The View from The Niagara Guide

General observations and musings on how we can make Niagara a better place.

Reflecting My Why

Mark Kawabe - Monday, January 08, 2018

Niagara is full of fascinating stories. People. Places. History. Commerce. Community. The more people I meet and the more I learn, I realize there's so much I don't know.

I started The Niagara Guide with a desire to "connect the dots", so to speak. I wanted to have a place where people could learn about all aspects of Niagara. My job is internet marketing, but my passion is learning and sharing. This year, as The Niagara Guide turns 18, I want it to better reflect the underlying "why" that sparked its creation.

This year I intend to share more stories about Niagara. I want to explore and share the beauty of our communities. I want to learn about people's perspectives on the issues that affect us all. I want to shine more light on issues that deserve more attention.

What will that look like? Longer articles. Perhaps videos and recordings of interviews. More photos. Deeper coverage and hopefully some discussion on topics of interest. Overall, more interesting content. At least, it will be more interesting to me. I hope it will be interesting to you as well.

It's going to be an interesting year. I'm looking forward to the journey, and I hope to have the pleasure of your company. The first step beings . . . now.

Without Immigration, There Would Be No Canada

Mark Kawabe - Wednesday, November 01, 2017

Canada is a country of immigrants. Everyone born here is the descendant of an immigrant. Every. Single. Person. In. Canada.

This is a fact. Not fake news. It's true. Try disproving it. Go ahead. I'm waiting.

If I seem a bit snippy today, it's because I'm concerned about my fellow Canadian citizens who are anti-immigration. I don't get it. What the heck are they thinking?

It's a bit of a guess, but the folks making the most noise and posturing as anti-immigration on social media seem to have a conservative political bent. Nothing wrong with that, but I'm going to point out something those folks seem to have forgotten. Canada's former Conservative government proudly boasted about how they took steps to support immigration, welcoming more immigrants per year than the previous Liberal government, cutting the right of landing fee in half, and tripling funding for settlement services, among other measures. Why? Because it was what they felt was best for Canada's economy.

Let me say that again, in case it was missed. Conservative MP Phil McColeman in the Brant News said this: "Our government believes in the power of immigration to contribute to our prosperity." This was the Conservative point of view during the Harper years.

So, I'm confused. What exactly are people up in arms about when the Canadian government (now Liberal) announces it will welcome one million new immigrants by the year 2020? I think being against immigration is distinctly anti-Canadian.

I have a buddy who was born in the United Kingdom and moved to Canada with his son to be with his Canadian wife. He speaks English fluently (albeit with an accent), has found gainful employment, and contributes greatly to his community. He's an immigrant.

A friend's wife emigrated from Japan. While she worked when she first came to Canada, she became a stay-at-home mother when she and her husband chose to start a family. She speaks English very well (albeit with an accent). She's an active volunteer at her child's school and in other community organizations. She's an immigrant.

Another friend moved here from Pakistan to be with his Canadian wife. He speaks English fluently (albeit with an accent), has found gainful employment in the financial industry, and has recently purchased a new home, and is active in the community through service clubs and serving on the board(s) of local organizations. He's an immigrant.

My wife's friend came to Canada over a decade ago from Sudan with her husband. Now divorced, she supports her two daughters as a single-parent, working hard to provide as her children make their way through high school and university. She and her family are all Canadian citizens, and she pays taxes and supports the economy as a consumer. They're all immigrants.

These are our next door neighbours. These are the people buying homes, cars, groceries, clothes for their children, and so much more. They're Canadians, and they're immigrants. Just like all of our ancestors without whom we wouldn't be Canadians now.

I hear some of my fellow Canadians describing immigrants as "freeloaders", "criminals", "deadbeats" and worse. It doesn't make any sense, unless it means something else. I'm not going to go into those thoughts, but I urge my fellow citizens to think seriously about what they're saying when badmouthing all immigrants with slurs and smears, and more importantly, why they're saying it.

Our former Conservative government supported immigration. Our current Liberal government is carrying on. The immigrants I know are making positive contributions to the Canadian economy and to our communities, and I for one am proud to welcome them to Canada. For those concerned about how quickly immigrants integrate into Canadian society, I suggest that being more welcoming and supportive would be beneficial.


Niagara Community Radio

Mark Kawabe - Thursday, October 12, 2017

Radio Microphone

I'm probably jumping the gun a bit, but I'm excited. Coming soon: an online radio station that is all about Niagara, for Niagara, and by Niagara. It's Niagara Community Radio, and it's going to be a reality in the near future.

