Dallaire remains hopeful for the future and humanity

He’s witty, funny, knowledgeable, experienced and a raconteur and, at the Bruce County Museum and Cultural Centre fundraiser on Thursday (Oct. 11) held at the Unifor centre in Port Elgin, some 350 people sat mesmerized as they listened to Lt. General (Ret.) and former Senator, Romeo Dallaire.

Bruce County Councilor and Brockton Mayor Chris Peabody

“We would like to thank everyone for coming out,” said Mayor Peabody, Mayor of Brockton and representing the County of Bruce.

“The evening is a fundraiser for the expansion of the Museum Archives and we have to thank the Museum for ‘thinking outside the box’.”

Dallaire, after a long and distinguished career in Canada’s military, is outspoken on a wide variety of topics.  He is witty with a dry sense of humour while speaking out about serious subjects such Canada’s walking wounded to the future, from mental illness to Canada’s youth and the inequality of humanity that persists.

“We will soon be able to ‘skype’ with anyone in the world in real time which means that we will be thinking globally.  Is humanity in a state of survival or is it thriving?  Will there be a communion between humanity and the planet?  I literally believe that humanity will survive because there is a sense of hope,” he said.  “There isn’t one human that is more human than the other.  No one has more of a right to water and the things that enable us to survive.  We are all equal.”

Dallaire told of his time as leader during the Rwanda genocide and the atrocities that he saw that led eventually to his own PTSD.  “Over 350,000 children under 15 were slaughtered and … nobody came.  Every country that had the power to step in and stop this thing said the same thing, ‘There’s no reason, it’s not worth the risk, it’s not worth the money and one country even said ‘there’s too many people here anyway’.  The major medias did not communicate the situation and the leaders of the countries did not want to intervene as it wasn’t in their self-interests.  There was no oil, it wasn’t strategically of value so why risk it.  So, are all humans human, or are some more human that others?”

“We are all equal even with our differences of ethnicity, religion, nationalism, languages, culture – these are only elements by which we live in the diversity of the world as human beings. They don’t make anyone of us more superior that the other and it doesn’t make anyone of them who doesn’t have what we have, inferior.”

He went on to say that there is a difference between tolerance and respect.  “Who are we to say we have to be tolerant.  If we treat each other with respect, then we are equals despite the difference in our nuances.”

While he covered serious subjects, as with any true raconteur, he also interspersed his talk with humour and wit that had the audience laughing.

“The future is complex and ambiguous. We want it to be positive and to thrive.  My generation had 20 years of life apprenticeship and the youth of today don’t have that because things are changing so fast.  There is nothing today that is status quo.  Everything in this era is in flux and will continue to be in flux.  Status quo is regression and we must keep advancing and being able to adapt, participate and shape the future.”

As a former Senator, he is also a supporter of having a Senate.  “It is a balance to the manoeuvring that happens for legislation to make its way out of the House of Commons and into law.  That second un-elected, independent body is needed to take that second look at things.  The members of the Senate come from a wide variety of backgrounds and experiences so that they can bring common sense to the table.”

“World War II and Vimy Ridge moved us from being a colony to being a nation. Canada is a stable nation that has the opportunity to influence humanity and that has the possibility of maximizing our potential based on our moral reference, democracy, cohesion and sense of purpose.”

“Young people of today are no longer hampered by borders.  The under-25 group is the generation without borders. They are global.  The youth through the communications revolution are already global and out there with the world in their hands.  They can understand the environment from a grander scale.  They can see how fragile earth is.”

He went on to say that on one hand we don’t want plastic bags, and yet, the governments are spending billions of dollars on nuclear weapons.  “What kind of legacy are we leaving for our youth?  It is the highest risk we are living with along with pandemics from large refugee camps and extreme terrorism. The next generation can coalesce together and become significant activists.  The youth of the world, with their instruments, can change the nature of politics and humanity in a very short time.”

In the last general election 30 per cent of the electorate was under 30 and 25 per cent were under 25.  Out of the 25 per cent who could have voted, less than 20 per cent did which represents 2.9 million votes that have never been used.  Dallaire goes to universities and tells students that they have the balance of power in democracy.  “I tell them they have the instrument to coalesce their power and to influence it to get engaged.  If they decided to vote, they could change the nature of politics in one election.  They are starting to question what we are leaving as a legacy and are starting to move.  What is the legacy we are leaving them?”

He also went on to say however, that the youth should also be accountable for the future.  “In grades 11 and 12, they learn that it is essential and a duty to vote but don’t have a vote and we tell them they have to wait until they are 18.  If we are teaching them that it’s significant of being a citizen of this great nation, then give them the right to vote.  Let them vote at 16 and be involved as citizens and commit to their future.  Then, we’ll be able to adapt to the revolution that is on its way.  The activism of the youth is going to make significant alterations to the future, therefore, we should given them the guidance needed to maximize the potential of this nation.  The last great youth movement was World War II where one in five wore a uniform.  It was a significant sacrifice to world peace … we were a major player in that war.”

“Are we are a major player today?  We have brought changes to peace keeping, academia and science but have we reached the potential of this great country.  Have we been loyal to our instinctive values and way of life?  What makes us react instinctively to human suffering?  It’s our schools, our churches, our communities … we instill a sense of responsibility to humanity and when it’s tested, we react and, if we don’t, we will be held accountable as one of the greatest nations on earth that has the reputation and has the instinctive ability to influence humanity and the potential and resources to do it. However, we have a generation that is now risk adverse and, if we are risk adverse, we will never shape the future.”

When asked by an audience member how he had, and was, dealing with PTSD, Dallaire said one of the most significant keys was love within the family.  He has also been in therapy with both a psychiatrist and psychologist for 20 years. “The more we hide it, the more it will continue and the more it will hurt.  It is hard to be injured in the mind.  It is critical to get therapeutic therapy.  Also important is peer support and to let the injured talk and feel part of society.”

When asked about AI by Randy Schnaar, Dallaire said that Google has the authority to digitize every piece of print material.  “More importantly, what is going to replace google and who is going to control that?

Another audience member, 12-year-old Carter Snobelen of Ripley in Huron-Kinloss, had given his classroom speech on the life of Dallaire, and asked how he, as a young person, could make a difference when it comes to child soldiers.

Dallaire told him that adults are using children to fight adult wars.  “Many unaccompanied youth cannot get into the country if discovered as a child soldier. Get on the internet and read about them.  Take that information and pass it along to your friends.  Try to skype with kids, your peers, in places like South Sudan and the Congo and talk to them.  Become an activist and get involved and spread the word. When you become of age go to developing countries and see what your peers are doing … and make them your friends.”

At the end of his talk, Dallaire remained to sign many copies of his books.

Today, Dallaire travels throughout the world giving talks on his passionate topics that include bringing youth to the forefront and involving them in what is to be their future.