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Word on the Street: Buried in our own words

Steve Campbell

There was a time in Canada when we were happy to be just Canadians. That is to say: “Here we are in Canada. How you doin’?”
By the way, the proper answer to this is, “Good. And you?” Not, “Oh, man, I have been having some real trouble with bladder leakage and incontinence, and it hurts when I do this, but my doctor just says, ‘Don’t do that’.”

But a disease is creeping into Canadian culture, and it’s not the one that just popped into your mind. The disease is Division by Definition. I just made that term up, so if it goes viral, you heard it here first.
So what do I mean by that? Well, I’ve lived a long time. Longer than I thought I would, since my body is a temple, if by ‘temple’ you mean New York City sewer.
But when I was a farm kid, I was taught a number of lessons by my parents. They were quite simple, i.e. Never stand behind a cow after their first day in green pasture; When you’re hauling a wagon full of hay, watch out for groundhog holes; Never tell your Dad, “I have nothing to do.”

But the most important lesson was the rock solid one: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Oddly enough, this seemed to work in most cases better than, say, “I know you’re going to screw me, so I’ll screw you first.” Believe me, I’ve met people who have this credo.
Basically, I was raised to respect people. All people. That was pretty much a given in our family, and it was never questioned. It was my parents who taught me to judge a person by their character. Period. Male, female; white, black; gay, straight. Don’t care. Good people are good people and, on the flip side, jerks are jerks. Dealing with jerks was also simple … no time for them. Waste of energy. Lots of good people to work with.
Mom told me, when she was a child in Picton, she was told not to play with the Catholic children, because they were ‘different’. Funny thing is, when a kid can’t figure that out, they need to choose one of two paths: My parents are right and I don’t want anything to do with Catholics, or: This doesn’t make any sense to me, that girl is my friend.

She made the right decision. It’s interesting to note that children have no sense of ‘difference’, but adults seem to plant a flag in their territory and announce to the world how they are different. And they slice the world into ‘acceptable’ and ‘unacceptable’ on the basis of religion, colour, politics, sexual preference – pretty much anything we can find. I’m surprised blue-eyed people aren’t murdering green-eyed people. Because that’s how thin the slicing can go. It’s like a really bad Corned Beef sandwich, in which the offending slices are delicately removed. Wait! There’s no white slices in there! What do we do now?

In every family, these decisions have to be made: You either follow the pattern in which you’ve been raised, or you reject it.
I’ve known people on both sides, from my high school days. I knew a guy who was regularly beaten by his father. He was huge, by my diminutive standards, yet regularly appeared at school with black eyes and marks on his face. I figured him to become a criminal or a cop, and he became a cop. And a good one. I talked to him years later, and his life lessons taught him never to be his father. Others are raised in hatred and anger, and carry it through their lives.
What I’m trying to establish here is the lesson my parents taught me. Most people are good, and some not so much. But we are all people struggling through lives as what we are.
Mom didn’t need to tell me to respect women (though she did) because I found that out in high school when the smart girls in my class were smarter than me. Later I found out that women are way smarter than men, but only because men are idiots. That isn’t really a scoring point. It’s like beating a five-year-old at chess.
Most of my clients are women, because they know their business. My male clients, sadly, are bound by logic, which I abandoned when I burned my Calculus textbook. Women are intuitive, and that is the driving force behind business. When I threw logic out the door, and started listening and learning from my clients, business became fun again.

Now, to the final point. There’s a movement going on which is doing exactly the opposite of what I have illustrated so far. It’s called ‘Political Correctness’ and it is messing with our language. Language is a form of communication. That’s it. That’s all it is.
But now our ‘words’ suddenly have an iconic status. They aren’t just ‘words’ anymore, they have some kind of hidden, horrible, repressive ‘meaning’ which might somehow, possibly, under the eye of an electron microscope, disclose that there is some barely perceptible hint of a racist/sexist leaning in the ‘word’.

Of course, I ran into this when I called the girls at CIBC the ‘girls at CIBC’, and was attacked again when I referred to Indians as Indians, even though I had checked the reference with Tyendinaga natives who said: “Sure you can call us Indian. We know we’re Indians.”
But now it’s getting crazy. The New Language leaves everybody to figure out what is the proper term to call anybody. The popular press is even trying to redescribe the terms ‘man’ and ‘woman’, because the LGBQT hasn’t even sorted it out long enough to split into easier acronyms.
We do this all the time. But all we are doing is shouting out the differences, instead of embracing who we are. We are people, just like my parents said.
Everyone, apparently, wants to be the same. Everyone wants to be equal. Yeah, I can dig it. But you’re not. And you never will be as long as you continue to describe your ‘differences’.
Remember when black people were Negroes, and then Coloured, and then Blacks, then African-Americans? Why have they never been ‘people’? We’re still wrestling with Indian, Native, Aboriginal, Indigenous … I don’t even know who decides the current term of reference! It’s all just words. Words that get some sort of nod of approval from some social warrior, but allow us to escape from the real issue.

It’s not about names. It’s about the inability for those of us who are lucky enough to be white and living in the County to understand what’s it’s like to live in a world in which opportunity is not a given. There are millions of people who do not have the same life experience as us. And we built the institutions in which the cards were stacked in our favour.
With Black Lives Matter, there’s a whole new wave of discontent. And long overdue. Whites and blacks and everybody expressed their outrage and, like any movement, it’s already fragmenting because somebody is controlling the ‘words’. A U.S. broadcaster was fired because he said “All lives matter.” Seems to me that’s true, but it gets in the way of the ‘movement’. White people are accused of joining because of ‘white guilt’, and were popped out of the ranks. Having not owned any slaves, I’m not sure where my guilt should come from.

This happens in every movement, from 1967 on. Everybody’s in, and then ‘words’ start tearing apart the cohesiveness and all-embracing intent of the original protest. Starts out strong, then rips itself to bits … and there we go again, back to the status quo.
We can’t let that happen this time. If equality is to be won this time, we must remain together. Like when the world united against apartheid.
Emotions are high, but emotions cloud the goal. ‘Words’ are just words, but installing genuine equality is the goal. If we lose track of that, we lose again, until we repeat the cycle two, five or 10 years from now.
Sometimes we get buried in our own words, and never get to the ‘action’ part.

  • Steve Campbell is editor and publisher of County Magazine, and the author of several books, including The County Handbook: How to Survive in Prince Edward County.

Filed Under: News from Everywhere ElseSteve Campbell

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