Every once in awhile I like to check the "other" folder in my Facebook messages. Now, the regular messages are the ones from friends and family, but sometimes the really interesting ones lurk in that "other" folder.
I've had offers to date men that I am pretty sure don't live in Canada, let alone Alberta. I had at least one African prince looking for a little financial assistance from some nice (and hopefully gullible) Canadian lady. I have had people track me down there when they have seen me on television or in their newspapers talking about some issue affecting my community, wanting to discuss oil or the environment or my "misguided" beliefs. And just yesterday I got a very interesting message from someone who said they were tired of all the yap about the oil sands and Fort McMurray being the "economic engine" of the country, and that they felt I was one of the purveyors of this talk. They told me that we need to "get over ourselves". They then informed me that "Fort McMurray is not the centre of the universe".
The centre of the universe?
Huh. When I read that I laughed first, because we all know Toronto is the centre of the universe (insert tongue in cheek here). And then I smiled, because if someone thought we had a bit of an ego, and thought we needed a reality check about our place in the universe I could only be happy and proud, because it's about damn time we had some ego in this region.
When I moved here twelve years ago this community was not what it is now. It was still a community, to be certain, but it was a bit "dispirited". The civic pride was muted at best. We were struggling with our growth, our direction as a community, and our place in the world. And it showed.
When journalists would write articles about our community that we found offensive twelve years ago we responded a bit like this:
Hey, I don't like you saying that about us.
Now, just a few years later, the response is more like this:
Hey, you missed the entire point of our community. What about our philanthropy? What about our amazing people? What about our recreation centres, our college, our elementary and high schools? What about x and y and z? How come you came to visit, went to two bars and one strip club, and then wrote a story about our community? We think you got some 'splaining to do, journalist.
Things have indeed changed, because somewhere along the way we found some pride, some community cohesiveness, and a voice.
Maybe it has been our leadership, as I believe this pride in who we are is often a top-down effect, and when Mayor Melissa Blake was elected I believe it sent the signal that this community was not what people might have thought it to be. Our mayor is a dynamic woman who represents us well and who shines with pride over what our region is and has accomplished, and I think she brought new life to an office that had become woefully lacking in that pride.
Maybe it has been the overwhelming strength of our industry, one that is the giant of the Canadian economy according to a recent report. Three percent of all jobs in the country - 478,000 direct, indirect, and induced - rely on the oil sands. And this is expected to grow, with that number rising to five percent, or 753,000 jobs, by 2025. There is no denying that we are the economic engine of this nation, and I think in those numbers we have found the evidence to back that claim.
Maybe, though, much of this pride has come from the grassroots, from people who have decided that if we are the economic engine (check) and if we have strong leadership (check) and if we have this amazing community (check) that it is time to "get over" the inferiority complex and start being proud of who we are and what we do. Maybe it is about time we developed a little bit of an ego, because having an ego (in moderation) isn't a bad thing. Having an ego just means you recognize your own self-worth, and makes you less inclined to be pushed around by others (including African princes looking for a little cash).
I admit I responded to the message in my "other" folder, and I don't always (some African prince is still sadly waiting for my reply). I simply said:
"Thanks for your comment. We know we aren't the centre of the universe. We are, however, the centre of OUR universe, because this is our home and we love it and are proud of it, and I will never apologize for that."
And then I asked them to consider coming to visit, as I always do, even with our harshest critics, and I offered to be their tour guide, as I always do.
You see we don't need to "get over ourselves" at all. I think rather the opposite. I think we need to share our story with as many people as we can, because every amazing story deserves to be shared and heard - and the story of our community is an amazing one indeed. We might not be "the centre of the universe", but I think we are something better. We are the centre of our hearts and our pride, and that is what matters.