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Quashing isolation through the third place

These spaces encourage casual social connection and are essential for community building. 

It’s crazy how easy it is to feel isolated when there are so many people all around us. University and other school settings are the environments in which we’re surrounded by the most opportunities for social connection and community-building, yet so many students still suffer from the feeling of loneliness. 

People I know have reported feeling as though they aren’t connected to their universities, that they go to school for class and then come home, living in a state of separation from the places they inhabit. “University doesn’t feel like an experience,” my friend confessed the other day. 

On this topic, I highly recommend the video essay “third places, stanley cup mania, and the epidemic of loneliness” by YouTuber Mina Le. She delves into this phenomenon, namely in the context of young people having difficulty forming strong social connections in an age where so much of our connection happens online. The cure? Third places. 

Third places are spaces whose primary function is social connection. While the first place is the home and the second place is work, the third place is somewhere that’s accessible to the public with little or no monetary restriction, and provides the opportunity to just casually hang out. In a third place, you might run into people without planning to or meet people you might not have met under normal circumstances. Think community centers, public parks, lounges, and cafés.

One reason third places are so special is that there is little effort required to have these social connections. It’s increasingly difficult these days to make plans, with conflicting schedules and the stress of university. Third places are low-pressure and low-commitment, and provide the thrill of spontaneity as well as the comfort of familiarity. 

In The Atlantic, journalist Allie Conti wrote about the “forgotten art of hanging out” and the decline of third places as leisure becomes more privatized. With rising prices and growing mistrust among individuals, third places have become less accessible. I would argue that as we grow older, third places also become more and more difficult to find. As kids, we had mandated third places in the form of recess, and it seems like most of high school was spent hanging out in random stairwells and hallways rather than learning. 

Once we graduate school entirely, third places become nearly non-existent, especially for people who work from home or simply work too much. In university, we’re at a unique point where third places are everywhere, but nobody is forcing us into them. It’s therefore up to the individual to seek them out, and I think everybody should do so. 

I’m a huge fan of third places, and have always been at my happiest when there’s been a good third place to engage in. My entire CEGEP experience was one big third place, because I lived, went to school, and worked in the same building. This sort of community enhances life so much and is essential for well-being. Third places at and around Concordia include student lounges, the library (if, like me, you spend 95 per cent of your time there mindlessly chattering), and Frigo Vert, the quintessential third place.

Of course, third places do still require effort from the individual—they aren’t an instant cure for a lack of connection. The key is that they provide practice and opportunities. It’s too easy to come into school everyday and never truly engage. But if you’ve been craving a better sense of community, go to the third places. 

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Opinions

Are we all just living the same life in different fonts?

Don’t be fooled—social media capitalizes on relatability and social isolation.

Do you ever see a meme or video on social media that is oddly specific and relatable to you? I always find it so unsettling how well my algorithm knows me, from my taste in music and books, right down to personal experiences that I thought were unique.

I’ve stumbled upon videos lately that really made me sit back, set my phone aside and stare at the wall. Seeing memes related to our secret little quirks or even our very specific and seemingly unique past trauma can be ruled out as coincidence; however, it seems every single piece of content I come across lately is eerily accurate.

Yes, I watched The Social Dilemma on Netflix when it came out—it still haunts me. I also read Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport. That’s how I learned that the algorithm compiles data from likes, comments, shares, and other interactions, and that some social media even record the amount of time you spend on a specific post and where your gaze catches on the screen. I’m always painfully aware that social media preys on my attention and time, which the algorithm then uses to throw me into a vicious cycle of doom scrolling.

However, I also realize that users capitalize on relatability. We all (subconsciously or not) know the golden rule to success on social media: if people don’t relate to you, they simply won’t care. My own experience in business communications taught me how hard content creators work to get on the “For You” page. They have to work with the system, but they also feed it more tools to reel us all in.

So what if my algorithm notices that I am a Swiftie eagerly anticipating the announcement of  Reputation (Taylor’s Version), that I have a “golden retriever” boyfriend, that I secretly dream of owning a book and plant shop joined to a cat café (apparently it’s a “feminine urge”), that my Roman Empire is being a woman in a man’s world, and that I am afraid of the dark? Is it really so bad that my social media feed is so meticulously tailored?

The answer to that question will depend on how you answer this one: Is social media a means for entertainment, or to gain information? Part of me wants to say it’s just entertainment and it doesn’t really matter. But another part of me is screaming that my algorithm is putting me into niche boxes and shuttering me from the bigger picture of the world. I find myself consuming mindless content instead of learning about the war and humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip, for example. I have to go out of my way to learn about that.

It always gets me when I see someone comment: “Are we all just living the same life in different fonts?” Your social media feed is giving you that impression, showing you oddly specific videos you’d send your best friend in a heartbeat. Your algorithm knows that if you are entertained and you feel seen in a world where human connection is blurred by screens, it will keep your attention just a bit longer.

Am I really a die-hard Swiftie, or am I just being overexposed to that content? Is that video really “so me!” or does it just touch on something I can somewhat relate to? Are these memes truly relatable, or am I just yearning for a vague sense of community and belonging in a socially-isolated generation?

Did you find this article relatable? If so, I’ve succeeded in the golden rule. Welcome to the Social Media Existential Crisis Club, where we question this warped sense of belonging and combat the negative effects of the algorithm on important information sharing.

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Opinions

Alone, but not lonely

Before you can enjoy the company of someone else wholeheartedly, you need to learn to be by yourself.

