Popoff is a political columnist based in Osoyoos, B.C.
Many books attempt to define what being Doukhobor and being Canadian means. None comes close to capturing the simple message my grandfather gave me.
Popular wisdom is that Doukhobors don’t drink alcohol; we’re strict vegetarians and ardent pacifists. Few of my fellow Doukhobors follow these tenets but those who do seem eager to remind “lesser” Doukhobors like me of our shortcomings.
Fortunately, these tenets do not begin to describe what being a Doukhobor is really about.
Popular wisdom is that Canadians aren’t anything like Americans, often to the point of being anti-American.
Coincidentally, this can lead to vegetarianism and a sort of pacifism we practise in the global arena called peacekeeping. Fortunately, none of this is what being Canadian is really about either.
I’ll admit I once shared in this thinking. What could be worse, I was taught growing up, than American fast-food chains all around the world? How dare those Americans export democracy and free enterprise to the rest of us?
And free trade with Americans? Unthinkable! Why, we might lose our Canadian identity, which, you’ll recall, is whatever Americans are not.
Can’t have that now, can we?
My thinking was conceived and incubated in my home province of Saskatchewan, the province of Tommy Douglas and the socialist quest for a “New Jerusalem,” and also the province with the largest population of Doukhobors.
But then there was the message my grandfather passed along. He taught me that the spirit of God is in each of us. And, if you look upon each person you meet as an opportunity to literally encounter another manifestation of God, you’ll invariably find the good in that person.
Always face them, look them in the eye and shake their hand warmly; that’s how it starts.
You’ll get to know them as a person soon enough, but to start with, just accept for a moment that you’re actually meeting God. There are to be no exceptions, none, not ever, no matter who you think you’re meeting.
Then give this new person the benefit of the doubt, engage them and listen. Let them know how you feel, naturally, but listen carefully to how they feel and you’ll learn. I know I did.
After graduating from university and working for a while on the farm, I travelled to the United States to take organic inspector training. I met many Americans, some just as anti-American as some of the Doukhobors and Canadians I had grown up with, but also many who were proudly American.
I met Democrats, Republicans, libertarians, hippies who didn’t vote and independents who wished they could mount a serious campaign for the White House.
Meeting all of them with my grandfather’s message in mind awakened in me how I could pursue becoming a better Canadian and Doukhobor.
Some Canadians, like some Doukhobors, think they’re already good enough merely because they’re not that which they abhor, even though they don’t fully understand what it is they abhor about our neighbours.
They cast aspersions (remember the Liberal MP who crushed the George Bush doll and called the president a moron?) and, let’s face it, no one’s that good.
After training in the U.S., I got the opportunity to work down south. I met a lot of American farmers and learned they’re just as honest and hard working as any Canadian farmer. I asked them why they thought the rest of the world despised them.
“Maybe because we dare to get involved?” a few suggested. “Maybe because we’re successful?”
One answered stoically by saying, “tough times don’t last, but tough people do.”
Whatever is at the root of anti-Americanism, we should reflect upon and question its validity. For better or for worse, Americans just elected a new president who promises to take the world’s superpower in a whole new direction, a sign of a well-functioning democracy. We should respect that, even those among us who disagree vehemently with the course our neighbours have taken.
The spirit of God is as much in the heart of George Bush as it is in Barack Obama. I’m sure they both wish for nothing but the best for each other’s families. Surely we can all find it in our hearts to do the same.
As a Canadian and a Doukhobor I’ll drink a toast to that.
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