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Growing Up Canadian

Growing up Canadian is a rare thing these days. What I mean by that is growing up as a person who is the embodiment of all those things we cherish and would call “Canadian”.

A few years’ back I was in a sweat lodge with guest-elder, Michael Thrasher, and he was angry with us. Really angry. He challenged us to heal, to grow, to better ourselves and then get back out there (into the world) and BE PARENTS to the next generation who is growing up empty out there. He taught that we had a responsibility to get outside and LOVE our children. If the current cycle wasn’t stopped, and stopped right now – by this generation – then there may not even be a next generation to be concerned about.

I read a disturbing article in the Province newspaper. A 29-year-old man was on his way to work at a construction site when he began experiencing a diabetic seizure. He got off the Skytrain and collapsed on the station floor. As he slipped into a coma, the rest of the people around him just stepped over him, stepped around him, ignored him. He was a clean cut, clean looking fellow dying there on the ground. It was almost an hour of morning rush hour traffic before someone finally called for help. His girlfriend wrote an emotionally scathing letter that summed it up quite well.

“Almost everyone owns a cell phone. Why did none of you call the police or an ambulance? Are we so disconnected from each other and so concerned about our own agendas that we cannot stop for two minutes and help a fellow human being?”

The Province followed up the next day with an Editorial that ended on this question.

“In creating a modern, progressive society, have we lost our most important quality
– our humanity?”

The following week saw our news blitzed with three days of “Top Story” coverage of a whale beached in the sound and the public’s efforts to rescue it. I commend those who helped the whale but have to shake my head at the priorities of our populace. Michelle Joyal-Blumenfeld mirrored my thoughts in her letter to the Province.

“I find it appalling we make such a big deal about a beached whale yet we step over a 29 year old man suffering from a diabetic seizure after stumbling off a crowded Skytrain.”

Is it that we so consumed by what is going on in our own lives that we don’t want to see the world around us? We even feel assaulted if someone pushes his or her “life” into ours. Walking foreword with the blinders on full. Well that’s not working!

We live in a society where 12 & 13 year olds are robbing and beating the elderly – for fun. Not even because they needed the money; they are just looking for a way to have fun. How we have failed the next generation as parents when this is looked at as, “oh well…, it happens”. The next generation are the future leaders and decision-makers of our country. They’re not growing up Canadian; they’re growing up empty. The newest virtue is apathy.

Reading those newspaper stories I am reminded of Michael Thrasher’s words and the responsibility we have of helping our children to grow up Canadian.

There was a time that our hearts would leap at the cry of the voice of Humanity. Closer to my home, in prison that is, I can see the end of public compassion. Just 25 years ago Claire Culhane would speak out against the dehumanizing of prisoners and demand that we, the public, actually see them. Work to accept them, and accept the concept of rehabilitation, to embrace the idea of prisoners coming back into society as people.

It was at that time Canada abolished the death penalty (1977). While there were many good arguments why they should, the bottom line was that we would rather have to live with more guys in prison, than accept the possibility of somehow, just maybe killing that one prisoner who was innocent. Canadians had too much respect and compassion towards humanity to allow for the possibility of executing an innocent person, so it was abolished. Now, just a quarter century later, during the last federal election, I read in some of the “Party Platforms” that they want to bring the death sentence back. Seems they just can’t stand paying taxes to house all those prisoners. Society has become more concerned with what you can do for me, than with what I can do for you.

Remember when families left their front doors unlocked? Children played in the street blissfully unaware of the evils man is capable of. I remember “block parties” where all the families on a street got together for a BBQ and games, fun and love. It was because Bill knew Tom, and John, and Jeff. But more important than just knowing the names of your neighbors, people were friends with their neighbors. There was a connection to the lives of the people around them. Seems like now the only notice we take of our neighbors is to see if my car is better than his.

Last fall CBC ran a series called “The Greatest Canadian” and we, the public, picked who we wanted, and then voted on the final 10. As I sat and watched the cases made for which of these 10 was the one, the Greatest, person to represent what Canada is I saw a startling trend. While all the people in the top 10 accomplished many great and wonderful things, what became apparent was that every single person showed an amazing capacity for Compassion, lived with and in Humility, and was unbelievably Tenacious in whatever they tackled. Quite simply, they loved humanity and desired to better it in whatever way they could. The argument became, they simply were Canadian. Period. End of story.

For me I had my favorite, Terry Fox. All 10 are great, but Terry tips the scale for me. Maybe it’s the BC connection, I don’t know. I read an article written by Terry’s brother. He had wanted to experience a marathon, know just a taste of what Terry did;

- He trained for one year – ran one race – and had to recover for 6 months.

Terry did that every day for nearly 143 continuous days.

Doctors still claim that what he did was outright impossible. The human body is just not capable of that amount of activity and abuse. So how did he do it? I like to believe that a part of his ability came from being Canadian. That somewhere amid the love and life he experienced growing up, Terry got it, he understood the Canadian zeal that saw over one million men volunteer for the 1st and 2nd World Wars. He respected his fellow human beings and wanted, hoped, even prayed that he could somehow improve their lives. Not because he wanted to be great, or even thought that he was great, it was simply who he was and he couldn’t be any less than that. Terry had grown up Canadian.

It is my hope that more of us remember what it means to live this way and passionately instill these qualities in our children in the hope that they too, will grow up Canadian.

Use your voice, it can be worth it

Submitted by:

Dean Roberts

Dean Roberts is an inmate at Mountain Institution in Agassiz, British Columbia. He is part of an innovative art marketing cooperative called "Inside Art". This cooperative provides inmates with marketing and promotional assistance to sell the work they create. To find out more visit the website http://www.insideart.ca




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