I absolutely adore my own company. I had roommates the first semester of my first year of university, and by the second semester, I’d moved out on my own. 

I guess that’s what comes with growing up as an only child. 

While some people recharge their batteries with big social events, I recharge with a cup of Murchie’s tea (specifically) and at least a 48-hour hiatus, no matter how long my last social interaction was. Those 48 hours are my time to simply exist and plan. Plot, if you will. Over my 20 years of living, my coveted time alone has led to a significant amount of personal growth. 

For only children, it’s much easier to spend time alone because we are accustomed to being self-sufficient. We had to find ways to entertain ourselves and not feel lonely when we were by ourselves. We were our own best friend. 

For those who aren’t used to being on their own, it can be scary.  There is no one to entertain you, no one to talk to face to face. It’s a tough situation to be in, especially during short and dreary winter days. 

The first step to conquering this is to learn how to enjoy your own company. It is not something that can be taught, but it is something to learn. I am very proud to have determined how best to spend my time alone and, in the spirit of it getting dark at 4:30 p.m., how to use those same tactics to battle the winter blues. 

Make your favourite beverage, and try a new recipe: aside from a good London Fog tea, my favourite thing is a teapot of cambric tea. With a new homemade baked good or the result of that new dinner recipe I found (who knows where), this is a favourite pastime.

Listen to a podcast (not music): Especially if you grew up with siblings, having background chatter will help you feel less isolated. I love listening to Stuart McLean’s Vinyl Café—though I know how every story ends, I always find the endings hilarious, especially if it involves the questionable decisions of the main character, Dave. No one ever said that you have to actively listen to a podcast…

Explore: Go to a new metro station and explore the general vicinity to get your however-many thousand steps in. Who knows, you might find your favourite new café. This is truly a two-birds-one-stone situation.

Go for a drive: Sing along to some music, put together that great comeback you should’ve said when you had the chance, or drive to your favourite haunt outside of the city. Just make sure you don’t turn left at a red light.

Clean: Maybe it’s just me, but cleaning is therapeutic and a great way to kill time. I genuinely look forward to Sundays because, though a bit unorthodox, it is my apartment deep clean day. 

Reset: Tying into the above, when the space around you is clean, your mind is too – doing a weekly reset, whether that’s to clean, go work out, or do your favourite thing around the city–  to jump into Monday in full swing is a great way to take your mind off of that lonely feeling.

Write: Sure, I’m an English Lit Major so this is a given, but how else do you think this article got written? (For context, I’m currently on my 48-hour hiatus).

The results of self-growth from spending time alone are the foundations of being an adult. Like any habit or routine, it will take some time getting used to being comfortable spending time alone. However, getting to know yourself in a solitary setting and being okay with being alone is a pretty big (and sought after) achievement. It allows you to protect your peace. So, just take a deep breath, and see where the day takes you.

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News

Community groups demand release of migrant detainees following a COVID-19 outbreak at the Laval Immigration Holding Centre

One of the migrants at the centre has begun a hunger strike to protest inadequate health measures

Multiple migrant detainees at the Immigration Holding Centre (IHC) in Laval have contracted COVID-19, spurring community groups to call on the immediate release of all detainees for the migrants’ safety.

Due to the outbreak, one of the migrants who tested positive for COVID-19 began a hunger strike on Feb. 15 to protest against the conditions at the centre, according to Solidarity Across Borders (SAB), a community group in contact with multiple detainees at the centre.

Unsanitary conditions, inadequate COVID-19 protocol, and refusal to give proper healthcare to detainees — these are some of the allegations weighed against the IHC by SAB and one of the detainees, Marlon, who used a pseudonym to protect his identity.

While the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) spokesperson Rebecca Purdy said detainees who have tested positive are being held in solitary confinement, SAB member of the detention committee Simone Lucas claims all detainees on the men’s side are being held in solitary as a containment measure.

SAB receives all of their information through phone calls with detainees who are in isolation and cannot properly communicate with one another, which Lucas said is the reason why some of their figures are different from the CBSA. In a press release, SAB claimed four positive COVID-19 cases at the centre, while the CBSA claimed three cases since Feb. 15. To date, there are 15 migrants held in the Laval IHC, according to the CBSA.

Back in the spring of 2020, detainees organized a group hunger strike during the first wave of the pandemic, to protest being held in a closed environment, which made them more susceptible to contracting the virus. Some migrants were released following the eight-day hunger strike, and a media campaign by SAB.

“If the CBSA was able to release detainees in the spring we don’t see any reason why they shouldn’t be allowed to release detainees this time around,” said Tanya Rowell Katzemba, a member of the detention committee at SAB.

During the first wave of the pandemic, the only confirmed COVID-19 case at the centre was a security guard. Rowell Katzemba thinks the situation now, with multiple migrants getting sick, means there is an even greater risk to their safety and wellbeing.

The higher risk of exposure to the virus comes from the staff who work at the centre, who regularly come and go, while migrants are detained in closed environments, according to the press release by SAB. Marlon agrees, and he says the situation at the centre is dire.

“In my experience, the worst thing that has happened to me in my life is to have fallen sick with COVID-19,” said Marlon in an interview with The Concordian. He said the precautions and care he has received at the Laval IHC are insufficient.

Marlon said that after testing positive, he was moved to a smaller room to quarantine, where the walls appeared to have spit spread on them, the bed was dirty, and the curtains were stained with blood. He successfully demanded to be moved, saying the centre’s cleaning measures were inadequate.

