In 1970, psychologist Gordon Gallup asked a question that has flummoxed theorists for years: How do we know if we are self-aware, and where does that self-awareness come from? In his study, he judged self-awareness by using a mirror and studying how animals and humans reacted at different times of their life. Their reaction showed their ability to assess who they were, and who they thought they were. They could look in the mirror and see the mirror image as another creature altogether, which meant they were not self-aware, or they could look in the mirror and see themselves, even if there were changes made outside of the mirror.
The self-awareness test boiled down to this: In order to be aware of who you are, you have to look reflectively at yourself. Canada is now faced with that moment—it’s being forced to look reflectively upon itself, to look back at its past and decide whether or not this is the moment it can use to define who it wants to be.
“I was shocked and appalled. I’m not going to pretend I was enormously surprised. I don’t think anyone is surprised anymore about what we hear went on in terms of Indigenous people in this country,” Rev. Michael Coren, a cleric with the Anglican Church of Canada, told Global News Monday.
Coren is not a spokesperson for the Anglican Church but is an author and a columnist.
“The more I’ve learned over the years and the more I’ve learned as a cleric, in particular — it’s blood-curdling,” he said. “And I suspect we will find out more in the next few years too.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, himself a practising Catholic, says the decision by Pope Francis to refuse to apologize for the role the Catholic Church played in the dark history of residential schools in Canada has left him “disappointed.”
The prime minister had personally asked the Pope to do so during a visit to the Vatican in 2017 and a papal apology was one of more than 90 recommendations issued by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
In some sense, the refusal to accept the past is problematic because of the clear rejection of self-awareness of the situation, or the denial of reality. Alberta Premier Jason Kenney looked like a deer in the headlights as he spoke about cancel culture:
“We are appalled by the statements of Premier Kenney and how insensitive his comments were toward the history of Treaty First Nations,” he told Global News.
“We are grieving. I remind the premier that yesterday, there was a vigil at the legislature to show honour, respect and unity to the loss of innocent lives of First Nations children.”
The study of self-awareness and growth has been important for thousands of years. What makes human beings different than animals? What sets us apart? Why are we who we are? One of the key elements is being self-aware, which means we are able to see the value in us and others. It’s been argued that the difference is our awareness of the inner life of others, and the ability to put two and two together to build upon our combined experiences, in addition to our understanding of the self.
America has faced years of struggle over self-awareness. We now balk at the refusal to become self-aware, refusing to acknowledge any harms of the past. Canada is reeling at this latest discovery, and they too face people who would prefer not to become self-aware, who refer to self-awareness as “cancel culture” rather than an introspective and serious look at what their country is, what it was, and what it should be. You simply can’t grow without understanding who you’ve been and who you want to become.
“The legacy of the Indian Residential School system has had devastating impacts on the Syilx Okanagan Nation that continue to be felt today,” Chief Clarence Louie wrote in a statement.
For those who need to seek help or advice on this issue in Canada, they have opened up toll-free numbers for support:
Anyone experiencing pain or distress as a result of their residential school experience can access this 24-hour, toll-free, confidential National Indian Residential School Crisis Line at 1-866-925-4419.