The Letter of Q — Chapter Forty-Nine

How have we come to see ourselves as perfect?

What really has happened to the revolutions of the sixties? What have the boomers who came after us, really accomplished? How have we come to a point in our human existence when the Alt-Right gains condemnations and the Alt-Left not even consternation?

I am becoming puzzled these days at how perfect we all think we are. Perhaps I am as guilty as anyone, but then I’m a sinner so you have to either forgive me or simply ask why don’t I give my head a shake and then move on. People ask me why could a nation as powerful as the USA, and the theoretical leader of the western world’s approach to democracy elect Donald Trump. I used to wonder why not? We do the same — electing people of privilege, with a persona more than a thoughtfulness, their “ad libs” noticeably off script and upon reflection not too re-assuring.

People are frustrated with governments that they have allowed to get to big. And when someone comes along to reduce the size and intrusiveness of these governments, everyone thinks they must have a hidden agenda. And so the unrest grows and grows. And just when we need a real sense of hope, the whole show goes south. I am reminded of the early sixties and the euphoric sense of tomorrow with the election of a Roman Catholic president in the USA. The concept of “camelot revived” was widespread — and then the assassination and the Vietnam War and Bomarc missiles and the Chicago Riots (at the Democratic convention) and the dark pall as we approached the seventies… And yet, somehow the boomers came round and in spite of Enron, dot.com, Margin Call and all the rest, we all became substantially better off — at least one home, most with two car garages, and travel all over the place… Supposedly this was to make us all more enlightened, yet in the midst of it there arose renewed unrest in the middle east and then the latest phenomenon.

The feeling or the urge to apologize…

While I will talk more about this later in my chapters dissecting the current ills of the church and perhaps Christendom in its entirety, I would like to add my voice to those of Rex Murphy, Conrad Black and Frank Bruni. What is wrong with us that we as a nation, as a culture that encompasses most of North America, feel this ever-increasing angst that can only be absolved through prodigious spasms of apology? And much of this is not about what we are doing but about what has gone before, often long before, down among the deadmen…

If the Ontario Elementary Teachers are to be believed, we now are to apologize for the founders of our country. We’ve been told countless times to apologize for the state of our Aboriginal peoples. We are also being told that those with confusion about their sexual orientation need our apology; and those who do hold to a different or perhaps less than conventional sexual preference not only want our apologies but also want us to keep out of their celebrations — perhaps we did not apologize sufficiently? Perhaps someone in my own family tree is going to require me to apologize for my tea-totalling father’s somewhat academic arguments against the granting of liquor licenses to hotels in his parish (even though it kept a solid and well-heeled member of his flock from returning to the kirk). Or maybe I will have to apologize for my Grandad who broke the neck of a horse that was refusing to do its tasks and so was causing havoc within the team that was entrusted with helping make the fields ready for planting. Or maybe I’ll have to apologize for my ancestors who made so much money for the king that they were granted most of northeastern Scotland as a reward and when they got there they discovered it wasn’t such a reward so many of them decided to seek their fortune within the fur trade and so came to Canada, with a goodly number marrying women they met on the prairies, thus helping create the Metis nation, which inadvertently has led to the appointment of a distant kin to the Senate where he now rails against WASP-ish folk because their forefathers actually tried to improve the schooling of his forefathers offspring!!

But let me stop here and ask a simple question: How does any one even think they can apologize for the dead? Right now I want to make a clear statement to my Grandkids: “Don’t even think you need or ought to apologize for anything that I have done, said, thought or imagined!” Even when my mental wellness was less than stellar, all the decisions I made were mine, are mine and will always be mine. If you don’t like them, then do something different; but, don’t apologize for my making them. And don’t think that by erasing my name from my tombstone that somehow the world will get magically brighter. We aren’t perfect and we ought not to condemn others in their states of imperfection either.

