Conscious Community

by Terri Smallwood


Last Sunday I enjoyed everything that is good about winter in Canada. I woke up snug under the comforting weight of a feather duvet. I drank hot coffee while the Sun rose coolly in the crisp blue sky. I enjoyed the luxury of a Sunday Brunch. I watched my son and his friends skate tirelessly on a homemade ice rink. I donned layers of fleece and wool and tramped through knee-high snow, pulling a laughing baby along on a toboggan. I even wore a toque. And I listened to the Tragically Hip sing about “Courage.”

“Courage, my word, it doesn’t come, it doesn’t matter,” sang Gordon Downie in a song so familiar that any Canadian under 35 reading this now is also humming out loud.

Don’t get your toques in a knot — I won’t commit the sacrilege of dissing The Hip. Not for expressing such a typically Canadian state of mind as apathy. It’s pretty much a given that we are a country of people who are increasingly reluctant to take on the powers that be. We love our hockey. In the absence of hockey, we’ll watch the CBC’s attempt to fill the void with its weekly showings of the Star Wars series of movies. Forget any attempts to complain to the NHL for pulling the plug on our national pastime. We’ll just quietly play shinny hockey and watch bad movies and hope for an end to the lock-out.

It’s even worse during election time. Every four years we gawk at the neighbors with the gall to put up their candidates’ lawn signs. It almost seems uncouth to the average Canadian — a brazen stab at making some kind of statement. It’s not the political differences that concern us; the two major parties here are separated by a smidgen of ideology and their carefully cultivated personas of good cop / bad cop, and we all know it. The other parties are way too frank about their ideals and policies. It’s the openness — it seems, well, scary.

Our elections are less and less about issues — and more about marketing. Which guy LOOKS more like a leader? And the looks matter, since typical Canadians will base their votes on the candidate’s television appearance. That is, assuming the typical Canadian will even vote at all. Canadians, for whatever reason, are increasingly indifferent to the workings of our democracy.

Oh sure, we may get fired up about the RESULTS of the democratic process. It’s fun to complain about the antics of our politicians. Mention a current political scandal around the water cooler and you’re guaranteed a conversation rife with cursing and big gestures. But beware starting a conversation about the democratic deficit in Canada or proportional representation — you’ll be scurrying back to your cubicle leaving a clutch of bewildered associates rushing to fill the awkward silence with chit-chat about the first reality show that comes to mind.

Apathy is definitely one item making it over the border. My American friends paint a similar picture for me — minus the toques. Overly concerned with the minutae of movie star movements, reality TV celebrities and CSI-style reportage, the mainstream American media all but filters out the big issues in favor of sound bites, quick clips and ratings-boosting editorials by noisy dudes wearing bow ties.

It’s unlikely to be a big conspiracy against the truth. It would be comforting to think that, in fact, the media are controlling the message and that some wily men in black are repressing serious discussion on the state of our western democracies. But I don’t think it’s anything as cloak and dagger as that. Mainstream media is simply giving us what we want.

See, for us, the struggle is over. It’s been more than 60 years since western countries really had to fight to protect their democracies. We live easy lives filled with easy distractions. Our governments, though far from faultless, don’t go out of their way to disrupt the ease of our comfortable existence. I think in this absence of danger and outside threat we’ve become the biggest danger to our own way of life.

The events of 9-11 did change some of the apathy. Certainly the fear of subsequent attacks has begun a paradigm shift in our attitudes towards our personal freedoms and safety. And ironically, this shift has, in many ways, pulled us away from the roots of our democracies.

The War on Terror has pushed many westerners onto a bandwagon that pits national security against personal freedom — giving governments carte blanche to do whatever is needed to rout the evil-doers. The unprecedented power that we have allowed our leaders to wield pushes the boundaries of democracy to the borders of totalitarianism. Unilateral military action without the backing of international law, holding suspects indefinitely without charges, easing up the requirements for wiretaps and clandestine surveillance, all pose a bigger threat to our way of life than a dozen Bin Ladens.

But still, it hasn’t moved us from our passivity. We complain about it, we engage our right-leaning friends and neighbors in endless debate. We embrace conspiracy theories. We think we are fighting terrorists. I think we are fighting inertia.

Courage, it seems, does matter.

On Sunday, while I played in the snow, more than 8 million Iraqis did something remarkable. They woke up, got dressed, and stepped outside.

