Growing up in Canada has many advantages. Canadians really are the most polite people you will ever meet. It is somehow hardwired into our DNA to say “excuse me” and “thank you”. Traveling to other countries it is always a bit of a culture shock until I realize that waiter who has no manners and is talking so gruffly is not actually upset or rude. We are a very sensitive people.
When I lived and worked in the United States I found the people to be wonderful, even if I never did come to understand the appeal of biscuits and gravy. I mean seriously, that is disgusting. The Americans I knew were quite convinced that they lived in the greatest country in the world and were proud to tell me. This is a very un-Canadian way of thinking. In Canada we believe we are from the greatest country on earth, unless you might find that offensive. And actually, when I think about it, even saying this is quite pushy and if I have offended you, please forgive me. I’m sorry.
Growing up I was taught that self promotion was arrogance and a humble person never brags. Humble people, we believed, made fun of themselves and were self-deprecating. We are not flag wavers. Telling someone else that your country is better than theirs is considered the height of bad form. Psychologically Americans and Canadians are very different animals. Canadians have grown up in the shadow of the giant. We tend to define ourselves by what we are not, as opposed to what we are.
As a Canadian it is very difficult for me to admit that I believe Americans raise their children with a much healthier sense of self and self-esteem. Canada is a country of 35+ million people who don’t like themselves. In all my years of counseling in Canada I have yet to meet more than a handful of people who actually like themselves and would describe themselves as having good self-image. That is at least in part to my contention that to even say you have healthy self-esteem in Canada is extremely difficult. If I tell a group or an individual that I like myself I somehow feel dirty, conceited. I usually follow this up with a joke that makes fun of myself. This is a very Canadian experience.
Obviously people from other countries have issues with self-esteem as well. The purpose of this article is not to elevate or minimize another culture. I am simply implying that the Canadian experience is, on some level, very twisted and unhealthy. I have struggled my entire life to come to grips with my feelings of worth and am only now, well into my forties, willing to admit (with a little Canadian trepidation) that I am coming to like who I am. Just writing those words remain difficult for me, however. Stating publicly that I like myself is fighting against generations of self recrimination and sociology.
Religion has also had a hand in making it difficult for people to have a healthy self-image. I did not grow up in a very religious home but every summer at bible camp I was reminded that “everything good is from God” and the intended converse, “everything bad is Scott.” My Baptist camp counselor told me that, “Without God I could do nothing and there is nothing good in me.” I was “born in sin”. I have since grown up to understand those statements in perspective but I distinctly remember feeling like a dirty wretch every summer at the altar call.
I am Canadian.
I am trying to like myself but feel bad telling you this.
I have secretly always believed I was ugly although I wondered if I was good-looking.
I am paranoid about people thinking I may be arrogant.
My parents told me I was a winner but I thought that it would be conceited to believe them.
I have spent my entire life struggling with self-esteem.
If you tell me I am a loser I am prone to believe you.
I am Canadian.
It’s time to let ourselves love ourselves. You are amazing. You are beautiful in spite of what you see in the mirror. You are fine just the way you are. Amazing. More brilliant than you know.
“Something inside you emerges….an innate, indwelling peace, stillness, aliveness. It is the unconditioned, who you are in your essence. It is what you had been looking for in the love object. It is yourself.”
– Eckhart Tolle
“It is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves.”
– Edmund Hillary