What I learned about life I learned the hard way: Stay true to your path 

I saved this letter a couple of years ago as it struck an inner chord and just came across it again and it still speaks to me.





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Finding the truth about oneself, humankind and one’s place in the universe is an awesome discovery. 


First Person is a daily personal piece submitted by readers. Have a story to tell? See our guidelines attgam.ca/essayguide

It’s not often that a young woman decides to chat me up in a coffee shop. 

But that’s what happened a few days ago, a twentysomething blonde conversing earnestly with a stranger three times her own age. It was obvious she wanted something, but felt too uncomfortable to ask, and for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out what it was. I had the feeling, as we parted company, that in some way, I had let her down. 

Later, I figured it out. She’d been curious to know what I had learned about life, this old man, three score and ten. In an attempt to somehow make it up to her, I began writing a letter, hoping I could find some way to get it to her. 

Dear Young Woman, 

I realize now what you wanted: You want to know what life is about, and you sense that, from the far end of the road, I should be able to tell you something essential about the journey. I can, though I’m not sure you’ll want to hear it. 

I think of the Russian poet, Yevgeny Yevtushenko, and the first line of one of his poems: “Telling lies to the young is wrong.” I don’t want to give you conventional truths, polite lies or what I think you want to hear: that life is good, follow your dreams, expect to be rewarded in the end. The platitudes you hear from parents, teachers and the like. 

I’m not a person who can do that. 


In fact, I’m not sure I want to tell you the truth. It wouldn’t prove useful to you. Yet, I feel under some obligation to share what I have learned, with the caveat that it is my reality, not yours. You’ll discover your own truth along the way. 

To begin with, the essence of my journey has been finding the courage to move from illusion to reality. The wonderful dreams of my youth, of my adulthood, had to be tempered by what is possible in life – possible in my own life. It’s been a hard learning process that has made me more human, more humble, more humane. I thought I was capable of great things. I imagined I would create great beauty with my music, capture a special vision of life in my writing. I believed I would enter a world of truth and harmony when I joined a therapy commune. I expected that I would find unconditional love in my marriage. 

And even before all that, I grew up within the sheltering arms of Christianity, believing there was a guardian angel who protected me, saints to whom I could pray for lost objects, special favours. I loved being one of the “chosen ones,” with the promise of eternal happiness in heaven after I died. These were some of the illusions that carried me forward on my path through life. And after they had done their work, drawing me along from stage to stage, each belief was shattered. 

The same can be said of dreams. Dreams fulfilled, dreams destroyed; either way, it doesn’t matter. They take you out into life, after which their purpose has been served. You’re left with the challenge of dealing with who you really are. 

The process for me was one of deflation – from a belief that I was a gifted, special, being loved by the Divine, to a simple human, limited in capacity, aware of my mortality, kin to all creatures who walk – and crawl – on this Earth. 

And here I am, nearing the end of my lifespan. I ask myself if I would have been better off remaining within the protective world of my illusions. Just as a child doesn’t have a choice about remaining in the womb; however, I didn’t have the option, plus some questing side of me hungered for the truth, even though it wasn’t always what I wanted. 

Yet, this isn’t the whole story. There is a boon given to those who are faithful to their path. With the collapse of every dream, the breaking of every illusion, I found myself becoming more vulnerable, more open. And out of this transformation came an awakening of what I believe is the most human of all virtues, compassion. Having suffered, been hurt, failed at so many attempts to gain “success,” I find myself able to reach out to others in a way I never thought possible – with compassionHow to describe compassion? For me it is an awareness that others, too, share the regret of mistakes made, failures endured, loves lost. That’s what happens as we become human. Realizing that we all suffer helps us accept others we meet along the way. And perhaps that is why my life unfolded as it did. 

But there is something more that makes age worth the struggle. Recently, I have found myself able to love. 

Not the romantic love of youth, but one that can embrace all who share this planet. It’s a strange and wonderful phenomenon that seems to come unexpectedly to those of a certain age who have lived their lives honestly, doggedly. Some might call it cosmic love; others, Christ love. 

