Patriotism is not always the same as love of place

Dear Uma: Our lengthy telephone conversation last week was one of those events that baffles Pete, especially since several minutes of long-distance time were spent listening to your grandson coo and gurgle.

Dear Uma:

Our lengthy telephone conversation last week was one of those events that baffles Pete, especially since several minutes of long-distance time were spent listening to your grandson coo and gurgle.

A lot of Pete’s bafflement is due to his knowing that I am no great lover of babies. I tried to explain to him that my indifference does not cover all babies, only the ones I don’t know. Considering in the years we have been together there has not been a baby we knew, I understood his query. In return, I asked him why he, who claims to adore all infants, was not interested in listening to Ry’s vocalizations. This led to one of our intense discussions on what constitutes communication, which led to us going out for lunch, at separate restaurants.

When I came home my self-assigned post-prandial task was to answer the question you posed at the end of the telephone talk: how it felt to be a Canadian during the Olympics.

My answer, or rather my lack of one, surprised me as much as it puzzled you. When I responded by telling you I didn’t know. I wasn’t being evasive; it was something I had not thought of, though I can assure you I have certainly thought of it since.

I didn’t make a special effort to watch the Olympics but was made aware of the successes of the Canadian athletes every night and again in the morning by virtue of the fact that each triumph was reported on TV, the radio, and the internet. It would be difficult to avoid knowing how Canada was doing. I am not saying I resented the media’s preoccupation with what is undoubtedly a historic event; I read, I listened, I felt glad for the winners. The wholesome happy faces of the crowds that filled the television screen each night could not be anything but pleasant to see.

It was nice to know my adopted country was doing well, of course; many of the clips were interesting and some quite moving.

If I were asked to describe myself, I would not say I was sports-minded, nor would I say I was Canadian. That is not to say I loathe sports any more than I loathe being Canadian. I am not athletic, nor am I patriotic.

Becoming a Canadian when I married Pete was a decision based on his desire for me to do so, coupled with the obvious practicality of having citizenship in the country in which I live. It was not a move that caused any soul-searching; although born in the US, I hadn’t spent a lot of time there once I became an adult. Being American wasn’t something I spent a lot of time thinking about unless I was faced with a situation where it mattered, where things were made easier by being American or where my citizenship was a liability.

Having lived in Canada as a citizen for a few years now I think I would choose this country over the country of my birth. Not because of patriotism, but because in my opinion, it is simply a nicer country to live in, with the part I live in being the nicest of all.

It has been brought to my attention by friends Outside that I have developed strong feelings about the North, though whether those feelings could be translated as patriotism is doubtful. The land, this wilderness, has involved my heart. I feel at home here in some primeval way that has nothing to do with intellect. It is a purely emotional sense of belonging, of being a part of something that is not related to the invented idea of countries and borders. The North would have claimed me no matter what name it had been given.

The people of the North, the politics of the North, are the same as anywhere else; it is the very land itself that I have come to love.

Yeah, I got a tear in my eye watching some of the news clips of the Olympics, the crowds, the players, were showing their hearts. Open and honest displays of emotion will always reach us, whether it be an individual or a crowd.

This joy was contagious. I was getting it even through the medium of a television screen. As I was wiping the moisture from my eyes and marveling at the power of the feelings I was witnessing, I realized I was very glad I was doing this witnessing from my home rather than being bodily present at the event. Why? I wondered, did I not want to be there, in Vancouver, part of this frenzy of happiness and pride?

I think it was the word contagious, which also means infected, catching and communicable – words that when associated with huge amounts of people cause alarm.

Crowds, however elated, make me nervous. There is something about an enormous mass of people sharing a common feeling that always gives me a touch of the heebie jeebies. It could all too quickly change, becoming an enormous mass of people who are angry and then the fun is over. When the fire hoses and the batons and the Tasers are put away there are people (sometimes in jail) who claim they had no idea of how or why they behaved the way they did – they were simply infected by the mood of the mob.

