The View from The Niagara Guide

General observations and musings on how we can make Niagara a better place.

Cecil the Lion, Starfishes and Our Tunnel Vision

Mark Kawabe - Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Around 13,000 km from my house in Thorold, a lion was killed. The humans who knew of him called him "Cecil". It's not known what he called himself, but it's kind of moot now because he's dead, killed by an American dentist who likes to hunt large animals. The way Cecil was hunted and died has upset and outraged millions of people around the globe.

I think it is fair to say that a very large percentage of those millions of outraged and upset people had no knowledge of Cecil before news of his death hit the internet. I would further wager that a majority of those up in arms about Cecil's killing know little about the lion population in Zimbabwe or in Africa as a whole. A quick reading of articles online suggests the main factor contributing to the overall decline in African lion populations is habitat loss. Some sources also suggest that sport hunting of lions and other large animals in Africa is an important source of conservation funding. While Cecil's death will be in the headlines for another week or so, the emotional energy expended by millions of people world-wide will have little impact on the inexorable decline in the African lion population.

There are so many things in this world we can be outraged about. Social media's good for helping us focus our energies in short bursts, but it's not enough. If we want to do more, we have to develop a broader view and more importantly, develop the will to act.

Thanks to social media, many of you may be familiar with the "starfish story", originally known as "The Star Thrower". For those not familiar with the story, the gist is that the narrator was walking along a beach when he encountered a young man throwing starfish into the ocean. When asked why he was doing so, the young man replied that as the sun was coming up and the tide was going out, without his assistance the starfish would die. The narrator then said that as there were miles of beach ahead and many starfish all along the way that the young man couldn't possibly make a difference. The young man then picked up another starfish and threw it into the sea, exclaiming "It made a difference for that one!".

The young man in the story made a difference to a lot of starfish that day. In the same way, our short-lived outrage may make a difference for a little while. Ultimately, the young man's starfish throwing and our outrage are similarly futile without understanding the bigger picture and taking action.

Scientists at the United States' National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) report that the oceans are becoming increasingly acidic due to increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide. As more CO2 is released into the atmosphere, more is absorbed by the oceans, becoming carbonic acid. The decrease in ocean pH levels has profound impacts on many sea creatures, including starfish.

The young man in The Star Thrower may be making a difference in the lives of a few starfish by his actions, but if he doesn't understand the bigger picture of the destruction of his beloved starfishes' environment through climate change, his actions will be meaningless in the long run. He would be better off expending his energies on fighting climate change. Otherwise, nothing will change.

Cecil's dead. All the world's outrage won't bring him back to life. What if every single person who is mourning Cecil's passing donated $10 per month to a reputable charity that focuses on preserving natural habitat for Africa's lions and other large animals? Imagine the impact that would have. What a tribute to Cecil it would be.

Sadly, that won't happen. Emotions will fade. The outrage won't last. People's tunnel vision will focus on whatever makes the internet explode tomorrow, or the day after. The dentist who killed Cecil will eventually be back at work, saving up more money to take his next hunting trip.

Does this outrage you? If so, then I encourage you to take action that will bring about the positive changes you want to see.

Image Credits

"Lion-hwange" by Laura (cardamom) - Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons -

By ГП (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 ( or GFDL (], via Wikimedia Commons

Can't or Won't?

Mark Kawabe - Thursday, April 30, 2015

Maybe, dear reader, you read the fine print on contracts and agreements. If so, I'll wager you're in the minority of people who do. I recently read my auto insurance policy renewal offer and found I was being charged a 5% surcharge for a minor traffic violation.

Five percent's not much, but what surprised me was that the infraction was not related to unsafe driving. In 2012 I had borrowed a relative's car for a short in-city trip and was pulled over by the police. My elderly relative had mistakenly failed to renew his plates on time. The keen-eyed officer noticed this so pulled me over and asked for my license, ownership and insurance. I didn't have the last two documents, so promptly received two tickets: one for the expired plate and the other for failure to produce proof of insurance.

Since these weren't moving violations, I didn't give them any thought when my policy renewed. It was a surprise to see it on my policy renewal offer.

When I called my insurance agent to inquire about having the surcharge removed, the representative seemed to think it would be a no-brainer. She called the underwriter to make the request. To her surprise and mine, the underwriter said the surcharge couldn't be removed as the conviction was for an offense under the Highway Traffic Act.

After I got off the phone, I wondered how much I had spent with my insurance company over the years. I calculated the amount to be at least $30,000 over the past 15 years.I hadn't had any other tickets for my driving, nor had I had any at-fault collisions. From my perspective, I didn't think it reasonable to pay extra for what amounted to a paperwork violation. So, I called back and asked my insurance representative about my claim history.

