“Have we always been so angry?”
My youngest daughter posed the question on a recent visit home. The disappointment in her voice kind of broke my heart, because three years ago I shared her optimistic words in this same space. “Canada will be okay” she said back then, relieved that a new government signaled a new attitude, a positive approach, a promise of 0h-so-sunny ways.
“Like, was there a time when people could actually talk about political and economic issues in a civil way?”
“Yes, yes,” I rushed to assure her, reminiscing about how I loved to listen to my parent’s discuss taboo subjects with their friends, arguing, punching fists in the air as exclamation to their point, then raising a beer and laughing until their stomachs hurt. They knew their opinions were not sanctioned by god, nor were they a marker of their identity, nor a cause for hatred. Just opinions, which could be modified and changed because they had the wit to understand circumstances change, that elected officials can and will make mistakes, that even if you voted for him ‘the bastard could be wrong’.
We seem to have lost the art of friendly disagreement. And the ability to change our mind. And it is a shame. Real conversation has been silenced by a minority of voices shouting at one another from opposite ends of the room, while the rest of us stand in the murky middle, gawking in disbelief. Today Canada is a country divided, often by the rhetoric and actions of the very people who should encourage unity and compassion and consensus. Liberals. Conservatives. Money-backed lobby groups. Some types of media that stoke division to garner ratings at the expense of fairness and objectivity. I blame them all. And I blame myself.
While someone might shout ‘libtard’ at me on social media, I’m not above shouting ‘idiot’ back. At least virtually. And the impasse is, as I see it, wrenching our communities apart. We know each other, the libtard and the idiot. We might even consider each other friend as we cheer on our children’s sports teams, or commiserate over their blown music recital. We serve on boards together, volunteer with service organizations, even worship together. We know each other.
And yet, we are now wary of one another at the post office, or in the street, or any time politics is raised at dinner. I think it’s because we’ve allowed opinion to become dogma, “a principle or set of principles laid down by an authority as incontrovertibly true”. But do we honestly believe ‘our guy’ has the ultimate truth? That he or she can do no wrong? That because we voted a certain way, there is no other way? Come on, we are all smarter than that. And it is our responsibility to question the actions of those we elect, and to think for ourselves.
I suppose I still possess what appears to be an increasingly naive belief in the Socratic notion of dialogue as a means to understanding complicated issues, and that robust discussion results in solutions good for all. We have much to learn from one another, but we seem to be in an era where we purposely choose not to do so.
But we can still the outrage rattling around in our heads. We both know it’s exhausting and fruitless. We can talk to one another. And listen. Whether it’s environmental policy, gun control or immigration, collectively we have more ideas, knowledge and lived experience than any politician ever could. And if we use this wisdom, imagine the solutions we could demand from our elected officials and leaders, instead of what seems to be the current folly of letting them convince us of what we must surely want.
It might make us uncomfortable at first, this talking. It might force us to face people who think drowning out voices of reason makes their unreasonable voice the majority. It might alienate us from those who want us to drink only their kool-aid. But if we don’t speak our truths to each other, the libtard and the idiot, we will remain separated by the few things on which we disagree, instead of coming together to make our communities better based on the many things we have in common.
We don’t have to be angry. We choose to be angry. I’d like to think Canada will be okay. But it will take respect. It will take all of us talking. And all of us listening. Not to politicians and the powers-that-be, but to one another. Perhaps it can start right here.