The purpose of the station is to provide a platform for Niagara voices. That's it. Sounds vague, I know, but I think it has potential to be an important platform for small business owners, artists, artisans, politicians, pundits and anyone else who cares enough to share their story.

Niagara Community Radio is a not-for-profit venture that is offering an online radio platform to anyone who wants to host a show about pretty much any topic. Want to talk about Niagara business? Great. How about environmental issues facing Niagara? Go for it. Want to talk about your local hockey team's performance? Sure thing. Want to showcase local musicians? Right on.

From what I understand, there will be shows on at a set time, and because it's the internet, those shows will be available to be streamed on demand. It's kind of like a podcast, but you don't have to download the shows themselves. They'll just be streamed to you via your computer or through a smartphone app (iPhone and Android versions available).

Oh - and another thing - won't be any advertisements. Just announcements for Niagara community events for local charities, non-profits, service clubs and the like. This platform is being provided free of charge to Niagara for the time being.

Coming soon. It's so cool! Watch - or listen - for our first show on Niagara Community Radio before then end of 2017!

Calling Bullshit

Mark Kawabe - Monday, October 02, 2017

Manure Spreader

"Oh look. Someone's provided a quote / graphic / statistic that reinforces my worldview. I'll just re-post and share it. <click>"

Welcome to the world of social media, where something doesn't have to be true in order for it to be valuable. Only one problem: when you post stuff that's not true, you undermine your own credibility. If you're going to be spreading the news, it pays in the long run to spread the truth.

I know full well that humans aren't rational creatures. We don't respond nearly as well to facts as we do to fictions that support our values and beliefs. Stories are important, but if you're in the conversion business, it helps when they're based on truths instead of what you erroneously believe to be true.

What I mean by "the conversion business" is that you're actively trying to change people's beliefs and behaviours. Some folks (like my good friend Dennis O'Neill) don't think this is possible without addressing a person's underlying values, but that's another discussion for another day. Whatever your talking point is, you'll do better in the long run by telling stories that are based on truths.

Lies undermine your credibility. Sharing stuff that's false makes you appear lazy, both in thinking and in deeds. If you are truly convinced your position is correct, then you should be able to defend it based on facts, not fiction. You have the power of the internet at your fingertips. Taking a few minutes to do some basic fact checking should give you even more confidence that you've got things right. Using false information to bolster your position leaves you vulnerable.

This is true whether you're debating immigration policy or trying to convince a potential customer to use your service. While you might sound good or make the sale in the short term, creating change that lasts depends on whether your story withstands scrutiny. You reap what you sow, so choose your words - and your clicks - carefully.

Working Together is How We Evolve

Mark Kawabe - Friday, September 15, 2017

Working Together to Make Improvements

I haven't written a blog post since last November. Lots has transpired since then, both locally and on the world stage. I've heard and read a lot of perspectives that are divisive, bitter, hostile and full of vitriol. It's disappointing and concerning. On almost every topic, you'll find polarization. Reason and understanding take a backseat when the talk gets emotional.

What's not reflected in those many polarized views is that at the end of the day, we all have to live together. We can't spend our days slagging our neighbours and then expect to have a happy, safe and productive society. Our communities face challenges of many sorts, but the only way we're going to overcome them is by working together.

It sounds so easy, but we all know it's not. Differing belief systems of every kind get in the way. The structures and institutions we have in place can also throw up roadblocks. Whatever the barriers, we are all going to need to work on our communication skills. Moving away from rhetoric and towards really listening, understanding, respecting and caring for people who have views that aren't aligned with yours is the biggest challenge. Once we find common ground, we're going to need to be creative in figuring out ways to move forward in a way that respects people's values.

I'm not suggesting I have answers to the problems we need to overcome, but I believe that together, we're going to get there. It's just going to take time and effort to figure it out. I'm hoping for the best, from all of us.



Hoping for Understanding and Reason

Mark Kawabe - Monday, November 14, 2016

Stay Calm and Try to Understand

If you've been anywhere near social media over the past year, you've probably heard there's a "divide". Actually, there are dozens of these so-called "divides". Thinking about the world this way is very common. I think there's a better way.

From an early age, we taught our kids about continuums. For example, "good" and "bad" are points at either end of a continuum. There's a huge range of possibilities in between. And, with this particular example, even good and bad aren't at the end of the continuum, because they too can be surpassed by "godlike" and "purely evil".

