If you spend enough time on the Internet, you’d think Canada has become a nation of scolds.
Cloaked in anonymity, our scolds span the spectrum of peevish, holier-than-thou thought.
On one end are the politically correct scolds. They come with a complete set of attitudes that can’t be challenged. They are most numerous in the university habitat, where they can be found looking to take offence.
At the other are the politically incorrect scolds. As far as I can tell, they mostly frequent the comments section of the CBC web site, where they post petulant comments, mostly about how the CBC puts limits on their petulance.
Well, appearances can be deceiving. In this case, they are dead wrong.
According to a 2017 survey, Canadians are overwhelmingly forgiving.
They’re even more forgiving if something humbling, such as a car accident, has happened to them. And British Columbians are right up there when it comes to extending the hand of forgiveness. Sometimes we’re a little above the national average—94% of BC residents agree that “everyone makes mistakes”, which is two points below the national average; and sometimes, we’re a little above: 94% of us believe “when people are honest, I can forgive”, and that matches up against 92% nationwide.
The survey was conducted by pollster Leger in April 2017, so it reflects the recent forgiving mood of the nation. I don’t know about you, but this comes as something of a surprise to me, especially after reading the news on any given day.
Take the story about Blue Jays outfielder Kevin Pillar, who bestowed a “homophobic slur” upon a rival pitcher. There was a time when you couldn’t get through an inning without at least one homophobic slur, but Pillar was suspended without pay for two games, even though he crafted an abject apology. For Major League Baseball and the Blue Jays, forgiveness comes at a cost.
And then there’s the touchy cultural appropriation debate, which helped push Jonathan Kay, the editor of the esteemed Walrus, to resign, leaving the building in a huff. “On diversity, Canadian media is throwing stones in a glass house”, cried Maclean’s. The argument appears to be about the degree to which white, privileged artists can delve into other cultures – in particular aboriginal – for their inspiration. It has generated a bewildering array of tweets, blogs, columns, comments and letters, and forgiveness is hardly the prevailing attitude.
Could it be that the chattering classes have less forgiving hearts than 1,542 randomly selected Canadians, 81% of whom believe “there is no point in keeping a grudge” or “when the excuses are sincere I forgive easily” (82%)?
Let me be clear: I don’t approve of racist or sexist behaviour, but I’m all in for forgiveness. Enlightenment casts an uneven beam, and sometimes people just don’t realize they have given offense. Some people justify cultural appropriation as a kind of recognition or celebration of other cultures. Of course, that doesn’t always fly with the appropriated, who just see themselves displayed through a distorted lens, or simply ripped off.
But people learn from making mistakes in an atmosphere of forgiveness. If we’re afraid to speak or even think our errant or confused notions, we’re in danger of going forth in ignorance, over the nearest (metaphorical) cliff.
Yet, if you believe the Leger poll, there’s a lot more forgiveness in the land than appears in the national media, where scolding has overcome other forms of journalism. The cause of this fevered national crank-fest is not clear –maybe we’ve culturally appropriated the American take-no-prisoners approach to the issues while the silent majority cowers in, well, silence, afraid to come across as stupid or wrong or both.
Meanwhile, we yearn to forgive and be forgiven. We believe that it’s “easier to forgive when the fault is not intentional” (90%), and would “like to be forgiven for mistakes we’ve made in the past” (87%).
Maybe this survey will help remind our scolds of many races, religions, and creeds to cut everyone some slack. But that doesn’t seem likely, as everyone’s more inclined to take and give offence than give and take forgiveness.
But there is a vast reservoir of forgiveness in the hearts and minds of Canadians regardless of race, religion or creed, and we’d do well to remember it.
I get the feeling we’re going to need it ever more in the weeks and months to come.