Back in the old days (aka: the 1990s) there was a public meme that grew out of the evangelical Christian community. This meme manifested in a lot of paraphernalia that read “WWJD?” (What would Jesus do?). It was, theoretically, a reminder to folks who wore the wristbands, t-shirts, hats, sweatshirts, and what have you to act in a way that would demonstrate their love of Jesus and his beliefs. Human nature being what it is sometimes this reminder worked better than others. But that’s not the point of this essay.
The point of this essay is to try to embrace the idea that many memes you may not agree with entirely may still have something of value embedded in them, for what is American culture but a series of rapidly changing memes some of which stick (democracy, meritocracy (even though we don’t really have that)) and some of which don’t (slavery).
The “What would Jesus do?” meme carried embedded a couple of concepts key to American thinking: leading by example and hero worship. These are things Americans say we value. Unfortunately, these values and behaviors when not supported by other key concepts like equality, compassion, and patience tend to lead to the impatient, resentful, harried, fragmented, fractious culture currently on vivid display to the rest of the world.
I feel I should inject at this point that I’ve recently spent a week in Canada, Montreal and Toronto to be specific. Some things I took away from my time in Canada:
- Yes, Canadians really are that polite, even the native French speakers.
- Mostly plastic currency is never going to feel natural to someone who grew up handling currency that is made of cotton and linen.
- If you extrapolate from Montreal and Toronto, Canadians must take a lot of photographs (3 camera stores in Montreal and 6 in Toronto that I saw (that’s 8 more than we have in DC)).
One thing that I found interesting about being in public in Canada has to do with public politeness. Politeness requires one of two things to be in play: social opprobrium or social security. [Continue reading]