There is subtlety and nuance to every issue and yet, people believe and behave otherwise. From a psychological perspective, this makes sense. It is easier to believe you're right when the alternative is clear. When someone else disagrees with you, it's less taxing to demonize them than it is to take the effort to understand their perspective.

Humans are wired for something called "confirmation bias". We like agreeing with people who share our views. We are more comfortable with like-thinkers and are less comfortable when presented with people or information that aren't in line with our way of thinking. Because of this, we are more likely to dismiss information and people who we disagree with. The internet and social media make it easier for us to feed our confirmation bias. And, lest you think I'm vilifying you, I also want to point out that confirmation bias is a largely unconscious process.

Thankfully, we can choose to act differently. The choice is always there to open your mind to the larger possibilities an issue presents. Instead of jumping to conclusions, taking a moment to be genuinely curious and trying to see all sides of an issue is more productive than falling back to an entrenched view of an issue and to those who don't agree with your perspective.

Try this the next time you encounter a viewpoint that's contrary to yours. Genuinely seek to understand. Perhaps you'll be surprised to learn you have more in common with someone you disagree with. When we work from our commonalities instead of our differences, we'll be better positioned to build stronger relationships and more cohesive communities based on understanding instead of distrust.


Slow Progress is Still Progress

Mark Kawabe - Thursday, October 20, 2016

Remember - the tortoise won the race.

Whenever I drive, I'm passed by a faster driver. That's okay. For me, the purpose of driving is to get from point A to point B in a safe, relaxed and enjoyable style.

Perhaps those faster drivers are going to arrive at their destinations before I do. That's fine. I don't care. As long as I get where I'm going, that's what counts.

I take the same approach to a lot of things. It seems to work for me. Perhaps it could for you too. Let's look at a few areas where taking some time can be beneficial.


 Did you know eating slowly can help you lose weight? It takes approximately 20 minutes from the time you start eating for your brain to let your body know you're full. When you slow your eating pace, you will feel full sooner and will eat fewer calories. You will also digest your food better, potentially leading to less bloating, gas, and other gastrointestinal issues.

Saving Money

Anecdotal evidence suggests that many people don't have much in savings. It might seem hard to save, unless you commit to it and start slow. If you commit to putting aside an amount that works for you on a regular basis, you'll be ahead of the game in the long run. You're not going to get rich doing this, but at least you'll have money put aside in case of emergency.

The same applies when you're investing. You don't need to swing for the fences with every investment. Getting a solid rate of return over while protecting your investment is possible. Talk to a financial advisor and find out the possibilities for what you can afford.

Weight Loss

If you have 20 lbs to lose, losing it in a day would be horrible. Your body would have to go through a lot of painful adjustments. It probably wouldn't be pleasant, or worth it in the end. Losing weight gradually has been shown to be the healthiest approach.

Running a Business

If you run a business, you know it's not a get-rich-quick scheme. Success takes hard work and time. Patience and persistence and plenty of properly-applied elbow grease will get you where you want to go.

We're bombarded with messages that we can have it all, and we can have it now. Be grateful for what you have, and strive to improve yourself and your situation. Even if your progress is slow, it's still progress and it's better than not trying at all.

Thoughts About Getting Along

Mark Kawabe - Monday, October 17, 2016

Working together for the common good

I'm wondering if you're observing the same thing I am. Public discourse is continuing to deteriorate. Negativity, insults and anger are becoming more and more prevalent.

It's understandable, I think, because in general, people are angry and scared.

Angry because things aren't going their way. Angry because things are changing. Angry because things that don't matter to them matter a LOT to other people, and it doesn't make sense to them. And, scared because if the other people "get their way", there will be change from "the way things were".

Others are angry because they're on "the other side". They're the ones who've been oppressed and marginalized. Attitudes are shifting, acceptance is starting to come, but it's not coming fast enough because things that matter to them don't matter to a lot of other people, and it doesn't make sense to them. Scared because if the movement starts to fizzle, things will potentially go back to "the way things were".

Fear and anger are also combined with a societal trend towards individualism. Everyone has rights as an individual. While this is true, I think many of us have forgotten our responsibilities to ourselves and society.

We need each other in order to survive and thrive. Out of a population of 7 billion, the number of people who could survive on their own with no help from any other human is incredibly low. Do you run a business? You need customers. Do you eat? You need a farmer.

While we are interdependent, we are not well interconnected. We organize ourselves into communities based on religion, race, orientation, socio-economic status and more. In general, our communities don't mix, and as a result, our ability to understand each other is limited.