According to Marlon, deep cleaning at the centre amounts to surfaces being wiped down with a rag, with high-traffic touchable services like vending machines and water foundations rarely being cleaned. In the washroom detainees use, blood is smeared on the door from the inside, and mold grows on the shower curtains.

Marlon continued to state that multiple guards have taken off their masks while working at the centre, sometimes coughing and sneezing without a face covering. Staff do not socially distance, and instead have various points of contact between each other throughout their work day and during breaks, for example,  Marlon said he witnessed guards sharing cigarette lighters.

Personnel at the centre work in eight hour shifts, with around 12 to 20 employees coming and going from the IHC at a time, said Marlon. In the first week of February, he noticed one of the guards in the shared communal space exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms; they were coughing, had dark bags under their eyes, and appeared to have trouble breathing. 

Less than two weeks later, Marlon also tested positive for COVID-19, during which time he was scheduled to be deported from Canada. Due to his positive result, his deportation was postponed, conditional on a negative test result for COVID-19. In Canada, deportations resumed on Nov. 30, 2020, after having been paused due to the pandemic in March 2020.

The CBSA did not respond to questions regarding whether any personnel at the centre had contracted COVID-19.

The CBSA released a statement pertaining to cleaning measures at the centre.

“Since February 2020, several additional measures have been taken to prevent the spread of COVID-19 at the Laval IHC. These have been taken in response to directives put forward by health authorities and are reviewed several times a week as the situation continues to evolve.”

One of these measures was also to stop all visitations from the public. Marlon has not seen his wife and son who live in Montreal and whose refugee applications have been approved, since he was detained for lack of identification papers on Nov. 16, 2020.

At the centre, Marlon finds it ironic the guards are “treating them like lepers and keeping their distance,” while it was those very personnel who brought COVID-19 into the detention centre. While some of his symptoms have improved, Marlon said he has many headaches, and can only sleep facing up, for three hours at night.

Marlon has refused to be tested for COVID-19, saying if he tests negative, they will immediately deport him. Instead, he wants to make sure COVID-19 has left no long-lasting health issues, and has asked for a medical evaluation.

Since he became sick at the centre, he feels it is the responsibility of the health workers there to care for him.

“They don’t care how my body is doing or the state of my lungs,” he said. ”They just want me out of the way.”

While Montreal opened their first post-COVID-19 clinic earlier this month, Marlon said detainees at the holding centre are being denied follow-up care. He said he would not refuse deportation, but wants to know he has fully recovered from COVID-19, citing that this is now a human rights demand in the context of the pandemic.

He feels since the shelter cannot treat detainees humanely, it should be closed down. In the meantime, SAB will continue to pressure the government to release detainees at the Laval IHC.

“Treat us like humans,” said Marlon.

 

Translation for the interview with Marlon provided by SAB member Alonso Gamarra.

Graphic by @the.beta.lab

The spread of COVID-19 and the surge of entrepreneurs

Why bored twentysomethings are starting businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic

I was three weeks away from starting a new season as a tour guide in Europe when the World Health Organization (WHO) declared a global pandemic. My company cancelled all their trips, and I was left unemployed. Bored and unstimulated, my options were to get an uninspiring job at the grocery store or the pharmacy, which were the only businesses open during the peak of the first wave. Or, I could go back to school.

The fear of boredom pushed me to pursue a new career by going back to school while the world waited to return to normal. I had everything to gain by trying something new.

I found a graduate diploma program in journalism, an area that intrigued me, and was accepted. For the last few months, I have been studying harder than ever, but, for the first time, I am thoroughly enjoying school.

I noticed that the people closest to me were also understimulated and started using their free time to challenge themselves in new ways. But they chose a third option: starting their own businesses.

Friend after friend launched new online businesses hoping to make a little extra money, but most of all, to keep busy while the world was at a standstill.

Here are some of their stories.

JESSICA MCLAUGHLIN (Age: 26), OTTAWA, CANADA

In the Great White North, a national lockdown was announced in March. Non-essential employees were forced to work from home and social gatherings were banned, which was horrific for self-declared extrovert Jessica McLaughlin.

“I needed to find something to keep me busy because I was going crazy,” said McLaughlin. The 26-year-old government employee said that while she was thankful to keep her job, the loss of social activities left a void in her life. So, McLaughlin focused on the one hobby she could do alone within her house: baking.

Thus, Sweet Ginger Bakes (SGB) was created. Named after her red hair and love for all things sweet, SGB offers people in the Ottawa and Montreal areas various baked goods, the most popular of which are the customizable sugar cookies.

“I was a big ‘procrastibaker’ during undergrad,” she said. “I would bake to put off studying or writing papers.” In her spare time, McLaughlin would spend hours intricately decorating goods for friends and family, who saw the potential for her to start a baking company.

SGB opened its virtual doors on Instagram in April, and, for the following six weeks, McLaughlin was extremely busy.

Instagram calculated that, in 2019, 83 per cent of users discovered new products and services on the platform, which allows small businesses like SGB to find marketable audiences. Acquiring 138 followers since her launch, McLaughlin earned enough revenue to buy a new baby blue KitchenAid mixer and quality sprinkles, which, she says, “are deceptively expensive.”

Though McLaughlin doesn’t see herself doing this full time in the near future, she isn’t stopping either.

“I think the pipedream would be to open an actual store,” she said. But even if this never happens, McLaughlin said all the effort it took to get the business going, like decorating at 2 a.m. or running to the grocery store for last minute eggs and butter, were worth it.

