Bell “Let’s Talk”: Don’t wait for them to talk to you.

This campaign has done great things, and hopefully more and more start talking.

When we encourage the vulnerable to talk, let’s make sure the place where they might choose to do so – us – is very VERY safe. In other words, are we a good listener, or we just think we are?

I’m not a psychologist of any kind, but I have a test to suggest.

Next time someone is talking to us beyond just small talk, don’t say anything. Just use these three responses:
a. sound. (“uh huh.” “Hmmm.” “Ahh.” “Aww.” “Haha.” “UGH”)
b. “And?”
c. “That sounds _____.” (great, terrible, exhausting, etc.) – important thing about this c. is to keep it to these three words.
Even if they ask us a question or ask for advice, as long as they don’t completely finish the story and ask us to start a new story, we do our best to keep our answers shortest and put it back to them.
“So I don’t know what to do. What would you do?”
“Sounds confusing and terrifying.”

The test is over when you start thinking about what you’d say if it weren’t for this test.
or about what a perfect solution you have for her problem.
or about that other person you know who had a similar situation.
or about that friend of yours who even had it worse/better.
or how you’d have NOT done the first thing that got her in the situation.
or how you’re wasting your time listening to such a trivial story.
or about how justified for you to offer that story of someone else with a similar hobby. It makes us feel connected, doesn’t it!
It’s also over is you zone out and stop listening.

How long did you last?

Did it end by you breaking one of the rules above,

or did it end by your friend turning to you, possibly hours later, wide-eyed and awe-struck, looking you right in the eyes and exclaim “THANK YOU FOR LISTENING” like this is the first time she feels heard?

Clearly, we have work to do, don’t we. Saying “Let’s Talk” is only a start for those that are friends of those who suffer from mental illness.

NB: Stop the “test” as soon as you realize it’s not the right time for it as the test itself could be distraction. e.g. the person coming to you is distressed. e.g. the friend is asking you to call 911 because they are feeling suicidal. e.g. a friend is coming to you to brainstorm with you or “pick your brains.”

P.S. “Listening,” as in “active listening” and other techniques, do require the listener to participate and speak. In many cases, a 50/50 share of talk time is advocated. My “test” above is really just a test to see if we have the ability to just listen without distracted by our own thoughts.


“Let’s Talk”?

I talk a lot, and as you see in my blog, I appear unafraid to talk about deep and dark. But I struggle with the fear when talking to a person.

I am not afraid of the people who judge me and spew hate. I’m expecting. I’m prepared. I’m hardy.

I am unsafe only in front of the well-intended: the ones who think they are good listeners.
I run on a lot, but, in the recent past, I have not got to the third sentence of any of my stories – even the ones they asked about.

“What did you do this summer?”
“I did a great big bike ride. I cycled 9 days and raised $9000 for Cystic Fibrosis.”
“I have a friend who rides a lot. She does ironman and is always cycling. I’m pretty sure she did coast-to-coast.”

“How was your hockey game?”
“It turned out to be lower calibre than what I normally play, so I tried to set up others and still had a great time.”
“You know who’s great at that? Christine. My friend Christine used to show up at my games and…”

I asked a few of these people. They universally told me “I’m offering a similar story to try to connect with you” and did not ask me “Since you are asking me this, I’m guessing it didn’t have the intended effect?” There are two “unsafe”s in here: 1. They again didn’t listen to me, and 2. They think they are a good listener and is not open to change.

We all have to be open to change if we encourage the vulnerable “Let’s Talk.” Are you a good listener? Or do you just think you are?

Let me ask you a question.  Imagine what a “good listener” looks and sounds like. . . . . . . Do you have a clear, detailed, tangible picture? Do you look like that for 1 to 2 hours at a time without breaking into a “Focus on the positive” dismisser, an “I have a friend with a similar story” interrupter, or a “This is what you need to do” solution provider? When you offer a change of topic saying “You need a break from thinking about this,” did your friend set that timeline, or did you?

Let me ask you another question. When should a good-listener-y exercised? When a friend was delivered a devastating news, when someone is crying, when someone “needs to talk”?

