Growing up in Canada (I was born in the 70s) the term multiculturalism was thrown around a lot. It was a beautiful idea with Disney-like shine on it. It was a noble idea, more akin in it’s day to the modern-day term Pluralism, and it was largely imaginary. We have failed at it and on an ongoing basis. From the moment “we” showed up on the shores of a one-day-will-be-Canada we have created a group called “them”.
I guess I am what Harper called an “old stock” Canadian, some of my ancestors came in the 1600s, and I am certain they did (or at least were complicit to) terrible things to the First Peoples of this land. And we’ve never gotten any better at ‘first contact’ have we? Always a new group of “them”, each in turn suffering horribly from the dehumanizing and demoralizing process of exploitation, exclusion, and intolerance. But within the Multicultural dream there is a striving towards the fairy tale ending of inclusion, acceptance, and belonging ……. It’s yet to be fully realized but sometimes close, almost tangible, sometimes even “them” folding into “us”. Ever so slowly we inch closer to the potential of this Multicultural dream. Sometimes, it’s close and you feel you can almost get there from here. But each time a next wave of “them” is created in our imaginations our attention shifts and “we/us” refocuses on a new target. The predictability of it is so sad and painfully pathetic.
Our collective human history is so categorically cruel and flawed when it comes to difference. In a world where no two people are the same it seems illogical that we could come up with so many ways to categorize, divide, and group ourselves as human beings. And while it can feel wonderfully welcoming and comforting to ‘belong’ somewhere, we must also acknowledge that when we specifically identify with one group and specifically not with another we can become fearful of the other. The natural human fear of the unknown is part of us, but what we fear we can start to dislike, to reject, to regard as inferior. Acknowledging why this happens is no excuse for accepting that this happens. In the end it is the unchallenged acceptance of that hateful and fear based rationale which has allowed every human atrocity I can think of. If human history teaches us anything it’s that people can do terrible and unfathomably cruel things to those they feel superior to and different from, and that no one will stop them if they accept that the fear and dislike is understandable. But it’s not understandable.
The truth is that there seems a limitless supply of wilfully ignorant, savagely cruel, and hysterically fearful people who will harness those human attributes into power over others. And there seems to be a limitless supply of people who will follow them. It makes my head ache. It makes my heart ache. It makes my spirit ache. But people who rise to power in this manner are willing to do what other people wouldn’t, not what other people couldn’t, which proves only that they lack the moral fortitude to lead or to be followed. Our collective willingness to forget that fact boggles my mind. Trump was anything but original in this process. He wasn’t the first, he won’t be the last, and there’s Trumps and Trumps-in-waiting all over the World using the same tactics. But they can be stopped if we merely engage in thoughtful acts of citizenship (both Nationally and Globally), educate ourselves on the issues, reject fear mongering and hate, and view equality as the most important right. We don’t have to allow ourselves to be fooled into voting against our own self interest, and we don’t have to allow ourselves to be fooled into voting against the interests of others either. We can be better.
Here’s a few things that might help:
- · Learn about people who are different than you. Take the time. No difference can stand up to the test of finding out how very similar we all really are ……. Good people are good people. Learn to see the beauty in beautiful diversity. And everywhere you see difference, empower and affirm even more difference. Encourage individuality everywhere it blooms.
- · Segregation has long been used as a tool to keep people from humanizing each other. Please don’t buy into segregationist mentalities. Send your kids to Public-Public school. Saying you respect people of all Faiths but then sending your children to religious schools is disingenuous. Schools which exclude by omission, by deliberately alienating those who won’t feel safe or comfortable there, sets a segregationist mindset in the next generation. It negatively and powerfully effects both our now and our future. Support social housing and supportive housing in your neighbourhood. Don’t tell yourself that it’s a good thing somewhere else, but just not in your neighbourhood. Be braver than that. Speak up when equal rights are being challenged or violated. Every time. It’s important.
- · Understand that while you have the right to believe what you wish and live as you wish, you never have the right to harm or exclude or oppress others in that pursuance of that right. Not ever.
- · Take some time to learn History. Everyone doing what they want whenever they want to whoever they want with no laws or order or governance is not Freedom …….. it’s chaos. And it’s how things like slavery, forced marriage, rape, feudalism, child labour, indentured servitude, murder, theft, witch hunts, torture, etc. happen. It’s might makes right in it’s truest and most terrible form. It’s wealthy armed men raping girls then snatching their babies away and stomping them to death before their shattered Mother’s eyes. I believe unfalteringly in human beings as both the most noble and the most terrible creatures to ever walk this planet. But I have no wish to go ungoverned or without the rule of law. That’s why we must make being a vigilant, engaged, and informed citizen our duty, so that we never suffer the injustice of absolute cruel liberty or of cruelly oppressive governance.
- · Take some time to realize that nothing is perfect, and there is no perfect way of doing anything. That’s why, when it comes to how Nations are governed, the pendulum must swing. It’s how we keep ideas in balance and the pendulum should spend most of it’s time near the middle (in a place of common ground or compromise or cooperation) but we have lost the ability to think in those terms. It seems we only think in black or white, left or right, and opposing viewpoints. We have lost the ability to seek consensus and the creativity to imagine the spectrum and possibilities of life between the swings. We keep lining up behind people who are swinging away from centre and all the many answers that occur in between. We need to seek out the consensus builders and those who understand how to act in service, we need to respect them, and hang on tight through the swings.
