Monday, May 30, 2011

Living with Integrity

Why must "family" be so dysfunctional?

My patriarchal brother is a religious control freak. Ironically, he is the youngest child in our family of seven children. He takes his formal religious duties seriously: he is trying to "save" our hopelessly divided family.

A year ago last spring, he, along with his wife and their new baby met me at a sushi restaurant for lunch. He lives three provinces away, and was in town visiting his in-laws. I supposed I was an afterthought, since I am being actively shunned by the religious members of the family, including my two children. The last time my children spoke to me was eleven years ago, when I left the religion. I had no idea where either of my children lived.

After the unexpected restaurant visit, another year went by before I worked up the nerve to ask my patriarchal brother if he ever saw my children. I fully expected him to say, "Your children do not wish me to divulge their whereabouts." Instead, he informed me that my son and daughter-in-law live in the same town as them. No mention of my daughter.

I was flabbergasted! My son lived in the same town, yet he never mentioned it during the sushi lunch…?
In the same phone conversation, I was astonished to learn that last July 2010, I became a grand-mother. In other words, during the sushi lunch, my daughter-in-law was about six months pregnant! Information about my children was somehow not of interest to me?

Why did it take so long for the news to get to me?

My first sense was this information was a type of "carrot on a stick." It seems my brother had the idea that telling me about the birth of a grand-daughter might draw me back into the religious fold in order to have a relationship with the grandchild, as well as restore harmony with my children. My patriarchal brother wants credit for "saving" our hopeless family---have us all happily united under the banner of the family religion which I disowned.

After the phone call, my brother emailed me some photographs of the aforementioned grand-daughter. I was shocked. No photos of son or daughter-in-law—only the grand-daughter. I was so torn it took me a week to respond. On the one hand I wanted to scream at him for his manipulative behavior. Here was an innocent grand-daughter being used a pawn. On the other hand, I did not want to disrupt the fragile line of communication that had opened up after eleven years.

I sent a short email back, "I thank you from my heart for the precious gem photos. I shall cherish them. With unconditional love."

Nevertheless, these photographs had quite an impact on me. Grand-daughter's smiling eyes danced through the lens and touched my heart. I felt an amazing love connection with her. A baby I had never set eyes on. A baby I never knew existed till the phone call with my brother—and my grand-daughter approaching her first birthday.

Oh yes, birthdays. Another highlight that is irrelevant to the family religion.

A baby I might never get to hold in my aching arms. Yet, I became transfixed by her innocent smiling eyes, filling me with wonder. I talked to this amazing, beaming being. I said, "Hi there. I am Grandma. I'm sorry I can't be with you right now, but I still love you. I love you unconditionally, no matter what. I am here for you, if you ever need me. I care about you and I love you. Yes, I love you." Saying those words felt so right.

I printed each and every photograph and set them in a prominent location, so that I might gaze upon this miracle every day. I wondered if my brother and my children know what a precious gift they have shared with me. Perhaps on some level they do know and we are all enriched by this tiny miracle.
As I stared in amazement at her photographs, mesmerized, I heard a tiny voice say "Gamma."

I was jolted back to reality.

Yes, the pull on the heart strings can be strong. Keeping the family together is all well and good, but there is something to be said for personal integrity. Sadly, as long as that old family religion is in the picture, our family can only remain divided.
 

Visit Esther Harrison's main website. Visit website "Phoenix of Faith" the memoir. Follow on Twitter: _Phoenixoffaith Copyright © 2011. Permission is granted to copy and re-distribute this transmission on the condition that it is distributed freely.

Friday, May 27, 2011

GST/PST vs HST Tax Referendum

Interesting. For almost a year we have had the Harmonized Sales Tax (HST) in British Columbia. Now we are asked if we want it, by referendum.
 
I am one of those people who signed the petition to ax the tax. Why would anyone vote for more tax? I figured. We were already paying the Provincial Sales Tax (PST) of seven percent and the Goods and Services Tax (GST) of five percent. We were already paying too much tax, to my way of thinking.
 
Then the tax switch happened, without our consent or consultation. But it was a "smart" move, the BC Liberals insisted.
 
As soon as the HST was implemented I noticed price increases. Some of them huge. Food prices, for one, have increased; especially meat. Also, many of the restaurants we frequented jacked up their prices. And now the tax is across the board, not just on services, but on food items and other products previously sold tax-free.
 