Am I sorry that John A. MacDonald was not perfect? NO… Did he do and say things in his era that might not get him elected today? Maybe, but perhaps he could have then run for office in the USA!! I wonder sometimes if the reason so many people have their nickers in naughts over the residential school system is because they actually are jealous no one in their world tried to give them a better-than-average education system — that their teachers were less interested in trying to make the curriculum delivery (their pedagogy) really excellent and instead spent time walking the picket lines demanding less school time and more money. I always wanted to go to private school — thought I would be less bullied and more likely to do well academically. I knew it would mean leaving home, and I knew that it would be a challenge, but I thought it would be a better education. And perhaps, with a better education, I might have done more with my life. But our family was poor, and there was no excess funds for such frivolousness. Now I know that this isn’t a route for everyone; so if you were happy with your educational journey…stick with that scenario — just don’t ask me to apologize “in the large” for the potential for residential-style schools. By the way, I did place my kids in private schools for part of their educational journey. Did it do everything I hoped? Not sure, you’d have to ask them…but I don’t regret it and I won’t apologize for it.

As for the state of Aboriginal education — in the 80’s I created a model that would allow Aboriginal communities to establish “independent schools” that would be separate from the local government, but still be owned by the local community. The board of education (Board of Regents, Board of Governors, etc.) would be elected. The schools would be evaluated and certified by the provincial ministries of education. The curriculum would be approved by the recognized authorities and a minimum of 20% would be locally designed and developed. The predominate pedagogies would be those sanctioned by the local board. The financial foundation would be based on tuition rates established by the province based on the funds available to the local public system — therefore requiring the federal government to pay that rate at a minimum, along with any identified and validated special needs requirements. In other words, the local community could develop a school system that might even include some post-secondary components, would be totally responsible to that community yet would be assured of graduating schools with the generally accepted credentials of that province and that era. All the while the feds would have to pay the appropriate monies, at least equal to that being paid to local public systems — furthermore, should any out-of-community students attend, the province would be responsible for covering at least a portion, if not all, of their costs. I had already made sure that federal policy had been revised and approved to cover this…

Okay, it’s over thirty years later — what is the state of Aboriginal education? The model guaranteeing independence has been there. In one instance I know that within ten years of the inception of one such school, its Board of Regents contained a couple of members who were former students. As well there were several students who had attended the school who were no successful in the larger business world. So the model worked: local control, local success, local autonomy, larger-world opportunities obtained. So why are we still openly apologizing for an educational system that generally was finished fifty years ago and not asking why the newer system has never been adopted on a major scale? Who really was wrong?

The residential schools did have some shortcomings, most school systems do. But probably half the students did very well. Most did not run away. Few died trying to do so. The government at the time did not see reservations as the optimal future for Aboriginal peoples in the world that was globalizing even back then. Looking at the state of many reserves today, it is difficult to disagree with that perspective. They thought that giving students a chance to really get an education could give them a more solid opportunity to be successful in life. Was that a bad idea?

Let’s suppose it was not only bad, but devious. Then, why would not those astute leaders in the Aboriginal world of today simply return to the world of the 1700’s — go back to restore and maintain a time other than that of the mainstream. There is a model: the Amish community in parts of Ontario and the northeastern states. They could eschew television, cars, and federal funding. Or keep the federal funding and have it apportioned on a per-capita basis without anything but a minimal federal department, employing a few banking personnel who order the cheques and arrange for their delivery to the individuals. Of course, for those not wishing to adopt such a radical option, there is another model: the Vietnamese Boat People — they’ve come to Canada, penniless in most cases, got a bit of social assistance, and then disappeared into the economy (well, I’ll admit some haven’t disappeared — they’ve built restaurants with Vietnamese writing on them and great food within and substantial profits deposited in the banks). Either way, there would be significant role models for young Aboriginal people to emulate.