- · Never stop asking that public funds (tax dollars, crown assets, etc.) be spent wisely, fairly, and justly but stop asking that government be run like a business. Government is there to provide services and guidance to it’s citizens and to participate as a Global citizen on our behalf. Businesses function with a profit motive, governments should not. Period. In Canada we have built an incredibly high quality of life for a vast majority of our citizens (at least in contrast to many other Nations) and behaved Internationally in many positive ways (though we could do much better). We have a very VERY long way to go, but as a Nation our systems of health, education, policing, government, law, social assistance, infrastructure for transport and communications and municipal investment, etc etc etc have given many Canadians an enormous level of security and opportunity. That’s socialism. Stop using socialism as a dirty word. Seriously, you sound stupid when you do. Socialist policy means we can travel from sea to sea, send our children to school regardless of income, receive medical treatment when we need it regardless of income, expect to receive a liveable wage, have a certain level of job security (if we get sick, or as we age, or are a member of a minority group, or if we become a parent), have legal rights (regardless of income or gender or sexual orientation or faith or colour), visit a national or provincial park regardless of income, expect to buy safe regulated products and services, work in a safe environment, receive some financial help when unable to work, and expect and receive equal treatment in every aspect of life. These are socialist ideals and they are what governments do. Get involved, demand they do it right and do it honorably but stop pissing and moaning and yelling “socialist” every time someone receives a benefit that doesn’t directly benefit you. It’s ridiculous. A governments job is to know what benefits us all is a healthy, empowered, supported, educated populace and to act accordingly. Our job is to participate with vigilance and empathy for others.
- · Ensure you understand your rights and the rights of others. No one said this would be simple but no individual’s right may supersede another’s. Don’t be obtuse about it. While you may, sometimes sadly, have the right to believe what you want, it never gives you the right to erode the rights of another. On this there can be no compromise. Human rights must advance, must expand, and must be incontrovertible. There is no other way. Every individual’s right has the corresponding responsibility of upholding it for others.
- · Understand that willful ignorance is dangerous. Choosing to believe something is a choice. We must all make responsible choices. A fact isn’t a fact because I simply choose to believe it. We can all be fooled but I believe we can do better than this fake-new, alternative facts, suspension of disbelief, opinion-as-fact paradigm we seemed to have shifted into. Develop a filter. Ask if it is plausible, reasonable, or manipulative. Always consider the source. Ask smart people. Ask experienced people. Ask kind people. You owe yourself some reality in your reality.
- · There are many things that make a society work in the day to day: Government, Business, Food production, healthcare, education, the transport of goods and people, the protection of goods and people, the counters of the beans, etc. These and more are things that make society work. But let us never forget that the Pure Sciences and Arts make society …. Society. These are the creative conduits through which we shape our consciousness and hone our collective image. They represent discovery, possibility, exploration, and at the very least our betterment. They are what make us possible. They push our boundaries, our intellect, our philosophies. May we never forget the creative genius they inject into “us”. May we never forget that it’s important to discover, eventually, all that may be known.
- · When in doubt, help. If you see a need, be part of filling it. If you see a problem, be part of fixing it. You never must do it by yourself. Just be part of it.
- · Be yourself. My Dad has always told my brothers and I “you don’t have to change the world, just don’t let the world change you”. And that may be your life’s work. Be yourself, yourself on the way to being your best self. Just do your best.
- · Always make room for Joy and Celebration in your life. Make room. I don’t mean engaging in ridiculous levels of opulence as an act of indignant defiance as others suffer. I mean, if your life is being lived in relative peace and in relative comfort then find every reason to celebrate. Celebrate in small ways special days, holidays, the holidays of others. Invite people into your world and laugh and break bread together. Take joy in every beautiful moment, pause to acknowledge every moment of joy no matter how small or fleeting. Make room for joy in your life. I do not believe you can ever help a person, a group, a cause, or a world in need if you can not find the joy in life. I do not believe you can ever truly appreciate the value of a good, just, simple, beautiful life if you can’t find joy in it so how would you ever know how to fight to ensure others may have it too? Socrates wrote “Living well and beautifully and justly are all one thing.” That really resonated with me. A person can not be whole without joy. So find joy. So make joy. You will be a better person for it. And the world needs everyone to be their best.
- · Contentment and Satisfaction can make a poor person rich. If you don’t learn this then there will never be enough, if you do then you will almost always feel like you have everything. Human beings weren’t born with this knowledge. There is no cup to fill to the brim and then feel satiated. Human being will always just make the cup bigger. Tap into the cup …… appreciate what’s in it always, and make sure that it is mostly full of loving human relationships and joyful experiences instead of objects and wealth. For it is the things with no real value that are the most valuable and most likely to help you on the journey towards happiness.
Multiculturalism/Pluralism remains an ever widening, layered dream. But it’s such a great dream, such a worthy dream. Do we call it a failed experiment? When an experiment falters, do we abandon it or do we carry on because the evidence points to a breakthrough? Because we know it is worth it. Because we know the test subjects are many, many, of millions and they can’t just be put back in the test tube. I believe we’re far too close to quit now. Success is worth striving for. We have not yet reached a place where we can say ‘this is what the dream looks like’ but we can see it from here. The ONLY way to turn "them" into "us" is to know them, to grow with them, to celebrate with them, to laugh with them, to cry with them, to live with them ..... And suddenly there is no them, only us. May we find all the ways we are just all human beings being. We are more us than they.
I refuse to accept that Canada is a failed experiment. I refuse to believe we can not find the solutions that fit because we make them for ourselves. I refuse to believe we can not uphold the highest standard of human rights and still create a safe and welcoming diversity in which to grow and live.