Memorial University’s decision to drop the “Ode to Newfoundland” from Convocation has angered some, though disappointment is the response that seems better suited to this display of bad judgment.
Memorial, like so many others individuals and institutions, is in determined pursuit of political correctness. Its leadership is undoubtedly well-intentioned, but they share the sensitivities of the tone deaf, elivering insult in the process.
As much as some may think, the Ode isn’t just another lyric found on radio’s “top ten”. It is the province’s official anthem; it has meaning, purpose and history; it speaks to civility and to values that are universally embraced. It contains neither reference to war nor aggression. Still, it has been sung on the battlefield. It is respectful of land, of ancestry, and of the noble idea of “home” and mutual respect. Who wouldn’t wish all nations this choice of anthem, as an expression of themselves?
Over time an anthem embodies meaning beyond the lyrics. Our Ode is sung in celebration, ceremony, and solemnity, too. Too many times it has served to console as much as to honor and respect, including those who fought to preserve our freedom, and who didn’t get to return home.
On a different level, it is a simple love song to a people and to their place. It is deficient in the language of inclusion, yes, sexist by the standards of today, too, but only those who misunderstand the language of respect ascribe to it offense whether to aboriginal, to gender, or to religious belief.
This is not an issue of rights. Indeed, if all that our sciety had to offer were icons and the trappings of culture, Memorial might have a point. But we offer to the world respect in matters of gender, race, religion, a safe harbour, and opportunity, including the opportunity for all people to be whom they wish. Except for those with an arbitrary bent, the short comings of Sir Cavendish Boyle really do not diminish this monumental achievement.
The real irony is that no other institution boasts as many resources to deliver the words of change in the Ode, and the musical accompaniment, as much as Memorial, though that opportunity may have been squandered.
There is no justification for the failure to consult, to recognize the rightful role of government in the process, or for Memorial’s failure to articulate, first, the urgency of this perceived crisis. Memorial enjoys no moral superiority in such matters.
But mostly, it is the arbitrariness and insensitivity that is galling. Who isn’t aware of our expanding multicultural society. Why would we not want everyone’s participation, making the changes a democratic endeavour?
Even the justification Memorial uses for its action demands sober second thought.
“Our student body is made up of people of many different faiths, cultures, places of origin and backgrounds”, was one of the reasons given for excluding the Ode.
We might ask: which of those nationalities or cultures boast lyrics, symbols and institutions where all forms of bias and expressions of insensitivity towards other races, cultures, and creeds have been erased?
If there is one, let us know so that we can learn from the processes successfully employed, and put them to work.
A more likely truth is that most societies, like our own, still have some distance to go.
Then there is this issue: What is Memorial’s logic in issuing the assurance that while the Ode will be eliminated from Convocation, it will be permitted for use in the Ceremony of Remembrance. If it is so offensive that it must be dropped for one group, how can it be acceptable to another?
Moral superiority is not a virtue becoming of any group.
The Ode is, rightfully, a sensitive matter which suggests that the issues raised are best resolved by people of good judgment.