"No More Cakes and Ale"

Published: September 1st 2010
in News » Local

Natalie Portman in Black Swan
Pic: Natalie Portman in Black Swan

In Act II, Scene three of Twelfth Night, Sir Toby Belch reproaches the upright Malvolio for attempting to impose his priggishness on those around him:  “Dost thou think, because thou art virtuous, there shall be no more cakes and ale?”, he asks. 


Now to be fair, Sir Toby’s concern was nothing loftier than being able, in today’s parlance, to “keep on partying” without Malvolio insisting that his stuffy decorum stifle the good times.  But the concept of imposing a personal value system on others takes on a more significant and serious tone in other sets of circumstances.  One such example would be when groups in a multicultural, multi-ethnic and multi-racial society press the majority culture to conform to their particularistic values and standards.


In Canada, societal attitudes have evolved over the last decades from mere tolerance to embracing diversity and the benefits it brings to Canada. Our country’s place in an increasingly globalized world has drawn on its distinct advantage as a multicultural society where people have roots in virtually every country in the world. 


We have embraced the idea that citizens may have multiple identities and attachments, maintaining and nurturing their ethnocultural uniqueness while being committed to Canada as a country with a core of shared values.  As we noted in the last column on civil discourse, to fulfill this latter obligation, there must be adherence to overarching Canadian first principles including freedom, democracy, civility, social harmony, inter-community understanding and respect for the rule of law. This is the essence of values-based citizenship; that along with the rights and freedoms that accrue to Canadian citizenship come responsibilities and obligations.   We have a Charter laying out one but not the other.  More’s the pity.


In analyzing the situation in Britain, former Prime Minister Tony Blair observed that, “we need, in the face of the challenge to our values, to re-assert also the duty to integrate, to stress what we hold in common and to say: ‘These are the shared boundaries within which we all are obliged to live, precisely in order to preserve our right to our own different faiths, races and creeds.’ Integration... is not about culture or lifestyle. It is about values... the rights and duties that go with being a member of our society. But when it comes to our essential values, then that is where we come together, it is what we hold in common; it is what gives us the right to call ourselves British.”


In other words, full support for the integrative model assures minority communities the opportunity to maintain and enhance their distinctive identities within the larger national culture.  This approach argues against detached community enclaves or, worse yet, the Malvolio-like imposition of minority particularities on the majority ethos.


For its part, Judaism traditionally calls for a melding of civic and religious identities and Canadian Jewish Congress has always taken its cue from this approach:  With two adjectives in our name we are proudly Canadians and we are proudly Jews.


Related articles: (TIFF, CJC)
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