How can we view Canadian history without getting overwhelmed by the negative parts of history and without ignoring the negative parts of history?

Why and How I Picked my Focus

For the past few weeks in social studies, we have thought and talked about our documents of learning. As we began to talk about ideas and Canadian history itself, I realized that I felt weighed down. Our history was something that didn’t make me feel good, I felt like I was responsible for our past wrong-doings, and helpless knowing that there was nothing I could do to change the past. The negative parts of history seemed monumentally larger than the positive parts of history and it reminded me of all the negative events that are going on today. Personally, this is very hard to deal with, and I explore this a little bit in my previous blog post. It is hard for me to look at history with objectivity because of the strong emotions I have around history and the strong emotions that others have around history. It is hard not to be upset knowing that so many minorities were overlooked in confederation. It is hard not to be upset knowing about the lasting effects of residential schools. It is hard not to be upset knowing that the negative parts of history still have a big impact today on so many people across Canada. Its hard to not get upset with so many negative things, seemingly out weighing the good.

It was, in fact, this type of thought process that brought me to an idea for my document of learning. The question that I will be focusing on is:

How can we view Canadian history without getting overwhelmed by the negative parts of history and without ignoring the negative parts of history?

This question is very important to me. I find that it applies to many parts of my life and answering it could help me change my mindset around certain topics. By answering this question, it may also give me some reassurance that there is still a lot of good in the world. Though this is a rather large question, I hope to have a better, more realistic, understanding of Canadian history after answering it. Through this blog post, I hope to make sense of the different perspectives that shaped Canadian history and perhaps develop my own perspective. Throughout this blog post, I hope to connect my question to the following “big idea”: World views lead to different perspectives and ideas about developments in Canadian society.

Research

To help answer my question, I have been looking at my mother’s library of books and researching online with quite a few interesting findings.


How history can be influenced to seem more negative than it may actually be… 

I think that first part of my question that I have to tackle is why we tend to focus on the negative so much. In an interview with the New York Times, Dr. Roy F. Baumeister, a professor of social psychology at Florida State University, said:

“Research over and over again shows [the tendency to focus more on the negative than the positive] is a basic and wide-ranging principle of psychology,” he said. “It’s in human nature, and there are even signs of it in animals.”

So now, here you have it, it is completely natural to focus on the negative things. As humans, our brains are wired to focus on the negative so that we can improve and stay out of danger; in fact, the brain even handles positive information and negative information in separate hemispheres of the brain. The following ratio has become accepted in the field of psychology: for every one bad thing that happens five good things are needed to happen to counter balance the first negative event. This ratio along with the fact that we, as humans, tend to focus on the negative, could be a major reason why history is portrayed way it is in the first place.

Sir Winston Churchill said, “History is written by the victors.” And it is true, history is written by those who win, this already greatly changes the way that we look at history today. However, “winning” implies that there was a conflict. In history, we often focus on conflicts, in fact one of the curricular competencies is: Global and regional conflicts have been a powerful force in shaping our contemporary world and identities. Knowing about events that are out of the norm (like conflicts) rather than everyday events is a lot more beneficial as we can learn about how we can avoid those same conflicts in the future and make for more positive outcomes. In social studies this term, we found out that Canadian confederation was rather peaceful compared to the unison of other countries, and I found myself and others in the class looking for the negative parts of confederation. Canadian confederation went pretty smoothly, but because of our urge to find the problem, to learn about how we can solve the problems of today, we searched for the things that should have been approved upon in confederation. When we did our ending role-play in class, a lot of the content poked fun at some of the negative parts of confederation, I think partially because, it is simply more interesting. There is good in looking at conflicts and events that are out of the norm because we can learn so much from them, but focusing on conflicts may also become overwhelming for many people, including me.


How can we stop from getting overwhelmed by the negative parts of history, without ignoring the negative parts of history?

Now that we have explored why we as human focus on the negative, and how history is fundamentally recorded to focus on a lot of negative events, we can talk about how to overcome this. There is no solid answer to this question, everyone deals with things in different ways; however, what I will discuss in the following paragraphs is what I thought was most relevant to me.

One obvious way to overcome feeling overwhelmed by the negative parts of our history is to simply focus on the positive (sounds a little crazy, right?).

