2018: Here’s to Civil Public Dialogue, and a Posture of Hope – Mayor Lisa

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Source: 2018: Here’s to Civil Public Dialogue, and a Posture of Hope – Mayor Lisa

Jan 3, 2018

Think Before You Speak
Poster by Julian Gibbs-Pearce, Grade 5

I’ve decided to run for Mayor for one more term. In the past three years we’ve accomplished almost everything in my 2014 platform. In addition to lots of doing, we’ve created detailed, forward-looking plans that I’d like to see through to implementation. These include:

But in the meantime, long before beginning a campaign for re-election sometime in the summer, I need your help with a more pressing issue: I need your help in restoring civility to public dialogue – especially about big changes, new ideas, experimental pilot projects, and bold innovations.

When asked in a year-end interview by a Times Colonist reporter what I thought was the biggest issue facing Victoria, I didn’t say affordable housing, lack of high-speed transit from downtown to the west shore, or preparing as a coastal city for a rapidly changing climate. There’s a bigger challenge that threatens us: we’ve forgotten how to have hard conversations, to really listen to each other, to allow each other the space to speak, without quickly deteriorating into name-calling, accusations, and dividing our community into “us” and “them.” This is hurting us all.

In order to meet some of the big challenges facing Victoria and all other 21st century cities – globalization, population growth, increased cyber-connectivity, income inequality, loss of biodiversity, climate change – we need to be able to talk about solutions with clear minds and open hearts. We need to engage in what Michel Foucault calls “ethical dialogue” which means we need to listen to and understand other perspectives and to be willing to be changed by what we hear.

I feel that what’s happened in the last few years, in particular on social media – but also increasingly in the real world – is that we vehemently agree or disagree with something before looking at the whole picture, seeing a wider perspective. And because we’ve staked a public claim in a Facebook post or a Tweet, we feel that we can’t back down from our positions, we become rooted in our conclusions – which we may have jumped to with only a fragment of information.

This posturing paralyzes us as a civil society, it impoverishes our public dialogue and it ultimately tears us apart from each other as members of a shared community. It also keeps us further away from addressing the challenges I outlined above.

In The Well-Tempered City, Jonathan F.P. Rose makes a compelling case for diversity. “For an ecosystem to thrive,” he writes, “it must be sufficiently diverse, providing opportunities for multiple connections … If the elements of a system are too similar, something ecologists call ‘limiting similarity’, the variety of its interconnections is reduced, and it becomes more vulnerable to stress and volatility. Just as a healthy ecosystem integrates diversity into coherence, so too must a healthy urban metabolism.”

Affordable housing, bike lanes, downtown development, parking, transit, public art – there is a diversity of thought in our community on these important issues.

The coherence part is easy, we all ultimately want the same thing – to be happy and healthy, to be prosperous, to feel safe, to breathe clean air, to feel that we belong to something greater than ourselves, to know that our children will have good futures, to have a general sense of well-being. And as humans, we’re hard-wired to want the same things for others. No one wakes up and says, “I want to do everything I can to make my life and my community worse today.”

It’s how we communicate our different perspectives that seems so hard sometimes. But what if we were to take a deep breath before pressing “Post”, or getting up to speak at a public hearing at City Hall, or making comments at the Council table or to the media. What if we were to take a deep breath during political conversations around the dinner table or at the pub.

And what if during that breath we were to ask: Is what I’m going to say True, is it Helpful, is it Inspiring, is it Necessary, is it Kind? This wisdom comes from the son of a friend of mine, “THINK before you speak”, his poster for school (pictured above) said. My pledge for 2018 is to try to practice this. I’d like to invite you to do the same.

Why? Because it will make us stronger and more resilient as a community that shares this 20 square km slice of paradise here in Lewkwungen Territory on southern Vancouver Island. Because it will make room for complexity and wholeness. But most of all because it’s necessary if we want to build a prosperous, sustainable, affordable and smart city – our future literally depends on our ability to listen to each other better. We must move beyond cynicism and division in order to meet the many challenges we face.

In the words of Archbishop Desmond Tutu in The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World, “Resignation and cynicism are easier, more self-soothing postures that do not require the raw vulnerability and tragic risk of hope. To choose hope is to step firmly forward into the howling wind, baring one’s chest to the elements, knowing that, in time, the storm will pass.”

Here’s to a hope-filled 2018 and to public dialogue that enriches us as individuals and as a community.

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