Mass hysteria, or mass psychogenic illness, is well known and incidents illustrating this affliction have been well-documented throughout human history.

The melas in India, for example, feature thousands and thousands of people in the throes of religious fervour. At each one, people die when they are trampled by the crowds.

For an example that does not involve either religion or patriotism, there is the Tanganyika Laughter Epidemic, begun innocently enough by schoolgirls giggling over a joke and eventually spread, resulting in illness and violence.

For me it seems there is an association between patriotism and crowds that go bad that is likely the root of my lack of strong feelings of country.

Guy de Maupassant summed it up with this quotation:

“Patriotism is a kind of religion; it is the egg from which wars are hatched.”



Heather Bennett is a writer who

lives in Watson Lake.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Yukonomist Keith Halliday
Yukonomist: Are they coming?

One of COVID-19’s big economic questions is whether it will prompt a… Continue reading

Yukon MP Larry Bagnell, along with Yukon health and education delegates, announce a new medical research initiative via a Zoom conference on Jan. 21. (Screen shot)
New medical research unit at Yukon University launched

The SPOR SUPPORT Unit will implement patient-first research practices

Yukon First Nation Education Directorate members Bill Bennett, community engagement coordinator and Mobile Therapeutic Unit team lead, left, and Katherine Alexander, director of policy and analytics, speak to the News about the Mobile Therapeutic Unit that will provide education and health support to students in the communities. (
Mobile Therapeutic Unit will bring education, health support to Indigenous rural students

The mobile unit will begin travelling to communities in the coming weeks

Premier Sandy Silver, left, and Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley, speak during a live stream in Whitehorse on January 20, about the new swish and gargle COVID-19 tests. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Swish and spit COVID-19 test now available in Yukon

Vaccination efforts continue in Whitehorse and smaller communities in the territory

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police detachment in Faro photgraphed in 2016. Faro will receive a new RCMP detachment in 2022, replacing the decades-old building currently accommodating officers. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
Faro RCMP tagged for new detachment

Faro will receive a new RCMP detachment in 2022, replacing the decades-old… Continue reading

In a Jan. 18 announcement, the Yukon government said the shingles vaccine is now being publicly funded for Yukoners between age 65 and 70, while the HPV vaccine program has been expanded to all Yukoners up to and including age 26. (
Changes made to shingles, HPV vaccine programs

Pharmacists in the Yukon can now provide the shingles vaccine and the… Continue reading

Parking attendant Const. Ouellet puts a parking ticket on the windshield of a vehicle in downtown Whitehorse on Dec. 6, 2018. The City of Whitehorse is hoping to write of nearly $300,000 in outstanding fees, bylaw fines and court fees, $20,225 of which is attributed to parking fines issued to non-Yukon license plates. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
City of Whitehorse could write off nearly $300,000

The City of Whitehorse could write off $294,345 in outstanding fees, bylaw… Continue reading

Grants available to address gender-based violence

Organizations could receive up to $200,000

In this illustration, artist-journalist Charles Fripp reveals the human side of tragedy on the Stikine trail to the Klondike in 1898. A man chases his partner around the tent with an axe, while a third man follows, attempting to intervene. (The Daily Graphic/July 27, 1898)
History Hunter: Charles Fripp — gold rush artist

The Alaskan coastal town of Wrangell was ill-equipped for the tide of… Continue reading

A man walks passed the polling place sign at city hall in Whitehorse on Oct. 18, 2018. While Whitehorse Mayor Dan Curtis is now setting his sights on the upcoming territorial election, other members of council are still pondering their election plans for the coming year. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Councillors undecided on election plans

Municipal vote set for Oct. 21

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
City hall, briefly

A look at decicions made by Whitehorse city council this week.

A file photo of grizzly bear along the highway outside Dawson City. Yukon conservation officers euthanized a grizzly bear Jan. 15 that was originally sighted near Braeburn. (Alistair Maitland/Yukon News file)
Male grizzly euthanized near Braeburn

Yukon conservation officers have euthanized a grizzly bear that was originally sighted… Continue reading

Most Read