What’s the first thing that comes into your mind when you hear the word “Canadian”? I’m sure you can think of a lot of positive things to say: polite, respectful, compassionate, tolerant, multi-cultural. You probably can also think of negative things to say about Canadians: boring, socialist, prude, passive, safe, lacks national identity, says ‘eh’ way too many times, puts maple syrup on everything.
I like maple syrup. I like saying ‘eh’. I’m proud to be Canadian. I believe Canada is a land of opportunities. But, all too often, I take for granted the many great things that Canada has to offer. Nothing made me realize this more than when I attended my friend’s Canadian citizen oath ceremony this week.
Canadian citizenship oath ceremony
I had the honour of witnessing the Canadian citizenship oath ceremony of Roy, my Mandarin language tutor, Toastmaster colleague, intellectual associate and close friend. I wanted to support him because no one else could go with him, not even his wife. I came to Roy’s oath ceremony expecting to just take pictures and support a friend. But I came away from the experience with a profound feeling of gratitude and a refreshing, new perspective.
The Canadian citizenship oath ceremony is the very last step in the Canadian citizenship process. After passing the citizenship test and meeting other eligibility criteria, candidates are given an invitation to a citizenship oath ceremony. It’s a very structured ceremony held in a large and bright court room. At the centre of the front of the room, a judge sits behind a raised desk. But unlike of the dark courtroom images from John Grisham novels, the judge is very cheerful and inspirational as he gives a powerful monologue on what it means to be a Canadian. You can almost feel the hearts of everyone in the room lift up. Then the whole procession climaxes to everyone standing up and reciting the oath of citizenship. Finally, with everyone’s excitement building up, each candidate is called one by one to the front, where he or she shakes the hand of the judge. Then judge hands the candidate his or her Canadian citizenship card. At that moment, you’re now legally considered a Canadian.
The judge for Roy’s oath ceremony said something that really struck me. He said that there are over 120 people in that room taking their oaths that day with over 30 countries represented such as China, Uganda, Somalia, Afghanistan, Philippines, India, Saudi Arabia and other countries. The judge pointed out that all of them had different past experiences. Some of them even came from war torn countries where death, hunger and desparation were an everyday norm. He goes on to say, “few of us share the same past, but together we can share the same future.” He encouraged everyone to make a difference in the communities their part of, pursue excellence at all cost and never stop learning and getting better.
When he said those words, I realized that we are so extravagantly privileged and blessed. We have so many resources available to continually improve, innovate, invent, create, imagine and dream. The sky is the limit. We have the resources such as OSAP, bursaries and scholarships to pursue higher education. Even during the 2008 recession, our unemployment rate was relatively low compared to other countries. We also have all the necessary resources to build startups. We have the technology to launch a web business from the comfort of our living rooms. These are advantages that other countries might not have.
Taking it for granted
I’m not trying to be nationalistic. My point is that most of us are so focused on our daily problems that we miss out on the unfair advantage we have with living in such a blessed country. We fall into the trap of thinking that we can stop improving and innovating because we’ve already arrived in the land flowing with milk and honey. But, becoming a citizen of such a blessed country is not an invitation to become comfortable, but an invitation to grow. If you do that and become a lifetime learner, you will continually increase your influence over time and really make a difference.
If you want to make a difference, start with pursuing excellence for your life. John Maxwell once asked a group, “What’s the one thing you would change to improve your community or organization?” Usually people name things that can be found on this list of Ps: policies, processes, procedures or people. Seldom does anyone say, “ME!” Yet that seldom-heard response is the key to change.
Be a lifetime learner
Canada is a land of opportunities. Don’t take what we have here for granted by letting status quo drive your life. Whenever you start to feel comfortable and you’ve stopped growing, it’s time to move on, whether it’s looking for another job or upgrading our skill or education. You might even want to build a startup or a brand. But also expect the same thing from others. If you’re in the position, fire those people who have stopped trying to grow.
Continue to learn, adapt, pivot and then learn some more. As the poet Harvey Ullman once said, “anyone who stops learning is old, whether this happens at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps on learning not only remains young, but becomes constantly more valuable regardless of physical capacity.”