Creativity is one of the 8 pillar competencies I spend a great deal of time explaining, validating, justifying, and more or less cheerleading in my book “The Daily Undoing: Being Better at Being Human”. It makes the list of 8 because, quite honestly, I fear for our future without it. To be clear when I talk about creativity as a competency, I am not talking about fine arts, performing arts, or any other art, for that matter…unless, you view innovations, which benefit humankind as artistic , then we’re on the same page. I view creativity in the context of design thinking – which is all about creating solutions to new problems, or new solutions to old problems.
There’s another point of clarification worth making here. Neither creativity nor innovation need be tangible things in order to be of value. And that concept, value, is really the gauge of creativity. Is value created? Is it useful? Does it enhance and improve from the status quo? So creativity needn’t result in a new gadget. It could be a new process, or harder still…a new way of thinking. New ideas, mindsets and attitudes.
My book, for instance is a tangible product, no different in format than millions which have preceded it. However, the mindset I am attempting to instill with it – a daily focus on improving the aforementioned 8 pillar competencies – could be considered innovative. I am not being boastful when I say this, I merely stating it as an objective application of the meaning of innovation, which Merriam-Websters defines as:
1: a new idea, method, or device 2: the introduction of something new (Merriam-Webster, 2021)
When you widen the scope of what creativity is, you begin to appreciate its value, and its applicability all around us. You also unlock the potential to be creative inside of each of us. Not all creativity is tangiblized, nor does it need a patent. When YOU introduce a new idea, a new way of doing or thinking that has potential to push the human race forward, you are being creative. Implementing that creativity into some sort of use is then the innovation. My innovation is a guide to ritualizing the 8 pillar competencies; forcing awareness of them, so that you become more mindful of their power and potential. I felt delight (and some degree of vindication) when my intent was corroborated recently by a purchaser of my book who sent me the following in an email:
“I bought your book and have started working through it. I like the bite sized pieces that I can work into my daily life. It seems that so much is a change in mindset. That foundational change spreads its tendrils into all that I think about and do.” (Stewart, June)
However, I am not here today to validate my own sense of creativity, but rather to validate yours, and free you from the notion that you must actually produce a physical something in order to be creative or innovative. And I’m going to challenge you not only to come up with a new way to do an old thing, but in doing so, you will have to engage your curiosity, critical thinking, problem-solving, citizenship and character competencies as well. Ready? Let’s begin…
The exercise I’m asking you to indulge me in is “Re-thinking Sovereignty Celebrations”.
Today is Canada Day in my homeland, while our neighbors to the south will be celebrating Independence Day (aka “4th of July) three days hence. Both are celebrations of nationhood, and all of the goodness and goodwill produced by and within our respective nations. Every nation has its own “day” and rightfully so, just as every person has their own celebration commemorating their birthdate.
But my country, Canada, finds itself in a significant moral quagmire on this particular anniversary of its sovereignty, and has found its way into unwanted international media attention recently because of it. This country has some past due moral debts on which to contemplate, which fly in the face of of the national brand we've collectively built, and indeed the very words to our national anthem, “O Canada”. (ie: “Glorious and free”). I am not going to pretend to be an expert in Canadian history, and will concede considerably less knowledge about the jaded past of the United States of America. But I think it is probably safe to say that all nations bear battle scars of conscience and stains of moral compromise.
I have committed several of the last two months worth of posts to the discussion of violations of human rights on both sides of the 49th parallel. Additionally, I have attempted to be active and openly self-reflective on social media about my own personal inquisition regarding the plight of Canada’s First Nations Peoples, and my role in this national cover-up. In my own brand management consulting practice I have even advised clients to tread carefully and sensitively around promoting Canada Day this year after the discovery of 215 children’s bodies in an unmarked grave at the Kamloops Residential School. The intensity of that conversation, as expected, is ratcheting up with each ensuing heart-breaking discovery of burial grounds near former residential schools across Canada.
From that moment, May 28, that those lost souls were discovered in Kamloops, there were calls to “Cancel Canada Day”, an approach to problems that has become prevalent in modern times. That is, when complex problems present themselves, we ‘de-complexify’ them and turn them all into “right-wrong” or “yes-no” solutions. Of course, half of us gather on one side, and half on the other, and we begin hurling spears at one another. Today, I’m proposing a truce. A dropping of spears, sheathing of swords, and zipping of lips. And to just think critically and creatively, considering what options there are between cancelling Canada Day, and keeping Canada Day.
I’ll start, then with the truest most sincere form of curiosity, I invite you to share your ideas.
Let me begin with a personal spin on Canada Day. It also happens to be my birthday. While I don’t feel having my birthday today makes me closer to my country biologically or otherwise that any other Canadian, I do feel a certain unique kinship I with my country. That said, I do not uniquely possess any secret powers to sift through this very complicated problem of reconciling Canada’s dark past with its current reputation as a peacemaker, and one of the most coveted countries in which to live. We all have the abilities, or shall I say, competencies to at least think through the layers of this conundrum. The question is, do we want to?