That led to her making a speedy phone call back to the underwriter. After a while, my representative called me back saying the underwriter had begrudgingly agreed to waive the surcharge. She also passed along a message from the underwriter who said I should have fought the tickets at the time instead of asking for the surcharge to be removed. Someone wanted to have the last word, I guess.

What surprised me about this whole experience is how easy it would have been to approve the removal of the surcharge on the first call. Instead, it took me feeling unfairly treated and interested in shopping around for a new insurance company to convince an underwriter to eliminate the surcharge. I am also left feeling that perhaps my insurance company won't help me in future when I do need them. Not because they CAN'T, but because they just won't want to.

The underwriter HAD THE ABILITY to remove the surcharge. She didn't WANT to. When you CAN help a client, don't you think you SHOULD? After all, who are you in business to serve? When you're in business to serve yourself, you're in the wrong business. Today, everything is about the customer's experience. Doing your utmost to provide the best customer experience possible is what keeps you in business and makes your business grow.

If you won't help your clients, someone else will.

Need a House? Call Amy Layton!

Mark Kawabe - Thursday, April 16, 2015

If you're looking for a house in Niagara, there's a person you might want to call.

Her name's Amy Layton, and she's a sales representative with Royal LePage.

Why call Amy? Because she cares. She goes above and beyond the usual service provided by a real estate agent. Her clients are often amazed.

Here's a testimonial from one of her clients. Let's call him Josh, because that's his name ;)

Buying or selling a home in Niagara and want to work with someone who cares? Call Amy Layton.

Gout Gone Thanks to Lemons

Mark Kawabe - Thursday, April 16, 2015

I was chatting with Dennis O'Neill, the Business Growth Coach the other day, who told me how he'd spent a weekend prior. He was expecting company that weekend, and had planned to visit a number of wineries, take some winery tours and enjoy some fine Niagara vintages with his guest. A few days before his guest was to arrive, he had another, less welcome visitor show up.

Gout is a particularly unpleasant condition where deposits of uric acid collect in a joint - often in the foot. The crystals irritate the crystals in the joint and cause pain, inflammation and swelling. It's not fun, and in Dennis' case, it was not at all enjoyable because it looked like his weekend was going to be ruined.

Dennis knows a woman named Catherine Bradley, who he met through IdeaShare Niagara. If you haven't heard of her, she's a practitioner of Heilkunst. If you haven't heard of Heilkunst either, you're not alone. A completely unscientific poll of people I know demonstrated that the knowledge of Heilkunst in Niagara is virtually nil. That's okay though, because now you know about it and you know about Catherine. You might want to give her a call in the event something ails you.

Catherine had a chat with Dennis about his gout and suggested that he add something to his dietary regimen to help him quickly alkalize his body. That something was lemon juice. I've heard having lemon juice in warm water in the morning is a great way to start the day. I didn't hear that from Catherine. I think I heard it from Craig Bowman, who's a nutritionist I know, and who wrote an article about the acid/alkaline balance in the body. Anyway, Catherine suggested to Dennis that since he felt his gout was coming on quickly, he should fight back just as hard with lemon juice: one glass of lemon juice and water for every waking hour. So that's what Dennis did for the next three days.

The result? On the day his guest arrived, he went on a couple of Niagara winery tours and had a great time. Walking wasn't a problem that day and that evening, Dennis and his guest spent a few hours enjoying the fruits of their wanderings by enjoying the great weather and some fine Niagara wines on Dennis' back deck. The next morning when Dennis met his regular walking group, he said it was like he'd never had gout, and it was wonderful.

It's nice to hear stories like these. People in Niagara helping other people in Niagara. There are so many bad news stories out there. I don't particularly care to know about the latest drug bust or stabbing or traffic fatality. I know they happen, but that's not the kind of information I want to be filling my consciousness. If I'm going to have to expose myself to bad news, I also want to hear stories of hope, success and healing. Niagara's a wonderful place with great people. Those are the kind of Niagara stories I want to hear and plan to share.

Do you have some good news stories about great people in Niagara? Share them with me and I'll help share them online.

KNOW it ALL Niagara Grows Again!

Mark Kawabe - Monday, December 15, 2014

For the past many years, I have had the pleasure of working with "KNOW it ALL" Niagara founder Carrie Matthews.

Her marketing / networking company "KNOW it ALL" Niagara has grown again as new Linker Maria Desrochers from Tupperware has recently joined up.

If you're not familiar with Tupperware, they offer innovative products for design-centric preparation, storage and serving solutions for the kitchen and home. This helps save you time, money and space in the kitchen.

There's some pretty cool stuff going on. It's definitely NOT your grandparents' Tupperware any longer.

There's a new Tupperware Lady in town - please welcome Maria Desrochers! And thank you, Carrie, for sharing the news with Niagara.

Get the contact information for Maria by visiting the "KNOW it ALL" Niagara website.