“I find joy in making new designs and making people happy through baking,” she said. “It’s nice to be part of someone’s moment … knowing that something that I enjoy doing can make others happy.”


MARTA SANTO (Age: 28), COMO, ITALY

Italy was the first European country to enter a lockdown on Mar. 9, when the virus took over the northern region of Lombardy before spreading across the country. Marta Santo, an Italian tour guide, was working in Austria when Italy announced it would soon close its borders.

Santo was in the middle of a 21-day tour, but had to leave her group with another guide and race home or risk being stuck abroad. The journey took several days, but she made it home in time. From then on, “It was full-on crazy,” she said.

The lockdown in Lombardy lasted two and a half months, during which people were only allowed to walk a short 200 metre distance from their homes.

“There were police everywhere; they used drones to check on people,” she said.

Then, in August, Santo contracted COVID-19 and was quarantined for 18 days. With boundless time on her hands, Santo, a trained artist, started drawing again.

“It was like people baking bread, but for me it was painting stuff,” she said. Santo hadn’t painted in five years, due to her nomadic job limiting her ability to carry art supplies.

But her family, friends and the boredom of unemployment inspired Santo to open an online art store on Etsy, an e-commerce site focused on selling handmade crafts. The store, called UnaTea, launched in October, selling prints of Santo’s illustrations, as well as personalized paintings, drawings and magnets.

Santo even used the time to teach herself how to draw on her iPad so that her work could be safely stored and printed, and — when tourism resumes — will allow her to keep drawing on the road.

Since its launch, UnaTea has sold over a dozen pieces, the most popular of which are the personalized items drawn in Santo’s unique style. Santo can spend up to nine hours creating a single piece, from the conceptualization of the work all the way to the final touches.

“It’s sort of my meditation, I think, when I paint and when I draw,” said Santo, adding that she feels no pressure to make UnaTea her main source of income.

“I think it’s always going to be a hobby to be honest, and I’m happy with that,” said Santo.


TOBY MOORE (Age: 26), MONTREAL, CANADA

Starting an online business has become increasingly easier, with little-to-no funds needed to create Instagram, Facebook and Etsy business pages. According to Stats Canada, national retail e-commerce sales grew by 99.3 per cent between February and May of 2020 and many new online businesses have appeared since the pandemic.

One of them was created by Toby Moore.

Moore had just graduated from McGill University with a master’s degree in urban planning when the virus spread globally.

“That first job … that’s generally the hardest barrier to get over, so having a whole global pandemic on top of that is definitely not conducive to helping someone [find a job],” said Moore. But the 26-year-old saw his ample free time as an opportunity to learn and expand his interests.

“It started with a few ideas, interests or passions of mine,” he said. Moore had been DJing as a hobby for eight years, so naturally streaming his DJ sessions was the first step. But he wanted to expand on this idea and brainstormed, “What other online events or things can I do to bring people together?”

From inside his childhood bedroom, he created T1K, a diverse entertainment company providing trivia nights, a podcast, roundtable discussions, a radio show and many more events.

“T1K is about bringing people together in a knowledge/education/learning environment where people can share, discuss, grow [and] have fun in a positive way,” said Moore. Topics like management, the environment and careers are discussed on the podcast and at events to engage listeners and dive deeper into current issues.

The podcast, playfully named “Toby or not To be,” explores the different career paths and choices of interviewees. Moore also created a roundtable discussion centred on sustainability and has welcomed guests like Côte-des-Neiges–Notre-Dame-de-Grâce Mayor Sue Montgomery and Councillor Christian Arsenault.

T1K started in June but has not made any sales as of yet.

“I’m continually thinking of how I can incorporate a financial side into it,” said Moore. He believes that the company is still too small to charge customers for services and selling ad space doesn’t support his business concept.

But the project has been fruitful in other ways. T1K attracted the attention of Sur Place, an non-profit that offers free experiential arts education, where Moore is currently on the board of directors and occasionally offers workshops on podcasting.

“It’s been such a big opportunity, experiment and learning process, and I think that’s what I wanted,” he said.


***

Victor Hugo wrote in Les Miserables, “There is something more terrible than a hell of suffering — a hell of boredom.” And right he was.

A wave of boredom spread around the world just as fast as the pandemic, but McLaughlin, Santo and Moore turned it into an opportunity to develop their hobbies.

While the businesses differ, what is common among all three entrepreneurs is that their ventures were not created with the aim of making money or becoming a full-time job. Instead, it allowed them to use their time to do what they love within the confines of their homes.

 

Photos courtesy of Paula Sant’Anna

Isolate happiness when working alone

While many Canadians suffer the toll of social isolation, one man spends six months working in near-total solitude every year, and loves it. Experts explain why.

“I’m able to see in my six months of ‘solitude’ something super positive. It takes time. The first weeks when I’m alone here, it’s strange,” says Gabriel Lanthier, in his fourth year as manager of the University of Montreal’s Laurentian Biology Station. In this role, he spends November until May working alone at the rural site, managing, repairing, and maintaining the 16.4 square kilometres of land.

In turn, during the summer season, it’s all hands on deck, as Lanthier manages a team of eight who run the site that houses many active research experiments and University of Montreal classes, hosts students who are writing theses, and rents the space out to private events.

Lanthier monitors an ongoing research project that assesses the impact of a 3 degree increase in soil temperature on vegetation growth long-term, as compared to the present soil temperature levels. In 2009, the Quebec Government announced that a 28 square kilometer plot of land, which includes the Laurentians Biology Station, would become a protected territory as a “biodiversity reserve”. Here, researchers mainly in biology and geography, conduct experiments. Between 1967 and 2014, researchers concluded 33 doctoral theses and 164 masters theses at the site.

