Stuart Smalley is the character from Saturday Night Live who said, “I’m good enough. I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me”.
What I like about the Stuart Smalley character is that he is very accepting, accommodating, and unobtrusive. He has good intentions, even if he is misguided about the solutions to his own problems or the problems of others. With the exception of a goal of helping himself and others, he is a man without an agenda. Accordingly, Stuart has made a wide variety of friends. Frankly, he is a super nice guy.
Certainly, the world would be quite screwed up if everyone behaved like Stuart Smalley. Few would have the real confidence to do great things. If we all behaved like Stuart, our society would be full of mutual admiration, good intentions and little inertia.
Recently, though, I’ve been thinking that I come into contact less often with Stuart Smalley types who make a specific effort to be nice, polite, pre-emptively apologetic, and respectful and have the ability to excel in their own lives without doing so at the expense of others. Basically, there aren’t enough Stuarts to make up for those who aren’t Stuarts. To make a point, there isn’t enough “Canadian” going around.
In his thank you note to Canada, NBC news anchor Brian Williams wrote, “(Thank you) for reminding some of us we used to be a more civil society. Mostly, for welcoming the world with such ease and making lasting friends with all of us”. Reading this note got me thinking about our current level of civility and whether we have we lost any ground in recent years. I’m pretty sure we have.
Comparatively, I very much believe that Canada is a more civil society than the U.S. There are fewer workplace shootings, fewer problems worth protesting over, fewer paparazzi, less need for security, more neutral (albeit boring) news, and fewer overt plans to crush the left or the right. At the political level, in the last year I have become concerned that the polarization in U.S. politics carries with it a very real possibility of grinding any economic progression to a halt. And sadly, Al Franken, the actor who played Stuart Smalley, is now a fairly polarized (to the left) U.S. Senator and rarely gets the opportunity to behave like the Stuart character in a political setting. If he did, he’d be eaten alive!
My comment above isn’t intended to suggest that there is some form of utopia going on here in Canada either. While we are far more civil in most circumstances, we have lost some of our good manners. There still are workplace shootings, enough so that we have to put into place anti-violence policies into place. Kids still have to transfer schools to get away from in-school and Facebook bullies. Unions protest. In Parliament, Question Period has turned into a form of sport worthy of reiteration on the Rick Mercer Report each week.
As humans, we have a natural tendency to respond in greater proportions when we are feeling threatened. This is true, even in Canada. Life today is more threatening. There are more challenges. We’re overly stimulated. We are forced to multi-task. It is easier to hide from face-to-face communication.
The Canadian rock band Tragically Hip, who are known for incorporating the essence of Canada into their songs, wrote the lyrics, “And that’s when the hornet stung me, and I had a feverish dream, of revenge and doubt.” These lyrics reveal the humanity of Canadians. Faced with uncertainty, we sometimes let our nature get the best of us, even if we know better. And today, we even have to be careful of our reaction to even things like hornets.
So, what’s the 12-step strategy for letting go of those things that cause us to be less civil? Because I’m not Stuart, I can’t tell you exactly, but I am open to listening, delighted that you read this, and I hope we get along and get to be great friends and help each other!