Francis Report: Life in a Global Context, is a monthly column dealing with globally significant, locally relevant topics by Millstone columnist Arnie Francis,
I am not like my father. In fact I’m nothing like my father. He was a frontiersman with a basic secondary schooling, yet as a young man he was teaching at a pre-eminent college on the sub-continent. He earned no pinky ring via engineering school, but built and maintained trestle rail bridges across stomach-churning ravines. He tolerated the religious biases of others, yet narrowly escaped death at the hands of zealots who misguidedly aligned his faith to a bygone colonial order. He refused the temptation of the "take" when it was de rigueur, and set a standard much higher than honour itself.
If I was able to escape the vicissitudes of a society ruled by martial law, it was because he saw to it. If I graduated with a North American university degree it was because he demanded it. If I fixed my sights on value rather than worth it was because he taught me that distinction. Still, unlike him, I somehow adopted a penchant for deserving more than I had, even though having it was more than I needed. If life can be seen as that irritating puzzle Hungarian sculptor and architecture professor Ern? Rubik inflicted on the 1970s, then my life’s ventures have a distinctly multi-coloured facet on all outfacing walls. But dad’s gift was his ability to stab a finger into my chest and remind me that faith and success emanated from within the core… but first you have to study hard and work diligently. In the end the prizes he earned through the bitter challenges of a harsh land came to me with ease, and the wealth his generation nurtured through terrible political strife seems to have sustained many subsequent generations without a second thought.
So what is it about entitlement and privilege that we of this Global Village are drawn to, that does not resonate in the matrix of social, moral and political responsibility?
When it comes to entitlement, maybe we have overstepped the mark about "Rights and Privileges". There is the story about a teacher in Nova Scotia discontinuing the singing of our National Anthem because one or two people objected to the reference to God, as in "God keep our land, glorious and free." There is the Calgary professor emeritus – a first-generation Canadian – who rejects the notion of hyphenated Canadians, contending you either are or you aren’t, because a split loyalty is no loyalty. And of course, there is that niggling contention that our ancestors (both native peoples and first settlers) unwittingly laid out a system of values that have come to form the basis for today’s adherence to a functional plurality where right and wrong are merely theoretical concepts: so that only serial killers like Russell Williams and Willy Picton make the short-list, but Presidentially approved targeted killings don’t; where our national government can obviate the worker’s right to strike but condone the privilege to profit from environmental harm; where the democratic might of a large majority of non-voters perpetuates the tyranny of the few.
Is the sky really falling? Can we not meet our individual responsibilities as household debt soars? Can we fail to achieve our international development responsibilities because we are no longer in a theatre of war? Will we be responsible for supporting the mood-swings of economic indicators as the true test of nationhood instead of the values-based country advocated by the Fathers of Confederation? My father was born, lived 94 years on several continents and died within the span of the Twentieth Century. Not surprisingly, then, seeing what he and his peers saw, he was not a particularly tolerant fellow. He had no kind words for stupidity, let alone the inherent duplicity in the euphemisms of political correctness. Lead, follow or bugger off, he liked to say. His vision of the world was formed on education and learning – and he never confused the two. It was implied that responsibility was what you did, because you had a place in your community. Entitlement was what others took to mark their place in your community.
Perhaps the sky is falling, but I have to say, the balance between privilege and responsibility has a fine standard bearer in Queen Elizabeth. I am not a monarchist, nor an abolitionist, but the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Celebration at this time is a reminder that despite the conflicts, chaos and confusion of decades of political and economic strife, Queen Elizabeth, has demonstrated a loyalty to her citizens across the Commonwealth that privilege alone could not have guaranteed, with a single-minded commitment to her responsibilities that even the Magna Carta could never have sanctioned.
Ultimately, I suppose, we are entitled to nothing but the dignity of the human spirit, as our God-given right. The rest is just a construct of our social experience, packaged in our political preferences and dictated down as communal responsibilities: lessons learned from Tiannamen, to Tahrir, from the Acropolis to St. James Park.
Whether entitlement and responsibility works in harmony for each of us is a matter of judgement. As Sonny (Dev Patel) stresses in the movie, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, "Don’t worry. It will be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, then it’s not yet the end.