From my perspective, born on the first of July or not, I AM so proud to be a Canadian. However, honestly I feel less proud this year. Clearly the crimes committed against the Indigenous populations of this country by the colonists who arrived here hundreds of years ago, cannot be pinned upon any Canadians other than those living at the time, who had direct purview over the actions and decisions leading to myriad horrifying outcomes – including residential schools. Having said that, I, myself cannot help but feel some sense of accountability.
In my recent crash course to learn more about Canada’s residential school program, which has included speaking with Indigenous people, I have worn my heart on my sleeve and apologized for my ignorance around this issue. In one recent meeting, my eyes welled up in tears as I bared my soul, only to have a sympathetic First Nations person on the other side of the virtual meeting tell me I have nothing to apologize for. I disagreed. “I’m not letting you let me off the hook”, I told him.
My ignorance represents a wide and systemic “look the other way” mentality of non-Indigenous Canadians toward the plight of our First Nations peoples. It’s time to stop looking the other way. I feel our collective rethinking of Canada Day this year and forever going forward isn’t merely a virtue, but an obligation, and one small opportunity for redemption. Redemption by reflection.
While it’s too late to formally initiate a Parliamentary dialogue this year as to where/how/what to make of our country’s celebration of its nationhood, organic conversations are happening informally across the country. Which is good. This is where all ideas worth growing come from. Open, unthreatened, unjudged, conversations in households, townhalls and other gathering places.
This Canada Day, we Canadians should think of a Canada which we can fully embrace. For many, that Canada exists right now, and has since its christening of independence 154 years ago. For others, it is impossible to feel a true sense of national pride as long as we knowingly blunt the lasting impact of colonization. As Crystal Gail Fraser, assistant professor in the Department of History & Classics and the Faculty of Native Studies at the University of Alberta, asserts, we need to recognize the role residential schools played in the formation of Canada. "If children weren't institutionalized and killed at residential schools, would the lands that your family purchased actually be available? Or would an Indigenous family still be occupying that land?" she asked with as sharp a sting of sarcasm as rhetoric, in a CBC interview. (Vermes, 2021) Looking in the mirror can sometimes be very, very hard.
Back to rethinking Canada Day. Mine is neither a position of cancelling nor maintaining a status quo Canada Day. In conjuring my creativity – my summoning of new ideas to improve old ways of doing things – I’m contemplating what Canada Day should celebrate. Familiar words surface such as fair, just, neutral, kind, and compassionate are well earned based upon our recent past. But now, especially now, we should also be aware of much less flattering descriptions, emanating from our distant past. Racism, discrimination, segregation, assimilation, oppression, confinement, superiority, and on and on.
If we are a nation that is fair, just, kind and compassionate, we must square that current persona with our dark past. We must role model humility. The Truth and Reconciliation Act was a start. Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s 2010 apology on behalf of the Government of Canada was not insignificant. The now regular conciliatory statements from current Prime Minister Justin Trudeau are authentic (one would hope) but predictable. But these are all symbolic. What is the role of all of us citizens can do to collectively show not only remorse and compassion, but action.
I’m suggesting a personally instituted mindset of reflection on this day. In a similar way that we remember fallen soldiers on Remembrance Day, we should pause on this day and reflect not solely on the failing of our founding fathers, but mostly on the healing way forward. An audacious vision for something like this would be an entire rebranding of “Canada Day” to something more poignant like “Canada Healing Day”. Better still would be something similar translated into a First Nations language.
Canada Day should be a day of celebration for all of our current good, but not while blindly and conveniently ignoring our failures. At the same time, it should not be a day of wallowing in regret of actions we cannot undo. Canada Day should be a day to reflect. A day to educate. A day to read and absorb and celebrate the Indigenous fabric of this country’s true beginning. And, while we’re at it, a day to see the overlap of all races – all human beings. Such a day would be healing. Don’t you think?
In her remarkably beautiful and timely book, “Braiding Sweetgrass”, Robin Wall Kimmerer begins with the ancient Indigenous story, “Skywoman Falling”. I won’t transcribe it here, but encourage you to Google and read it. Robin’s interpretation of the myth is as brilliant as it is beautiful. She doesn’t merely call the myth a story. She refers to it as instructional – a way forward for the human race.
“It was through her actions of reciprocity, the give and take with the land, that the original immigrant became Indigenous. For all of us, becoming Indigenous to a place means living as if your children’s future mattered, to take care of the land as if our lives, both material and spiritual, depended on it.” (Kimmerer, 2013)
I don’t think Ms. Kimmerer is talking only about the environment. She’s talking about reciprocity between people too. Her exquisite vision is where we all become Indigenous. We all become the same.
It was only 9 days ago that we celebrated National Indigenous People’s Day. We’ve had two more significant burial discoveries between then, and today – Canada Day. There are a lot of loose ends to consider. Maybe braiding them together is the path forward.