“There is nothing so stupid or dangerous or painful that people won’t eagerly do it, if by doing it they will make others believe they are better or stronger or more honorable. I have seen people poison themselves, destroy their children, abandon their mates, cut themselves off from the world, all so that others would think they were a better sort of person.”
Motivation fascinates me.
There is what we tell ourselves drives us to act and respond (or not act or respond) in certain ways. This is the world we perceive consciously or, perhaps more accurately, create for ourselves. This is a world of justification, of comprehension, of placement and association - we are invariably the centre of our own perceived realities.
Below this veneer, though, lies a world of subconscious motivation we are largely unaware of. The vast majority of choices we make and actions we take are not carefully considered and rationally decided; instead, they are developed deep within. Everything we tell ourselves about why we made that choice is justification.
This is fresh-of-mind for me following a Why Should I Care conversation last night on Canadian foreign policy. There were two concepts that stood out; one, that Canadians have a highly over-inflated sense of our own importance and two, much of the rhetoric and actions of our leaders that so many find offensive really does come from a place of good intention.
Canada is a former colony. We did not wrest our independence from the British Empire, as did the US; it was handed to us. Canada is blessed with natural resources that have traditionally sustained our economy. Our foundation is peace, order and good government - comfortable stuff, but hardly inspiring.
Apart from perhaps Peacekeeping, we have had no major achievements on the global diplomatic stage, ever. We celebrate tales of military grit such as Dieppe and Verdun, but have we ever played the decisive role in anything? Yet that is what we define ourselves as - Canada, the quiet colonialist, shaping the world in powerful ways from the comforts of our national armchair.
On to our leaders. Devoid of context, the positions Team Harper takes on issues ranging from Israel to social services make total sense. Of course Israel has a right to exist and of course it makes sense for Jews, arguably the most persecuted people in history, to have a safe haven to call homeland. We really do want Canadians to be net contributors to society more than net detractors; it's better for everyone not to be too reliant on supports that might not be sustainable in the long run.
Put these things in appropriate context, though, and the black-and-white choices of the Harper government are clearly detrimental, even to their own end-goals.
Canadians aren't stupid. Team Harper isn't evil. That's too simple a frame. Instead of focusing on the irrationality of our perception, we need to ask why we perceive a reality that's so disconnected from the real world.
Everyone struggles to identify Canadian culture, what makes us unique, what separates us from the US. If we were to break it down to a bumper sticker, perhaps our clearest self-definition would be we're better than the Americans.
That's how we want to see ourselves. That's how we want to be seen; more compassionate, more self-aware, more considerate of geopolitical realities, more humble yet more leader-like.
Similarly, our leaders - all of our leaders - contently play the frame game. Politics in our country is all about perceptions, not reality. Our politicians are, by and large, actors on a stage who don't know what role they're playing. Some of them are great at creating personas and riveting audiences to their performance. Others aren't. Yet all of them are trying to be seen as something, rather than just being.
The same holds true for our cultural identity. We like to think ourselves more tolerant, more accepting, more hip to globalization, yet it's not exactly true, is it? Our politics is bitter and as was seen during the recent election, Toronto, the most multicultural city in the world, is not as tolerant or accepting as it likes to think it is.
We try so hard to fill roles, to create personas that present to the world (and to ourselves) a cloak of respectability, even superiority. The things we do or don't do fit this narcissistic lens, focusing on surface concerns rather than actual depth.
If Canada were a human body, I'd say we invest more in suntan oil and teeth whitener than on walking in the sun and drinking milk.
This is why there is so much decay in our country, from our infrastructure to our leadership, from social engagement to community volunteerism.
We are trying so hard to be seen as quintessential Canadians that we aren't actually embodying our "Canadian values" in practice.
Instead of trying to be seen as the better person, perhaps it's time we start walking the walk. It's a much harder process requiring more time, investment and love to pull off.
Believe me - we and by association the world will be better off if we try.