My recent embrace of sports has reaped unexpectedly profound consequences. While “lessons learned from lifting” and “a runner’s guide to life” are Sanjida-penned pieces which have yet to hit the Fulcrum’s newsstands, it is not from a lack of aha-moments decorating my newfound enthusiasm for athletics.
Among the series of eurekas I’ve experienced is a lesson in the power of perception, taught to me by none other than the Anaheim Ducks. What can’t Trevor Zegras do?
It was just the other week, as a Ducks game had consumed yet another of my evenings, that I had this epiphany. As the score became increasingly unfavourable, parallelly, I grew frustrated. To my equally agitated couch-mate, I complained that it seemed as though the Ducks were playing sloppily — likely in more colourful words. She pointed out that, while that may be true, I noticed their weaknesses only because I’m looking for them. Undoubtedly, on another couch, not unlike my own, was a Flames fan who had a markedly different perception of the game.
As the Flames obliterated the Californian team’s defence time and time again, I scrutinized John Gibson and Anthony Stolarz because I was watching Anaheim so closely. However, if you’d have been rooting for the Calgary team, you likely would’ve been too occupied reveling in the strengths of Rasmus Andersson and Johnny Gaudreau alike. Alternatively, you may have had a slew of critiques of your own for the Canadian hockey team, watching them with palpably mirrored scrutiny.
At the end of the night, when the Ducks met the demise I’d feared, I called it a bad game — simply because it was bad for the team I was cheering for. Yet, if you were cheering for the Flames that night, you might have called it a good game — great, even. This simple hockey match, though a seemingly trivial example, is emblematic of an important lesson: what one values has a profoundly dangerous capacity to warp their experiences and perceptions.
Values, too, can drastically alter narratives, including in the case of historical recounts. In a recent tweet, NDP federal leader Jagmeet Singh memorialized 35 years since the passing of Tommy Douglas, “the father of universal healthcare in Canada,” and applauded his “legacy and vision with universal pharmacare.”
As Leader of the Saskatchewan Co-operative Commonwealth Federation and then the seventh Premier of Saskatchewan, Douglas did, in fact, champion Canada’s first publicly funded healthcare system. However, his public advocacy for eugenics taints his esteemed reputation as the father of medicare, despite many Canadians’ willingness to gloss over this unsightly blemish in Douglas’ career.
McGill University Professor Dr. Michael Shevel, in an academic paper published in 2012, echoed this collective turning of a blind eye and suggests that Canadians experience “collective national amnesia.” Douglas’ public support for eugenics is reflected in a number of his writings, including his 1933 sociology Master’s thesis. In this text, he supported eugenic-oriented solutions, including segregation and sterilization, to mitigate societal issues like poverty, which were regarded as “endemic and biologically determined problems.”
So, did Douglas pave the way for universalized health care? Yes. Did he write of his support for eugenics? Yes. Even so, in 2020, when speculation circulated regarding who should be commemorated on the $5 bill, there was an online movement for Douglas to be featured. Like Singh, many recognize the father of medicare as a Canadian legacy, irrespective of his contradictory ideology.
Some are willing to dismiss his eugenics ideology, arguing that it was not a unique take for the times. It’s this same willful blindness in historiography that lauds the Alberta Famous Five as patrons of women’s rights, despite their efforts to deliberately circumvent intersectionality.
It was the 1920s when white women celebrated personhood and, therein, the simultaneous right to vote. However, racialized and marginalized groups were without such civil liberties until the 60s — a perfect image of how trickle-down movements benefit the marginalized last. Moreover, of the celebrated five Albertan suffragettes are a number of public eugenics advocates.
Nevertheless, if you stroll down Rideau street, you’ll find yourself with statues in their honour, just a stone’s throw away from Parliament. Why are these women recurring motifs in commemorations of the women’s liberation movement, meanwhile the Indigenous leaders are without such celebration? Yet, it is Indigenous suffrage that ensured all Canadians could vote. Be that as it may, statues of blemished national ‘heroes’ remain erected, emblematic of how individuals are willing to rinse blame from muddied personal histories so as to leave their legacies pristine.
In this regard, the debate surrounding Tommy Douglas and the Famous Five is a testament to the way in which one’s values skew their perceptions. What are you willing to tolerate? What narrative are you willing to digest; to later perpetuate? How willing are you to fragment yourself from the popular, comforting, and blissfully ignorant notion that Canadian history is untainted?
Maybe you never knew of Douglas’ involvement with eugenics. Met with tweets like Singh’s and proposals to place this former Saskatchewan premier on Canadian currency, the majority are fed a narrative of unblemished Canadian history. When you grow up hearing that Canada is the land of the free — characterized by kindness, maple syrup, and saying ‘sorry’ comedically often — why would you ever think any different?
Therein, the mass media has an integral role in perpetuating a narrative — a duty often neglected. The old adage goes, “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never break me.” Old as it may be, I never liked this idiom; words have a profound aptitude to carry an insurmountable weight. As a writer myself, I can attest to their paramount role in storytelling.
“Military ‘simply doesn’t get it’ when it comes to sexual misconduct, PM says,” is a real CBC News headline. The article critiqued Maj.-Gen. Peter Dawe appointment into a role reviewing sexual misconduct files despite his public support of a sex offender by way of providing them with a positive character review.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s full quote is: “the military still doesn’t get that survivors need to be at the centre.” When, in the headlines, this is abbreviated to say that the “military ‘simply doesn’t get it’ when it comes to sexual misconduct,” culpability is thrown out the window. Headlines that dilute critical issues are, thus, part of the problem in attenuating narratives.
How we remember conflict is, too, telling of biases in storytelling. The historiographical issue of the 1967 war between Israel and Palestine is indicative of the heft that words possess. While Palestinians refer to the 67 war as the Nakbah, meaning catastrophe, Israelis refer to it as their war of independence. Upwards of a century of disputes surrounding border and land rights, thus, are reflected in labels alone — of course, without a massive realm of nuance. Such is the profound way in which words are catalysts in the formation of collective memories and historiography.
The present violent Russian occupation of Ukraine, too, is tragically demonstrative of this notion. You’ll notice that I evaded simply referring to the Russian-Ukrainian war as a mere ‘crisis in Ukraine’ or ‘Ukrainian conflict,’ as many haphazardly prefer to refer to it. Such passivity in language, in my opinion, is cowardice. To leave Russia’s name out in addressing this invasion is to shield oneself from the callous reality that characterizes these attacks on Ukraine and to purge accountability for comfort’s sake.
In the end, it turns out that hockey games are apparently allegorical for the importance of historiography. Biases line every story and perspectives paint every encounter — though, I could have told you that this after a night out with friends, as we routinely leave with completely different perceptions of the people we confronted.
With an unprecedented abundance of information at our fingertips and an inability of all to check our biases at the door, our phones are akin to a house of mirrors. Warped perceptions linger around every nook and cranny and, as such, it is imperative that we are critical consumers of information — scroll responsibly.