My Canada includes O Canada

REX MURPHY

Inclusive: adjective describing the act of halting, shutting down or banning any halfway normal practice or event enjoyed by a whole lot of people over a very long time because one or two people, now, don't like it. e.g., The company stopped sending out "Merry Christmas" cards because it wanted to be inclusive.

Funny thing how in our time, words are being hauled up from their roots, beaten about their little lexical noggins and turned into their exact opposites.

You would think, for example, that an activity supported or enjoyed by a majority of people is more inclusive -- includes more people -- than a call from a few people who do not enjoy or support it to shut it down.

In fact, by any measure -- mathematical, semantic, the standards of simple common sense -- it is. In Canada, wishing people "Merry Christmas" is a practice of great goodwill that has been going on its innocuous, benign, cheerful way for a long time. But, as all have seen over the last decade or so, there has hardly been a Christmas during which some posturing hypersensitives have not worked to ban the tree, the greeting or a carol.

The zealots were in all cases being inclusive. They were acting out of tolerance.

This is the rule now. In our brave new world of tumid tolerance and shrunken common sense, very frequently if even one person "objects" to some long-respected tradition, innocuous greeting or symbol of unexceptional commonality, then in the name of "tolerance" that tradition, greeting or instance of our common interest will be banned.

I knew when I started to read the story about the New Brunswick school principal, Eric Millett, who has stopped the daily singing of O Canada in his school, that before I reached the end I was going to meet the word "inclusive." I also knew I was going to meet some combination of "needs" being accommodated. Shutting things down, or stopping certain common practices, inevitably turns out to be an inclusive attempt to take into account the "needs" of certain people.

Sure enough, news reports paraphrase Mr. Millett as saying that stopping the daily singing of O Canada is part of a package of reforms "designed to make the school more inclusive." He is "accommodating certain parents" and "balancing the needs" of those who don't want their kids taking part. I question the word "needs" here, as I think what's meant is wishes, an entirely less imperative category. But let that pass.

But what a perfect parable it is. Children in a school in New Brunswick, which is still, I believe, a Canadian province, have an endearing practice of singing our national anthem before the school day starts. A country almost denuded of national rituals has, or had, at least one school where all or most joined in a morning burst of melodic patriotism.

The question this sad little story epitomizes is: Why do the sensibilities of a few who find something objectionable seem so frequently to overrule the sensibilities of the great many who find the same thing joyful or meaningful? Why is being offended by O Canada more worthy, as a sentiment, than taking joy or pride in O Canada?

O Canada, the anthem, is not a virulent, overtly martial national song. The first stanza, which is virtually the only one ever sung, has very little that's abrasive even to the most fragile sensibility. It states, as I hope we'll all agree, that Canada is our home and native land; talks of patriot love -- an excellent sentiment; notes -- how true -- we're far and wide; and says, twice, we'll "stand on guard" for her -- thee. A most commendable iteration.

The singing of the anthem has, by the way, some special meaning for one student, Julia Boyd, who is 11. Julia is the cousin of a Canadian soldier who lost his life, along with five other soldiers, in April, 2007, in Afghanistan. She is quoted as saying that "singing O Canada every day ... reminds me of the troops that are over there." So at least for Julia, it can be said the daily anthem singing is both consolatory and patriotic.

What Scrooge would begrudge her?

Canada is at war, however much that slips the minds of those of us who have no relatives serving in Afghanistan. Singing the national anthem can be a splendid gesture of solidarity with those who do have that anxious connection.

So a few (as I assume from the story) parents, whose reasons the principal declines to give, "object" to singing the national anthem, and the school -- in full pursuit of inclusion -- denies the practice to everyone else. To underline: If you hear the word "inclusive," something a majority wants is being banned.

The question this sad little story epitomizes is: Why do the sensibilities of a few who find something objectionable seem so frequently to overrule the sensibilities of the great many who find the same thing joyful or meaningful? Why is being offended by O Canada more worthy, as a sentiment, than taking joy or pride in O Canada?

Susan Boyd, Julia's mother, is hoping to raise a petition to continue the charming start-of-the-school-day singing. You could say she's standing on guard.

 

 


ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

Rex Murphy, "My Canada includes O Canada." Globe & Mail (January 31, 2009).

Reprinted with permission of Rex Murphy.

THE AUTHOR

Rex Murphy is host of CBC Radio One's Cross-Country Checkup and contributes weekly TV essays on diverse topics to CBC TV's The National. (See Rex's TV commentaries). In addition, he writes book reviews, commentaries, an a weekly column, Japes of Wrath, for the Globe & Mail.

Rex Murphy was born near St. John's, Newfoundland, where he graduated from Memorial University. In l968, he went to Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar. His primary interest is in language and English literature, but he also has a strong link with politics. His first book, Points of View, is described on Amazon: "With TV commentator and journalist Rex Murphy, it's easy to put a twist on the old parable: when he is good he is very very good, and when he's angry, he's awesome. Uncommonly dignified, relentlessly honest, unencumbered by de rigueur political correctness, and solidly grounded by his Newfoundland roots, Murphy is that rarest of TV types. He's an everyman who happens to be a Rhodes Scholar, and a personality treasured for his brain, not his looks...A cranky intellect, maybe, but an intellect just the same. It's Murphy's almost reluctant cynicism -- delivered in language as sharp as shattered glass and aimed squarely at those in ivory towers -- that makes Points of View a must-read."

Copyright © 2009 Rex Murphy




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