Canada Could Teach Lessons on Civility

How about a tower to peace?

Imagine it if you can. Imagine visiting the nation’s Capitol. Imagine safe streets where citizens walk about all hours of the day and night, not worrying about harassment or attack. Envision a clean city teeming with restaurants, craft shops, galleries, and food stands.

Now imagine wandering over to the Capitol building when the sun goes down. A sound-and-light show will transform its edifice into a canvas upon which scenes from the nation’s history will be presented, its culture celebrated, and identity discussed. Think frank, not Disneyfied. Imagine, for instance, a scene in which whites are shown succumbing to greed and ripping off the Natives who welcomed them. Imagine another in which racial prejudice past and present is acknowledged. Now consider a scene in which a labor strike—a general strike that closed down an entire city no less—is celebrated as an important lesson in making the nation consider the plight of the working class. (Indeed, try to imagine the very mention that a “working class” exists.) Imagine that there are only two references to the military in the entire thirty-minute presentation—and war is presented as tragedy, not glory and bravado. Imagine that more attention is given to Nobel Peace Prize winners, a man who failed in his quest, rock and roll stars and protest music performers. Imagine a script in which people talk about the importance of maintaining their ethnic identity, speak with pride of the nation’s welfare system, and discuss the need to balance business development with human needs and a national infrastructure.

Guess what? If you can imagine any of this, you’re in Ottawa, Canada, not Washington, DC. And having just witnessed MozAik, the multimedia extravaganza on Parliament Hill, I came away feeling sad for my nation—for the crime- and greed-riven streets of Washington, for its filthy ambience, and for the twisted values that flow from it. One nation embraced the best it can be, the other the most it can grab. So why does the second continue to pretend that it’s the greatest on earth? Because it has the biggest guns? It seems to me that a few things are missing: civility, respect, pride, community and, yes, liberty itself. Can you even imagine walking around the U.S. Capitol after dark? And who would venture beyond the Mall, even in daylight? Since when is the ability to walk the perimeter of an armed camp freedom? And when did Americans decide they’d rather live in a Disney illusion instead of working to build a good society? Canada may be small, but it sure could instruct the United States on the difference between materialism and quality of life.

PS—The man who “failed” was Terry Fox (1958-81), whom Canadians regard in heroic terms. Fox lost his right leg above the knee to cancer. In 1980 he decided to run across Canada on his prosthesis to raise money for cancer research. He began in Newfoundland and made it 3339 miles to western Ontario before the cancer that killed him spread to his lungs and forced him to give up his quest far short of British Columbia. Canadians hold an annual Terry Fox Marathon to raise cancer research funds. They’ve also named streets, schools, trails, and fitness centers for Fox. Is it just me, or is Terry Fox more worthy to contemplate than, say, Lindsay Lohan?

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