Then came the economic downturn. Now houses aren't selling, rents are still high, foreclosures have doubled, companies are shutting down, people are having their work hours cut, or losing their jobs entirely. So it was obvious that what the province needed was....a new slogan. And not just any new slogan, but one that cost 4 million dollars to research, develop and market.
The Alberta government even created a new website designed to outline why the province needs a new 'brand' and how the new 'brand' will just show everyone how good a place Alberta is to live, work and invest. There are gorgeous pictures throughout, and a spiffy new font for the word 'Alberta.'
Here is how the brand itself is promoted on the website:
"Alberta's brand enables us to consistently present the authentic story of our province to a set of stakeholders as diverse as Alberta itself.
Whether promoting Albertan products, ideas, and innovations to a global marketplace or welcoming the world to our home, the branding initiative encompasses the wide variety of ways Alberta's story comes to life.
A truly global brand for a place unlike anywhere else."This really grinds my crackers, as Crunchy would say.
I am a citizen, not a 'stakeholder.' Alberta is not a product, it is a place! It is not a commodity, it is my home! It is not a 'story' designed to attract 'investors.' It is not a thing that can be owned, and then arrogantly and presumptuously stamped with a 'brand.' This 'brand' doesn't present the 'authentic story' of Alberta at all! It is just a way for the Alberta government to show off some pretty pictures of parts of the province they haven't yet managed to despoil and 'monetize,' or to sanitize and glorify the parts of it they already have. I can not even begin to describe the vastness of the disconnection between this government and the actual land and place that is Alberta!
While I was getting all riled up about this, I was also in the process of reading a book by Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, which I bought from my favorite used book store recently. The book is called, "Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior." This was a great find, one which I just had to purchase when I read the summary of what the Shambhala tradition is all about:
"The Shambhala teachings are founded on the premise that there is basic human wisdom that can help to solve the world's problems. This wisdom does not belong to any one culture or religion, nor does it come only from the West or the East. Rather, it is a tradition of human warriorship that has existed in many cultures and many times throughout history."
According to the book, Shambhala is a legendary kingdom that was a place of peace and prosperity, governed by wise and compassionate rulers. Trungpa points out that whether or not such a kingdom actually existed isn't important. "Instead, we should appreciate and emulate the ideal of an enlightened society that it represents" (p. 27). The concept of warriorship is not utilized in the sense of making war on others, but rather to describe the Tibetan Buddhist idea of being heroic and kind at the same time.
Imagine leaders like that! Ones who are heroic and kind at the same time! I could go on and on about all the inspiring things I found in this book, but the passage that stood out for me the most while I was all riled up about the Alberta 'brand' situation was this:
"When human beings lose their connection to nature, to heaven and earth, then they do not know how to nurture their environment or how to rule their world - which is saying the same thing. Human beings destroy their ecology at the same time as they destroy each other. From that perspective, healing our society goes hand-in-hand with healing our personal, elemental connection with the phenomenal world" (p. 132).
So there it is then. Disconnection leads to ruination. We humans are certainly good at that.
But yet I have a little hope still, because I think what Trungpa says is also true: That the healing of society will come through restoring our own personal connections with the natural environment and natural phenomena. When we do this, we rediscover that we already are a part of the "authentic story" of our place, wherever that may be. That we are already woven into the very place and time where we exist right now. And when we are united with our place, we don't want to wreck it, or let other people or interests wreck it. It seems so obvious, yet everything about our society, including slick provincial branding schemes, is designed to obscure this very point.
So, let's begin. Let's put ourselves back in Nature's classroom, and encourage others to come there with us. We may even realize we've been there all along, and that will be a very, very good day: for us, and for the planet that is our only home.
Adorable Alberta groundhog picture courtesy Hatcreek, AB.