Don't understand the "black lives matter" movement? It's probably because you're not black, don't have black friends, don't live in areas where many black people live, and don't experience policing the way black people do.

Are you having trouble understanding why indigenous activists would prefer we not refer to Cleveland's baseball team by their name or show their logo in the media? I'll take a guess then that you're not indigenous, don't have any friends who are, and don't experience discrimination and negative cultural stereotypes the way indigenous people do.

Perhaps you're annoyed at our government. Fair enough. Most people are. The Liberal party happens to be in power in Ontario and Canada. You can disagree with their policies and approach, but insulting Liberal leaders and those who voted Liberal simply polarizes the discussion rather than leading to a productive solution. Building a society where we all work together means learning how to listen, empathize, and if we choose to disagree, to disagree with understanding. 

If we collectively all want to live in peace and harmony, we need to become more integrated into each other's communities. This is not an easy task. It can be uncomfortable. That discomfort gives us an excuse to avoid taking the steps needed to foster better understanding between people.

We have a right to be angry and scared, but we also have a responsibility to ourselves and to our children and to all those we are interdependent with to make this world a better place. Mutual respect, understanding and compassion are required to move our society forward. Improving our society means improving our discourse with each other.

It starts with me, and it starts with you.


Happy Canadian Thanksgiving

Mark Kawabe - Sunday, October 09, 2016

Happy Thanksgiving

A few things you may not know about the origins of Thanksgiving in Canada.

  • The first Thanksgiving celebration in North America is said to have taken place during Martin Frobisher's voyage in 1578. It was held in what is now Frobisher Bay, Nunavut. The event thought of as the first Thanksgiving in the United States took place in 1621.
  • Thanksgiving has its roots in European harvest festivals.
  • Turkey, pumpkin and squash were added to Canadian Thanskgiving practices by the United Empire Loyalists after the American Revolution.
  • Thanksgiving was originally celebrated in 1816 on May 21 in lower Canada and June 18 in upper Canada. Thanksgiving was declared a national holiday in 1879, although the date fluctuated. It wasn't until 1957 that Thanksgiving was decreed to be the second Monday in October.

Let us remember that for all the challenges we may face individually, within our families, our communities and society as a whole, as Canadians, we have much to be thankful for.

I hope you have a happy, healthy and joyous Thanksgiving weekend.

The Problem With Solutions

Mark Kawabe - Friday, October 07, 2016

SolutionsEvery day, we're faced with problems. Some are old. Some are new. Some of our own creation. Some we had nothing to do with.

Regardless of the source, problems need solutions. Perhaps it's just one person who has to put in the effort. Sometimes it's a collective effort of everyone on the planet that's required.

How you solve a problem is related to your values and beliefs. This means that who you are biases you toward a certain way of solving a problem. Your solution that requires negotiation and listening won't appeal to someone who thinks going in all-guns-blazing is the correct approach. Who's right? It's hard to know, but one certainty is there will be a debate over which approach is better.

For the big problems in society, we'll only know how good a solution is a decade or more after it's implemented. Even something the majority of people thought was good at the time has the potential to fail dramatically. Sometimes it will be because the solution itself was flawed. Other times it will be how the solution was implemented. Teasing apart why a solution isn't working is often so complicated that many are tempted to scrap it and try something different. If you've followed an election, you'll know what this looks like. Most political parties are quick to point out why something their opponents did was useless. The challenge for them is to come up with something better.

That's the challenge for all of us, really. How do we come up with something better than the status quo? On any given day, we have an opportunity to do better within our selves, our families, our workplaces, our communities, our country, and in the world. How do we do this?

I suggest we take more time to listen, on all levels. Start by listening to yourself. Tune into your emotions, gut feelings, hopes, fears and dreams. What can you do to be a better person?

Remember, the solutions you choose for problems are connected to your values and beliefs. Making change in the world means making changes in your self. You won't create a better outcome for yourself by making the same choices.

This approach scales. Remember that when you're in a position of leadership. Creating better outcomes for everyone starts with listening, empathizing, having compassion, collaborating, choosing a solution and then clearly communicating the reasons for that choice. Keep stakeholders informed as you go. Honestly evaluate progress. Be flexible and humble enough to admit mistakes if there were any, then get re-focused on the task at hand.

Remember: when you're confronted by a problem that if it was easy to fix, it would already be fixed. "Silver-bullet" type solutions are rare, largely because most situations are more complicated than being attacked by a werewolf. If there's any "magic" in solutions, it's doing your best to make the most appropriate decision, implementing, measuring, adjusting if necessary and continuing on. 



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