A COUNTRY FOR THE CALLING © David Watts 28 August 2003
When political leaders starts talking about “call” or “destiny,” many of us become uncomfortable.
Like newlyweds moved into a highrise after growing up under small town morals, we thought we’d got away from that. Canada’s development has moved away from the straight and narrow.
Our coming of age grew out of the decline of our elders’ imperial glory and manifest destiny.
“Call of the wilds,” “call of the north”—we can live with that. But to speak of a Call or Blessing for our country, to make it Chosen or Special—we’re suspicious of that in a pluralistic society.
We’ve seen those words spoken too many times in dubious circumstances—blessings on jeeps, bombs, crusades—to trust them. Besides we don’t have the tanks or helicopters to bless anymore.
If we did, in whose name would we do the blessing? In many international conflicts, Canada has expatriates on both sides, demonstrating against each other on our streets.
To single anyone out is to exclude others. To invoke the Divine by Name seems to favour one tradition over another. So we keep our sense of the Transcendent purely private.
In public we hold an air of stoic scepticism, hoping whatever higher consciousness may be will look favourably on our neutrality. But in our silence is an ambivalence. We’re caught in a bind.
We profess high principles yet fear to speak them aloud lest we be seen as biased or naïf.
We have a strong sense of rightness on many issues, but are afraid of being seen as self-righteous. How do we express values in a world of such diversity? Can we be principled without prejudice?
What catches us up is a clue to what we’re about. What feels like an obstacle is an opening.
The characteristic that seems problematic—our diversity—is one that makes us special. To admit this is not to claim superiority. It is simply to accept who we are, to own our reason for being.
To be special is to be equipped in a specific way. It is to manifest adaptations and characteristics of a species rather than to hide behind a description of a class such as mammals or primates.
It is to be specialized and individuated instead of than generic—off the shelf, living in the mass.
To be special as individuals is for us each to look at our particular strengths and skills. It is to make our life choices on the basis of self-knowing rather than on statistics of the job market.
To be special as a community is to reflect on our citizens and environment—to structure our society to express what we really are, not to duplicate others’ institutions and accomplishments.
Our land is immense and largely unspoiled, thanks to the stewardship of first peoples who inhabited it for millennia. We hold this jewel in trust for the crown of Planet Earth.
Our peoples make up such a broad spectrum that we’re having to continually stop to expand our sense of who we are. This is the task of the whole world: expressing what it means to be human.
Having so many of Earth’s peoples living among us may give us a bit of a headstart.
This is the calling of Canada. This is our reason for being.
We don’t need to compare ourselves with others. In owning this about ourselves we are freed to share our respective strengths—to enrich and learn from each other in the community of nations.