Goodbye Culture

Culture is the sum of all the little customs and habits practiced by a given group of people. I suppose we are cultivating a culture here at the cafe that is part conscious and deliberate and part organic and evolving.

Within a few visits most people become regulars and start to feel at home, invested. A funny thing happened between Henry and I today after his business meeting. One of his guests left early and as he said goodbye I looked up, since people generally do say good bye here, sort of like when they come to your house – it would be weird if they left without saying goodbye. (Well, unless they get up en-masse and storm out cause they don’t like what you said, but that’s another post!)

So as Henry’s guest said goodbye to him and I looked up and the guest was leaving and I realized that he wasn’t saying goodbye to me, which isn’t weird in this case cause he’s new, but it is unusual, and so there was Henry sitting on the sofa and me sitting at the table and both of us waving at each other even though neither of us was leaving, him waving to me on behalf of his friend and me waving back. And I guess we both realized what had happened. And it was funny.

And that’s when I realized that part of our cafe culture is that people say goodbye. And sometimes they drop in just to say hello.

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Outgrowing Ownership

It’s still my knee-jerk reaction when I hear about or see the challenges that are being faced by so many people in our neighbourhood; I wish I had some money. Intellectually I know that throwing money at problems isn’t the long-term solution. But it’s not an intellectual reaction when I hear about the lady who used to be a nurse until she slipped on the ice and suffered some brain damage that prevents her from doing it any longer. Now she lives in much-reduced circumstances on disability and helps out all the bachelors in her building. Or the family who’s losing their house over a few payments. Or the man who walks, apparently from city to city, and curls into a ball every ten feet cause he “can’t live in a world like this.” I hear ya brother.

I see the magic of people coming together at the South Sherman Hub, how so often grant applications aren’t necessary because the needs can be met by the people in the room; I’ve got a space you can use for free; I’ve got pedometers for your members; I could run your lab while using it to get my business started… It’s remarkable this coming together. Sharing.

Just about everything in the cafe has come together or come into being because someone built it, donated it or fixed it. Strangely, except for the sign which is one of the few things we have paid for upfront (from Sarah’s tips and community contributions) and which is about 6 weeks late. With everything else there is a feeling of giving and of gratitude and of building an ongoing relationship. Of building not only a sense of community, but a community. Whereas with the sign, it’s a one-shot deal. Though I have mentioned that we are bleeding money and that people who are trying to find us can’t, I guess the stakes are pretty low – it’s just a transaction.

I have learned a great deal in a few short (long!) months in the cafe. My early priority was staffing; as much about creating jobs as the fact that I already had my own job and hadn’t planned to be here all day. But I have now realized that salary money has to come from revenue or it isn’t sustainable. If I had started the cafe with money instead of with community, the money would all be gone by now yet the community remains.

So I am trying to find the sign analogy regarding all the needs in the neighbourhood; that somehow people doing what they can for each other will prove to be more rewarding than paying each others bills.

Maybe what we all need is more relationships and fewer transactions.

A photo of the Sign-In-Waiting. Celeste has convinced them to install it tomorrow!

The politics of self-interest

I had a conversation recently with a mayoral candidate from another city. The gist of the conversation was his surprise at my lack of interest in politics in general and historical lack of participation in our democratic process; I have voted maybe twice. Once that I can recall for sure. On that occasion Mike, aka The Best, said that if I was going to waste my vote I should go and vote for his guy. So I did. Fully intend to that is. But I got so rattled by the screwy ballot (Quebec) that I accidentally voted for the other guy.

Politics being his passion, the aspiring mayor was baffled. Revering the democracy and freedoms that we enjoy in Canada, he was, perhaps rightly, scandalized. So I explained it like this, and have been thinking about it ever since.

“Basically, you are competing for a job. You’ll all do the job equally well or poorly within the existing system and it’s a system that I don’t understand or respect. So why do I want to take half a day out of my life to help you to get it?”

I meant no offense and he took none, but I could see that it was a new idea to him, that he was really listening and actually thinking about it and I hope that we get to continue the conversation as I have been thinking about it also. Recent evolution of the discussion hereabouts suggest that it isn’t a new idea in politics. That it’s called You Scratch My Back I’ll Scratch Yours. You get me the job (contract, funding, support etc) that I need and I’ll help you get the one you’re applying for. Shows what I know.

I have also been talking with someone who seems to have a really keen understanding of these things and a great way of explaining them. I learned 1) that the municipal level is different, in that it is not party politics. So when we elect someone to represent or help us, we’re really beginning an ongoing conversation between him and us. That’s actually kind of cool. 2) that party politics, which have always seemed like a three-ring circus to me, are useful in that the elected official has a general idea of the values of the people who elected her to office, enabling her to make myriad decisions without having to mobilize all of us on a daily basis in order to get the job done. Applied politics 101. Somehow knowing this makes the whole thing that much more relevant. Maybe you already knew this stuff.

I had yet another conversation as part of my political education, this time with a municipal aspirant, which ended when I said “I can’t support you unless you can take the high road, and frankly, I sometimes think that you can’t even see it.” A little harsh maybe but if you can’t take it from your friends, maybe you’re not cut out for politics.

The result was that I was “unfriended”. What I thought was a conversation starter turned out to be a conversation stopper. The candidate has since taken out a hit on our neighbourhood association, systematically undermining each constructive effort to help or get to know our neighbours, no matter who is really losing out. Is it any wonder that more people don’t get involved in neighbourhood associations, much less politics? Sometimes it isn’t just the system that’s broken…

The fact is, if someone came along who I thought was going to make a real difference in the lives of you and me and our community, I would not only give up half a day to vote, I’d knock on doors and spread the joy. Probably you would too.