Why does he love solitude?

“We underestimate in everyday life our need for space, for tranquility. We’re all on a rolling train.” He continues, “People often stop at the point where they’re about to break. The hard end.”

Lanthier was hired to work in an isolated region in the Lower Laurentians, 75 kilometres north of Montreal, where he lives with his partner and their two children. His lifestyle for the winter months — quiet, solitary, and slowed down — reflects the “new normal” introduced by social distancing laws enforced in Quebec, especially for remote workers, to curb the spread of COVID-19.

Lanthier cuts down trees that obstruct a trail in the woods of the site. “Working alone, the job is super varied,” says Lanthier. “If it’s a problem with personnel, if it’s a problem with clients, if it’s a problem with scheduling, or a problem with the machinery we have, doing reparations. All year I solve different problems. That’s my job.”

According to Statistics Canada, the percentage of Canadians experiencing poor mental health has tripled to 24 per cent since 2018, and young people are hit hardest over recent social distancing measures. Further, “Over half of participants report that their mental health has worsened since the onset of physical distancing,” according to the study.

Burnout culture is not a new phenomenon. In response to a rise in stress and burnout among Canadian labourers, Quebec has been working to expand its legislation protecting worker’s health to include mental health as well, according to Canada’s Occupational Health and Safety Magazine.

Recently, experts have warned of the psychological strain that essential workers face during this time, which can ultimately lead to greater risk as employees, facing exhaustion, are more susceptible to mistakes.

According to a Statistics Canada report, those with the most education are more likely to hold positions that can be done from home, illustrating that “The risk of experiencing a work interruption during the pandemic might fall disproportionately on financially vulnerable families.” Further, it poses the dilemma for those working in low-paid, high contact industries, such as the service industry or factory work, whether or not to absorb high risks by working in person.

So, is solitude really the culprit of this swelling unwellness, or is it merely a symptom of something else?

Lanthier attributes his wellness in the face of solitary winters to three things — he likes his job, he works outside, and he slows down.

Lanthier walks along the trails of the site, which has 7 lakes, and multiple rivers and streams passing through. “I think we underestimate in the everyday life, our need for space. The need for tranquility,” says Lanthier. “The only advice I’ve got: go outside, take in the air, and especially during Covid, put on your running shoes and go jogging 10 minutes. 10 minutes will change your day.”

Meaningful work is a central factor to job satisfaction. That and “mastering, leadership, balance, influence, achievements and colleagues,” according to the Happiness Research Insititue’s 2019 Job Satisfaction Index.

This research studies Danes’ work satisfaction, identifying three main issues that workers faced in 2019 — managing the “work-life balance,” “stress,” and fostering a “sense of identity from their job.” The research found that meaningful work offers labourers a stronger sense of job satisfaction, which in turn heightens their happiness.

“Me, I’m in paradise,” says Lanthier. “I’m sure it’s not the same situation if you ask me to work in a four-and-a-half, no windows, semi-basement, for eight hours in front of a computer. I would not have the same appreciation of isolation than what I have.”

According to the theory of logotherapy developed by psychiatrist and neurologist Viktor Frankl, humans derive happiness from meaning — through purposeful work, relationships, or suffering, as explained in his book, “Man’s Search for Meaning,” first published in 1946.

The connection between human happiness and meaningful work has a long history, with a body of research behind it. Sustainability is a welcome recent addition to the conversation by experts in happiness.

“I really think a sustainable economy needs to be built on meaningful work,” says economic historian Dr. Kent Klitgaard. “I don’t think you can have this kind of degraded job that everybody hates and you do it just to buy consumption goods that wear out quickly and don’t make you happy.”

The principle that we can be happier if we work less and slow down is on the rise amongst professionals working to scale back human consumption and invest more in well-being.

“We can have better lives, I’m convinced, with a lot less material and energy consumption,” says environmental economist Dr. Christian Kerschner.

The connections between slowing down, engaging in environmentally sustainable activities, consuming less, and happiness are detailed in a United Nations commissioned Sustainable Happiness report, conducted by The Happiness Research Institute.

According to the report, “The literature on voluntary simplicity provides abundant illustrations of persons who, by virtue of engaging in simpler lives, experience increased feelings of satisfaction and meaning. In other words: less stuff equals more happiness.”

“We have been very comfortable materially, but also if you look at our society’s emotional and psychological health,” says Kerschner, “we are not doing so well.”

What does meaningful work have to do with consumption? Since technology has replaced many — largely manual — jobs across industries, economies have found new uses for this labour force. These jobs tend to be mundane, dead-end, monotonous, with tight deadlines.

“I ask myself at what point is it healthy for the human mind? Something very routine — like a recipe — already established. Every day, 40 hours per week, for 20 years?” Lanthier asks. “Put it in an isolating mold, all alone, I would go crazy.”

Among his varied duties, Lanthier is responsible for doing office work, such as bookkeeping, managing staff during the summer, and confirming reservations with clients. “I’m a bit of a hybrid between intellectual and manual and that’s what I found in this job,” says Lanthier. With an undergraduate degree in psychology, and a master’s degree in biology, Lanthier finds this position taps into both studies. “I believe you don’t just learn things in school. In touching, in trying, in failures also, that’s all a part of learning. When things don’t work, we learn,” says Lanthier. “My work gives me the opportunity to touch on very diverse things and I learn every day.”

