View From the Hill

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN PAUL PENNER
About two weeks ago, I received a letter from Philip Shaw. He is a Canadian farmer and columnist. His column “Under the Agridome” appears on DTN Farm Dayta, is also carried on radio stations in Ontario and in various newspapers throughout the province.

We exchanged e-mails after I sent a letter, expressing my opinion about a column that first appeared on Broadcast Partners Farm Dayta nearly seven years ago.

In my letter to Shaw, I objected to what I perceived as a self-righteous, morally superior attitude being expressed by the Canadian print media, including his column, whenever the United States was the topic.

Before I get into the letter, a little background information is in order.

I had made a visit to my sister’s home near Guelph, Ont. In my spare time, I read whatever magazines and newspapers were available.

The Canadian version of many U.S. women’s magazines-such as Good Housekeeping, Self and Glamour-were on the reading table. The editorials of every single issue seemed to be obsessed with degrading American culture, politics, social behavior and lifestyles.

Some even blamed American culture for all the bad things that were happening in Canada.

I’ll be the first to admit, I’m not always proud of my own culture. Our society is riddled with problems of drug and alcohol abuse. Our toleration of questionable business practices, our loose interpretation of morality is largely responsible to the creation and downfall of the Enrons and Arthur Andersons of the corporate world.

I’m not always bursting with pride when my own government seems to promote values that run contrary to my own. The recently deposed regime in Iraq is a case in point. Many years ago, we Americans helped set up and financially support Saddam Hussein’s tyrannical rule.

Have we shown the world that we are morally superior to anyone else? I do not think so.

Having said that, however, no other culture, no other country can claim the high moral ground either. My visit to our northern neighbor affirmed this.

While there, a Canadian born criminal was on trial for a serial killing spree, a prominent Canadian official was being asked to resign amid allegations of corruption. Murder, rape, drug arrests were all a part of the regular fare being reported in the newspapers.

Life in nearby Toronto, it seemed, was no different than what was happening a few hours south of the border in Detroit, Mich.

Hence, my objection to the expression that Canadians were morally superior to its closest neighbor and ally.

Imagine my surprise then when Philip Shaw’s letter arrived in my mail. Shaw displayed not only intellectual insight in a column written for the March 20 column in DTN Farm Dayta, but expressed deep appreciation for taking him to task and helping him to see we are not very different from each other.

In his commentary, regarding Canada’s opposition to the American led war in Iraq -not to mention the damaging anti-American comments by Canadian political leaders-Philip pointed to the obvious. Americans are their biggest trading partner and best friend. Canadians owe much of their high standard of living to the available markets in the United States, as shown by a recent Globe and Mail report which stated that exports to this country represented 40 per cent of Canadian’s GDP, while Americans export only 3 percent of our GDP to Canada.

Then there is the enormous importance of agricultural trade. Shaw pointed out a little-known fact that even the often despised American farm program benefited Canadian sugar beet growers. Added to that benefit is the large quantities of hogs and cattle that make their way into American markets from Canadian farms north of the border.

I would add that Canada and the United States share even more vital, common interests than disclosed by the trade numbers. Each is a nation of immigrants, whose descendants have relatives living on both sides of the border. We are more similar to each other than any other group of nations, in spite of the attempts of the French separatists who would like to secede from Canada.

This close connection was highlighted when I visited last year. My siblings and I, along with the help of numerous friends and neighbors, hosted a surprise birthday party for Lori, who lived near Guelph. To maintain secrecy, Marilyn, Linda and I each stayed in the homes of neighbors.

My hosts were a delightful couple who operated a farm and a construction business.

We had no problem adjusting and relating to each other. I was welcomed as if I were family. My sisters and I were wined and dined, given the royal treatment that expressed their appreciation for our sister who lived and worked in their community.

In a way, I am grateful that a family member lives in another country. I am able to look at my own country from another perspective. I can listen to other people’s opinions, to critically analyze a view which I occasionally assume is the only view there is.

It does not mean that I must blindly accept what is said, but I find the differences to be refreshing. It forces me to think about my own perceptions, to question the assumptions I may have made without serious contemplation, to even change my mind, if need be.

Philip Shaw was willing to read what I had to say and concluded my ideas were worthy of serious evaluation. He proved he was more interested in knowing the truth than blindly following the status quo. And he proved that Canadians and Americans can even be friends, even if they may disagree on points of interest, like national farm policy.

I hope we can find more friends like him.

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