Sometime in that naturally depressing period of self-evaluation between Christmas and New Year’s Day, I came to the realization that I had stopped singing. I thought about when it had happened exactly, as I remembered that I had always been a singer. I’ve been asked, over the years, if I wanted to sing in this and that, but I haven’t set foot on a stage in years. ‘I’m not interested,’ I would say. ‘It’s not who I am.’
That wasn’t true, of course, and in an effort to embrace the new me that I saw emerging against the northern landscape, I needed to face a demon that I’ve been dragging around for years.
Everyone has their demon. Mine began with a friendship that I thought was something other than it was. I realized, in those moments when I peeled back time and events, that it had never been a friendship, it had been a competition, and in my abandonment of music, I had let her win.
That individual epiphany lead me to a bigger question that I’ve been struggling with since I arrived in the Yukon more than one year ago. It’s something I’ve been trying to give voice to, if only in my head, and it relates to competition. It relates to the competition which has become the world, and the competition that is missing from the Yukon.
Competition has been simultaneously demonized and idolized in modern times. It has been removed from formalized programs. In many ways we’ve removed winners to avoid naming losers. But, what we’ve taken from sports and schools has moved into our everyday lives. We compete constantly. We compete at work, we compete in friendships, we compete in relationships, we are in a constant and unending cycle of making others into losers in order to become winners.
In order to survive, we tell ourselves, we must eliminate anything that might ascend past our level. We have become a society who believes that our success is dependent upon the failure of others. The behaviour that follows is ugly, damaging and often, cruel. It also acceptable, understood and often, praised as being the way to conquer the world. A sort of emotional manifest destiny that we place as a tax on everything. If the world is a meme, then we are all stating our views against a Darwinian image of a tiger eating an antelope.
Shortly after I began working in the cultural sector in the Yukon, I noticed that there was an incredibly different approach to social interaction. Where, in other places, I have felt as though another person or organization might see my skills as a threat – and had steeled myself for the inevitable game of thrones – I found myself enveloped in encouragement, guidance, understanding and desire to ‘grow me.’ In fact, the Executive Director of a much larger institution introduced herself by saying how excited she was to work with me because I might be able to help her make her museum even better.
In the past year, I have realized that the people here are far more interested in collaboration, sharing and growing individuals than they are at tearing folks down. Actually, they applaud when you do well. Your successes are the communities’ successes. A rising tide, lifts all boats.
There is a code of social conduct here that seems to condemn the contrary. If I left an event and sat with a group of friends and made mention of some deficiency in someone’s performance, it would be met with a fairly predictable correction of my unkind behaviour. I have found that there is little tolerance for criticism (unless constructive and given directly to the individual in question), immaturity, gossip, corruption, greed or the ugly side of competition.
I could postulate on the reason why the Yukon is so unique in this area of social culture, but am still seeking answers myself. However, I will say that the dynamic that allows people to improve themselves, to continue to develop and, in the end, celebrates their successes and achievements, makes for a much greater sense of peace. It also helps to cultivate a better place to live by leveraging talents, skills and abilities into something that benefits the entire community.
And so, in a music room just north of Whitehorse, surrounded by brand new friends, and some who’ve been my pals for the past year, I found myself suspending my terror and singing again. Before my first shot at the microphone, the instructor explained that ‘this is a safe place.’ I looked at the people gathered for the class and knew that it was true. This is not a place where my performance would be critiqued later at a bar by the ‘popular crowd,’ this isn’t a place where seasoned musicians are grasping for gigs and worried that a new ‘one’ might take something from them, and it isn’t a place that creates losers in order to declare winners.
I sang. It didn’t matter how it sounded, or whether I will continue to develop my skills as a vocalist, it only matters that I sang. The people clapped, the instructor gave notes, and the next day, and the next day, I sang again.
I am in competition with no one now, and will cultivate growth in myself and others because that is what we do here.
They can’t take that away from me.