The first mindset is make-believe. We pretend something is what it is not. We sing, dance, and light fireworks in false celebration.
Eulogies about abusive drunks being great family men call us to false celebration. We pretend the bad did not exist, and we focus on the good … or make it up.
The second mindset requires gratitude and humility. Gratitude directs our mind to the good, humility to the bad.
We take a principled stance of thankfulness – principled because it requires more than emotion. Principled thankfulness chooses to remember the good, even when the bad creates emotions which make thankfulness almost impossible.
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True humility comes in knowing the full extent of our failure and that it could have been worse. We know our current failure is not anywhere close to demonstrating how badly we could screw things up if we try.
Healthy, mature minds hold two or more things in tension, all the time. Children and certain personality disorders hold only one thing in mind at any time. They are having The Best Day Ever! or the worst day of their lives. Everything splits into all good or all bad, and at full emotional intensity.
When an immature mind adopts a mindset of make-believe celebration, it abandons reality. It uses a vision of false purity to create unfounded enthusiasm.
Enthusiasm is like starter fluid. It makes everything light up. Enthusiasm works equally well for celebration and penance.
Celebration becomes ecstatic and intolerant of any balance. Getting together is not good enough – it must be wild!
Enthusiastic penance makes us wail, scrape ourselves with potsherds, and toss dust on our heads. Penitence is not good enough.
Organized religion traditionally worked to curb enthusiasm toward useful pursuits. Religion has gone, at least in the old sense.
Now people pour their enthusiasm into politics. But politics has no way to curb enthusiastic excess.
So, society adopts a childlike (or borderline) personality. It becomes obsessed with purity – True Belief. Bad things always follow. Heretics are burned. Queens beheaded. And society lights itself on fire.
Enthusiasm and crisis go together; one leads to the other.
Saint-Simon, an early 19th-century political theorist who influenced JS Mill, Proudhon, Marx, and Engels, described society as going through organic periods and periods of crisis (also organic vs critical). Society enters a critical phase of disorganization after rejecting organizing principles.
When people realize they no longer believe things that used to limit their behaviour, they act out.
Why should I tell the truth, pay taxes, be polite, or stand in line? Says who?
Crisis creates political opportunity. Vocal bands of voters will force politicians to use crisis to advance their cause. They will harness the emotion behind a crisis and turn it into a wedge issue – liberalism uses emotion in the service of power.
Canada, like every country, is a mess of good and bad things. Being young, Canada has far less to feel embarrassed about than older nations. But give us time. Failures will pile up. “Men are worse than animals,” my father often says.
We do not dismiss failures – unmarked graves, internments, refusal of asylum, and so on.
Failure demands investigation and correction, if possible. We listen and ask.
But if we truly care, we refuse to let anyone turn failure into political opportunity. Emotion must never be used as a means to power.
An open-eyed celebration of Canada requires gratitude for the good, humility for the bad, and thankfulness that failures were not worse.
We should continue to celebrate Canada, but without worshiping it – or denouncing it as evil.
Shawn Whatley is a physician and author of the new book When Politics Comes Before Patients—Why and How Canadian Medicare is Failing.
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