Regardless, finding the truth about oneself, humankind and one’s place in the universe is an awesome discovery. And then to experience this ultimate gift of aging, this open heart, is a blessing of the highest order. So here I am, at the pinnacle of my life, looking back across the distance I’ve travelled, conscious of all the twists and turns and detours. To be able to reach out in love and embrace this world as it is – that is where life has taken me, and what for me it’s all about. 

Austin Repath lives in Toronto. 


Is artificial intelligence really artificial?

I have a philosophy prof neighbour that I have some great conversations with at times and they can be interesting! I particularly like the Pepper model but it could certainly throw us for a loop and certainly blurs the line between artificial and “natural”.

Robby Robin's Journey

This term the philosophy group I belong to is tackling the philosophy of artificial intelligence (AI).  I know, who would ever imagine that anyone would even think of the possibility of the philosophy of AI?!  Well, one thing I’ve learned through all the years I’ve been part of this august group is that pretty well every topic is open for grabs as far as philosophers are concerned.  I’ve also learned that there is no such thing as a right or wrong answer where questions of philosophy are concerned, so you can’t miss!  And what can be more appropriate than the philosophy of artificial intelligence, since we’ve spent years discussing philosophy of everything else under the sun, using our non-artificial intelligence … to the best of our ability, at least.

You don’t get far into the subject of AI without getting into robots, both lifelike and otherwise.  And it doesn’t take…

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Miracle of Reduction – monbiot.com

Miracle of Reduction Posted: 24 Oct 2021 12:05 AM PDT To avert environmental disaster, we need sudden and drastic change. Impossible? No, it has been done before. By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 20th October 2021 Fatalism creeps across our movements like rust. In conversations with scientists and activists, I hear the same words, over and again: “We’re screwed.” Government plans are too little, too late. They are unlikely to prevent the Earth’s systems from flipping into new states hostile to humans and many other species. What we need, to stand a high chance of stabilising our life support systems, is not slow and incremental change but sudden and drastic action. And this is widely considered impossible. There’s no money; governments are powerless; people won’t tolerate anything more ambitious than the tepid measures they have proposed. Or so we are told. It’s a stark illustration of a general rule: political failure is, at heart, a failure of imagination. Let’s set aside the obvious lessons of the pandemic, when the magic money tree miraculously burst into leaf, governments discovered they could govern (albeit with varying degrees of competence) and people were prepared radically to change their behaviour. There’s a bigger and more powerful example. It’s what happened when the US joined the second world war. There’s discomfort in environmental circles with military analogies. But the war is among the few precedents and metaphors that almost everyone can grasp. And we would be foolish not to learn from this remarkable lesson. Before the US declared war, President Franklin Roosevelt had begun to draft troops and build his “arsenal of democracy”: the materiel with which he supplied the allied forces. To “outbuild Hitler”, he called for levels of production widely considered impossible. But after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941, the impossible happened. The day after the attack, Roosevelt requested and achieved a declaration of war from Congress. He immediately began to reorganise not only the government but the entire nation. He set up a series of agencies that were lightly overseen but coordinated through simple but effective measures such as the “controlled materials plan”. He introduced, for the first time in US history, general federal income taxes. The government rapidly raised the top rate until, in 1944, it reached 94%. It issued war bonds and borrowed massively. Between 1940 and 1945, total government spending rose roughly tenfold. Astonishingly the US government spent more money (in current dollar terms) between 1942 and 1945 than it had between 1789 and 1941. From 1940 to 1944, its military budget rose by a factor of 42, outstripping Germany’s, Japan’s and the United Kingdom’s put together. Civilian industries were entirely retooled for war. When the car industry was instructed to switch to military production, its massive equipment was immediately jack-hammered out of the floor and replaced, often in a matter of weeks, with new machines. General Motors began turning out tanks, aircraft engines, fighter planes, cannons and machine guns. Oldsmobile started making artillery shells; Pontiac produced anti-aircraft guns. By 1944, Ford was completing a long-range bomber plane almost every hour. During its three years of war, the US manufactured 87,000 naval vessels, including 27 aircraft carriers, 300,000 planes, 100,000 tanks and armoured cars and 44bn rounds of ammunition. Roosevelt described it as a “miracle of production”. But it wasn’t a miracle. It was the realisation of a well-laid plan. The US war effort mobilised tens of millions of people. Between 1940 and the end of the war, the number of American troops rose 26-fold, while the civilian labour force increased by 10 million. Many of the new workers were women. From 1942 until 1945, the manufacture of cars was banned. So were new household appliances and even the construction of new homes. Tyres and gasoline were strictly rationed; meat, butter, sugar, clothes and shoes were also limited. Rationing was considered fairer than taxing scarce goods: it ensured everyone received an equal share. A national speed limit of 35mph was imposed, to save fuel. Posters warned people “When you ride ALONE, you ride with Hitler! Join a car-sharing club TODAY”, and asked “Is this trip really necessary?”. They cautioned: “Waste helps the enemy: conserve material”. Americans were urged to sign the Consumer’s Victory Pledge: “I will buy carefully; I will take good care of the things I have; I will waste nothing.” Every imaginable material – chewing gum wrappers, rubber bands, used cooking fat – was recycled. So what stops the world from responding with the same decisive force to the greatest crisis humanity has ever faced? It’s not a lack of money or capacity or technology. If anything, digitisation would make such a transformation quicker and easier. It’s a problem that Roosevelt faced until Pearl Harbor: a lack of political will. Now, just as then, public hostility and indifference, encouraged by legacy industries (today, above all, fossil fuel, transport, infrastructure, meat and media), outweighs the demand for intervention. The difference between 1941 and 2021 is that now the mobilisation needs to come first. We need to build popular movements so big that governments have no choice but to respond to them, if they wish to remain in office. We need to make politicians understand that the survival of life on Earth is more important than their ideological commitment to limited government. Preventing Earth’s systems from flipping means flipping our political systems. So what is our Pearl Harbor moment? Well, how about now? After all, to extend the analogy, the Pacific seaboard of the US has recently come under unprecedented climatic attack. The heat domes, the droughts and fires there this year should have been enough to shock everyone out of their isolationism. But the gap between these events and people’s understanding of the forces that caused them is, arguably, the greatest public information failure in human history. We need bodies equivalent to Roosevelt’s Office of War Information, constantly reminding people of what is at stake. As the US mobilisation showed, when governments and societies decide to be competent, they can achieve things that at other times are considered impossible. Catastrophe is not a matter of fate. It’s a matter of choice. www.monbiot.com

