In grade 11 I went on a drama trip with my school to Ashland, Oregon for the Shakespeare festival. On our first evening south of the Canadian border we stopped in Washington for dinner at Denny’s. Across from our quirky group of misfits was something we had never seen before – teen guys all kitted out in football (the American kind) jackets and girls in cheerleader outfits complete with ribbons around their ponytails. You would think that we had just stepped into a teen angst film! For a long time Canadian culture was identified as what was not American. Canadian culture was not made up of cool football teams and cheerleaders. In the 90s Molson Canadian finally gave voice to what it meant to be Canadian, other than “not American.” In Bowling for Columbine we saw Michael Moore contrast the two cultures by walking into a Canadian home without knocking. Most of us laughed because none of us locked our doors then. Of course, we have had This Hour Has 22 Minutes and Rick Mercer to keep us laughing at our own private jokes. More globally and recently, people like Chris Hadfield have coloured in the shapes of what being Canadian means.
Since my teen years my Canadianness has been diluted a lot and yet I find myself regularly slipping on cultural values that I forgot I had. For Canada Day this year, I want to recognise some of the positive values that became a part of me just from growing up in Canada. I wouldn’t want to change these for the world:
Optimism and Positivity: Things can be different. This is not the end. Let’s go for it. Why not? You are great at that. There is always a way. I like falling into this train of thought. Not only does it feel good but it also opens up possibilities when there seems to be only problems. I can’t exactly tell you how we learn this or why but I realise that it isn’t normal all over the world. I think you are more likely to find a group of annoyingly happy people in Canada than in most places I have ever visited. Where should you go to experience it? Any shop or restaurant. Everyone is genuinely happy to serve with a smile! Even if everything is falling down around them and they aren’t satisfied in their job.
Critical Thinking: A month ago I was doing an online financial webinar through Canada. This is not a strength of mine so felt like pretty much everything was going over my head. Then they mentioned that there is an online game you can participate in that helps you learn how to understand your finances better. I sat in my apartment laughing out loud! Of course Canadians would come up with a game to teach people how to think through their finances and explore ways to manage them better. I don’t know if children’s programmes in Canada would be allowed to air without educational content in them. Learning is fun. Thinking is fun. Let’s be logical about it all and enjoy it. My memories of growing up are of people challenging us to think instead of memorize, discover instead of regurgitate, break the rules if logical to do so (and only if logical to do so, otherwise keep them).
Peacekeeping: “How did Canada get its independence?” When I mention Canada Day, I have often been asked this question. I have realised how rare it is to tell people that we talked our way into it, resulting in a signed piece of paper that gave us independence. There wasn’t a war (for that purpose). From the very start, people from around the world who were looking for religious or political freedom were invited to become a part of Canada. They came for a dream of peace and a safe place to build new futures without fear. When the potential for war comes up and Canada is invited to join I love that there always seems to be a moments pause to ask the question, “why?” Why should we go to war? What good will it do? It doesn’t just affect international relations either. We had a peer counselling system in my secondary school where peer counsellors were trained in mediation to help students in conflict come to peaceful resolutions instead of using a punitive system. We weren’t the only ones working towards restoration in the justice system.
Human Dignity: A few weeks ago someone in Dublin asked me if I thought that Ireland was really left-wing. I’m not incredibly knowledgeable about politics but I do know that Ireland hardly knows the meaning of left wing. From health care to education, equal access to opportunities to succeed is incredibly high in Canada. If there is one thing that sits on a pedestal and is the taboo to say anything against, it is human dignity. If there is one thing that Canadians will be blinded by emotion about and forget logic, it is human dignity. I was never really taught that I was less important or valued because of my age, gender, religion or lifestyle. Our volleyball team always felt terrible going to tournaments because we didn’t have very many people in our school who weren’t from European descent – we were afraid to be thought of as racist. Opportunities were open to most of us so long as we offered others the same level of dignity to others. In Canada everyone needs to be allowed to co-exist in their uniqueness and not just get what we think they deserve from our limited points of view.
Cultural Criticism: Canada has so many flaws, so many imperfections. It doesn’t live up to the cultural values that make it uniquely Canadian. People get blinded by emotion and group-think and forget to really grapple with issues. The history of abuse of people deemed “less human” is not pretty. There are social injustices everywhere you look and opportunities are not equal. No one is more critical of Canada than Canadians. I value this cultural criticism because it means I have learned that I can look at my own life and not get trapped in seeing myself as perfect while also not getting trapped in how I have screwed things up. We can become a more loving and kind people.
So thanks, Canada, for the values you have given me! Keep up the good work … and please work on your issues.
Happy Canada Day!