Among the list of his other accomplishments, our now EX-Prime Minister set a glowing example of fear, ignorance, hatred and intolerance for the people of this country, and the world. What is deeply disturbing is how many of us followed his lead.
Racism in Canada isn’t new. Heck, the genocide of this country’s First Nations is the foundation upon which the first immigrants to Canada built the country we know today. And I will never forget the battles I waged as a child – internally and externally- as I found my place and my voice amidst a culture of ignorance, intolerance and fear that I knew was wrong, but that for many years, I was too young, too indoctrinated, and too disempowered to really understand.
I grew up. I learned and I evolved, but I will never forget the friends I didn’t make; the connections I missed; the warmth, the love, the humanness I didn’t share.
As racism reared its ugly head through the course of our most recent election, I was forced to face again, just how much work we still have to do. I was enlightened to the reality that many of the people I know and love, despite the veneers they wear in polite company, are still drowning under the weight of beliefs that separate them from their fellow human beings. And I was reminded again, that no matter how deeply held our beliefs; no matter how well researched, well reasoned, well thought out, or well stated; no matter how popular or unpopular – people will only change if and when they want to. People will only change when they are motivated to do so because there is something in it for them. Shaming doesn’t work. Instilling fear doesn’t work. Even isolation doesn’t work, because there is always someone, somewhere who will support us in our beliefs – no matter how strange, or unkind.
There are a number of people I have recently ‘unfollowed’ or otherwise elected to stop hearing from via social media. Why? Because once I became aware of their hatred and fear, there was no further need to invite more of it into my life, and the passive-aggressive posting of memes encapsulating oppositional views on FaceBook is a sorry excuse for meaningful conversation. The awareness of these people’s positions is enough for me to know who I most need to reach out to – who I most need to inspire toward change.
I am reminded again that these people are not ‘bad’ people. There is an awful lot of mis-information in the stuff we have been told. There is an awful lot of truth that has been manipulated or eliminated completely from view, so that we will not see the sides of the boxes we have all been placed in. There are an awful lot of ways in which the dynamics of power, marginalization and ‘othering’ affect not just those being targeted, but the way all people understand each other, and the world as a whole.
I am reminded again that these people believe as I do – that what they are doing is ‘right’. I am reminded again that in creating change, we have to focus on the places we connect, instead of the places we are divided. I am reminded again that when our choices and beliefs are governed by fear, it is because we have lost touch with the deeper parts of ourselves – the places where integrity, kindness, decency, empowerment, and connection reside. I am reminded again that it is only when we each believe we are strong enough to face it, that we are able to look upon the darkness in ourselves; that we are able to embrace the unknown.
There is a story that like many others, has its origins in a culture much older and wiser than the one I was born into. I am told it is a Cherokee tale:
One evening, an elderly Cherokee brave told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people. He said,
“My son, there is a battle raging between two wolves that live inside us all. One is evil. It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.
The other is good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith”.
The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather:
“Which wolf wins?”
The old Cherokee simply replied,
“The one you feed”.
This story isn’t just a cutesy, feel-good euphemism for the human condition. It is a powerful analogy for the truth. We each contain all of these feelings within us. We each are capable of great good and great evil. We each are both brutal and soft. We each have the power to choose the qualities in our Selves, and in each other, we want to nurture and feed.
At its core, racism has nothing to do with what the perceived ‘other’ is or isn’t; what they do or do not do; whether they are the same or different from you or me. At its core, racism is about what each and every one of us chooses to value. Do we choose connection or disconnection, brutality or kindness, hatred or love?
What saddens me most about the recent insurgence of blatant racism in Canada is that the conversations about it are so profoundly misdirected. What will change people’s attitudes is not another statistic. It is not another shaming. It is not another battle over your ideology, race, religion vs. mine.
What will change people’s attitudes is a remembrance of our values. What will change people’s attitudes, is the realization that in every country, every community, every home and every heart on this planet –
The wolf who wins, is the wolf we choose to feed.