Happy Canada Day


It is July 1 already. Half the year is gone. Do you need any other reason for a party?

Canadians celebrate their country today, which has me thinking about patriotism. We think we have the best country in the world, but citizens of other countries might disagree.

I won’t list all the good things that make Canada a great place to live. I have traveled to about 20 countries (which makes me, I think, the least traveled member of my family), adding Austria and Greece to the list in the past year. I have great appreciation for many of the places I have been, but that doesn’t mean I want to live there.

I spend a lot of my time with refugees who have come to Germany fleeing war or seeking a better life. One of the questions I have been asked by almost every one of them is which I like better, Canada or Germany.

My answer is usually diplomatic. I like Germany, but in Canada I speak the language. I love my country.

Patriotism is something we learn as children, in one form or another. It really does have to be taught, because, when you think of it, there is no reason to be especially loyal to an area defined by lines arbitrarily drawn on a map.

If I had been born 100 miles (160 kilometres) to the south, I would be an American. I would have grown up with a much different worldview. (Given my birth year I might also have died in the Vietnam War – I would have been a prime candidate to be drafted.) As an American I would be the same person physically, but very different in a lot of ways, especially my attitudes. It might make for an interesting nature versus nurture argument, but of course it is all speculation.

Is patriotism a good thing? In some countries asking such a question would be heretical. Love of country is assumed, no options. However, an unquestioning love, a “my country right or wrong” attitude, can be problematic. Countries, as a collective identity, can be just as imperfect as the citizens who live there. Blind patriotism and unthinking nationalism are a recipe for conflict, as we have seen all too often since nation-states first began appearing.

Today, as Canadians celebrate with barbecues and parties and fireworks (weather permitting of course – you never can tell when it is going to snow) I will be joining in in spirit, though I won’t miss . There are a lot of good things to celebrate about the nation that we call Canada.

After all, we are the people that gave the world maple syrup and the snowmobile, poutine and peacekeepers. We are a small country in terms of population, but a very big country when it comes to contributions to the arts, literature, music, sports and science. I’m not going to post a list of famous or influential Canadians – I am sure you can find one on the internet if you care to look it up.

I learned to be patriotic at a very young age. But I am not blind to my country’s faults, which are many, even if it is the best country in the world. Today though is a time for celebration so I won’t detail those shortcomings. Maybe another day we’ll discuss ways Canada can be even better.

On March 17, St. Patrick’s Day, everyone pretends to be Irish and joins the party. Today, Canada Day, you have my permission to pretend to be Canadian. Enjoy the celebration, wherever you are.

(An earlier version of this post appeared in this space on July 1, 2015.)

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