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Opinion: Spelling bees, memories, furuncles and philanthropy

My radicalism and stubborn beliefs stem from lived experience, reinforced by the acts of people I meet, the conversations I choose and the books I read. My commitment to community philanthropy is genuine and energizing.
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The date for the Jon Whyte Spelling Bee and Trivia Challenge is Feb. 4.

I’ll be out of town that evening, but I imagine a room full of laughs and groans and deep frustrations as the correct answers are read.

Each year, participants’ trivial-knowledge-meters ding with delight or cringe in disappointment. Teammates share high fives or scathing looks of disapproval as the ritual unfolds.

In a nutshell, whether you attend the spelling bee as a participant or observer, our valley culture is exposed and our quirks, local wisdom, misguided experiences and world view variables are tested.

Events like the spelling bee are a great insight into the fishbowl of our collective mettle. As nerds, geeks, quick-thinking firebrands or confused and feeling lost, personalities are revealed.

Some years I end the evening knowing I am really, really stupid and other times I feel exceptionally clever. Afterwards, as participants we may waken in the night chastising ourselves for misplacing an apostrophe, or smiling joyfully, delighted that we correctly spelled and defined "furuncle."

Several years ago, I felt simultaneously proud and ashamed when the spelling bee ended. Ashamed because I was unable to correctly answer any of the trivia questions. That year, the questions were focused on the Simpsons, the American animated sitcom.

To this day, I have never watched the program because I don’t get the jokes. My point of pride comes from realizing that the Simpson family culture is not a reflection of mine.

As a community, the books we read, the movies we watch, the destinations we visit, the conversations we join, the games we play, the stories we tell ourselves are insights into our psyche and the spelling bee is a shimmering mirror.

Since last June, I have been writing this commentary as a platform for my personal beliefs related to community. I have touched on themes of belonging, volunteering, paying it forward, giving back, being kind and caring for others.

I strongly believe that conjoining the two words “community” and “philanthropy” can steer many conversations more positively. Ironically for many, my understanding of community philanthropy has little to do with money.

In January, the Philanthropy Project, an emerging "je ne sais quoi?" lifted off as several Bow Valley women threw colourful scarves into the air. The group has intentionally decided to use the word "philanthropy" knowing it is poorly understood, but embracing it for its Greek roots, roughly translated as "doing a friendly act that shows love and compassion."

Of course, the word philanthropy is often associated with large and transformative gifts which is fine and wonderful. But, if you combine the two words "community philanthropy," does the meaning change?

My radicalism and stubborn beliefs stem from lived experience, reinforced by the acts of people I meet, the conversations I choose and the books I read. My commitment to community philanthropy is genuine and energizing.

No question, many thinkers have influenced me, including Peter Block. 

“Social fabric is created one room at a time," he wrote. "It is formed from small steps that ask, “Who do we want in the room?” and “What is the new conversation that we want to occur?”

This month’s assignment for those intrigued by the Philanthropy Project is to go for coffee with two other people you do not know well. No rules around who pays.

Just make a date to sit together and ask each other, “How was your day?” And then listen carefully.

If your conversation lags, talk about spelling bees and memories. Feel free to challenge each other to spell, define and use the word philanthropy in a sentence. Or furuncle. Or sesquicentennial.

Over the years, Lorraine Widmer-Carson has worked for Parks Canada, Whyte Museum, Friends of BNP, the Banff Centre, and most recently, as executive director at the Banff Canmore Community Foundation. She and her family just celebrated 40 years of owning and operating Ticino Restaurant in Banff – a true fact of gratitude and wonder. The views expressed are her own and she can be reached: ldwcarson@gmail.com.

 

 



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