What an experience!

I’m glad I didn’t know that I could have become a librarian when I was a kid, because if I’d become a librarian, I never would have bothered being a writer, I think.

I’d have been having too much fun just reading all those fantastic books!

It wasn’t the first library convention I’d been to, but things were a bit different this time.

I was waiting for the light to change so I could cross the street, walking from the hotel to the Shaw convention centre a few blocks away and this lady glanced down at my rolling briefcase and said, “Oh, lots of books, huh?”

I wondered how she knew there were books in there. So I said something like one of them was books the other were my clothes and I asked her if she was going to the CLA convention too. She said, “Oh yes!” She had to. She was going for meetings though.

So I told her about my talk and started in on my spiel about my books and she cut me off, “Oh I know who you are! My son saw your presentation (at a school in Toronto) and loved you!”

It was so weird to be recognized in a city so far away!

Apparently she was an ex-president of the CLA or something and was only attending meetings, not the conference itself.

I was nervous about my session. Again the CLA had paid a good amount for me to be there, I was really hoping I’d have more than two or three people in my session. Hey, it’s happened before!

It was odd how I got to this convention. A librarian asked me to submit the proposal for it. It had never occurred to me before!

So I did, and lo and behold, it was accepted! I have to thank her for the opportunity!

The subject of my session was my Denmark IBBY speech, Freedom of Speech vs Cultural Sensitivity, a very controversial topic!

You can read the original speech here: http://www.rukhsanakhan.com/articles/Freedom%20of%20Speech.pdf

But I updated it for the convention. You know what surprised me though while I was updating it?

The situation in the world has actually gotten worse since 2008, when I wrote it.

When I originally wrote the speech, the Swiss were only still contemplating banning the building of minarets, the French had only as yet banned the hijab, there was no such thing as ‘draw Muhammad (peace be upon him) day’, etc. etc.

When it came time for my session, I was so happy to see a few people trickle in. By the time I was actually ready to begin, the hall was full. An audience of about eighty people!

I even met a lady who reads my blog! What a delight!

And many librarians who said they were ‘following my work’! Wow!

I made sure to leave time for questions, and the first couple were a little on the confrontational side. Later I met one guy who seemed to be from a Spanish background who said he disagreed with some of the things I’d said.

He thought that evolution meant survival of the fittest and that would mean that only one culture would end up surviving.

I was surprised at his take on evolution.

That’s not what it means at all. Survival of the fittest doesn’t mean that one species dominates. It means that whatever survives, basically survives because they’re well adapted and the way they’ve evolved has served them well.

When Darwin did his research on the Galapagos islands he found the different finches with the different shaped beaks had evolved over time to fulfill certain evolutionary niches. Each finch was adapted for a particular food source: seeds, insects, etc. There were still many types of finches, just as there are many types of cultures.

Evolution does not mean a streamlining of species (or cultures). There is still diversity, and diversity is a good thing, even in cultures. It represents different ways of looking at things.

Cultures die off, get absorbed into others and evolve over the years all the time. It’s all reflected in how well a culture suits the people who belong to it.

If a culture has aspects that don’t work, those will cease to function and the people of that culture either have to adjust their thinking or it will be adjusted for them, by following generations.

The fact that so many different religions have survived over so many generations means that they contain something that enough people find valuable enough to continue practising.

We need to get to a point where we’re not trying to change each other or convert each other.

Challenging each other with thoughtful, respectful dialogue is good! But launching culturally insensitive attacks and trying to dominate other cultures is not good!

In the end, I doubt that these religions, or more accurately, the people from these religions will ever be able to come to any sort of agreement on all principles. 

They haven’t been able to do so in thousands of years!

And in fact, I don’t think they need to. The religions work for their respective people.

Tolerance is the best we can hope for. A live and let live policy where everyone is free to live their lives, and believe their beliefs as they see fit.

Don’t knock tolerance!

I know it has the connotation that people are just ‘tolerating’ each other, but I think it’s much more deeper than that.

It means that you’re not out to convert or change the other person. You accept them for who they are, even while you might fundamentally disagree with certain aspects of their beliefs.

That’s big!

Tolerance is good. It’s more than enough for me.

The world could use more tolerance!