David McConkey - Columnist, Consultant, Citizen
Columnist. Consultant. Citizen.

You are Both Right – and Both Wrong

Brandon Sun, April 20, 2020 – David McConkey

There is good reading in the Sound Off! feature in this newspaper. One interesting thread recently has been the discussion of whether to feed meals to kids in school. I would like to compliment both sides for marshalling good points. You are both right. And you are both wrong. I am delighted to add my two cents, including some thoughts inspired by our sesquicentennial.

The question again: what about the need and desirability of feeding schoolchildren a nutritious breakfast and lunch? At root lurks the larger question: how much should we ourselves do and how much should the government do?

On one hand, there is a responsibility to help others who need assistance, like kids who show up hungry at school. And such government spending can be good value for the money. If society can help disadvantaged kids get a more solid start in life, society can save by preventing future social costs that are incurred from those living problematic lives.

On the other hand, the value of self-reliance can be eroded when the government steps in to take over the traditional parenting role. This concern is especially serious when considering the dysfunctional Manitoban families that need help not only with breakfast and lunch but also with everything else: their kids must be apprehended by the government. The vast majority of these troubled families are Indigenous.

Yet even if parents can be blamed for being irresponsible, the children are innocent and they are the ones who suffer. It is a shame that the problems of parents are passed down to the children. Another worrying aspect is a growing and debilitating sense of victimhood. Being a victim of circumstance can be seen less as an obstacle to be overcome and more as a grievance to be agonized over.

As a side note, of course, kids right now aren’t even in school because of the pandemic. And I will return to the pandemic in future columns.

But at this point, I would like to look in a different direction: backward. This is Manitoba’s sesquicentennial. Manitoba started 150 years ago as a small square-shaped area; its centre was the community of Red River – today’s Winnipeg. Let’s think about the Manitobans of 1870 – the 12,000 residents of the original “postage stamp province.”

Those first citizens of Manitoba were a hardy, resourceful bunch. They staged a rebellion to be accepted by Canada as a province with a proper administration. They survived without our modern conveniences. They had no running water, no gasoline-powered vehicles, no electric lights or appliances. No internet. No smartphones.

Manitobans in 1870 were adept at communicating with others in their multi-cultural society; most people spoke at least two languages, such as Cree, English, French and Michif. Manitobans back then lived with ease among different races; the great majority of folks were of mixed Indigenous and European heritage.
I think that if those Manitobans from 1870 could see us in 2020, they would be shocked. They would be shocked at the level of development and comfort we enjoy today, even among those regarded as “poor.” They would also be shocked at the rise of racism and racial separation and the decline of both a sense of individual self-reliance and of social co-operation.

As I have learned more about the Manitobans of 1870, I have been inspired by their pluckiness. They valued both individual resourcefulness and collective action for the common good. They felt victimized by their circumstance, but used that as motivation to defy the establishment and stand up for themselves. They were imaginative as they created a provisional government from the grassroots – an initiative unique in Canadian history. Comfortable with living among people of diverse racial backgrounds, they had a “post-racial” perspective that we can aspire to today.

A good reason to study history is to help us envision possible scenarios for now and the future. History reminds us: whatever the situation is today, it does not have to be this way, it can be different. We can look backward as a way to look forward.

Let's challenge ourselves to widen our vision as we discuss controversial questions. Should we feed meals to kids in school? On that matter, you are both right. And you are both wrong. I hope to see you for more of this conversation, both on this page and in submissions to Sound Off!

* * * *
See also: 

How Can We Learn to Think and Argue Better?

Getting to Good Ideas 

Early Manitoba Premier Had a Great Story

Looking Past the Label of the "Wrong Side of the Tracks"

New Book on Louis Riel Leaves Much to Ponder

How Do You Be a Good Person?

A More Thoughtful Approach to Racial Issues is Required



David McConkey,
Brandon, Manitoba
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