My life has been full of very rich opportunities to be completely immersed into the cultures and faiths of many different people. I have married twice outside of my cultural background. My life is richer because of these experiences and in many ways, I approach life from a different perspective because of these experiences.
As we all do, we approach life through our own lens.
In more recent moments of my life, this question of what it means to be Canadian has been posed in front of me and around me in many different ways. Sometimes I am left mouth wide open at what people feel is what it means to be Canadian, sometimes it has created heated discussions and sometimes I just walk away from a conversation with my heart a little bit crushed at what some people have defined as being Canadian.
So I began to wonder what does it mean to be Canadian, so I figured, why not think out loud?
Is being Vegetarian being Canadian? Is being a carnivore, being a Canadian? Is smoking being a Canadian? Is not smoking being a Canadian? Is drinking alcohol being a Canadian? Is not drinking alcohol being a Canadian? Is being Christian being a Canadian? Is being Muslim being a Canadian? Is being Jewish being a Canadian? Does the colour of our skin define us as being Canadian? Is being Gay being a Canadian? Is being heterosexual being a Canadian?
If none of those is the answer, then what is?
Here is my very simple conclusion.
Respect for the individual to honour their own lives and their own beliefs, to live in a Country where we respect the diversity of cultures and religions so that we all can grow and become better human beings because we were given the opportunity to know something different than what we had been taught in our core families.
I truly believe that we have been blessed that we live in a country that is not unilaterally one culture and one religion if for no other reason than the depth of life experience we get to enjoy without ever leaving our borders.
At any given moment I can have a conversation with someone from a multitude of religions and find out why they believe what they believe. Is it a belief formed of habit or have they come to this on their own? How do they spend their time honouring their beliefs, I love to know this about Atheists as well, how they came to the place of not believing in a God. I get to learn, I get to ask and I get to grow. Sometimes I ponder at how fascinating this is because it is not the norm in many different countries, but here we have a core tenet of respect. Respect of beliefs without the expectation of change.
Sure there are Canadian laws, of which most think is too many. However, even hardcore Canadian criminals likely won’t run a red light on a deserted street at 3 am in the morning. It seems that most of us find comfort in our laws, in many ways they define us.
Around the world, we are known as polite and law abiding.
When people from other cultures arrive here, they are astounded by the number of laws we have, in most of the rest of the world, you are on your own. Helmets? Seat belts? Life is about personal responsibility if you die that is on you!! So I guess that is a bit of a mandate to become Canadian. Respect for each other and respect for the laws of the land.
I am probably about 6th generation Canadian, (I know if a couple of my cousins are reading this I might have to update that sentence) and my mother’s idea of being Canadian was respect mixed with amazing hospitality. If you were a guest in her home, she provided you with the best experience she possibly could provide. If my husband was in earshot of visiting her, deviled eggs would be on the menu. My best friend liked very few foods, as a child, but my mother would cook her up the exact meal that she loved because hospitality and making your guests feel welcomed and respected for who they are was of the utmost importance.
My mother knew very few people from other cultures and religions, her brother- in- law was Muslim and she had some son-in-laws from other cultures. However, I don’t think that she ever had an entire Muslim or Jewish family visit, but if she had, she would have gone out of her way to do everything she could to respect them, their culture and religion because to her, being a host was to provide your guest with a meaningful, memorable and respectful visit.
That, in my opinion, is what it means to be Canadian, to respect and honour the beliefs and the needs of your neighbours. Will they be different from yours? For your sake and mine….Let’s Hope!!
Personally I think if you truly want to be Canadian, you might just give up your knife and fork for a night and break bread on the floor with your neighbours, if that is what they do, take the time to step away from your own customs and traditions and experience a whole new way of living.
My joy as a parent is that my children, who are both first generation Canadians on their father’s side, are being raised in a country where we respect the diversity of cultures and we honour the practices of all religions, not just our own. My hope is that it is something so deeply ingrained in who they are that they will never question the difference but only ask questions to gain knowledge and have a deeper understanding of their neighbour.
When we can all get to that place, then we are Canadian.
In love, light and laughter
As always this is my soapbox and my opinion.
What is yours? If you could define what it means to be Canadian in one word or concept, what would it be?