Grow Up You, Grow Up Me

Every artist knows that having the right tools gives you the best chance at creating a successful piece of art. Painting oils with water colour brushes does not give good results. Carving a linocut with a butter knife is useless. Additionally, the proper tool wielded improperly can be dangerous. If you’ve ever taken a printmaking workshop with me, you’ll have heard me say (repeatedly), “Don’t carve toward yourself.” But how do we know what the right tools are, and how do we figure out how to use them? We educate ourselves.

Passion begets curiosity, which in turn stokes the fires of learning as it motivates us to seek knowledge, evaluate it, test it and apply it. From there we keep or discard it based on our own work. Apply a blob of colour, a pencil stroke, or shave away a curl of wood—then stop and evaluate. Is it helping or hurting? Is it moving closer to the vision or farther away?

I like to think of Fernie as a big canvas—each of us holding a brush ready to create a masterpiece. Together we decide what colour goes where. Which line connects which shape. We can choose to carefully apply our marks, or we can elbow our way in and splash red across the middle with little regard for everyone else’s corner. We can move together and foster unity, or we can throw our hands up and watch the division grow.

It can be frustrating to go through the official channels of feedback, and the temptation is to jump onto Facebook and lash out. Social media is a powerful tool for engaging people, pulling heart strings, and rallying change but with power, as they say, comes responsibility. We have to remember that Fernie is a small town—that all of us are neighbours at some level. We come from diverse backgrounds, a variety of countries, and subscribe to a myriad of different philosophies. Moving forward in a small space with this rag-tag bunch takes some grace and compassion, and Facebook is rarely the best tool for exercising grace and compassion.

It’s too easy in this faceless world of social media to feel anonymous or protected from consequence, but the truth is our opinions are broadcast further, our comments read more often, and social consequences greater. It’s easy to forget that the person on the other side is a real person, a neighbour, trying to do their job or just having a bad day. Finding our way forward as a community sometimes means putting down the axe and picking up a brush.

As we navigate this strange time, emerging from one of the more confusing eras in modern memory, all of us are feeling tender and edgy. I know from being a parent of teenagers that when I’m on edge my tendency is to take my anxiety out on my kids, but it’s not really fair. It’s my burden, not theirs. So too in our little town, as we relearn to live elbow to elbow, to share space literally and figuratively, we may have to take some deep breaths before speaking. We may have to relearn which tools are the appropriate ones for creating positive change. Our instinct might be to tear down, to criticize, to stand inflexibly in our ideals, but the truth is that none of us live alone—we need each other. If we are keen to keep our community growth pointed on an upward arc, we need to find the right tools and apply them with tact, dignity, and grace for each other.

Our family, our business, our lives have been invested in this place for ten years now. It’s been a wonderful, wild decade. We’ve been honoured to see Fernie grow and change, sometimes in fits and starts, as we sidle along cheering and encouraging. In the past few months I’ve seen first-hand and heard tell of more conflict and division than I’ve ever seen here before. I’d love to see us turn back to the spirit I’ve seen—the one I tried to capture in the mural All Kinds of Beauty. A space for all of us. Each one with a voice and a contribution. A community masterpiece in progress.

To create that masterpiece, let’s set down the tools that divide, and learn to use the tools that build. Take a second to smile, to care, and to try to see what’s going on for our neighbour before calling them out. Let’s try to let everyone do their jobs and use tact and compassion to engage accountability. In the words of Bruce Cockburn, “grow up you, grow up me, grow together.”

Breathe deep everyone. It looks like we may have made it through the toughest part of this pandemic relatively unscathed. Let’s celebrate that resiliency and keep working together to complete the big picture for our little town.