The duality of Lanthier’s job — a busy summer followed by a quiet winter — taps into his need for a challenge, change, and allows him to grow his skills manually as well as interpersonally.

While routine is a very healthy practice to maintain both bodily and mental health, Lanthier has a point. A job where you do the same thing every day limits how much you can learn or be challenged. “For work to be meaningful, it needs to stimulate me, fill my life,” says Lanthier. “My work needs to help me grow, evolve, progress.”

“There’s studies that show people in the U.S. are working more hours on average than any generation before. So that leads

As part of his duties, Lanthier walks the trails located on the reserve, taking note of any evidence of animal activity, such as canine tracks. He also searches for evidence of human activity, which is forbidden, to ensure the preservation of the land and protection of any research taking place.

to the question,” Kerschner elaborates. “Is this really life? Is this really wellbeing?”

Some are finding their wellbeing comes from an active engagement with community and sustainability.

One collective-living community in Denmark began to examine the food waste in their home. With a separate trash can for food, the residents can see “direct proof of what food waste costs them each month and what they save by reducing such waste,” according to the Sustainable Happiness report. With less waste-based financial strain, workers need to earn less money and work less hours to afford a high quality of life.

Kerschner hopes that through this experience in social isolation, collectively, society can work to strengthen community ties, and register how important connection is for our health and happiness. When we liberate our time by working a little less, we create more time for the things that matter to us, connecting with our communities, and helping each other.

There is an understanding in mainstream social consciousness that sustainability is incompatible with abundance. On the contrary, cultivating abundance does not need to be expensive.

The Sustainable Happiness report stresses, “To completely unleash happiness potential, it is important to dispense with myths and misconceptions such as the false choice between sustainability and happiness.”

Through community initiatives, sharing, and connecting, abundance can be very cost-efficient, sustainable, and joyous.

 

Photos by Simona Rosenfield, taken on December 2, 2020

Categories
Opinions

Isolation: the original shame-based solution to human punishment

Is social isolation softening our carrot-and-stick incarceration system?

Residents of Canada first went on lockdown in March of 2020. Since then, the public has felt waves of COVID-19, and felt its impacts on lifestyle and quality of life, as well as legislation. Many compare their homes to prisons, as the mental and physical health implications of social isolation take their toll.

With ten months-and-counting of experience enduring long spells of little-to-no social contact, many missing key holidays and celebrations, as well as collective mourning, have your perceptions of incarceration changed?

Presently, there are countless individuals serving prison sentences for violent crimes, petty crimes, crimes they didn’t commit, or crimes they didn’t understand.

There are people serving sentences by enduring punishment that we, residents enduring social distancing measures, cannot bear.

One first-hand account of solitary confinement taps into our shared suffering — trouble sleeping and spending time meaningfully compounds mental distress.

Those of us who have housemates, friends, and family in close proximity know how valuable these relationships have become in recent times. We stay in touch because, for many of us, we cannot touch. People who are vulnerable to health complications — and their housemates, for that matter — face an impossible dilemma: risk physical health to stay in good mental health, or risk mental health to keep good physical health.

It’s hard to imagine what someone serving a prison sentence might feel, not being able to communicate intimately with friends and family while they serve their sentence, and especially now, while prisons are on lockdown due to COVID-19.

There are people even serving sentences for defending and protecting clean water sources that face threat of contamination for industry interests. It is an incredibly violent thing to incarcerate people, as we are learning, but are we learning fast enough?

The NoDAPL Federal Prisoner Support Committee is an organization committed to empowering convicted Water Protectors by telling individual stories, and teaching the public how to support these individuals by writing letters, learning about their causes, and applying political pressure for legislative reform.

Water Protectors are dedicated to protecting and celebrating water as an essential ingredient of life through peaceful protest, traditional Indigenous ceremony, and legal intervention. The Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) has been a point of dispute for years, drawing international attention to the human rights violations inflicted on the Indigenous people of North America.

We’re spending a lot of time at home. We’re spending a lot of time in isolation, and that impacts our health, as Statistics Canada research has shown.

The Water Protectors serving their sentences, represented by NoDAPL, need connection like anyone else. Connecting and communicating with these individuals empowers their work, and amplifies their cause.

NoDAPL Federal Prisoner Support Committee teaches the public how to reach these individuals as it takes precision and determination to maintain correspondence within the narrow guidelines that prisons uphold.

This matters. Anyone who feels the cold wind coming from loneliness in isolation knows how much a message or phone call means. Imagine correspondence without privacy or agency.

It is important that we make efforts to connect with one another, especially with those who experience additional barriers to connection.

And most pressing in these instances of political imprisonment: why do we incarcerate people for leading the shift of social values, the intended compass of the legal and prison system?

Winter is coming, and it’s going to bring cold winds of isolation. Connection is a warm bath.

 

Graphic by Taylor Reddam

It’s the little things

We all know the pandemic has negatively affected our lives in a variety of ways, and that it has disproportionately harmed some more than others. But hidden within the chaos and confusion that is the year 2020, there are a small handful of silver linings that make this “new normal” just a little more bearable.

Take masks, for example — as the cold weather begins to consume Montreal, wearing them has become less and less of a chore. We no longer have to soil our scarves with runny noses, since our trusty mandatory-masks do us the favour of keeping our lips and noses warm, while also protecting against the transmission of our least favourite virus.

