Justin Trudeau wanders the country speaking in the accents of atonement, but doesn’t execute public gratitude with any comparable frequency
May 31, 2019
Our Prime Minister has shown a capacity, surpassing eagerness and tending towards habit, to provide an autopsy on all the sins of Canada perpetrated before his reign (which appears to be the definitional limit), and having unearthed and highlighted them, to make public apology on behalf of every other Canadian for the flaws, mischiefs, perceived crimes and follies of our ancestors.
Many commend him for this, even in the absence of a counter-effort to research the perhaps even greater good and more numerous acts of virtue that all the generations before his own entered into the national record, or gathered without record — the great mass of everyday decencies that lie outside written history. Combined, these did so much to forward the building what many of us, under no impulsion of mere chauvinism, believe is one of the finest countries in this 21st-century world.
Trudeau does not execute public gratitude in any comparable frequency, for all the great and good things accomplished by Canadians past. This is at least curious in the light of his marked inclination to wander the country speaking in the accents of atonement.
It is implicit in any act of apology for those faults and deeds not your own that the contrition is vicarious. It is a bystander’s regret. It is both theoretical and logical that all apologies, of either substance or effect, must come from the mouths of actual perpetrators. As a trivial example, if your loud sister slaps a neighbour’s child over the head, it will not appease the neighbour or comfort the child if some visitor from down the street, no way involved in the transaction, shows up at the wailing urchin’s door to apologize to the parents and child.
Vicarious apology is either sentimental or ersatz, a performance ritual at best, an approval-seeking gesture at its most mannered. The quality of such a performance is (not surprisingly) most elegantly stated by the greatest wit and poser of the 19th century, Oscar Wilde. Wilde, always clever, rarely sincere, said that that after listening to the music of Chopin, he felt “as if I had been weeping over sins that I had never committed, and mourning over tragedies that were not my own.” There it is; tears for sins the weeper has not committed. Vicarious contrition is a costume halo.
Whereas, acknowledging previous greatness, either of character, person or deed, whether of affection, valour or intelligence, has an entirely different quality. Here there is nothing vicarious and second-hand. Saluting past worth summons virtue as present example.
It partakes of tribute and it born of grateful humility.
It is a needful scaling of our present against the past, by which we acknowledge how much of our current achievements and comforts, all that we are in arts and sciences, indeed our mode of being in this country as it is today, are received benefits, the work of hands and heads other than our own, of all Canadians who were previous to our modern time. It is a way of saying that whatever is best in Canadian life, what most we love — and most Canadians and those to immigrate to Canada obviously love very much of it — is inheritance.
This idea can be found in the words of a troublesome but nonetheless a (fitfully) great poet, Ezra Pound:
What thou lovest well remains, the rest is dross
What thou lov’st well shall not be reft from thee
What thou lov’st well is thy true heritage
Whatever is good in the Canadian way, in the elusive but calm spaces of the Canadian temperament, is our “true heritage.” It has in part been fashioned by greet leaders, writers, statesmen, captains and inventors. In more unmeasurable ways it is the product of the workers, housewives, farmers neighbours, townsman and country woman, in the accumulated transactions of everyday citizens over the generations — the smiles, hands stretched in consolation, a family supper, a neighbour’s morning greeting — the fabric of all our diurnal social being, woven over the thousands of passing days we have been a country. Some we have seen being built; some emerged with osmotic, coral-reef gradualness from near-random effect. There is greatness in small things multiplied by time and left to find its own pattern. But whatever it is that is good in us follows Pound’s prescription: it is our true heritage.
Occasionally vesting ourselves in garments of sackcloth and ashes for various moments of apology has its merit. There is nothing adverse in reiterating that the country has failed over time in some of its tumults and torments. As is natural with every evolving society, some periods laboured under a darkness and ignorance that has thankfully been dissipated. But darkness and ignorance is not a full remission for faults and crimes past. But all was not dark; nor everyone ignorant — there was always a tendency towards the light. How else did we get here?
Under the cascade of things done wrong, may we not ask were there not things done well, were there not acts of decency, kindliness and exceptional charity? Were there not those opposed to the mores of the day, leaders who wished better than was done and whose ideas outlived the days of prejudice and misery? If there were not, where would we find the Canada of today? So let us celebrate the good and kind with the same tenor of zeal we seem to be apologizing for when, in accident or by design, we wandered or fell from our better ways.
It would be well, too, not to take too much of a sense of superiority for our “now” to their “then.” Had we lived under the same past spirit there is no easy conclusion that we would have acted differently than those we now so suffusingly deplore. We are, in many cases better simply because it is “now.” Our now will have its own sins, count on it.
There were always more good than the bad, more better than worse, otherwise … ask again, how did we get here? https://nationalpost.com/opinion/rex-murphy-a-pm-that-apologizes-for-our-past-sins-should-celebrate-our-good?utm_term=Autofeed&utm_medium=Social&utm_source=Facebook&fbclid=IwAR1b48EAgujrR4gymTP82RqwugmJ2eVZ_vEnWVNdibNRVEnhAH_ypSMY33w#Echobox=1559335654