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.