Speaking of transmission, without having to commute to campus for class, there’s fewer reasons to ride the germ incubator — ie. the bus, metro or shuttle — anymore. Even when life was normal, it’s hard to say that taking the bus was ever the best part of the day. And now, for the lucky ones who don’t need to ride as much, it’s just a warm memory.

And speaking of warmth, wearing warm, comfy pajama bottoms to class seems like something we would’ve killed for before the pandemic. Now, it’s a way of life. No more social expectation to look “together” and cohesive. We all know we’re in the same boat. If that means wearing your cozy Harvard sweater, your Spongebob socks or your Roots sweatpants from your pre-adolescence, we get it.

It’s the little things.

If one thing is true, it’s that there’s plenty of time to spend alone now, and with that comes a lot of loneliness and sameness. But at the same time, these open Friday nights with nothing to do have given us the time and space to practice self-care and self-discovery. Maybe that means doing a weekly bath ritual, or having private karaoke nights or even beating your high score in Mario Kart. Whatever it is that helps you be you, do it. The biggest pandemic perk? Having the time to get to know yourself.

 

Feature photo by Alex Hutchins

Small Steps: learning to value time alone

Though it may seem counterintuitive, forced isolation can help you realize how good spending time alone can be

Throughout my life, there have been many things I learned so late that I kick myself for never doing earlier. There are even more things I have yet to learn. In this new column, I plan on exploring the importance of these changes and asking myself why it took so long to get to the modicum of maturity I currently have.

In my teen years, I was painfully extroverted. Not in the sense that I was loud or especially outgoing — but in the true sense of the word extrovert: I gained all my energy from being around my friends. If I didn’t have some sort of social engagement at least once per weekend I would start to go a little bit insane. I didn’t understand how to use my spare time, and the thought of being stuck in my bedroom on a Friday night made me feel like a social failure. Not that whatever a 17-year-old could do in suburban Virginia would be all that thrilling anyway, but at that time, anything was better than trying to entertain myself for a night.

So why, for so many years, did the idea of spending extended time alone scare me so much? Years of untreated anxiety disorders? Well yes, but we can put a pin in that one. But I think in a more “big picture” sort of way, I valued my time in relation to others, not on my own terms. When you’re so worried about what other people are doing, it’s easy to forget to listen to your body’s alerts that you’re overstimulated or that you need some time alone.

Breaking the cycle of fear-of-missing-out or “FOMO” dictating my behavior came slowly with age and then rapidly with COVID-19, the great social-life equalizer. During COVID, especially in the beginning of lockdown, most of us had no choice but to stay home and entertain ourselves. At first, lockdown hit me with the realization that everything I did for fun involved going outside and socializing — going to bars, shows, or restaurants. But soon, it made me realize how much I had been craving time just alone with my thoughts.

Sometimes it takes a major outside force to make you realize you’ve been ignoring shifts and changes in your personality all along. Spending a lot of time alone made me realize that I had just been running away from spending time with myself, and that’s a skill that I’ll need to continue building up. Over the past months, I’ve been able to gain an appreciation for solitude as a time to reconnect with my emotions, assess my goals, and process my week. It’s an ongoing process, but I’ll pin it as a COVID highlight of sorts.

 

Graphic by Taylor Reddam

Categories
Student Life

Dealing with an eating disorder during COVID-19

*Disclaimer:  I understand and respect the fact that each experience with eating disorders is unique and serious. I am not a specialist and I am not currently being consulted by one for this disorder. This is a personal essay.

I was in aisle 12—the chips one, obviously—of Métro, on Mont-Royal Avenue and Fullum Street last Friday. My mind went blank; there was nothing. I stood there, staring in silence at the remaining Doritos. If I allowed myself to think, for just one second, I would be consumed with guilt and shame.

On March 12, Premier François Legault announced the first strict measures resembling the start of a lockdown against COVID-19. A week later, public places such as gyms, libraries, bars and schools closed indefinitely.

Inevitably, people rushed to stock up on food. And frankly, so did I. The difference is that I calmly walked to get there; I didn’t rush. But also, I don’t normally stock up on food because I have a binge-eating disorder.

Pausing and staring at food for ages while I do my grocery shopping is not an unusual thing for me. The inner dialogue makes it harder for me than it is for normal people to choose what to eat. I have to battle my binge-eating disorder while I decide what amount of food I really need.

Talking about these behaviours can be really hard. The only time I brought it up in therapy was in my early 20s. I had been living in Montreal for two years and I was so nervous about feeding myself that I wouldn’t eat for hours and then would binge on everything, most often alone.

But, as I’ve grown older, I’ve learned to cope with my inner demons by keeping minimal amounts of food in my apartment, while also trying not to buy anything that triggers my disorder, such as sugary or fast foods. Going out to exercise when I feel overwhelmed has also played a huge part in dealing with my eating compulsion. And it has worked—until now.

In a time of self-isolation and social distancing, it can be petrifying for me to think that $130 worth of groceries that are supposed to last me two weeks, could very well only last me two or three days.

According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, binge eating, which is regularly eating a lot of food in a short amount of time (bingeing), could be a response to low mood or depression, anxiety, stress or feeling “numb.”

Truthfully, recently my days have been like this: I don’t eat from morning until dusk. But then I’ll go into bingeing episodes at night, finding myself alone with family-sized pizzas, fries, deep-fried pickles, and finishing it all off with a bucket of ice cream, topped with a cherry made of guilt. When that happens, I shut my phone off, too embarrassed to answer my friends simply asking me what I’m up to.