My partner thinks the HST is a "good" tax, in theory. I listened and watched, as he used Chris Thompson's YouTube explanation, in which Economist, Kathryn Kunin reasoned on how "the HST is a very good tax for BC."
 
I listened to the explanation. In theory, the HST would be applied—and refunded to businesses. Oh, great. Another tax that would benefit businesses. As if they don't have enough tax breaks.
 
Quite another story for the consumer.
 
But then, business owners and their families are also consumers, are they not?
 
The HST would be applied at each production step, but it would be refunded to business. And in the end, the consumer would pay less. In theory. Like this:
 
Exp Sub-Tl GST PST HST Total Reality
Meals $40.00 5% 7% $44.80 $44.80
Meals $40.00 12% $44.80 for both
 
Reality: Either tax plan would result in a bill of $44.80 plus tip. Unless the restaurant decided to increase its prices.
 
Groceries are a different story, which I was unable to chart. "Basic" groceries are GST and HST exempt. Raw meat is tax-exempt, but HST is charged on cooked, prepared meats. Using the GST/PST model, a few groceries were charged five percent tax, with no PST. I could see it costs more for groceries using the HST model because twelve percent is now charged for some items I found surprising, such as nut mixes from the bulk bin.
 
Repairs I feared would cost more. So I looked at an example of say, car repairs:
 
Car repairs
Sub-Tl
GST
PST
HST
Total
Compare
PST/GST
Brake Pads 
 100.00 
5%
7%
112.00
Labor 
 60.00
5%
63.00
$175.00
or with HST
Brake Pads 
 100.00 
12%
112.40 
Labor 
 60.00 
12%
 67.20 
 $179.20 
 
In reality, tax charged to all items results in a higher repair bill.
 
But my partner suggested that in BC, with the HST, businesses could reduce their cost and could pass their savings onto their customers. In the ideal world, yes. But, in BC where there are plenty of rich people who will pay whatever price without batting an eyelash…? And plenty of demand!
 
Here is where my partner showed me the YouTube chart from Chris Thompson where PST was applied to at each production step:
 
Step
Cost
Tax
Reality
1
$20.00
$1.40
2
$41.40
$2.90
3
$64.30
$4.50
4
$88.80
$6.21
5
$115.01
$8.05
Final cost to Consumer
$123.06
 
According to the economist, Kathryn Kunin, what this chart means is that at each step the Provincial Sales Tax (PST) is applied to the production process, say a toy:
  • Step 1 harvest raw material, say steel.
    Ca-Ching! Payday for the provincial government.
  • Step 2 Smelting Plant melts down material into workable chunks of product and sells to producer.
    Ca-Ching! Payday for the provincial government.
  • Step 3 Toy company produces toy parts.
    Ca-Ching! Payday for the provincial government.
  • Step 4 Toy factory puts together a toy car.
    Ca-Ching! Payday for the provincial government.
  • Step 5 Sale to consumer.
    Ca-Ching! Payday for the provincial government.
At each of the five production steps leading up to the sale of the toy car, tax is applied and collected by the provincial government. By the time the toy car gets to the consumer's child, tax has been paid five separate times. The PST was "layered in—imbedded" at each production level. Tax upon tax was paid many times before reaching the consumer.
 
We have not even talked about the GST, which was supposed to be applied to goods and services. What does that mean, really, when some stores were charging PST and GST on everything, even items that were GST exempt? We personally took items back to the store several times for reimbursement. On principle.
 
HST was supposed to change all that. In theory.
 
All tax paid would be reimbursed at every transaction in the production process. Here is what I mean by "tax that would again benefit business" rather than consumers. The new "smart" tax, according to Premier Christie Clark. Wow, put the word "smart" in front of something and it automatically means something beneficial…? For whom?
 
The supplier receives a refund on all the HST that was paid through the various levels of production.
 
I'm not sure why it says 7% HST comparison, when the HST is 12%, not 7%. My partner says it is because the 7% is the provincial portion of the tax. Comparing apples to apples. Provincial portion to provincial portion. The additional 5% not mentioned would be over and above what is presented in the chart and would be the federal portion. Okay, technically I could use twelve percent HST, but then I'd have to add the five percent GST to the PST table.
 
Anyway, here is Chris Thompson's chart.
 