Legislating Balanced Perspectives in Education  

To give this perspective you really need to follow the link and read the news article.

Aging Capriciously



There is a movement afoot all over the USA for what one might call, “Balanced perspectives in education.”  Every intelligent person understands that there is usually more than one perspective on things.  History and even science can be prone to paradigms that today are considered “absolute truth” but tomorrow are found to be wrong.

History is told from the perspective of the conqueror and tends to leave out minority views.  Science is based on theories which are formed on existing facts and evidence.  However, there is seldom enough evidence to prove any one theory to be 100 percent correct.  Science is a system of successive approximation.  Over time, new evidence is developed, and science revises existing theories.  In many cases, we have seen old theories replaced by new theories.

Thus, on the face of it, one might wonder how any logical or rational or sane person could question this…

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Thoughtful Thursday: building bridges over troubled waters — Robby Robin’s Journey

For many people life hasn’t been smooth sailing these past few years. Living through a never-ending global pandemic with all its related fears and restrictions, not to mention disturbing levels of political discord in many places, has taken its toll on many people’s lives: their health, their finances, their mental health, and their personal relationships. […]

Thoughtful Thursday: building bridges over troubled waters — Robby Robin’s Journey

And now a little Satire.

The Prime Minister is sorry, okay? Really sorry.

SATIRE: What does Trudeau really mean when he says sorry? Marie-Danielle Smith imagines the PM’s ultimate apology.

By Marie-Danielle SmithOctober 4, 2021Trudeau makes an announcement in Thunder Bay, Ont., on March 22, 2019 (David Jackson/CP)

Trudeau makes an announcement in Thunder Bay, Ont., on March 22, 2019 (David Jackson/CP)

I am sorry. From the bottom of my heart. Really. Things haven’t been great lately. And for that I do apologize.

