Years ago I wrote a weekly column for a newspaper in a small community located in the hills and bush between Edmonton and Jasper. Readers response varied from an agreeable nod of the head to “I will never read your newspaper again.” My editor would simply shake his head and tell me to keep writing.
You might wonder what I could say to the 7000 souls of Edson Alberta to bring on their wrath. What you have to understand is this was the heart of the Yellowhead riding during the early days of the “Reform Party of Canada”, (can’t you just hear him saying it?). Preston Manning was hawking his version of the country, and MP, Joe Clark, held the foreign affairs portfolio. Oh there was a lot could be said. In that true blue place, with its true blue sentiments, I dared call Joe Clark a Red Tory.
I mean seriously, was he not at least bordering on pink? Especially when it came to foreign affairs? He was the first politician of any stripe to question Israel’s handling of the Palestinians, he led the world into Ethiopian famine relief despite its being a “marxist” state, he helped formalize sanctions against the apartheid regime in South Africa even as others hesitated, and he spoke out against American intervention in Central America. Hello? Red Tory or what?
It was not my intent to offend anyone by describing him thus. In fact I thought it was a bit of flattery. That some would disagree was not a surprise. What caught me off guard was the “I won’t read you anymore” reaction, the notion that our disagreement on the nature of Joe Clark’s true political colour meant we could not even have a conversation about it. I had always assumed a certain generosity of mind, a willingness to read and contemplate the opinions of others without feeling threatened by them.
It’s the beauty of written language. We can linger over it. We can question our biases in the comfort of our own mind. We can change without having to admit it to anyone but ourselves. At the tender age of idealism, it was a sad realization that many have no desire to be enlightened. They seek only confirmation of their biases, surrounding themselves with people and information of their same ilk to the almost complete exclusion of others.
It’s not a left or right phenomenon. I know people on the left who wouldn’t be caught dead with a business magazine tucked discreetly between copies of Mother Jones and the Utne Reader on the back of their toilet tank. And too many on the right dismiss the breadth of opinion available on CBC as somehow tainted pink by its being a publicly funded entity. Both attitudes are absurd and small and prove a lack of confidence in the ability to maintain and defend a position in the presence of new or conflicting information. Too often if you push for more, ask the simple question: why? the response is a snort, a shake of the head, gestures universally interpreted as “you’re an idiot”. You don’t agree with me, ergo you must be stupid.
While it doesn’t matter so much in the case of Joe Clark and his true colours, least of all to him, it does matter in the broader political arena. If our leaders eschew any thoughtful comment outside their ideological platform as not only a nuisance, but in fact stupid, it becomes …well…it becomes at best our Canadian parliament’s present credibility problems, and at worst Donald Trump. How can anyone understand and represent the country if they don’t understand and represent the country in its broadest sense, in all its diversity of culture and geographics AND opinion?
I ramble on, and I suppose in writing this I’m giving an opinion, even a strong one. But I would welcome a conversation about it, would in fact reconsider Joe and that question of colour, if someone presented a stimulating argument, a new insight, a reasoned comment. That would be real debate, that would be a nice change.