wed do well to recover old neighbourly ways

Here in the mountains of the BC Interior, time assumes a different quality. Where we live there’s a community of us spread along the north…

Here in the mountains of the BC Interior, time assumes a different quality.

Where we live there’s a community of us spread along the north shore of Paul Lake on a stretch of land that’s actually Kamloops Indian Band property.

We’re land lease folk and the majority of us are here because we crave a simpler life.

When we think of quality of life here, it’s measured in things like dust from the gravel road, the number of big motors on the lake, the ravages of the mountain pine beetle and the effect of the new carbon tax on our unavoidable jaunts to town.

It’s a hybrid consciousness of rural, small-town and national issues.

So when the Conference Board of Canada says that our country is struggling to keep up with 16 other advanced countries in quality of life, it’s befuddling.

The annual report card measures performance in economy, innovation, environment, education and skills, and health and society.

Here in the mountains where we compost, recycle, see little or no crime, burn wood and work to preserve the purity of our lake, the report sounds off.

Our economy ranks 11th and we languish in 15th place for our record on environmental issues. We’re 9th overall in health outcomes, 10th in societal indices and a puzzling 13th in innovation.

Clearly, the image of Canada is changing since the banner days of the 1970s when our economy was the envy of the world and we led the world in human rights protection.

But the report tells us that we’re doing poorly in our rates of child poverty, suicide and crime and that our performance in the realm of gender equality could use a lot of work.

We’re under-achieving in skills training and not producing PhDs in critical fields of science, math or engineering. Even though we lead the field in college-level completions, our rate of illiteracy is worse than a decade ago.

It’s puzzling. The loonie is strong. Our national debt is declining. We have a low unemployment rate, a booming resource economy and our per capita income is higher. But if the report reflects a classroom, we’re the gifted kid in the back row who can’t get his homework done.

In our mountain enclave where a short walk with the dog is often lengthened by neighbourly discourses on everything from the glut of frogs and goslings, the price of house renovations, to the recent boon of high-speed internet and satellite radio, the idea of Canada shimmers optimistically like sun on the water.

Maybe it’s because we tend to measure things with a different yardstick. Maybe it’s because our collective conscience is geared lower and our idea of the quality of life resides in a bucolic, pastoral, small-town frame of reference.

Cities chased most of us here. Speed, line-ups, isolation and the unpredictable nature of cosmopolitan living sent us packing. So when we think quality we tend to think simple.

  We changed things by degree. There isn’t a one of us who effected sweeping changes. Even the wealthiest of us settled for a gradual evolution.

Renovations got done when they could be afforded. Landscaping continues to move season by season. And we had to learn how to abandon the ‘gotta-do gotta-have gotta-be’ mindset in favour of a deck chair and watching sunsets that never repeat themselves.

  That’s the thing of it, really. No matter where you live it’s possible to change the quality of your life. Sure, we’re blessed by the hold of the mountains that surround us but even if we weren’t we could still alter our sense of the value of things. We all can.

A very wise friend of mine once told me that I “knew the price of everything but the value of nothing.” He was right. I was young and bent on getting my due and doing whatever I needed to do to ensure it.

I expended a lot of energy chasing after requisite dreams. Only when I learned to place value ahead of cost, did the quality of my life and my dreams change.

So no matter what the conference board report indicates, we’re in control of the quality of our lives. We always have been. It’s the way you change the nature of a country. It always has been. The trick is to change one life at a time.

Faced with an enormity of scope all things appear impossible — but when you focus on improving the lot of one life, your own or someone else’s, it’s do-able, achievable and possible.

  In days past we took care of each other. We looked after each other. We took the time to know each other and to lean over our back fences to talk to each other. We need to do more of that.

Richard Wagamese is Ojibway and the author of Keeper’n Me. He won the Canadian Author’s Award for Dream Wheels and his new novel, Ragged Company, arrives in August from Doubleday.