7% HST comparison
Step
Cost
Tax
Consumer Cost
1
$20.00
$0.00
2
$40.00
$0.00
3
$60.00
$0.00
4
$80.00
$0.00
5
$100.00
$7.00
Final cost to Consumer
$107.00
 
But, really, it would cost $112.00 because HST is not 7%, but 12%. But, for arguments' sake, let's use the chart that was presented by Chris Thompson.
 
When I listened to the theoretical explanation, I could see that, in theory, HST would be applied once—at the consumer stage. True, it would be applied during each production step, but would be refunded to the producer and the retailer. And in the end, the consumer would pay less sales tax.
 
In theory.
 
But, now we have had the opportunity to test this theory out because the HST is now been implemented since last July. So, how is it working out, BC?
 
Here is what I observed: It appears to be more costly than ever using the HST system. In the ideal world, if the supplier gets the HST back, the production would become cheaper. And naturally a cheaper price would be paid by the consumer. The chart appears deceptive because it looks like no HST was paid. In actuality, the tax was paid, but refunded. Unfortunately, in BC no one can afford to live without raising prices. Lowering retail prices would lower the bottom line. The high cost of living here sends retailers into fear. They fear they can't afford to lower their prices. In fact, with all the GST/PST/HST confusion, many retailers saw this as the ideal time to raise prices to the exorbitant stage. The government would get blamed. And, in reality, that is what happened.
 
What used to cost $100 now costs $120.
 
Car repairs
Sub-Tl
GST
PST
HST
Total
Compare
PST/GST
Brake Pads
 100.00
5%
7%
 112.00
Labor
 60.00
5%
 63.00
 $175.00
or with HST
Brake Pads
120.00
12%
134.40
Labor
 60.00
12%
 67.20
 $201.60
 
Sad, but true.
 
But, businesses are doing well. They have raised their prices and they get back all the HST paid so they are sitting even prettier than they did in the days prior to HST. Another victory for business.
 
The consumer is left with the increased food bill, the increased services bill, etc.
 
A "good" tax for BC businesses indeed. Sadly, it is harsh for the poor people, since business gets their HST back. Do poor people get HST back? Apparently, HST tax credits will be available. Many low-income British Columbians are eligible for federal and provincial tax credits. According to The BC Liberal HST in BC website those with low and modest incomes receive a GST credit of up to $381 annually. Also, the BC HST credit provides up to $230 annually. But, only a portion will be refundable. Unlike the businesses that get 100% HST refunded.
 
Regardless of what BC votors choose, what recourse will BC consumers have? We are free to shop around for the honest businesses that will not gouge their customers with exorbitant price increases. Ask for several price quotations before making a major purchase. My partner and I already do this.
 
We take the time to get to know the product we wish to buy, and buy it from a credible merchant—one with integrity. Honest merchants are still out there, but it takes time to find someone who is honest. Weed the gougers out of our life.
 
Same with government. Democracy is corruptible, since humans are involved who may lean toward greed. Again, weed the corrupt government out of our life.
 
It is like tending a garden. Patience and perseverance will help us weed corruption out of our lives and we will be left with people who are honest and have integrity. It is up to each one to become informed and trust the process. Let's change our world for the better.
 
Follow on Twitter @s_a_t_i_n_k_a
 
--------------------
Copyright © 2011. Permission is granted to copy 
and  re-distribute this transmission on the condition 
that the link is provided, full credit is given to 
the author, and that it is  distributed freely.  

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Depression, Suicide and Religion


I know of a Jehovah's Witness woman who is currently in the psychiatric ward because she tried to commit suicide. She is not alone. Other women in this religion have also tried that exit route, including me back in 1996.

Looking back, what could I say to someone like her? I might say, "One of the first things I learned about suicide is that it is a cry for help. Depression is not your fault. Depression is indicative of a set of circumstances present in your life."

A patriarchal way of life is very often abusive toward women. Jehovah's witnesses call their god "The Great Patriarch."—Insight vol 2, under Law, p. 212, subheading: Laws to Noah; Patriarchal Law. How can men who choose a god like Jehovah be anything but "just like him"?

