Monday, 9 November 2015

More siblings than cousins

As much as the last couple of months have been a professional sojourn, this time away has also been a personal pilgrimage of insight and discovery. I have always prided myself as a non judgmental, pretty open guy, but this time away has called me to see where some of my blindnesses are.

One of those spots is my smugness when it comes to our American "cousins". As I crossed the border into Detroit, I noted the immediate differences between Canada and the US. Most Canadians can rattle them off. But the longer I've been traveling South of the border the more I am struck that we are more siblings than cousins. This began to come into focus as I spent time in Minneapolis. In addition to spending time at Solomon's Porch, I experienced amazing coffee, biked around the " chain of lakes" and soaked up the liberal capital city vibe. The longer I stayed and chatted with people about life and politics and community issues, the more I was reminded of Edmonton. As I ventured on to Omaha and its prairie feel as well as its tense history with Indigenous people, its worth a visit zoo and cool "old market", I was reminded of Winnipeg. Denver in many ways felt like Calgary, especially with its cowboy meets corporate energy (as well as the fact that downtown was pretty dead on the Saturday).

I too often have closed myself from appreciating the US with a sense of superiority. Many of their gifts are ours, and their problems as well. Like them we are entrepreneurial, very individualistic and freedom loving. They are also community minded, generous and welcoming. Like them we struggle with racial tension, an increasing gap between wealthy and poor, and growing urban sprawl. We may solve our issues differently, but we're siblings, not clones.

This "aha" moment wasn't a complete turnaround. Like any insight, this one needed deeper integration. A couple of experiences made me ponder my biases more deeply, and come to an even deeper experience of siblinghood. While visiting Denver, Glen and I took in the Denver Art Gallery. There was a lot to see and with an afternoon appointment time was at a premium. As we went from floor to floor and considered skipping sections, I started to prioritize what I wanted to see. Contemporary? Yes. Indigenous? Yes. African? Yes. Asian?... I considered passing it by, but thankfully didn't. I would have missed serene Japanese glazeware, a stunning Tibetan sand painting and intricately carved bamboo sculptures. I may not have an immediate affinity with the various styles of Asian cultures, but I owe it to myself to be more open. As I came away, I was struck by the one great similarity - the human desire to create art, to appreciate beauty, to comment on experience through colour and pattern and form.

These same thoughts came to me as Glen and I left the Musical Instruments Museum in Phoenix. Again we were pressed for time and I  needed to set priorities. Once again I tilted toward European, North American and Indigenous displays. I gave insufficient time to Asia, Africa and the Middle East. Given my lack of knowledge, these were the regions I should have focused on. Did I learn nothing in Denver? Despite that lack, I again was struck by how alike we all are. Every culture uses wind and string and drum. Every culture uses voice and rhythm and dance to pray, to celebrate, to communicate. Every culture adapts and evolves musical forms through encounters with other groups. We are truly one human family.

I've always prided myself on being a true lover of humanity. I also need to confess my biases. I need to be more open to what I can learn from others. Only with greater awareness of our similarities, along with a greater understanding of our differences, will we be more than just cousins.

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