In the run-up to January 31 and the historic election in Iraq, the chatter seemed to revolve solely around the size of the bloodbath that would be seen that day on the streets of Baghdad.

A nameless Iraqi told a CNN reporter about flyers circulating in his neighborhood last week. Around here before an election, my porch is littered with flyers endorsing candidates and their parties and promising all sorts of things. In Baghdad, the flyers came from insurgents and they promised death to anyone who dared try voting. They threatened to shoot you on your way to the polling centre, they threatened to blow you up at the polling centre; and if you survived all of that, then they threatened to follow you home from the polling centre and behead you and your kids.

Cynics, eager to use any ammo to remind George Bush and his cronies that the war was wrong and futile to begin with, called the election a farce. For reasons of security, many candidates who wanted to be elected to the National Council didn’t reveal their identities until the final few hours before the polls opened. How would they make a reasoned choice? (Never mind that most of us seem to play eenie-meenie-minee-mo in our polling booths.) How could the election have been fair? There was no public debate; there were no televised town-hall meetings. No one kissed a baby. And the pundits? Why didn’t anyone tell the Iraqis that a real election requires pundits?

It was because those 8 million Iraqis — over 55 percent of the total number of eligible voters — weren’t voting for candidate A, B, or C. They were making a stand for their freedom. They put on their shoes, walked out the door and said, “No,” to the terrorists. They found within themselves the quiet courage to do what I would find unthinkable — they risked their lives for the sake of building a democracy.

Regardless of the outcome, I can’t imagine that I will ever feel that the war in Iraq was totally justified. Maybe some good will come of it yet, but lasting peace in that devastated country is more than just one vote away. But a country whose citizens are possessed of that kind of bravery — some of whom did die while attempting to vote — is a country that does have greatness in its future.

Maya Angelou said, “History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again.”

George Bush and his administration went into Iraq to depose Saddam Hussein and bring the Iraqis democracy. It irked me when his rhetoric on the subject reeked of condescending paternalism. In the end though, the Iraqis can have the last laugh. Through their courage and participation in the electoral process, the Iraqis have managed to teach us, their so-called teachers, a lesson about what democracy is. My worry is that we’ve become so distracted and indifferent that we won’t see the irony. Or that we’ll see it, chuckle about it, and then get comfortably numb.

* White light and love for... *

  • Iraq’s courageous people, to gain the right to manage their country through the democratic process.

  • Bluedove, who’s fighting an infection and other problems.

  • Terri Schindler Shiavo, the brain-injured woman in Florida whose birth family has been fighting for her life while her husband tries to have the tube through which she receives life-sustaining nourishment and hydration removed. The Supreme Court has refused to address this case and it has been bounced back to the Florida State Supreme Court, which has chosen not to intervene anymore. This has given Terri’s husband the power to discontinue the feeding tube.

  • The survivors of the Asian earthquake and the resulting tsunami that wiped out whole communities all the way across the Indian Ocean up to Africa. They now face the challenge of rebuilding their communities from scratch! If you want to contribute more than prayers, or are one of those still searching for missing near and dear, you may find detailed information at this blog: The South East Asia Earthquake And Tsunami Blog. You can also help by passing along this link to others and taking up posting duties if you are a blogger. Please contact the bloggers at SEA-EAT for details.

  • The survival of our Conscious Evolution community and its Community Co-op, despite the passing of its much-missed founder, Gregory Ellison.

  • Searching, as she recovers from a wrist surgery after a skating accident.

  • Woodchiro, who is recovering from a nasty liver infection.

  • Lilicfairy, for her new home.

  • WriteOn, for health and energy, especially now that she has taken on the task of webmaster.

  • Firesong’s daughter Danielle, who is battling high anxiety and depression along with a financial crisis after she and her husband, Richard, both lost their jobs and were uprooted cross-country just before the birth of their daughter, Marina.

  • Veneo’s mother, Lois, and cousin, Debbie, who both have cancer.

  • Woodchiro’s mother, Diane, who is facing health concerns.

  • Searching’s friend’s niece, Danielle, who finally awakened from the coma she was in following a serious car accident. While she was still in the coma, her second child was born via Caesarean section. Danielle is undergoing therapy in her efforts to return to a normal life.

  • Amykins’ cousin, James, still unresponsive after a severe automobile accident.

  • Moonflower, for health concerns.

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