This wounded soul might not like to know that religion does not have the answers. I know now that the instruction from the elders to "read your Bible more" is a diversionary tactic to stop people from living life by actively using their "free will." In religion, women are not allowed to just "be." Religions teach that women must be performers and producers. If they are stay-at-home moms, they are unpaid laborors and, as a result of societal pressure, often feel devalued and under-appreciated. Unfortunately, there is such a thing as trying too hard to please other people. It is important to know that some patriarchs are in fact "un-pleasable." Women are never allowed to "please themselves" as that would be considered selfish. To that I would say, "it is important and imperative to take time to nurture yourself and make sure your OWN needs are met. There is even a scripture to support that view, found at Matthew 5:6 which says, "Happy are those hungering and thirsting for righteousness, since they will be filled." What religion fails to explain is it is not possible to help others from an empty cup. If you are hungering and thirsting, please take the time to fill your own cup first. Then you will be in a position to help others. Take for example, when on an airplane and you hear the spiel about what to do in an emergency. The instructions are to put the oxygen mask over your own face first; then you will be able to help your child or someone else in need. If you are the one without the oxygen mask, you will die. We cannot serve another if our own cup is empty. If, on the other hand, your cup is filled to overflowing, then you will not deplete yourself when extending a hand to help another." To religious patriarchs I would ask the question, "Why did I NEVER hear this little-known explanation when I was a member of your flock?"

Most Jehovah's Witnesses do not believe in obtaining psychiatric help. Elders quote a scripture to support their view. "All scripture is inspired of God and beneficial for teaching, for reproving, for setting things straight. . ."—2 Timothy 3:16 New World Translation (NWT). I hope her being in the hospital will enable her to get the help she needs to become healthy and well. If she is anything like me, and if her husband allows, she will go into group therapy with barely a voice to express herself. Nevertheless, group therapy will help her to see the depths of suffering other people endure. Perhaps she can relate to some of it. Perhaps she will be able to identify some abuse to which she has been subjected. Perhaps she will identify where the healthy boundaries have been crossed to produce the poor health she now experiences.

I hope she knows that other women have suffered similarly and are here to support her if she reaches out for help. I know from experience she will not receive help from the congregation. Instead she will hear scriptures such as one I heard quoted from Luke 9:62 (NWT) which says, ". . . No man that has put his hand to a plow and looks at the things behind is well fitted for the kingdom of God." Here is a sad example of how religion suppresses women's ability to feel, by not validating their feelings. Elders and friends tell women, "You shouldn't feel that way!" Religion suppresses women's sense of intuition, their inner guidance system.

Dear sister, ultimately you are the one who knows what is best for you. Suicide attempts are a cry for help. Reach out to other women who have experienced what you are now experiencing. I encourage you to seek medical and psychiatric help in such circumstances. Give yourself permission to embrace the help available within your community and allow yourself to benefit from it. And know that you are loved unconditionally, no matter what.

Most of all, know that you have within you the ability to heal.

I received this poem early in my journey to freedom. I'd like to share it here:

The Courage to be Myself

by Sue Patton Toele     
I have the courage to...
Embrace my strengths
Get excited about life
Enjoy giving and receiving love
Face and transform my fears
Ask for help and support when I need it
Spring free of the Superwoman trap
Trust myself
Make my own decisions and choices
Befriend myself
Complete unfinished business
Realize that I have emotional and practical rights
Honor my own needs
Give myself credit for my accomplishments
Love the little girl within me
Overcome my addiction to approval sponge
Feel all my feelings and act on them appropriately
Nurture others because I want to, not because I have to
Choose what is right for me
Insist on being paid fairly for what I do
Get limits and boundaries and stick by them
Say "yes" only when I mean it
Have realistic expectations
Take risks and accept challenges
Be totally honest with myself
Correct erroneous beliefs and assumptions
Respect my vulnerabilities
Heal old and current wounds
Savor the mystery of spirit
Wave good-bye to guilt
Plant "Flower" not "Weed" thoughts in my mind
Treat myself with respect and teach others to do the same
Fill my own cup first; then nourish others from the overflow
Own my own excellence
Plan for the future but live in the present
Value my intuition and wisdom
Know that I am lovable
Celebrate the differences between men and women
Develop healthy supportive relationships
Make forgiveness a priority
Accept myself just as I am now

Visit website "Phoenix of Faith" the memoir. Follow on Twitter: _Phoenixoffaith Copyright © 2011. Permission is granted to copy and re-distribute this transmission on the condition that it is distributed freely.