State of belonging: no one can better explain the value and necessity of belonging than Canada's 26th Governer General Adrienne Clarkson.

Author:Barton, Teghan


IS IT EASIER for us to embrace "belonging" if we know who doesn't belong? Can we respect someone--let them belong--even if we don't particularly like them?

Enigmas such as these run through an interview with Adrienne Clarkson, but so does her optimism. Canada's former Governor General is passionate about her message that the state of belonging isn't a finite concept - we're not going to run out of it if we build a country where all of us feel we truly belong. And practicing inclusion is not about liking someone.

"Society isn't built upon people liking each other," Clarkson says. "It is built around the fact that everybody is a human being and deserves the same treatment and respect that you do. They have the right to live just as you do, and therefore life and society has to be organized around them just as it is around you."

At the time of last spring's interview, Clarkson was preparing for her lecture "Belonging: Diversity, Community Capacity and Contribution" at the University of Waterloo. Clarkson, a humanitarian, award-winning journalist, and scholar, has a deep understanding of her subject. For one thing, she knows what it is like to develop a sense of belonging as an immigrant - her family came to Canada from Hong Kong in 1942 when she was just three years old.

In fact, that's part of her recognition of the surface layer of belonging the numerous cultural touchstones, stereotypes if you will, that we think make us truly Canadian. These include Timbits, "beaver tails", hockey, wearing toques, apologizing for everything, good beer, and, of course, that we are an open, welcoming society. Clarkson believes these touchstones "play an integral role in how we feel about our role in our communities and our country."

They can be a foundation on which we connect. For new immigrants, embracing these cultural touchstones is part of a transition into a new social home.

But Clarkson is also intrigued that we frequently build our national identity by defining what we are not--specifically how we are not like the United States. This concept has so grafted itself onto who we are that we are unable to see the cultural forest for the trees. We seem to feel more secure in our own belonging when someone else does not belong--as if there are only a few spaces at the table and we want to ensure that we have one.

Clarkson speaks frequently of "the other" and "othering," a process that happens when we engage in behaviour that seeks to exclude. This...

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