I SOMETIMES FIND driving in Britain stressful. This summer I dealt with not only the usual Yorkshire sheep, but once with a horse, galloping riderless, wide-eyed and frantic, the wrong way on a motorway.
But mostly I enjoy it, even when I am alone.
My two great joys are scenery and BBC 4.
BBC 4 is the radio talk channel, and even though there is some huffing and puffing from people claiming that someone is “dumbing it down,” I still find it more consistently informative and amusing than any radio here.
One Saturday morning I was listening to an interview program. The announcer said, introducing the creator of a new upmarket publication, “Our next guest is an interesting Canadian, if that isn’t too much of an oxymoron.”
Because my ancestry is predominantly English and because I am always very welcome in a large extended family of Peerses whenever I visit, I can easily be beguiled into thinking that in England I am in some sense “at home.” Well, that BBC announcer jolted me into the reality that I certainly was not at home; I was definitely in a foreign country.
Clearly, he subscribed to a widely held view around the world that Canadians are boring. Fine, but why would he say it on the air?
Why? Because he assumed that he was talking only to his own kind, that all Canadians were (as they should be) in Canada, and no Canadian would be listening. In that context he could safely speak about us (about me!) as simply a stereotype.
But I began to think about this phenomenon in other settings. Jokes that depend on national, ethnic or racial stereotypes are very common, even though lots of us have learned to be more sensitive than we used to be. A Newfoundlander may tell a Newfie joke but I would never do it, not just because I am afraid of retribution at their hands, but because I know so many Newfoundlanders and the stereotype is just silly.
In the ’60s and ’70s Polish jokes were a staple of humour, but in the ’80s Lech Walesa and Solidarnosc showed us a heroism of a type that inspired the 19th-century composer Chopin, but had been ignored since. And Polish jokes weren’t funny anymore.
My next reflection was personally embarrassing. I have certainly caricatured some English people more than once when I didn’t think any of them were around. Perhaps the announcer was paying me in my own coin.
We are often sensitive about visible minorities when we speak, but not about invisible minorities (and on radio all listeners are invisible) or minorities presumed to be absent.
When I daily pray “Your will be done,” I am asking first that it be done through me. I have always believed that in order to do God’s will, I must strive, however feebly, to see the world as God sees it. For God every creature, past, present and future, is real and visible in this eternal instant. Therefore, God can never be snide or condescending about any of us; yes, God knows all our shortcomings, but none of us is a stereotype with God.
And certainly not an oxymoron. Thanks be to God.
Archbishop Michael Peers is Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada.