Pardon those worn out by change - Keith Roulston editorial
The culture war that’s tearing the U.S. apart and causing friction here in Canada is mostly about change: those who see the need for it and those who resist changing.
Ironically, those who accuse others of not being sensitive to the needs of minorities are part of the problem because they are deaf to those who feel endangered by change. So when someone like Donald Trump comes along, people who feel ignored, like those in vast rural areas of the U.S., may follow him, even though he doesn’t really give a damn about them except as people who give him a power base.
Many things need to change, of course. The fallacy of the Make America Great Again (MAGA) movement is that the country people are nostalgic about what wasn’t that great. When was this idyllic time? When slavery still existed? When southern Black residents couldn’t use the same bathrooms as whites? When young men were forced to fight in a dubious, unwinnable war in Vietnam?
Reading the letters to the editor in The Citizen’s Sept. 30 issue about the inflammatory proposal to rename Blyth’s Gypsy Lane, I couldn’t help thinking that people on both sides could gain by really listening to the other side. On one hand, if the term gypsy is offensive to the Roma people, then the expense and inconvenience of changing the street’s name is a small price to pay for righting a wrong.
On the other hand, many of the most vocal opponents have spent a lifetime of being told, as members of the dominant white, European culture, that so many of their attitudes are wrong and they must change. They were told they must change to recognize the sense of insecurity among Canadians of French descent by making French an official language across Canada and giving special rights to Quebec to protect its culture. Most Canadians changed.
We were told we should change immigration laws to welcome people of all races and religious beliefs. Most Canadians accepted.
We were told homosexuality was natural, not a perversion. The laws were changed and most people accepted that. Marriage laws were then rewritten to allow same-sex couples to marry. Generally, Canadians approved.
Currently we are, rightly, being asked to re-examine our history of treatment of the Indigenous peoples of our country. The horrors endured by Indigenous children who were, for most of a century, forcibly separated from their parents and made to attend residential schools where they were often mistreated by officials who wanted to drive the “Indian” out of them, have spread guilt among most people who are paying attention. We know things must change, and quickly.
We face an existential crisis over climate change and are reminded daily we must change our habits or we will leave our grandchildren an uninhabitable planet.
As well as these, and many more, attitudinal changes, older Canadians have also had to adapt to a never ending progression of technological changes.
Thinking of all this I was reminded of the movie version of the great musical Fiddler on the Roof. At the beginning, the movie’s central figure, Tevye, a poor farmer who delivers milk to residents of the nearby Jewish village in the Ukraine in the early 1900s, explains the movie’s title. Life is like a fiddler on a roof, trying to scratch out a simple tune without falling off and breaking his neck. And what makes it all possible, he says, is tradition.
That said, Tevye’s belief in tradition is challenged for the rest of the story. The village matchmaker proposes a marriage of Tevye’s oldest daughter to the rich butcher, but she is in love with a young, poor tailor. She begs him to break with tradition and let her marry for love. He reluctantly agrees.
Next, his second daughter falls in love with a Marxist rebel and after he is arrested for taking part in a demonstration and is sent into exile, Tevye begrudgingly allows his daughter to travel, unmarried, to be with her beloved.
But when his third daughter falls in love with a Christian and asks her father to bless their marriage, it’s a step too far. Tevye forbids her to see the man again, even though she pleads that “things are changing”. When she gets married in a Christian church Tevye tells his wife that their daughter is dead to them. When the daughter comes to him, asking for understanding, he says he cannot abandon his faith. “If I bend that far I’ll break!”
Building a better society requires empathy: understanding of how the other person feels. Older people, must realize that despite how many changes they’ve made, more are required. Younger people, who haven’t lived through so much upheaval, need to realize how far we’ve come and have sympathy for people weary of constantly reforming themselves.