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Is P.E.I. inferior, or just in fear of trying?

My first thought upon returning to PEI from Toronto and having Facebook automatically default to disproportionately favouring the posts of fellow Islanders in my locale over the posts of friends elsewhere, was how odd it was that nearly everyone enjoyed and employed the hashtag “#PEI.”

I don’t necessarily think it is odd to enjoy one’s own province, rather it is odd to advertise that you enjoy it. I sincerely hope the government is sponsoring your status updates.

I quickly realized, after many flopped jokes about my own people’s peculiar, collective provincial promotion, that the horrible stereotype I grew up hearing—that islanders have an inferiority complex—is true.

Headlines in local media are often guilty of inverse tokenism. It is so shocking that any one of us little Islanders would “make it to the big leagues,” for example, that there is a media storm when one does. “An Islander is Recognized by (Mainland City) For (Type of Accomplishment)” is a common formula for news stories here. It is as though that lone Islander has done what the rest of us couldn’t, and it is a shock to us.

The whole “buy local” movement is evermore popular here because not only does it reduce carbon emissions and boost our economy, but it increases the “PEI content” in our daily lives. Much like the CRTC’s requirement for Canadian Content that empowers Canadians and aims to reduce our inferiority complex, the effort of Islanders to promote everything local evinces the desire to also fill our social and psychological space with Island-ness. And this type of visibility for visibility’s sake comes across as, well, schmaltzy. It also doesn’t work, in the long run.

You see, the problem with cancon rules and Islanders’ self-promotional gushing is that they are essentially a defence mechanism. “We must defend, perhaps pre-emptively, against the perception that we are not good enough,” is what I hear when I see #PEI. Furthermore, Islanders telling people, almost defensively, that PEI is heavenly and delightful, is tantamount to your mom telling people you are awesome, or you going to a job interview and saying, “I’m smart. I really am.” You wouldn’t do that because firstly, it is vague, and secondly, it is an instant credibility zapper, since you are clearly biased toward yourself. In the French community I never wanted us to declare that French is wonderful in publicity tools; we just worked on being wonderful and then French became known as wonderful by association.

I don’t think we can get over our inferiority complex by simply denying it, either. We can get over it by trying to be great. Whatever your goal, don’t stop trying to achieve it. More: don’t stop others either. Don’t make fun of those who try. Embrace the greatness of those around you. And our collective achievements will speak volumes about PEI.

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