Canada is both problem and solution. It’s an ongoing exercise in creativity and problem solving. Sometimes it works out well; sometimes not.
And it’s really, really big!
Its lessons are big too. When it comes to solving problems and being creative, it provides the biggest lesson of all: just when you think you know something, you don’t.
You have to think differently. You have to learn more. You have to toss your way of seeing aside and see in new ways – often, the ways of others.
We are tourists
In any country but our own we are tourists. This has nothing to do with citizenship papers or other formal aspects of citizenry. It is simply that the only country we know with any depth or intimacy is our own. To know a place, you have to live in the place. This means things like buying groceries, paying rent, getting a loan and so on. You have to spend time doing the banal everyday things that keep a life moving along.
The thing is, in our own country we think we know it with depth. We think we have an intimate knowledge of it. But we don’t. We can only know parts of it and even then we fall far short of complete knowledge. This is because our countries are so many countries.
And that’s why I refer to my country as “the Canadas.” It’s plural. There are as many Canadas as there are people.
In a sense, we are tourists even in our own countries.
The way a programmer in Nova Scotia experiences Canada is not the same as a nurse in Edmonton. A realtor in Fort St. John in north eastern British Columbia does not have the same Canada as the store owner in Montreal, Quebec.
A Muslim entrepreneur in Vancouver has one Canada; an Inuit politician in Nunavut has another.
And they are not the same from day to day.
Sometimes I see a Canadian’s online profile with a map showing all the places they’ve been to in the world. There might be three, maybe four balloons in Canada, and oodles in Europe, South America, southeast Asia and so on. We catalogue where we have been elsewhere.
Maybe Canadians don’t travel as much in Canada because we know we can never see everything: it’s too damn big!
If Canada was a shirt, it would be extra extra extra large.
I think we feel that living where we do, wherever that is in Canada, we know Canada. It’s just not so.
Problem and solution
Canada is an ongoing project in creativity because it involves so many contradictions and opposites from landscape to weather to people. Southern Alberta, down in the area of Fort MacLeod, is the opposite of southern New Brunswick. It is almost the difference between a desert and a rain forest.
That’s just landscape. People? Oh my!
This is really where the ongoing problem solving exercise happens. We want the collective unity of “Canadians” while at the same time wanting everyone to retain their differences. Sometimes we refer to it as a “cultural mosaic.”
But of course, that means accommodation and that begins with an understanding of how plural we are.
I know many people don’t care about hockey, but stay with me a moment. It’s a good example of Canadians and problem solving and finding solutions – as well as what those solutions mean.
Since time began, the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation ) has been broadcasting hockey games in Canada. The CBC is a publicly owned company supported by Canadian tax dollars. It has a very specific mandate which, put simply, is this: your content will be Canada.
This means hockey games with Canadian teams, currently Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver. (Update: Now we can include Winnipeg again!) The thing is, since teams often play on the same night, which game do you show? How do you keep everyone happy?
Well, you don’t. But you try.
Canadians regularly complain about it. But the CBC does the best it can by putting one game on the national network, the one they hope the most people will want to see, and in specific regions, like Montreal, broadcasting the game of that area’s team.
Since Canada is so big, with six time zones, they can break it up between eastern and western games, the west getting underway usually several hours after those of the east.
The end result is games get shown. Someone is always unhappy. But overall and over time, it works. Not perfectly; but it works. Of course, much of the solution is the result of technology. It has allowed for better and more creative solutions.
Hockey and TV are pretty unimportant compared to larger social issues but to a large extent Canada’s creative problem solving mirrors the CBC’s solution for hockey. Some solutions work better than others, but that’s how it goes. We accommodate as best we can and manage to be one country, singular and plural all at once.
Delight, not pride
I don’t recall ever having a feeling of pride about Canada. What I feel most is delight. And I feel comfortable. Canada feels so much a part of me, so much an aspect of who and what I am, feeling pride in it would be like feeling pride in my arm or my leg. I just don’t think or feel that way.
It’s probably true of every country but in the end I see Canada as a work in progress. It’s a place so large, from every perspective, and so perpetually evolving, it can never be fully known. I’m pretty sure about one thing though.
Canada is not a place to be; it is a place to be together.
That, of course, is where the business of creative solutions comes in. And that, in turn, means realizing that what we know is only ever a small part of a larger picture. There is always more to learn, more to see, more people to meet, more to marvel at.