible rules or guidelines of etiquette need to be. There are many customs from yesteryear that have gone the way of the Dodo bird. Relevancy of these customs was called into question then as it always will be by people such as the young creative guy for whom there seemed to be few concentric circles.

There is no doubt that many of the actual rules of etiquette are irrelevant, but the fundamental purpose of etiquette will always be essential. The purpose for etiquette has not changed over hundreds of years. Although technically, the term ‘etiquette’ was coined during the court of Louis XIV, the purpose dated back into the age of chivalry. Visitors in those days more than likely would have been intruders; therefore, there needed to be a way to show if you were coming in peace so as to avoid being attacked. The customary sign was the removal of one’s helmet, thereby displaying vulnerability. Similarly, swords were carried on the left and hands are to this day shaken with right hands – the hand used for wielding a sword.

Taking this concept a step further, we have evolved as a society and find that respecting one another is the best way to form safe communities where cooperation translates into survival. As these communities grew, their sustainability hinged on an agreed set of rules of conduct shared by everyone ensuring that people communicated their thoughts and feelings without unknowingly insulting them. 

So, when asked about the relevance of etiquette today, remembering that this code of conduct that has changed with the ages, and continues to do so, I say this is the footprint we use to avoid insulting one another and of showing respect. These actions allow us to feel safe and to be creative and to live the fulfilling lives, which is our birthright.

Etiquette is not simply about how to move gracefully through high society as it once was. To begin with, what’s left of many of those traditions is diminishing quickly. The need to be polite, however, has not. To quote Emily Post, “Manners are a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others. If you have that awareness, you have good manners, no matter what fork you use.”

Image result for emily post quote it doesn't matter which fork you use

What Mrs. Post was referring to is emotional intelligence. A large part of etiquette is about being aware of how we ourselves feel about ourselves and others. This is how we can form safe communities, based on our abilities to communicate civilly with one another. Somehow during the past century this emotional intelligence all but vanished. But, it is making a comeback. More and more people understand the value of emotional intelligence in re-shaping our world. 

We must remind ourselves that we are merely stewards of this wonderful planet. At the moment, we can’t justify giving ourselves high marks for our stewardship. We have decimated too much of the environment and the natural world; we have treated one another worse than any other species that ever walked the face of the Earth; we continue to marginalize people are aren’t like us; and we are either in or on the brink of a revolution or a civil war in more than one part of the world.

I hope all of you will take stewardship seriously. Step out from the shadows and make a positive change in yourself, your family, your place of work, your community, your place of worship and in your schools. Positive change requires far greater involvement by everyone of us. Wouldn’t you agree that there is a serious need for positive change? Becoming emotionally intelligent will help us be the best us we can be. Becoming emotionally intelligent will intuitively give us the good manners we need to succeed, no matter which fork we use. Is this relevant? You decide.

Jay Remer is Canada’s Etiquette Guy ( Your questions will be promptly answered at no charge.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Supporting Mental Health Care Strengthens Civility

I was shocked, saddened, and angered when I read last week’s Telegraph Journal article about four school counsellors quitting their jobs because of overwork and disrespect. Because I believe the buck stops at the top, I cannot help but place responsibility for this debacle squarely in lap of the department of education. This department has been plagued by underfunding and, as a result, a stifled ability to deliver a good education for a good long time. This latest revelation could indicate a tipping point is fast approaching. Excellent mental health and the care required to maintain it should be considered a valuable asset to our society. Because of the stigmas, fears, misunderstandings, and lack of it being a high enough priority, mental health issues continue to take a back seat. The time has come for us to speak more openly about these issues, which plague a full 25% of the population. There is much to gain both ethically and economically if we all took the time to learn about this epidemic problem to which none of us are oblivious or unaffected, despite our thundering inaction. What can we do as community partners; and what must we expect the department of education to do? Where does the responsibility rest when it comes to what amounts to a cultural revolution? And if we can fully understand the impact of such resignations, how will this allow us to develop into a more civil society? Because these are not political issues, they should not be treated as political footballs. Any responsible government should recognize the importance and benefits of a greatly increased accessibility to mental health practitioners. In schools and most workplaces, good, highly accessible counselling should be available. In high stress jobs, such as the armed forces, health care and education (to name the top three), such services should be mandatory. To accomplish this, we would need many more therapists, counsellors, psychologists and psychiatrists. We need to put together a funding model that shows the long-term health and economic benefits of treating mental health issues in the early stages, rather than waiting until they become a crisis. We would also need to collectively decide that improving the mental health of our communities is a good idea. This buy-in would likely lead to the substantially increased funding required to make this happen. I would hope that by teaching the realities of mental health in our schools, in our churches, in our social groups, and beyond that these truths could begin to melt away the stigma and shame still clinging to these far-reaching issues. Access to mental health care must be viewed as a benefit both to the organization providing it and to the person receiving it. I know of no one who would not benefit from feeling safer, more accepted and valued for who they are. Becoming more in tune with our close communities, the ones we really live in, will give us more awareness of who may need some extra encouragement, assistance, understanding, or connection. We can provide an open ear and a wonderful opportunity to connect, especially when close friends and family ask us. Because people tend to ask for this kind of support subtly, greater awareness makes it much easier to notice more quickly when things aren’t quite right. The incremental strides we are making through different government programs are important and should not be discounted. However, they are woefully inadequate, as the results have shown. Poverty, a sound education, and accessible health care – mental or otherwise, are all areas that undermine progress. We undoubtedly need to put more energy into those areas by making them our top priorities. As members of our communities, it is up to us to speak up and let our elected officials know what our priorities are. Although they may not be able to fund everything, they should be strongly encouraged to provide venues where these important matters can be discussed and where good clear information can be presented by qualified experts. We must get our heads around the idea that healthier communities are a good thing, and that it is up to us as individuals to carry the torch. There are a lot of great people in our province who are not elected officials, and who would be able to help in significant ways. So many matters that have become political in nature do not belong in any political arena because they affect everyone regardless of party affiliation. And, everyone, regardless of political beliefs, needs to pitch in and work towards a common goal for the good of the communities in which we live. A more compassionate society provides greater opportunity for personal fulfillment. Being kinder and more respectful of one another, more accepting, and more inclusive are all examples of humility. A humbler society gives all of us an equal opportunity to follow our path, as we choose, enjoying the benefits and paying the consequences of our actions along the way. What is your opinion? Jay Remer is Canada’s Etiquette Guy. Feel free to contact him on social media. He lives in Saint Andrews.