Thursday, 2 April 2009

The "Branding" of Alberta? No Thanks.

Last week the Alberta government unveiled their new "brand"for the province. The old slogan, "The Alberta Advantage" had become stale, apparently, and oh ya, it was getting harder to find the advantage part. When the 'boom' was in effect, housing prices and rent had skyrocketed, it was hard to find a family doctor, dentist, etc., and huge pickup trucks ruled the roads with impunity, even when gas was $1.30+ per litre ($5.08 per USD, when the CAD and USD were at par). And the fact that the province doesn't have a sales tax didn't really make much difference when other fees and costs were always going up.

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.


SoapBoxTech said...

Gahhhhhh I just posted on slogans and crap too, and I hadn`t even heard about this yet.

But I very much liked the Shambhala bits. Reminds me of Lemuria ideas too. I very much like that sort of warrior mentality and I completely agree that it should be the true human focus. I am pleased to see the comment that the warrior term is not used in regards to making war on others, but I do believe that retaining the defensive aspect of a warrior mentality is of great importance. Time and time again we have seen the eventual extinction of societies which followed these tenets because they were overwhelmed by force and then bred out of existence.

Look around the world. Yes, efforts to build a balanced system are being made, increasingly so. Yet we are still barely holding on. While some of us are returning to nature, more and more efforts seem to be being made to deny or to deter us from this movement, and more are turning away from nature. Does passive resistance still work when the multitudes which have wasted their bounty come looking to take what we have built and saved, and the media is no longer balanced? Is positive evolution possible when the last of us have been overwhelmed?

Until we are once again at least approaching balance, I believe we must fight to defend our example, as a mother would fight to the end to protect her child.

SoapBoxTech said...

OOH, hey just so you know, I didn`t mean `look around the world` as if you don`t!

Theresa said...

SBT, I think you would very much like this book. I may attempt to write a review of it when I am done, but if you can get a copy for yourself, I think you will not be sorry. I could mail/lend it to you when I am done, if you would like....

Maggie said...

Thanks for this great post Theresa.
Last week while I was minding my little grandson he wobbly walked outside, stopped, picked up an autumn leaf on the grass and held it up to show me. No words just connection.
A friend has just given me Matthieu Ricard's book Happiness a guide to developing life's most important skill. I have not read it yet but my friend says everyone should read this book.
Cheers Maggie

Theresa said...

Maggie - what a lovely moment to connect and share with your grandson, and both of you to share with nature :) It reminds me of a story that I only remember bits of: I believe it was of a Buddhist monk whose dharma talk consisted only of holding up a flower. No words necessary :)

Theresa said...

SBT - sorry I missed posting your second comment until just now. Don't worry, I know how you meant it :)

Krishna said...

Shiva is referred to as 'the good one' or the 'auspicious one'.

Shiva Photo, Lord Shiva Picture, Shiva Wallpaper