They were as impressive as they come. Technically called the “Governor General’s SW Ontario Study Group,” the 17-member team, accompanied by a military liason officer, visited the London Food Bank early Sunday morning as part of their exploration for the Governor General on the state of Canadian communities and what would be the challenges ahead. They spent two hours with Jane and me discussing pressing issues and assisted in the warehouse by sorting food.
They were an easy group to respect – keen, remarkably intelligent, diligent, and quite capable of thinking outside of the box. They were young and clearly able, but the task before them is imposing. The more I listened to them and answered their questions it seemed to me that they were on a journey of negative discovery – a concept we’ll explore more this week in these posts.
We live in an age where historic ideals cling to us. We also live in a time of remarkable technological innovation – most of which is undecipherable, leading us to assume a lot of things just because there’s way too much information out there. We have been trained to think of discovery as something that is found, and that is obviously something the Governor General’s group is bent upon doing – learning of the country, exploring its potential, breathing in its mysteries.
We often forget that some of the greatest discoveries in history were actually “un-discoveries,” if I can use that word. Columbus looked for India and happened upon something else entirely. We all know similar stories because they are plenteous – no Fountain of Youth; the sun doesn’t revolve around the earth; the globe isn’t flat; ours isn’t the only universe; different races are not inferior. We discovered such things because the great among us were explorers. They pushed the margins, sailed the seas, tempted the fates, challenged blind theological premise, and even confounded the experts of their day. And what they discovered in the end was not what people thought was actually real.
Our new young friends from all over the country that we met with at the food bank are finding that they are on something of a similar journey, and likely discovering that some things they believed aren’t as true as they presumed. They had hoped that today’s politics could renew itself and lead us into a more progressive future. They’ve seen enough already to discern the challenges before the nation, but they are discovering that our politics is ineffectual – unable to help because it is unwilling to change. They believe in a unified Canada but are picking up on the regional disparities. Hope was real that our elected representatives could actually do something about embedded poverty; now they are not so sure. They believed and trusted that Canadians really cared about our aboriginal populations but are now questioning why citizens permit a politics of denial and lack of action.
There is more, sad to say. They are in the process of “negative” discovery – finding out that those things that they hoped were true, maybe aren’t. In their search for a great Canadian nation they are also discovering its grim side.
They have been hearing from politicians that they are the future, and that they matter to politics. They are learning that this is the tripe that is given to them by office holders who would rather stereotype the young instead of unleashing them. Discovering that citizens themselves grow increasingly lethargic about their country hasn’t been an easy find for them. They believed that it was politics that was wrong, only to discover that it was also democracy and citizenship themselves showing signs of decline.
They would have received many great challenges from speakers better than I on this trip, but I would ask them to take, if anything, this one message back to Governor General David Johnston. We are in a time of decline, not greatness. The world is waiting for our compassionate and reasoned presence again. And it’s time to stop just going after the elites in this land pleading for change, but to challenge the citizenry to rescue our birthright before we sell it for anything ranging from oil, our lack of focus, or our partisanship. Encourage him to come among the citizenry and stir us up, reminding us that democracy ultimately depends on the citizen, not the representatives.
These tremendously committed young men and women will likely be feeling what Edna Millay expressed years ago:Upon this gifted age, in its dark hour, Falls from the sky a meteoric shower Of facts … they lie unquestioned, uncombined. Wisdom enough to leech us all of our ill Is daily spun; but there exists no loom To weave it into fabric …
So many opinions out there. People way too sure of themselves. So much data – far too much for us to assimilate. All of this assaults us in an endless stream of social media, political propaganda, entertainment media, and corporate advertising. We feel we have lost our centre – that place that held us together despite our differences.
But there is hope. Some of it arrived at the food bank yesterday morning in a bus. They are the Governor General’s emissaries and they are on a journey of negative discovery. They’re neither lethargic nor ideological, but committed and frank. By pressing the envelope they’ll help us find our future as a nation of purpose once again. And I would ask the Governor General to listen to what they are unlearning, for in that understanding we will discover the new truths of tomorrow.