Of Bison and Babies; Have We Lost Our Minds?

A plywood representation of a bison created from small pieces of wood; trying to define what qualifies a child as a “fire baby”; what do these two things have in common?

They are moments in time when I had to step back and wonder if we have entirely lost the plot on the concept of community, and if the critics are right and the idea of “Fort McMurray Strong” really has kicked the bucket.

The plywood bison are small pieces of art created from inexpensive wood, added to some of the municipal planters around town. Apparently they were created by municipal parks employees in the off-season – you know, the guys and gals who work their asses off trying to keep our city public spaces looking presentable. Well, someone noticed one of the bison was sporting an additional tail; instead of simply appreciating the piece as a nice if subtle addition to the landscape, they posted a photo with a snarky comment, which evoked further snarky comments about the waste of money (plywood) and using the money not on public art but to instead build Willow Square (yep, that $50 of plywood is gonna go a long way to that goal).

Never once did the armchair critics consider who might have spent time making the pieces or the pride or enjoyment they might have derived from them; nope, a small error on one was enough to unleash the hounds.

And then there are the “fire babies”, an ill-defined term for babies born or conceived during the wildfire of 2016. The parameters on this are loose indeed, as who is in a position to judge what child is and is not a fire baby? And yet the topic enraged people who argued about what constitutes a fire baby and whether or not some children deserve this title.

It is enough to make you weep, my friends.

Have we become a town of curmudgeons?

Or to put it more bluntly, have we lost our fucking minds?

OMG, the plywood bison has an extra tail. And can you believe those people are calling their kid a fire baby when clearly it falls outside of the imaginary timeframe I devised in my own head for that qualification?

I fear we are becoming a city of complainers, whiners and arguers. We sit back on social media and type out our criticisms of everything and everyone. But if we have these concerns, do we really step up and do anything? Are we involved on the boards and committees that make decisions on things like public art? Do we volunteer our time? Do we go to public engagement sessions? Do we fill out the surveys?

Bro, do you even vote?

And do we ever consider that maybe sometimes we should just shut the hell up and think that other people might have feelings, too?

As the next few years pass by, I can guarantee we will face enough challenges coming at us from outside that we do not need to be creating any internal drama to supplement it. If ever there was a time to begin rowing together, this is it. We need to begin from a place where we assume every person is doing their best and means well; and while we may be wrong some of the time in that, for the most part we will be right. And if we can come from that place then we can also begin to treat each other with kindness, consideration and understanding. And maybe before we fling out criticisms and nasty-isms we would pause and consider there may be things we simply don’t know.

There is something I do know; the unkindnesses I have witnessed recently left me not only deeply sad but discouraged. In a time when there are real battles to be fought, like the one for the rebuilding of our community, we are instead punching at plywood buffalo (OMG did I just call the bison a buffalo? In the immortal words of the Pet Shop Boys, “call the police, there’s a madman in town”) and fire babies. If it wasn’t so disheartening it might almost be funny. Almost.

And if you are reading this and feeling angry at me and indignant and thinking that this is about you…well, if you think this is about you maybe that’s because you have been involved in the conversations I have mentioned or similar ones of equal unkindness. These conversations are mean-spirited at best and embarrassing at worst; if I saw them happening in another community I would have serious doubts about the people living there. And I don’t mind you being angry at me if it makes you think for one moment about these acts of unkindness and whether they move us forward as community or if they simply serve to make others angry, miserable or sad.

I actually don’t believe the concept of Fort McMurray Strong is dead; I think like all of us it has taken a bit of beating over the last year and is feeling a little weary as a result. But I also believe that with our conscious decision to be kinder, thoughtful and come from a place of optimism and belief in others that we can breathe new life into it.

And I know that if we spend our time gnashing our teeth and flapping our gums over plywood bison and fire babies we are going to have one helluva time claiming the name Fort McMurray Strong.

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