Here is my proposal as our first steps to becoming a good listener.

1. Be a good listener always. Your friend wants to tell you about the sandwich she had for lunch. Your friend wants to tell you about the goal he scored in the hockey game. Be a good listener always so that, when they need an ear, they already know you are a good listener. If you think it’s painful to try on several pairs of jeans till you find the one it fits, imagine how exhausting and heartbreaking to do that with several self-acclaimed good listeners when they’re already hurting.

2. Consider (for now) that being a good listener is about not talking at all. There are many “active listening” skills you can read about. Unless you’re certain you can execute it, forget it for now. My challenge to you is: Only respond using the following:
a. Sounds (“Uh huh” “Hmmm” “Ahhhh” “Aww” “GRR”)
b. “Oh that sounds ___ [great, sucky, terrible].”
c. “And?”

No, it’s not your turn just because they paused. No, silence does not need to be filled. No, you do not exercise your right to free speech. No, you do not have the perfect solution.

Yes, saying the right thing at the right timing and situation is important. But the trigger-happy, “MY TURN! MY TURN!” way they are being offered today is not any of these things.

People don’t listen to you nearly as well as they listen for their turn to speak.

You think I’m wrong? Next time someone is telling you something, try responding only in variations of “sounds”: “Uh huh. Uh huh. Ahhhhh. Awww. Hmmm. Uh huh. MmmmmHmm.” And if they ask you a question like “What do you think?,” don’t start a story or offer a solution but turn it back on them, e.g. “I think what you’re going through is really rough.”  You will notice yourself distracted every 10 seconds by a “similar story,” solution, suggestion, or advice you’re going to share the next time your friend takes a breath. It’s excruciating when your friend pauses in thoughts because, look, there is this big window for you to start your similar story, solution, suggestion, or advice!  When your friend comes back from her thoughts and continue her story, you are only half listening because you’re thinking about the story you were going to tell, how the opportunity was missed, how justified it would have been to say that to your friend, and how helpful your friend would certainly have found what you had to say.

And, an hour later, your friend would turn to you and look straight at you with this calm surprise in their eyes and say “Thank you for listening!” like this is the first time someone really listened to them.

The thing is – it possibly is.

NB: Of course there are situations where you shouldn’t try my challenge, e.g. someone asks you to call 911 because they’re feeling suicidal, and my challenge is to proposed as an experiment in hopes for all of us to become aware of how we could become a better listener – it’s not a listening style to be exercised on a regular basis. 

The intentionally derogatory comments you make

Careful. There are provocative or shocking statements that gets you attention (negative or positive), and there are provocative statements that crosses the line and gets you no attention.

Buddy, when you post something over the line a couple of times in a row, it makes me worry what might be going on with you, and I do wish I were a better friend and asked you how you are instead of being turned away by these statements. But the truth is I didn’t ask. That makes both of us feel shitty. Sometimes when you need attention, just saying you need attention is the best way to get it. Like those texts we exchanged before – remember? I like that. Love you, my friend. You’re a good man. You can have my attention any time except when you post these things you post to cause a reaction. You choose.

We teach kids to win, be ahead, be above. And we tell kids not to bully.

Well, the title of this post should be self-explanatory. I feel like I have nothing at all to add. So, let me tell you a story.

I see on the beach a 2-year-old playing with sand. She’s joyfully picking up the sand and letting it slip through her fingers. The parent rushes over, “No, no, no, that’s not how you run sand through your fingers. Do it like this!” She does. The parent claps, screams, “Good job!!”
I am curious. After a little conversation, it comes up that the parent believes learning the “right way” gets her ahead.
Ahead of what?  Ahead of others.
At 2, she learns to sacrifice creativity, enjoyment, and autonomy, for “ahead of others.”

Another story. A father tells me that it is not about the points even though his child is a high-scoring hockey player, and he wants his son to develop into a 360-degree human being. He “doesn’t mean to brag, but” posts on social media that his child got 15 goals. He is the top scorer in the tournament. He has 2 assists. Who else wants to bet that his father would tell you that his son did make passes but his teammates weren’t good enough to capitalize?
Not even half way through elementary school, he’s learning that getting more goals than anyone is the one thing that matters. He is learning that, even if he didn’t make any passes, his father will make it that he did make great many passes that others failed to step up on.