“One of the ways of being kind to ourselves is not to let the pain in the world overwhelm us. This is not to say that we need to be indifferent to it; we may feel deep sorrow about it, and the sorrow can help us to cultivate compassion for others as well as for ourselves and motivate us to help and contribute in ways that we can. But getting too far into our own personal distress doesn’t help anyone else, and it doesn’t help us either. There are good people everywhere who are working to make the world a better place and to build trust among all peoples,” – Lynne Henderson, Ph.D

Who has written multiple articles and a book on the topic of compassion focused therapy. This is a simple solution. Focusing on the positive does not mean ignoring the negative, it means that we can look at history keeping both positive and negative events in mind, and in balance (think of five good events for every one bad event). Also, having compassion does not mean that we have to suffer with the people who have been wronged in history, it means that we are “motivated to relieve suffering” using our empathy, according to an article published by Berkeley University. I found this interesting video (mostly on a tangent) but I think that the content about empathy is very relevant to current issues today. Empathy is very important to solving Canadian issues that have come from past wrong doings, like the ongoing struggle for the Canadian government to reconcile with Aboriginals. I have added this video if you are interested to watch it, it may look familiar from a video we watched in planning…

 

Speaking of compassion and empathy, another way that we can overcome the overwhelming feeling our negative history can bring on, can be to practice meditation. Matthieu Ricard, (who I would have done for my eminent project because he is so cool, but he is bald, which means I would have had to wear some kind of bald cap, and I did not think it would be a good look for me) is known to many as the “happiest man alive”. He was involved in a 12-year long neuroscience study on meditation and compassion.

“Happiness does not come automatically. It is not a gift that good fortune bestows upon us and a reversal of fortune takes back. It depends on us alone. One does not become happy overnight, but with patient labor, day after day. Happiness is constructed, and that requires effort and time. In order to become happy, we have to learn how to change ourselves… Meditation is not just blissing out under a mango tree. It completely changes your brain and therefore changes what you are… The ultimate reason for meditating is to transform ourselves in order to be better able to transform the world…” – Matthieu Ricard

Meditation studies have been shown to enhance the function of the brain and meditation is an important part of the healing process in many mental health illnesses. Meditation is one way we can heal some of traumas of our history together.

I think the last important piece of learning to focus on the positive parts of history without ignoring the hardships, is learning about how to take action.

“When we ally ourselves with the excluded in society, not only are we enabled to see people as people and to join them in their struggle for justice, to work for community and places of belonging, but we also develop the critical tools for seeing what is wrong with our own society… As the human heart opens up and becomes compassionate, we discover our fundamental unity, our common humanity.” -Jean Vanier,

A Canadian Catholic philosopher, theologian and humanitarian who has touched the lives of many around the world with his humanitarian work.I do not think that anyone else could have said it any better. It is important to take action on our positive thoughts, on the wrong-doings of history that can be righted, on our meditations, on our empathy and on our compassion. Taking action on the thoughts and ideas cultivated by thinking optimistically, meditation, being compassionate, and showing empathy is important to do as a community, for others, and for ourselves.

The Best Way I Can Answer the Question… For Now

Learning to think optimistically, cultivating and sharing that positivity, then using that positivity to motivate action is the way that we can view Canadian history without getting overwhelmed by the negative parts of history without ignoring the negative parts of history. In fact, I believe that taking action not just helps us to not ignore the negative parts of history, it may help to repair some of the damage caused by the negative parts of our history. Not just world views, but our personal views, and the action that we take lead to different perspectives and ideas about developments in Canadian society. We are wired to think negatively, and this can affect us greatly; but learning to accept reality as a whole, for better or worse, is a very good way to fight of negative feelings. However, thinking positively does not mean minimizing or ignoring the negative, it is not an either-or perspective, but keeping both perspectives in balance. Though what we learn may seem to be focused on the negative, we can create balance by focusing on the positive.

After this blog post, I hope to continue to look answer this question in my own life more thoroughly and I hope to develop a stronger perspective about Canadian history; I hope that I can cultivate this in the last few months of socials. However, I have learned a lot through this blog post and I am very happy that we had the opportunity to do a document of learning like this. I am looking forward to reading this back at the end of the year to see how my thoughts have changes and to see what I have learned.

Sources

The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Anchor

Daring Greatly by Brené Brown

Becoming Human by Jean Vanier

Altruism: The Power of Compassion to Change Yourself and the World by Matthieu Ricard

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/24/your-money/why-people-remember-negative-events-more-than-positive-ones.html

http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/topic/compassion/definition

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/shyness-is-nice/201109/does-the-bad-news-the-world-overwhelm-you

http://www.matthieuricard.org/en/blog/posts/meditation-on-compassion-2

www.goodnewsnetwork.org

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