For Me Mentality Misinterprets the Political Forum

By Jason Menard

For me.

These two words are what have been holding me back from making any sort of comment, posting any sort of reply, or engaging in any sort of debate.

For me.

As in, why bother trying to be rational because the Twitter debate is exclusively centred around, “For me.”

From the almost orgiastic glee over the Billy T’s report to what appears to be an increasingly myopic focus on the downtown, the conversation surrounds having the best London “for me.”

Conveniently forgotten amongst the feeding frenzy inspired by last week’s Ombudsman’s report is that this isn’t the first time a council’s off-site behaviour has been questioned. But one person’s back room is another person’s pool hall and chicken wings.

The fervor to embrace the tenets of ReThink are in inverse proportion to the breadth of the project. Many of those most adamant about embracing a document based upon the participation of three per cent [editor’s note. This was changed from an initial publishing of .03. Honestly, I forgot to multiply my percentage calculation by 100] of the city’s population are also the ones quickest to suggest that a council, elected by nearly 40 per cent of the city’s population.

And I can guarantee that each of those votes in the municipal election were uniquely created. I can’t say that the “over 9,200” Londoners are all different.

Minds are made up. There are very few willing to engage in dialogue, whilst many more are content to engage in name only. A monologue parrotted back in an echo chamber is hardly a conversation worth having – nor is it of any value. The echo chamber only serves to amplify our own preconceived notions, without the benefit of accepted criticism and outside perspectives.

We demand an open-mindedness and a willingness to work together of our various elected representatives that we’re not willing to display ourselves. And we look down with scorn on groups acting in mutually involved self-interest.

Yet, I’d argue they’re doing an amazing job of representing their vocal constituents — they are representing only their interests without consideration of the broader picture.

How can we chastise council for behaving in exactly the same way that we display in our own day-to-day interactions? Our elected representatives are voted in by us to use our voice on our behalf. I’d argue they’re doing just that.

Far too often, our culture of directed monologues (in no way should they be considered dialogues) results in nothing more than an entrenchment of our own beliefs. There are those who only listen to like-minded and tune out the rest.

Diatribe-like monologues, sarcastic comments, and inflammatory statements pass for dialogue entry points. But sarcasm and entrenched positions are nothing more than a welcome mat draped delicately over punji sticks.

And our country and our political system is poorer for it.

Recently people on social networks have shared an image called “the death of the political middle,” which shows how dramatically the tenor in U.S. congress has switched from various degrees of the middle to the polarized nature of Democrat and Republican politics.

Really, we’re no better. Nor should we be shocked. Issues are not debated on merit, they’re defined by side. Urban versus rural, downtown versus suburban, old versus young.

We talk about the political forum. Not surprisingly, in a culture that loves to brand itself with bastardized and incorrect versions of Latin sayings, we have misinterpreted what a Roman-era forum was. Instead of a gathering place, a marketplace, or a location for civilized debate amongst all citizens, we focus on the lions-versus-Christians version. Politics is not a discussion, it’s a battle that must be won at all costs.

The answer’s simple: civilized and open-minded debate combined with a willingness to embrace each other’s needs and perspectives. A discussion designed to create the best city, province, or country.

For us.

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