Defining Moments?

Culture is defined as a system of values, beliefs, attitudes, traditions, and standards of behavior that govern the organization of people into social groups and regulate both individual and group behaviour.

The unfolding events and the collective grieving of Americans (particularly those living in Tucson, Arizona) and Canadians (those living in Toronto), is a reminder of how different Americans and Canadians view and interact with the world.

Last year Toronto (population 2.5 million) had 60 murders; Tucson (population 500,000) has averaged 50 murders each year for the past 15 years.

Different cities, different cultures.

The multiple killings in Tucson have galvanized Americans to look inward at how they interact with each other, particularly on the political stage. In his moving tribute to the victims at the memorial service, President Obama reminded Americans that: “At a time when our discourse has become so sharply polarized, at a time when we are far too eager to lay the blame for all that ails the world at the feet of those who think differently than we do, it’s important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we are talking with each other in a way that heals, not a way that wounds.”

President Obama also reminded Americans about the importance of public service…something the wounded Congresswoman and others were doing on that fateful Saturday.

Meanwhile, in Toronto the recent death of Toronto Police Sgt. Ryan Russell while on duty has initiated an outpouring of grief from residents of a city where even one death — one murder — is front-page news. And where their relationship with the gun and the “right” to have them is not as intimate as their American neighbours.

Sgt. Russell was killed when he was struck by a stolen truck driven by a man who went on an early-morning rampage in the core of the city.

Russell’s death serves to remind us that public service — whether in or out of uniform — carries with it a measure of risk.

Some people believe that the tragedy of Tucson may — much like 9/11 –become a defining moment for Americans, who since the election of Obama, has been engulfed by heated, even hateful, debate about “what’s wrong with America and how to fix it.”

Far less dramatic, the death of Sgt. Russell may remind the people, pundits and politicians of Toronto currently consumed with concerns about fiscal responsibility and a police budget approaching $1-billion, that sometimes the real cost of serving the public is not always measured in dollars and cents.

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