Showing the kids what makes us the grown-ups celebrate, compliment, and feel happy is the most powerful tool to teach kids values. What are we teaching them?

If you raise kids on the values of “above” and “ahead,” which are relative references, can you blame them for bullying other kids? It is natural and completely innate to establish “hierarchy” by inflicting physical distress, isn’t it? The pecking order, mounting, humping, monkeys biting, deadly fights between lions, rams charging at each other. Why wouldn’t a child who’s been taught “ahead” and “above” and “best” inflict pain on others to show that he is?

How about those bullies who aren’t ahead, above, or best? This one’s easy to explain. If the child is behind, does not feel like s/he’ll win, or does not want to try hard to win, s/he has another option as far as the values are relative references: Drag the rest down below them.

Bullying gives no satisfaction when being equals is an indisputable fact. The principle no one dares to challenge. We are equals no matter what we do, we own, we can do, no matter how hard we try. Someone might be better at math than I am. Someone might jump higher than I am. Someone might be more popular than I am. Someone might be more “ahead” in career or finances than I am. Someone might be the bully and I might be the bullied. We are still equals. So no pecking is necessary.

But isn’t teaching to be ahead and to be the best necessary to raise a child who expresses at their highest potential? you say. It is contrary. “Ahead” and “best” are relative references: words that refer to the “rest.”  It teaches kids to evaluate themselves against the rest, not evaluate themselves against their potential. I, for one, stopped when I was the best. I knew I was better than that, but my goal was met.

A child can be taught the amount of effort to put forth. A child can be taught to challenge their potential. Isn’t that what you said earlier anyway – to express at the highest potential?

*** For the purpose of debate, the author omits references to bullying derived from other underlying causes such as anger, mental health issues, and feeling of not being in control.***

Yelling at a child as Pastime

“‘We’ve been told to go die’: Teen hockey ref speaks about parents’ behaviour”

At the grocery store for bagging your items not in the order you like to unpack? At the christmas tree sales for selling you the tree you agreed to buy? At the lemonade stand for using sugar instead of honey like you expected?

The majority of rec hockey players, coaches, and spectators think they are “above” referees. That they know better than referees do.
I’m aware of the backlash I might receive by stating this, but you know my willingness to receive backlash: Not as many of you as you think are exceptions to this rule.

May not be out loud, but yes you have thought “Phhht! S/he missed that call” or “We had bad refs today” or in some way “evaluated” their performance. You may have even seen your teammate yell at the ref and did nothing about it.

Why is that offensive? Because you don’t know what goes on. In truth what you thought was an infraction may not be. There may be another very good reason that the call wasn’t make. You think you had the best view at what happened on the ice – so did the ref. And which one of you is trained to move into a position to secure the actual best view?

I’ve had many conversations with people who think they know what goes on in the world of referees. No, not empathizing. Actually thinking that they know.
They don’t. Only a parent knows what it’s like to be a parent. Only an accountant can fully understand why one accountant did the return the way they did. Skiers can’t understand the injuries snowboarders incur. Only a referee knows what referee does.

I am absolutely steaming right now because I know this post will make no difference. The conversations I have had with players and coaches (pro, rep, certified, experienced, or casual) keep swirling in my head as I type this. They will not ever change their mind no matter how much I break it down for them. They’d answer “I’ve been playing/coaching at this high level for 20 years. I know officiating” and flicker a smug smile.

Only way to change these people is to change the culture around them. So I’m counting on all of you.

Instead of “Phhht!!,” try respecting that the ref made the right decision (or the only decision available) and that, if you don’t know why, it’s because you don’t know enough to know why. If you have trouble empathizing, think about how you’d feel at your job. Someone walks into your classroom and berates you that you didn’t see that kid hit the other kid while you were writing on the smart-board. Or you hear a parent tell the child, “That teacher is an idiot,” and explains to you that to share in the disrespect is necessary in order to calm the child. A customer shouts at you for delayed shipment that FedEx screwed up. A first-year student who’ve taken a couple of physics classes mocks and laughs at the work you stamped as a registered professional engineer because they know they can do better than you did.

