October 22, 2020

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Firing Cherry a missed opportunity

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 14/11/2019 (343 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.


I found Don Cherry’s poppy rant simple-minded and small-hearted, but firing him was a missed opportunity.

His abrupt termination will stoke anger among the millions who love him and fuel self-righteousness among the millions who love to hate him. The firing doubles down on divisiveness.

Dismissing, cancelling and calling out the Don Cherrys of our world sends two messages: one of tolerance and inclusion; the other of intolerance and exclusion.

Has Cherry Nation suddenly been won over? I believe unreservedly in diversity, inclusion, tolerance and generous immigration policy.

The extent to which these so-called progressive values have taken hold in Canadian society over the past decade is remarkable. But I worry that the sometimes condescending attitude of those pushing change has undermined true transformation and goaded backlash.

Change is complicated. In Morden, where I live, the high school team name was changed to Thunder from Mohawks in 2005. Activist groups launched court action calling for change. Most students were opposed. School trustees voted 3-2 in favour of change.

A prominent former teacher told me that the name changed but attitudes did not. Acrimony lingered. Is that a move toward a healthier society? Sort of.

Will firing Don Cherry change society for the better? His supporters have not somehow been vanquished. They have not disappeared.

We’re all in this country together and we need to find healthy ways to work with difference. Cherry is free to feel that newcomers should wear poppies. Others are free to say he should have found a better way of saying that. This freedom is part of the reason people move to Canada.

Heaping judgment on those we see as wrong is not the only available response.

During the 2017 World Series, Yuli Gurriel of the Houston Astros made a slanted eyes gesture toward Yu Darvish of the LA Dodgers, after hitting a home run off the Iranian-Japanese pitcher. The cameras caught it and the internet did what the internet does.

Darvish, unpredictably, said the following:

"What he had done today isn’t right, but I believe we should put our effort into learning rather than to accuse him. If we can take something from this, that is a giant step for mankind. Since we are living in such a wonderful world, let’s stay positive and move forward instead of focusing on anger. I’m counting on everyone’s big love."

Few are those who can rise above anger, judgment and intolerance.

Somewhat similarly, several years ago an Indigenous leader publicly called for the firing of someone who had made belligerent comments online. I happened to have lunch with one of that leader’s uncles while the story was in the news.

This uncle gently suggested the appropriate response to the offender would have been to talk with the person — to seek a healthy interaction, not prosecute the person through the media.

At a climate rally in Winnipeg last summer, a prominent activist implored listeners saying that whenever we see racism, misogyny, homophobia or xenophobia, we should, "Call that s--- out!"

That is not how I teach my kids to deal with difference.

There are no real winners in that game of political correctness Whac-a-Mole. The easiest response to intolerance is intolerance. It may also be the least effective.

There is a time to boldly name what one feels are wrongs, but if dismissal is the main response to disagreement, we will surely end up in an evermore hot-under-the-collar societal shouting match.

Unless we can somehow purify society of people we think are wrong, we need to transcend anger and judgment.

What I would have loved to see following Cherry’s "you people" comments, would have been a televised conversation between Don Cherry and former CBC Punjabi hockey commentator Bhupinder Hundal, who provided an incisive critique of Cherry on CBC radio. Such a conversation would require a thoughtful, credible moderator: Ron MacLean.

I know some progressives would balk at giving Cherry the mic again, or giving MacLean another chance, but I think everyone would have benefited from hearing what all three of them had to say.

That might have softened the complexion of society just a bit instead of simply hardening intolerance on both sides.

Will Braun lives near Morden.


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