I’m sorry I created a federal holiday for reconciliation then went and spent part of it vacationing. I’m sorry I didn’t go to Kelowna instead. I’m sorry my itinerary said I would be in “private meetings” in Ottawa and didn’t mention my flight to Tofino.

I’m especially sorry this sojourn attracted national attention. Because—cough-fishwrap-cough—we should all have been focusing on reconciliation. So what I’m sorry about, most of all, is that you seized on my trip rather than spending the day in quiet reflection.

The thing is, I keep saying “sorry” over and over and over. But what makes me feel the sorriest is how my apologies never seem to satisfy you. Even when I use all the right words.

Because, you know, on behalf of Canada, and indeed all Canadians, I have publicly apologized for some really important things.

READ: Trudeau hits the beach in Tofino. At least he isn’t surfing.

You may recall some of my many apologies: I was sorry about the Komagata Maru. And about the MS St. Louis. I apologized to Italian-Canadians. I apologized to LGBTQ Canadians. I apologized—more than once, to really drive home the point—to Indigenous survivors of residential schools. And I apologized better than Harper did.

Not only have I been willing to take these historical wrongs on my shoulders, but I have also been willing to say I am sorry about my own innocent mistakes. This is the kind of magnanimity that Canadians deserve. But somehow it isn’t adequate, for you.

I lowered my chin regretfully in recognition of many things that you all decided to make a fuss about. To recap: I was apologetic about my elbow. I was sorry about the Aga Khan vacation. (Though it was actually really nice.) I was dismayed that the Creston reporter remembered events differently than I did. I was remorseful about the blackface incidents, and the fact I couldn’t say how many there had been. For God’s sake, I even admitted a mistake, at least the mistake you all seemed to think I made, when it came to WE Charity. We—I mean, I—I was so expressively sorry about that. Couldn’t you tell?

Even after all these apologies, it’s like you’re begging for more. So I’m telling you again. I’m saying that I’m sorry. I’m really, mournfully sorry! I’ve learned my lesson! Okay? Are we done now? How is this not working?

You might think that I should be sorry for not pursuing umpteen other Truth and Reconciliation Commission calls to action, instead of picking the very easiest one to implement—a federal statutory holiday—and then not even observing it myself. Fine, sorry, okay? I’m working on it. Just—sometimes I work on it from Tofino. I wish you would stop focusing on the boil water advisories and start focusing on how earnest my apologies have been.

You might think I should be sorry for calling an election in the midst of the pandemic, because my numbers looked good for a majority government. You might think I should apologize for declaring victory when my party didn’t get the most support, when such a small share of the population actually wanted me in charge. Well, look, sorry, I guess. But it’s really not my fault that our votes were so efficient.

So you say I should apologize for failing to implement electoral reform. (Though some of you who would’ve said so a year ago are biting your tongues now. Thanks, Max.) You say I should regret disappointing you on myriad other promises, too. Like forgetting about pharmacare. Or helping a brother out at SNC-Lavalin. I’m really sorry you feel that way, okay? I truly apologize for how hard it is to govern.

Oh, and now you think I should regret not surrounding myself with “more critical staff”? You think I should regret not bringing “new blood” into my office? People who’d give me a heads up when my vacation habits were going to look fishy to the—I’ll just go ahead and say it—fishwrap press? At least then I’d be safe rather than sorry, right?

Well, MY SINCEREST APOLOGIES. See, I really like my friends. They never ask me to say sorry in private. Love means never having to. I’m just sorry you don’t love me like they do. I’m just sorry that “sorry” never seems to be enough.

I’m not lazy, I’m just retired!

Definitely tongue in cheek here and no disrespect to wives. A huge thank you to Bill Jermyn for his humour.


First Person is a daily personal piece submitted by readers. Have a story to tell? See our guidelines at tgam.ca/essayguide.


One of my favourite cartoons shows a spouse asking her retired husband what he’s doing today. “Nothing.”

“You did that yesterday,” she says, and he replies, “I haven’t finished yet.”

In retirement, I have spent some time researching how to manage things and how to get as comfortable as the man in the cartoon with my new lifestyle. I have had some success and would like to share some advice for those in a similar situation.

