I went to a conference with a team of fellow Canadian youth recently. We had a media event with several other Canadian youth organizations.
In preparation for the event, we were discussing last week whether we ought to wear poppies, as Remembrance Day (November 11) was coming up. In Canada, it is quite common to see people wear poppies in commemoration of veterans and other people who serve in the armed forces not only on Remembrance Day, but from the start of November onwards.
I raised my uneasiness with wearing a poppy. A teammate asked me to explain, which I did as best as I could orally (my past post explains it much more eloquently). She shared her own views, which was that wearing poppies purely showed appreciation for those who have served. I acknowledged that that was a way to view it, one that I had previously held in high school during my gung-ho commemoration/Canadian nationalism phase, but one that I was no longer comfortable with. With that, the conflicting opinions floated around us, unresolved. I declined to accept a poppy from another teammate who had brought several as back ups, postponing my decision to wear one until later.
When the question about poppies was raised again the morning of our media event as that second teammate inquired whether he should prepare poppies for us to wear, I conceded and said I would wear one for consistency’s sake, to dress like how a Canadian official might dress, and to fall into the norm amongst many other Canadians.
I ceded so that I wouldn’t be a bump in my delegation’s road forward. I chose the prospect of smoother working relations over my moral stance.
However, acquiescing to wearing a poppy did not only undermine the strength of my conviction, but also would have undermined the meaning of the poppy as I do not believe in the message it conveys.
Fortunately, this did not come to pass, for another organization doing the press conference firmly insisted that wearing poppies was a personal choice. Since the only other offered opinion favoured consistency, in which either all press conference speakers wear them or none, the end result was that nobody wore a poppy.
It was a slightly tense moment when those two stances met. The same sense of unresolved conflict that I felt when explaining to my teammate why I was uncomfortable with wearing a poppy hung in the air.
As a larger group, we didn’t progress on the matter to find a solution or to meet halfway. I am glad for it though. I should have emulated the other organization’s undaunted position. That would have demonstrated the strength of my beliefs. It would have challenged others to rethink their own views, raising questions of how the meaning behind wearing poppies differs amongst people and whether everyone should be expected to wear poppies.
I recall now that I decided after writing “My Aversion to War” to wear a white poppy for peace this Remembrance Day. Like the red poppy, the white poppy’s meaning does vary amongst people but its roots are in pacifism. I had envisioned that wearing one would stimulate critical reflection on Remembrance Day as I imagined explaining the discomfort behind my choice to any curious people.
I’ve failed to follow through on this promise to wear a white poppy this year, and also have undermined the strength of my beliefs. If they’re still worth anything, I won’t do the same next time.