It's Black Friday - Cue the Insanity

Mark Kawabe - Friday, November 28, 2014

Black Friday Explodes!I admit it. I'm not a very good consumer.

Most of the time, I buy stuff I need. The rest of the time is buying stuff I want. I'd say I follow the 80/20 rule on that. Perhaps 90/10.

It's early morning and the media's already reporting on the "Black Friday" retail frenzy under way in North America.

I don't get it.

I mean, I understand people need stuff.

What I don't understand is why they think they need the things they buy on Black Friday.

From what I can tell, not a lot of people are running out and stocking up on essentials. It's the stuff we're told we need to buy. You know - the stuff that says "you've made it". I'll wager large screen televisions are going to be filling many shopping baskets today.

The money being spent today is "good for the economy". I believe the economy is important, but I also believe that a heavy focus on consumerism is unhealthy. I also believe we don't consider other important things like the environment or the emotional state of our population when we talk about the economy. From my perspective, everything is connected more deeply than we care to think about.

While I don't get the need for the shopping frenzies taking place all across the continent, I do see the need for many things that perhaps are going unnoticed today. There are still hungry people in our communities. People are still living in poverty, despite working full time (or more). Does the consumer frenzy notice or benefit the people in our society who need our help the most?

I don't know. What I do hope is that each person who is participating in the shopping maelstrom today takes a moment to reflect and be grateful for what they have. From that gratitude, I then hope they will take an action that benefits their community. Purchase something from a small business. Make a donation to a local charity. Buy some groceries for the food bank.

I guess I wouldn't mind Black Friday so much if it were more balanced. Go ahead and buy whatever you like, as long as you invest the same amount of money and energy into your community. I think that's what's missing from the conversation. Balance. A ton of money is invested into grooming us to be better consumers. No money is invested into grooming us to be better citizens.

Sadly, money talks, and it shows.

Niagara ergonomic supplies

Mark Kawabe - Tuesday, November 18, 2014

In my travels I meet some very interesting people who sell interesting things.

Today I met Terry Scott, President of Special Needs Computers in St. Catharines.

I was amazed at some of the cool ergonomic office technology available to help us office workers avoid the aches, pains and diseases we're susceptible to by sitting most of the day.

Watch the video about this chair, for example.

Pretty cool, eh?

Anyway, if you're interested in saving your back (or your hands, wrists, heart or brain), you might want to drop by and see Terry at Special Needs Computers. 50 Niagara St., St. Catharines.

Of course, we added a category to our business guide: Niagara Ergonomic / Assistive / Adaptive Technology Suppliers. If you know of another business that should be added here, please let us know about it. Thanks!

Why Bother If You Can't Do Gluten Free Right?

Mark Kawabe - Friday, November 14, 2014

This really bothers me. A gluten free menu that's not meant for the people who really need gluten free food.



Here's why, according to the company's website.

"Note: Despite all the care that we take in the preparation of our gluten-free menu dishes, we cannot guarantee the absence of cross-contamination while handling and cooking food." (From, Nov. 14, 2014)

When it comes to something as important as someone's health, why would you offer a gluten free menu in big print and then in small print admit that the food could in fact be dangerous to someone who needs a gluten free menu?

It doesn't make sense to me. Perhaps they're just being honest when other restaurants are not. Or, perhaps they're jumping on the gluten-free marketing bandwagon.

Regardless, I will not be including Cora's on our list of restaurants with gluten free options. To see our list of Niagara restaurants that do, click here.

Seeking Niagara Success Stories

Mark Kawabe - Monday, October 06, 2014

Mark Kawabe's looking for Niagara Success Stories!Hi! I'm Mark Kawabe from The Niagara Guide.

This coming Wednesday (October 8th), I'm speaking at the Fonthill Rotary Club's morning meeting. 

Part of my talk is about Niagara's success stories.

I have a bunch already, but I'm looking for more.

What kind of stories of success?

Any kind you're willing to share with me (and the world). No names (unless you want to use them). I'll be video recording this talk and it will probably wind up if you don't want your success story shared, you've been warned.

Please feel free to post in the comments of my blog post, or to share your story on whatever social media network you happen to encounter this blog post on.

I appreciate any Niagara success stories you can share, and I look forward to sharing the video of the talk with everyone!

Garrison Little Theatre General Meeting

Mark Kawabe - Tuesday, May 27, 2014

An announcement from Garrison Little Theatre:

"Garrison Little Theatre's next general meeting is Tuesday, June 3 at 7 pm held at the Italo-Canadian Club, 1101 DiPietro Street, Fort Erie.

Come out and meet the 2014/15 executive and learn about some FUN, NEW things we have planned over the summer and the upcoming season.

Enjoy a coffee and bring a friend as new members are always welcome!"


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