A casual letter to the editor caused a controversial social media stir on both sides of the border earlier this month when a police officer from Kalamazoo, Michigan wrote in to the Calgary Herald after his visit to the low-crime city. Walt Wawra complained he felt vulnerable when two men walked up to him and his wife in Nose Hill Park and said, in a very aggressive tone, according to Wawra, “Been to the Stampede yet?”
And then they said it again.
This behavior frightened Wawra, who proclaimed, “…the police cannot protect everyone all the time. A man should be al-lowed (sic) to protect himself if the need arises.” Wawra was referring to Canada’s gun laws—and gun culture, for that matter—which are quite a bit different than that of America. The firestorm of a response was no doubt fueled by his closing, “Would we not expect a uniformed officer to pull his or her weapon to intercede in a life-or-death encounter to protect self, or another? Why then should the expectation be lower for a citizen of Canada or a visitor? Wait, I know – it’s because in Canada, only the criminals and the police carry handguns.”
Amid the cries of ‘please go home and don’t come back’ were more balanced responses, pointing out that Mr. Wawra is one individual, not reflective of the entire American population. This is true. But forget the gun law issue. Why was he so afraid of being approached by these two individuals in the first place? (I have the same question, minus one individual, for George Zimmerman.) And why did Wawra choose to let fear and distrust guide his actions and color his view? The key word I’ve used here is ‘chooses,’ because it is, my friends, a choice. You can choose to be fearful, or you can choose to have faith in those with whom you walk.
Another article I read this week gave me pause for consideration. In a blog post written last year, Ayd Instone posited that it’s not the mere existence of different ideas (about religion, politics, etc.) that gives rise to war and conflict. Rather, he says, we can’t have world peace until everyone stops getting offended by other people having different ideas. In other words, don’t take it personally and chill the heck out.
Going back to Walt Wawra and his letter, as a Canadian, I wasn’t offended by what he said, and I don’t feel that he must change his beliefs, even though they’re different from mine. They’re his beliefs. It makes me sad, though, that his beliefs about guns are driven by his fear of what ‘might happen to him.’ It must be an awfully stressful way to live.
And why is it that that’s my belief? Backpacking solo through Africa, multiple times, has been my test ground. I hitchhiked with male lorry drivers, I slept on the side of the road in a border town, heck, I slept in rooms next to African men I’d known for mere hours. In my backpack, I carried goods whose value exceeded an entire year’s earnings for most of the people I passed by each day. I didn’t get raped. I didn’t get robbed. I made a lot of friends; people who used part of their meager earnings to buy stamps and mail cards and letters to me when I got home.
It may be an extreme example, but think about it in comparison to walking past two men in broad daylight in a Calgary park. Wawra’s fear was unnecessary. And while people often tell me I’m brave, it’s a nice compliment, but I’m not sure how I feel about it. I don’t think of myself as brave. I just choose to have faith in my fellow human beings.
It doesn’t always come easily. I flinch sometimes. It’s a practice that takes practice, you might say.
The more that people choose the opposite approach of fear—an approach of trust, faith and compassion—the more we will see a shift in the world. A shift toward more conversation. A shift away from being offended by things people say just because we don’t like what we hear. A shift toward being comfortable in our own skin, out in this big world of ours. A shift toward peace.
Wawra’s letter and Instone’s blog post got me thinking, ‘what can we do to give people more confidence, what can we doooooo?!’ There may be some good answers and ideas for this—if you have some, please do share. On the flip side, though, I realized that it’s not really up to me to help someone feel confidence over fear. People like to talk about personal responsibility, and so yeah, I think it applies in this situation. Because it’s a choice.
You may say that someone’s approach will be colored by their experience. Walt Wawra is a cop, after all. He’s probably seen and experienced some pretty gritty stuff.
So have I. So have you. It’s out there, for sure. But no, it doesn’t change the bottom line.
How do you want to walk through your life? It’s your choice, and it’s your legacy.