As a culture struggling with loneliness and isolation, and reckoning with the dark realities of a history once celebrated, do Canadian children need a queen, or even a monarchy? Or do they simply need a dose of rationality and to be united around love, rather than shame?
I get that the world has moved on to other global events… but this all started when I turned on the livestream of Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral for my five and six year old’s.
I wanted to give them the old-fashioned experience of a shared mainstream media event; sort of like a homemade cake at a church picnic. They were born in the late teens and entered childhood during the Covid pandemic; they have barely seen live news, let alone real people wearing uniforms, or funerals, or much ceremonial practice at all.
What’s cheering got to do with this?
After I explained what a funeral was, they were quiet.
Then one asked: “but why are so many people cheering for the queen?”
Cheering was an interesting word choice.
Far from cheering, the mood on screen was somber silence.
You can learn a lot about the world by watching children make sense of it.
The crowd probably reminded the children of their summer playing soccer, where parents would stand around the makeshift fields like a military barricade, cheering.
We cheered to offer support. We cheered to demonstrate attention and enthusiasm, often between glances at our work email.
To many Canadians, the monarchy feels like an awkward artifact. Its historical significance is obvious, but we can’t quite fit it into the contemporary world. And worse, we’re not sure we want to.
Certainly few are cheering for the monarchy, from where I sit.
Who used to cheer, and why?
Scholars will say that the first royal visit to Canada in 1939 was a strategic move to inspire fraternal connection and military support ahead of the war. It was also an opportunity for excited crowds to see world-famous people up close.
Today, our opportunities to see and worship power, glamour, wealth, and fame, have proliferated into a borderless digital media universe, full of unscripted content created by people with nothing to lose.
Even if the monarchy wasn’t grounded in the questionable tradition of reigning by birthright, or the pretentious elitism of trust fund palace living; as a magnet for human interest, there is a lot more competition than there was eighty-five years ago.
Judging the past against today’s values
And then, there’s the question of morality.
We don’t need to look far to recognize the conquering energy of the English, and other global powers, across the centuries. It’s alive and well, at SpaceX.
Humans love to conquer, to build, to create. But what if the conquest leaves a wake of devastation behind it?
In Canada, the discovery of some 1,000 unmarked graves at the sites of former residential schools over the past two years has shaken loose from the earth a chilling truth. Cultural genocide took place here. Innocent children were abused and died here. Indigenous communities were horrifically harmed at the hands of churches and colonial powers here.
And that is only one example in one country.
How much altruistic figurehead-ing would it take to cancel out the stolen wealth, the stolen lands, the stolen personhood, so that the crown ends up on the right side of contemporary morality?
For those of us asking that question, there are no good answers.
Getting into the grey
Here’s where rationality comes into play. So often we get caught up in our convenient, black and white thinking.
One of my jobs as a professional coach is to invite my clients to consider the “and”.
So, here goes: what if we could condemn some of the British monarchy’s actions and celebrate others?
Why celebrate, you ask?
For our children.
When I turned on the funeral, I reminded my kids that England is the country that Grandpa’s parents came from.
And at that moment, I thought about having tea (yes of course, tea) with my British grandparents as a child. I remembered the gentle sound of tiny spoons jangling against delicate china cups on a wooden tray, which my grandmother would set gingerly on the table for us, with a plate of oatmeal raisin cookies.
I thought about the cool diplomacy and organized vision that is characteristic of the British.
I thought about British influence. I thought about art, about Celtic spirituality and Stonehenge and yes, even fairy magic
I thought about how, two days after the Germans invaded Poland in September 1939, Britain and France declared war on Germany, vowing “not on our watch” to the ideology of Hitler’s Nazis.
In the history books of my childhood, too much ugliness ended up under the rug. We are in a period of updating our views of history, and moving towards – I hope – a brighter, kinder future.
But I worry. I want my children to learn about the past with nuance. I do not want them to identify solely as settlers, and by extension, solely as villains. They are children. Can’t we see how harmful that black-and-white thinking could be?
So, do I tell them to cheer for the queen?
Not exactly. Although we wish her spirit peace.
Do I tell them to cheer for the monarchy?
Not exactly. Design matters to me. Eventually, some artifacts just don’t fit in the living room, no matter how you style them. Eventually, some artifacts are better suited to museums.
Do I tell them to cheer for unity, and for pride in their heritage, with appropriate caveats?
Resounding yes. I cheer for a feeling of home and rootedness in a world that feels far too vacuous, too sanitized, too unsettled.
Pride isn’t perfect, but I’d choose it for my children over shame.
I am not an anthropologist or a historian, but I’m guessing these experts would struggle to find a human society without violence and ignorance on their ancestors’ hands. It is far from OK, and it should be acknowledged. But throughout our history, has conquest not – just like family and love and curiosity and art – been a shared aspect of humanity?
Sadly, instead of uniting us around the good that we share, the black-and-white educational and media narratives that are so loud right now, continue to divide us instead.
Getting into the grey demands more intellectual and emotional energy, but it’s better for all of us.
Raising ourselves, and cheering
Many of us are out here trying to raise kids who are kind and complexity-tolerant humans. And as we do it, we are also re-raising ourselves, with greater knowledge and compassion than we had growing up.
We need to tone down the extreme type-casting of any of our cultural roots – as victims or monsters or anything else; we need to stop immortalizing only the darkest deeds and the darkest times, and start letting the light in.
We need to allow ourselves, even as we awaken to all the injustices of the past (and there are a lot), to also, inherit the good.
Otherwise, we’ll just keep circling in the black-and-white forever.
And all of the children deserve to cheer, and be cheered for.
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