It’s a touchy subject. We all as humans want to be welcome, we all want to be part of the group, to be heard and loved and seen, and feel happy, whether in school, or work, or community. I know this feeling acutely: I was not welcome when I was a Junior High student. I know the sting of sitting on the outside of the other kids, of having people not value me for whatever reason they deemed right. I know how angry it made me feel, and how I saw those people as “snobs,” not knowing much about them beyond that. (If you’re curious, here is a video of a talk I gave last year called “Insider/Outsider” at a lecture series on compassion and cruelty.)
So the conversation about Cape Breton and whether or not it is welcoming, well, I think it strikes a deep, deep nerve. It’s touchy. I’m hesitant even to wade into it, since I hate conflict, but at the same time, it’s become obvious to me that it’s something we all need to be thinking about, because it affects the economic future of our home.
I love my home. By this I first mean the actual house I live in, which keeps me warm and safe, where I share my love with my family and my partner, and where I love to have people over for tea and a visit.
I also love my home community. North Sydney isn’t where I grew up but it is where I live now, and it may have its downtrodden parts but I love it all: the old buildings on Commercial Street, the fields around the town, the Marine Atlantic terminal always busy. I love Baddeck, too, the village where I grew up, with its pretty, lakeside beauty, its cast of characters, it’s flux and flow of tourism and the winter season.
And I love the whole island, the woods, the fields, the sea, the towns, the history. (You may have guessed that love from the bumper stickers and postcards I make!)
Because I love my home, I’m so proud to share it with people, to welcome them to it. Come, see this place, make it your home too! Share your stories, and hear mine.
I think a lot of people feel that way, who live here. We love it, and we love to share it.
However, last month I was talking to someone who moved to Cape Breton a few years ago. They were feeling discouraged. They felt like they weren’t welcome in the rural area they had moved to, that their new business wasn’t being supported. They could see that some people welcomed them but overall they felt disappointed.
This isn’t the first time I’ve heard these feelings, from folks who move here from away.
Last year an International student at CBU said that he felt the community here could be more welcoming to the students from around the world who come to the university in Sydney. And in the One Nova Scotia, or “Ivany” Report, Nova Scotia is encouraged to diversify and welcome newcomers: “But too many [immigrants] who come to Nova Scotia do not stay because their professional or trade credentials are not recognized or they do not find our employers and communities very welcoming. It will take a concerted effort to overcome these obstacles.” (Page 70, italics mine.)
Yesterday I was on the Information Morning Issue Panel with Steve Sutherland and Amanda McDougall. You can hear the whole 16-minute discussion here. We talked about newcomers for part of the time. One of the things I brought up is how some communities are more welcoming than others, and some individuals within communities are more welcoming than others. So when we hear or say that ‘our communities are not very welcoming,’ the reality is that it’s not a blanket statement of ‘all Cape Bretoners are alike’ when it comes to being welcoming. Some people are already doing amazing things to be welcoming!
Anyway, the whole thing has got me thinking, that if we’re going to change this, and be more welcoming, we need to see the problem first, and talk about it, openly. What does ‘welcome’ look like, anyway? What is the expectation, and why are we falling short? Is there obvious discrimination, or is it a general feeling of “not being included”?
And, I don’t think it’s not going to be enough to say “Well, other people may be unwelcoming, but I’m not.” That’s finger-pointing, and it rarely leads to change. People don’t generally like to be told what they’re doing wrong. The only way to make lasting change is to change ourselves as individuals, and show by example.
Whew. That was a lot of talk about the word “welcome”. I’m ready for some tea. Would you like some?