A COUNTRY FOR THE LIVING © David Watts 27 August 2003


Geneticist David Suzuki tells about an inter-faith discussion where Western religious scholars asked Shinto priests to describe their theology.

“We don’t have one,” they replied. “We dance.”

Perhaps no parallel comes closer to the challenge of defining Canada’s nationhood.

We can’t do it. Not from a lack of thought or clumsiness of words, but because it can’t be done.

The job of a definition is to delineate—to distinguish one thing from others by setting clear lines of demarcation—so that other things are rigorously excluded.

The essential and radical inclusiveness of Canada is a situation that defies definition.

For two centuries Canadians have been building a society with permeable boundaries.

To say what that means in one moment or situation in a form that fits all moments is not only futile but destructive to the very state of inclusiveness we’re trying to build.

The person who can define Canada has not been born and his parents are both deceased!

Canadians cannot delineate the spirit of our country—we can only live it.

When we accept that, our perennial identity problem makes perfect sense.

Because of our ongoing evolution—in five centuries Canadian has gone from meaning hut-dwellers along a river to French Catholic, to British North American to today’s multi-cultural concoction—a single fixed description of “Canadian” is a contradiction in terms.

Canada grew up along a river. Every time we pull a bucket out of the stream, its contents have changed. Every time we attempt a definition, someone or something will be left out.

The river goes on, but the samples of its water that we draw out are never the same.

To try to halt, curtail, the changing goes against the very characteristic that make us alive.

Ancient Hebrews were viewed as atheists because they had no image of their God. Canadians are often seen as shapeless because we have no definition of who we are.

Images try to portray the unseeable. Concepts attempt to describe the unspeakable. Both are crude, partial and confining. When we prostrate before them, they become false gods.

Canada is not a country that can be defined.

It is a country to be lived. Vive la difference!