We have had a very long history of yelling at refs on TV or across a glass. I swear it’s more of pastime than watching hockey itself. You may not yell at another human being; people in stripes are fair game. Every occupation is respectable except for hockey ref – that’s hardly a job. Where did you learn all this? Just the same way you learned to love TML or Canucks or Habs – you don’t know why; you just do. It’s a culture. It’s been passed down for generations.

Let’s change that to a culture of saying to each other in a respectful tone, “Refs are doing their job.”

I promise you. If you stop yelling at the refs or if you stop others yelling at the refs, the quality of officiating will not go down because referees are self-motivated to do the best job they can. If you don’t believe me saying “Only those who really truly care about the Game become referees,” remember how many times your teammates screamed at a referee, and now think about how many times you got screamed at like that. Do you believe me now?

The fear is about being up to the justice and punishment of someone else’s law, someone else’s punishment, instead of my nation’s law, my God’s law. 
We have all said offensive things. Now we don’t know when we are breaking them. And we don’t know if someone will come around the corner with a gun.
Self-defence is the most primitive and fundamental drive in human beings. It’s hard to fight it. But knowing that’s driving it helps. 

Now that people are driven by this strongest force in the beings of a human, those who are looking for a war can use it to do what they want.
Knowing the mechanism, knowing who is about to bring the next mass deaths, helps us fight for peace. 

It’s not about free speech: Charlie Hebdo victim blaming

Victim-blaming gives the rest of us the sense of safety.  “They did this, so they got killed,” draws a firm line between us and the victims. It means we, as long as we don’t do what they did, are safe. No wonder people jump to it.

Among many other reasons, one thing about 9/11 that shook us to the core was that the victims were just like us.  No one was able to differentiate themselves from the victims. It could have been me, doing nothing different than yesterday, dressed conservatively, being the perfect neighbour, and offending no one. Our lives being threatened, the literal life or death, is the one most hard-wired fears in us. We can’t just let it sit.

If we could separate the victim from us, we can feel safe again. What did the victims do, how did they dress, were they particularly heroic, were they particularly douchebaggery, did they subscribe to a belief, culture, or religion, were they offensive, illegal, or immoral?  Some answers to these questions, combined with “therefore they got killed,” constructs an unintentional, non-malicious “victim-blaming.”


Be careful treading that path. Victim-blaming reveals what the speaker considers “provocative enough to have justified a violent assault.”

Specifically about Charlie Hebdo, “By my values, these hate speech/comics were worthy of a death sentence.” It establishes the speaker’s values that 1. some speech/expression worthy of a murder and 2. you get to judge, based on your values, if someone’s speech/expression was worthy of a murder.

Now let me ask you.  Did you mean these things when you said/thought/wrote “freedom of speech is not freedom from responsibility for that speech” (in comments,

Our democratic world is built upon the foundation of NO ONE being allowed to autonomously say “By my values, these hate speech/comics were worthy of a death sentence.”  Not even an elected judge.


When victim-blaming, Charlie Hebdo or rape victim, remember this. The way we dress, speak, draw, and live each of our lives is offensive to some. Let me demonstrate. Are you for, against, or neutral about same-sex marriage?  Regardless of your answer, you’ve just deeply offended someone. Something that is absolute and clear to us… how about Do you support removing someone’s burqa if you think the situation justifies? There, you again profoundly attacked someone else’s values.

“How do we know I’m not Charlie Hebdo to someone? We don’t.” (


The bottom line is this.  The paper is atrocious. Many of their cartoons attack me and offend me. The paper’s actions, however, must be put to the rule and punishment of the law, not to that of one group based on the group’s values. What happened at Charlie Habdo to me was not just an attack on free speech but was an offence to democracy and to the concept of different groups of people living under the same governance.


What this reminds us is our sense of entitlement regarding the power and authority of the law. The world I thought I live in is only an assumption.  No wonder people want to take shelter in something like victim blaming.