A World of Contrasts

In December 2007, we heard the news of an earthquake (9.1-9.3 on the Richter scale) in the Southeast Asia region (Indian Ocean) causing a massive tsunami resulting in more than 250,000 deaths, half of them in Indonesia. More than US$ 7billion in aid was donated. And now in January 2010, just a few years later, another equally massive earthquake has hit Haiti where the estimated death toll will exceed 200,000 people. We have seen a constant display of scenes of sadness and despair. In both cases, while many lives were lost, many more lives were grossly affected by injury, disease, loss of home, job and future. Canadians have responded to Haiti’s plight with a resounding testament of sympathy. In both cases Canada, on a per capita basis, responded more generously than any other country with financial aid. This is something for us to be truly proud of, if there can be a thing as pride in the midst of such disaster. 

I found it interesting that while CNN, BBC, CNBC and other world news networks constantly reported on the Haiti situation, and as we read about it in Time, McLean’s, Economist or other major magazines and newspapers, or searched for information and pictures on Google, Yahoo and MSN, many of our own lives were unaffected. We were touched by what we saw and read, we generously supported those agencies calling for financial help, but really nothing changed for us. 

I struggle with how to personally deal with such calamity that is all around us. During the height of the Haiti news coverage, I imagined someone being buried alive, grasping for breath, hoping beyond measure to hear in the darkness the sound of another voice, or the clang of a shovel, or the rumbling of a jackhammer. And while they lie there in fear - a child’s mother, a father‘s only son, a helpless baby - life is quickly slipping away, in other parts of the world, we go about our daily business, unaffected and sometimes oblivious to it all. 

Last week, the Toronto Board of Trade held its 122nd annual dinner at the Toronto Convention Centre. It was a black tie and evening gown event and yes, it was great. Approximately 1,500 guests were seated at linen lined tables, adorned with china and crowned with candelabras, feasting on filet mignon. It was a celebration of “Toronto the Good”. At the beginning of the dinner, a moment of silence was held for the people of Haiti and we were made to feel proud of our charity. But as I stood for a brief moment in quiet contemplation, I could not help but think of the contrasts before us: 

A room decorated in splendour versus a city (Port au Prince) decorated in rubble. 
People covered in the most expensive suits and dresses versus people covered in dirt and blood. 
Tables presented with the finest foods versus broken hands stretched outwards for a small cup of rice. 
Faces wrinkled with laughter and delight versus faces wet and worn with tears of sorrow. 

The question before me was: What am I supposed to do as an individual, as a Canadian, as a CMA? 

As President and CEO of CMA Ontario, my responsibility is to ensure that we graduate CMAs with the skills and competencies to support organizations in optimizing enterprise performance. After their graduation, we believe our responsibility extends to providing the resources to support and enhance the career continuum of our members. All of us as CMAs have a responsibility to act professionally and be leaders in the community. We honour those CMAs whose contribution to the profession, to the organization and to the community is exceptional with an FCMA (“Fellow” CMA) . 

But is there more we should be doing as an organization, as a membership, or as a CMA? What is our corporate social responsibility as it relates to the greater need? 

There’s a poem that says, “There is: 

A time to live, a time to die 
A time for joy, a time to cry 
A time to build up, a time to tear down 
A time to smile, a time to frown 
A time to bandage, a time to bleed 
A time to go forward, a time to heed 
A time to choke, a time to breathe 
A time to rejoice, a time to grieve 
A time to speak, a time to hear 
A time to be brave, a time to fear 
A time to be numb, a time to feel 
A time to hurt, a time to heal 
A time to work, a time to rest 
A time to be worst, a time to be best 
A time to have all, a time to choose 
A time to love, a time to lose” 

In this crazy world of contrasts, maybe it’s time we re-evaluate. Maybe it’s time that we reach beyond ourselves, even beyond our own community and we extend our reach to those who need more than a great accountant, or much more than a financial donation. 

Much money will be spent in February on Valentine’s Day to declare how much we love our significant other. Maybe it’s time we reach out a hand to those less fortunate, those at home and abroad, and we try and make their life better. Maybe it’s time to do something more than just give money. February 15th is Family Day! Think about it.