Driving home from work a few weeks ago I caught part of Adrienne Clarkson’s CBC Massey Lecture on Belonging: The Paradox of Citizenship. I remember thoroughly enjoying Northrop Fry’s Massey Lectures The Educated Imagination, so I decided to find Clarkson’s book at the library and dig into some issues that I think are very relevant to every Canadian: belonging and citizenship.
In her chapter “The Cosmopolitan Ethic” Clarkson wrote something that actually made me want to throw the book at the wall. Good thing I remembered it was a library book and I angrily slammed the book down. In this chapter Clarkson writes, “I do not believe that human nature can be transformed or that human beings can be made better at heart. Human nature is what it is. But I do believe that conditions protecting human life and dignity can encourage and sustain people in doing the right thing” (92). I could not disagree more. I have to believe in the possibility of change. Rehabilitation. Making the right choice isn’t about the environment and supports around a person. Making the right choices comes from within. I do believe that it is possible for a human to be transformed.
Last summer I was able to help make some suggestions and edits for a book that Don Stoesz is writing. Stoesz is a prison chaplain at a federal prison and is writing a book called Is It Possible to Change? The Theology of Prison Ministry. Within the very first paragraph of his “Introduction,” Stoesz gives an example of how a good and supportive environment does not necessarily mean that people will make good choices because of that environment. Further into his “Introduction,” Stoesz explains his drive to continue with prison ministry: “The irony of my ministry is that even as I have become more conscious of the deeply seated ills of our society along with the depth of perniciousness on the part of individuals, the only reason that I continue to serve as a chaplain in prison is because of my belief that God grants the possibility of profound change” (pg. 4). In fact, part of Stoesz’s book focuses on the world of Harry Potter and looks at the juxtaposition of Harry and Tom Riddle. Both Tom and Harry had unsupportive home situations, yet one was able to make the right choices and one decided to make the wrong choices. Throughout the entire series, both characters are faced with situations that require decisions, and it is painful to see how Tom Riddle/Lord Voldemort resists and refuses change. I don’t think he is incapable of change, I think that he chooses not to change.
Despite my anger that Clarkson does not believe in the possibility of change and transformation, I picked the book back up and I continued to read. In her chapter “Ubuntu,” she able to apply an ethical value for the Bantu peoples (Ubuntu) and connect it to Canada and Canadians’ role in creating community, and therefore belonging. She writes, “Ubuntu implies seeing another human being as yourself and treating them as you would treat yourself, with love and respect. The Zulu proverb ‘Ummuntu ngumuntu ngabantu’ means ‘A person is a person because of other persons.’ This means that any failure to act in a human way is a failure of Ubuntu, and therefore someone who lacks Ubuntu is not really a human being. Each of us is a human being because of other human beings: we depend on each other for our well-being. It then follows that if we depend on others to be human, we are bonded with them. It is only through others that we gain our ability to attain our full humanity” (123). As much as we value our independence and, for me, my own individual space and time away from others, we do live to be in community with others. We need friendships. We need companionship. We need intimacy. We need to be needed and we need to fulfill others’ needs. As humans, we are so dependent on each other. In her novel The Waves, Virginia Woolf wrote a line that still echoes within me to this day: “It is strange that we, who are capable of so much suffering, should inflict so much suffering” (pg. 197).
At times, I felt that Clarkson hit on some important points and she definitely got me thinking. Yet, I did not enjoy reading this Massey Lecture series. At times, the link between the cultures she describes and then her link to Canada seemed forced and more like she wanted a place to deposit years worth of gleanings about citizenship, cultures, and community, which I suppose is the purpose of having her present on Belonging because it has been her life’s work. I felt like the connections weren’t being made and it was disjointed. Although, I suppose it made reading less of a passive exercise.
In her final chapter, I do like this line: “Paradoxically, in Canada, with our huge land mass and relatively small population, we have come together in order to act together” (171). So what is the paradox of citizenship? “It is that we are most fully human, most truly ourselves, most authentically individual, when we commit to the community” (pg. 183-84).
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28)