If you have a partner at home, you have to get used to having a new boss. Chances are your spouse will have a different management style to your former boss in the workplace. To my knowledge, there are no training courses to deal with this new regime. Much of your partner’s goal is to stamp out laziness, and so I would like to step into this management vacuum to illustrate how I combat this unfair strike against the condition. It is one of the qualities of which I am now most proud. It takes vigilance and effort to feel comfortable – even proud – of having “lazy” thrown at you as an insult.

My wife and I, during most of our lives, looked down on laziness as a severe character flaw. We were brought up with the good old Victorian ethic of hard work being necessary for salvation; the brainwashing was, and is, effective.

After I retired, it took me some time to get used to not being gainfully employed. I slowly realized that far from laziness being a sin, it could be my best friend. Part of the assumption is a lack of motivation. However, in my case, it is not a lack of motivation but rather a differentview of what is important. I know what I want to do – not much, in fact – and have begun to use laziness as a shield to avoid what I don’t want. For example, while once a social gadfly, I have little interest now in social gatherings; this avoidance has been facilitated by COVID-19. Also, I rarely answer the phone on the assumption that no friend of mine would call me.

A first tool and friend of laziness is a well-developed skill to “not do things right.” For example, I can’t be trusted to do any serious shopping as I’ve been known to forget items and, worse, pick up the wrong things entirely. In my own interest, however, I have adjusted how I make the coffee run. I now ask my wife to write down her request, these four or five words that make no sense to me, when handed to a barista are understood perfectly. This way, if the end product is wrong, I cannot be blamed.

My wife and I were born in a time and place where women did all the cooking. She long since realized the inequity of this and taught our three sons to cook, but she never got around to me. One of the reasons I never learned to cook was not entirely conventional laziness. While I like food, I see it as a functional necessity rather than something to be worshipped and I have successfully resisted the temptation to get interested. I am allowed, however, to manage the dishwasher and clean the pots and pans, although I’m told I sometimes don’t clean them properly.

Another enhancement to the laziness strategy is a willingness to execute the “shortcut.” I developed this skill while I was still working. There were many situations where a project was expected to take so many hours; I never felt guilty if I found a way to shave off time using a shortcut. Sometimes the shortcut result was not quite as elegant but I had long since realized the evils of perfectionism. The shortcut is an important asset in the portfolio. There is every chance your new boss will shoot down shortcut work and thus judge you unsuitable for similar tasks.

Also, taking initiative outside of instructions has a high chance of being shot down. Taking the initiative when shopping, for example, has a high chance of being shot down both as “not doing the right thing” and “not doing things right.” This inevitably leads to you being relieved of the task in the future.

I do take care of some chores, like taking out the garbage, plunging the toilets, replacing light bulbs and so on. I have already dispensed with the grass so there is no more cutting in that department. Our last dog was not replaced and so that is another project finished off. It has not escaped my notice that my traditional tasks are fairly menial and have little scope for “not doing the things right” My proviso is that I accept these responsibilities so long as I can do them in my own time and my own way. There is nothing more annoying than to be interrupted in the middle of the important task of reading the newspaper with a request to get some avocados and an expectation that I go to the store immediately.

This summer, at short notice, I was asked to take the grandchildren swimming. Was I going to go to the bedroom and put on my swimsuit? No, too much trouble! I decided I’d use my underpants instead. When my wife decided at the last minute to come along, I feared a critique of my sartorial choice. I’d thought the underpants in a patterned blue were a design that could also be interpreted as swimwear. When I came out of the pool, however, she told me I displayed a nice wedgie, my backside was transparent and the Joe Fresh tag on the outside advertised my trunks’s true function to the gathered citizenry. So, my point, is that you will also need a thick skin when following the chosen path of laziness.

In summary, sloth is a high art form that needs constant burnishing. It thrives on “not doing the things right,” which in turn is helped by using shortcuts and initiative and is wrapped up with a healthy disdain for perfectionism. I am working to ensure my skills for several activities remain deficient. It is one thing to be perceived as mediocre now and again but sustained mediocrity is an art form and a pinnacle reached by only a few. One of my last steps to combat the anti-laziness movement is to embrace that what other people think about me is none of my business.

Bill Jermyn lives in Toronto.

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