While binge-eating disorder might affect only about two per cent of all Canadians, stress-eating for comfort is something most people can relate to. And, in times of crisis like this one, the uncertainty of food availability or accessibility taps into our deepest primitive fears and makes us act irrationally.

I don’t need official data to know that most people are feeling increasingly stressed right now. People are afraid of being bored or not knowing what to do with their own children. We are so used to having tight schedules and constant stimuli around that when we pause, we find ourselves lost. Our exterior lives are filled, yet our inner selves are an unexplored void.

Surely, what the isolation from COVID-19 is forcing us to do is an introspection of our daily lives. How do you interact with and treat yourself? Are you uncomfortable spending time with your family? Do you know how to respect your partner’s space and boundaries?

In all honesty, the mechanisms I’ve designed for myself to deal with my eating disorder over the past years were only a bandage on a wound that hasn’t healed properly. But the bigger picture here is that this process is not abnormal, yet we are never confronted with our unhealthy coping mechanisms—until a pandemic comes along and changes the entire game. Unfortunately, the result of being unable to find our bearings in all this confusion can be quite distressing.

In truth, worldwide, psychologists are warning of the effects of isolation on mental health. “One of the biggest risks, particularly at a time like this, there’s a tendency to get lost in negative thinking,” says Art Markman, professor of psychology at the University of Texas, in an interview with Health. Markman adds that there’s no way to stop the cycle when you can’t verbalize your fears or be checked on by others.

The goal is to avoid feeling distressed by the loneliness that comes with social distancing. I might be protecting myself and others from a virus, but this shouldn’t leave me battling my own mind. It then becomes even more important to reach out to friends or support groups such as ANEB Quebec, who offer services by phone for people struggling with eating disorders.

Undeniably, we are social creatures. Self-isolation is not an easy experience. But the pandemic is offering a challenging opportunity to learn to be comfortable with ourselves and face our own darkness, whatever that might be, instead of repressing it.

COVID-19 will eventually be a thing of the past. Isolating ourselves with our demons should be too.

 

Graphic by @sundaeghost

Categories
News

Fighting isolation on Valentine’s Day, one rose at a time

**Full disclosure: I fell in love with this story. 

On Valentine’s Day, Concordia Alumnus Timothy Thomas and his team from Home Care Assistance Montreal, partnered with Wish of a Lifetime, in an attempt to decrease isolation, if only for one day.

“Seniors’ isolation is huge,” said Thomas. “A lot of people we have come across have lost a spouse, maybe their kids don’t visit as often and they are feeling down at these times of the year. But it doesn’t take much; a rose, a smile and a hug.”

The team delivered more than 700 roses at three different home care facilities in Montreal; Le Cambridge, Sélection Vista and Chateau Westmount.

While this was the first year the franchise expanded the event to Canada, Home Care Assistance partnered with Wish of a Lifetime for the fourth year in a row. The latter Colorado-based non-profit organization is similar to Children’s Wish, but provides experiences fulfilling the dreams of underprivileged seniors.

“What we are here to do today, with Cupid Crew and Wish of a Lifetime, is to really give back to our clients and seniors communities,” said Thomas.

For Thomas, Home Care Assistance Montreal is a family business. Back in 2007, after his family struggled with finding a caregiver for his grandmother, his father saw an opportunity to offer home care services. He came across Home Care Assistance, a business based out of the United States, with about 90 locations across North America, and decided to buy the rights in Quebec.

In 2014, Wish of a Lifetime created Cupid Crew, which quickly became a national movement in the United States. This year, the event spanned over 500 cities, with the goal of delivering 50,000 roses nationwide. The idea behind the movement was to empower volunteers to deliver roses to seniors, spread love and raise awareness on Feb. 14 of the array of complications that can affect the quality of life for seniors.

“The Cupid Crew initiative from Wish of a Lifetime was showcased to our company at our annual conference in Miami last year,” said Thomas. “We loved the idea, it’s a teambuilding activity for our staff as well. A lot of our employees don’t get the chance to be out there in the field, where our clients and services meet and where we make great impact in the life of seniors.”

The feeling of loneliness and isolation has been widely reported among elders. Numerous studies show a direct connection between loneliness, heart disease and dementia, which can result in shorter lifespans for seniors.  An estimated 1.4 million seniors in Canada—25 per cent of men and 40 per cent of women—reported feelings of loneliness. The Canadian government defines a person from the age of 65 onwards as a senior. If one remains healthy, this could mean a good 20 more years of feeling alone.

Yet, home care centres can also be a place for love and friendship, as the event was trying to highlight. “Even if it’s on a general holiday, it connects [seniors] to each other with the roses,” said Vanessa Cannizzaro, the human resource coordinator for Home Care Assistance Montreal. “It’s something that brings them closer to the people around, and us closer to them.”

Indeed, Sélection Vista resident Bertha Van Frank believes she was lucky to find 94-year-old Claire Eidanger. “I was really shy and she was the first one to say hi to me when I moved here, and we became friends. We are celebrating Valentine’s Day together,” said the 88-year-old senior, as they both smiled, holding onto their roses.

Valentine’s Day might be perceived as a marketing holiday, as Thomas also pointed out, but this was ultimately an opportunity to make an impact on seniors’ lives.

“It doesn’t matter why we are doing it, it needs to be done,” said Thomas. “Yes, it’s corny at this time of year, but it’s also a time of year that is difficult for a lot of people. I think it’s worth it and it’s as good of a time as any.”

 

Photo courtesy of Timothy Thomas

 

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