Presently the role models most portrayed are either the Aboriginal politicians who are constantly complaining they aren’t getting enough (who in this country is getting enough?) or the advocates who are constantly asking for more apologies. Just what does that say to the young person — either there is really no hope (must be deemed to be in constant poverty because the leaders always want more) or life will always be as a victim (awaiting the next apology). Certainly a depressing future…

And for those of a different sexual persuasion, orientation, preference or acknowledgement, guess what? I accept that you are different. Please accept that I am too. You have your particular desires, hopes and aspirations — you even can frame these within particular philosophical and perhaps even theological contexts. That is good. So do I. In fact, within my world I have developed certain circles of friends, frameworks and foundations that help reinforce my particular orientation. It makes sense to me. But it’s not exclusive; I recognize that. I even will invite you in, should you wish to join me. But remember, if you do, it’s because you accept my frameworks as being pre-eminent in my world. If you want to formally join my world, you’d have to do so on the terms that I and my others have deemed essential. Now, I also would hope you might invite me occasionally into your world and allow me to learn more about your perspectives. Should though I decide to formally join your world, I realize that I would then have to cast off my current view and adopt yours. Don’t be startled, but this isn’t likely to happen. I respect your right to be different; please honour me with the same respect. I’ll even fight for your right to be legally accepted; please join me in the same fight for my right to be likewise legally respected.

If some of my organizations seem antiquated to you, don’t expect me to apologize or give a great deal of thought to changing them. It’s who I am, where I’ve come from and why I am moving forward in the way I am. If you like a lot about my organizations but not the fact I’m not about to change; feel free to look for a somewhat similar organization that may well have already adapted to your perspective, your needs and desires. And don’t apologize for having to do so — I’ve changed several organizations myself because they were not quite right for me, even though they were very popular for others. I didn’t apologize for leaving and I sure didn’t ask them to apologize for not fitting my expectations or even my needs. Sexual orientation is a big deal to all of us. Enjoy your world. Celebrate the relationships you can build, re-discover, or intensify. No need to apologize for that. Legally as well as socially the road ahead is quite visible. I only ask that you don’t try to make your legal freedoms, necessary realities for those of us who may be in similar but different minority situations. Accept your victories as we all (or most of us at least) have. Just be cautious not to join in the “tyranny of the minority” — I’ve had some forefathers, who in their time, did; I don’t apologize for their choices, but I do commit to not making the same decisions in this era. It’s a big world; let’s try to all live in it, with respect and a commitment to getting to better — without forcing each other to leave those contexts that we find thoughtful, well-grounded and meaningful!

Yes, I am a WASP (white anglo-saxon presbyterian) — worse, I’m a heterosexual male… even worse I drive a BMW SUV (although, give me some credit, it’s a diesel) and go to CFL games (tho’ I no longer am a member of golf 7 country clubs). So maybe I don’t count for a great deal. But I too went to school in torn jeans (before that was fashionable) and couldn’t wait till my December birthday when I would get as one set of gifts, “patches” for the knees of said jeans, so they’d last till Christmas when I might get a pair of new jeans (hopefully lined, so I wouldn’t have to wear long-johns). I also left home every summer, starting when I was twelve, to work, and I left home permanently when I was nineteen and have supported myself ever since. I’ve also been relatively straight, though a church-deemed sinner — married now for the third time (and I think I’ve finally got it right!!). I don’t apologize for any of that and I sure don’t want my 100-year old mother to feel she needs to apologize for any of that. Moreover, as I said earlier, I don’t want my offspring or their offspring to apologize for any of that.

We all have had our moments on mountain tops, many of us have also been in the valleys of the shadows of death/depression or some reasonable facsimile. The challenge for today is to quit being a victim, stop looking back for some excuse why our world isn’t as good as the worlds shown on the big, little or mobile screens, and re-energize ourselves to challenge the world going forward — to try to simply make things along with ourselves better. Go after “rights”, but do so realizing that means accepting “responsibilities” as a concomitant part of life in our world. Every time we point elsewhere for a source of our shortcomings, we denigrate ourselves — we admit that we are incapable of trying. Moreover if we waste our energies crying about how tough life is, all we are likely to get is a profusion of apologies, and I’m not sure one can get enough apologies to fill either one’s stomach or one’s brains…

Rise up and celebrate where you are right now. Then, straighten up and march forward and contribute what you can not only to your life, but to the world. The successful models are out there; if you can’t think up one of your own, look around and try one that someone else has dared dream up.

g.w.

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