Lessons Learned: When You Turn Bridges into Pulpits or Planks, Divides Form

By Jay Menard

[Note: I wrote this the day after the provincial election, but sat on it as an experiment… hoping the narrative it discusses would change and render it moot. It hasn’t.]

If you’ll indulge me for stepping away from the “Chicken Little” narrative that has dominated the social media universe since the Conservative majority election (and, let’s face it, even before), I honestly believe that Thursday night’s result offers liberals — both small and large-L — an incredible opportunity.

The opportunity? To build bridges.

The challenge is, the very behaviour and beliefs that led to the Conservative majority are precisely the things that may prevent them from seizing that opportunity. This year, I avoided discussing the elections online because I knew it was fruitless — there was no room for debate or discussion and no minds would be changed — but now, in “The Aftermath,” I hope there are are some lessons that can be learned for the betterment of us all.

In London, this is especially true with a municipal election coming up that I fear will just build upon the arrogance, intolerance, and division that we saw at the provincial election.

First, let me frame this with some perspective. I was very young during the first Quebec referendum and I fully experienced the second one. I’m reminded of a passage in Ken Dryden’s The Game, where he talks about the night the results of the 1980 referendum were announced. The “No” side won a slight majority — half the crowd were euphoric; the other half miserable. And, at that moment, there was a divide. People who had sat next to each other, conversed happily, and shared experiences were now on opposite sides of a battle line.

And now they knew it.

It’s better now, but I still feel it. I still know rampant separatists and it impacts relationships. You can get close, but not too close. There’s a divide. Ideas are dismissed not based on their quality, but rather their source.

We haven’t had that type of foundational conflict in Canada in a while — and, for a generation removed from it, it’s easy to descend into hyperbole. Minor differences get blown out of proportion to fill some conflict void. It’s easy to frame politics as an irreparable division between “us” and “them” — however you choose to define that. It shouldn’t be. Our political spectrum is not that broad: blue, green, orange, or red, we’re all basically a shade of grey. People from across political stripes share many of the same ideals and our similarities far outweigh our differences. Yet we’ve artificially created this “us-versus-them” divide.

What liberals — again, both small and large-L — historically have been is that bridge. They represented the soft middle majority that I firmly believe most Canadians inhabit. Socially “left”-leaning, in favour of social programs, arts, and human rights; fiscally more “right”- leaning — concerned about a future, wanting to make sure that taxes are spent effectively.

But where that group has gone off the rails has been the wanton desire to destroy those bridges.

Instead, those foundations of those bridges have been repurposed and crafted into planks,  pulpits, and drawbridges. Dare to disagree with a belief? Walk the plank, we don’t want to hear from you anymore. Those messages have been delivered from pulpits — a “we’re right and if you don’t agree, clearly you’re wrong” mentality that has served to turn a lot of people off. And the drawbridges exist to keep the “approved’ in; and hold the “others” at bay.

And, again, ideas are dismissed (or worse, not even allowed to be given voice) based not on their quality, but rather their source.

So here’s how to get back to bridge building:

Learn (and Understand) Newton’s Third Law

“For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.”

The lesson, clearly, hasn’t been learned as this has been building for a while. There are those who like to state that Doug Ford is Trump-lite. But, he’s a Trump lite that was manifested by the politics of derision and exclusion.

If you’re going to play American-style “you’re-either-with-us-or-against-us” style politics, you’re going to get American-style results. Ford may be our Trump, but he was created because we didn’t learn the lessons we were taught. Instead of listening to those with differences, they were dismissed, excluded, and mocked. The only way populism works is in response to an environment where a majority (or voting plurality) feels they’re not being heard.

Has anything been learned? Here, on The Day After, I see a lot of social media posts calling those who voted for the Conservatives “stupid,” “dumb,” and any collection of suggestion that conservatives are “racist,” “homophobic,” and “filled with hate.” I see a lot of insults, mockery, and false parallels.

Call me crazy, but that type of vitriol posing as discourse doesn’t seem to be an effective way to bring people back to the fold — in fact, it only serves to galvanize opposition and drive people to further extremes.

No side has a monopoly on right. The most effective solutions come from a blend of views, opinions, and experiences, coming together and challenging each other, so that ideas are effectively tested and fortified. That’s hard to do when you actively repel those who are “different.”

Demonizing Helps No One, Understanding Does

It’s easy, simplistic, and naive to focus on one issue and paint everyone with the same brush. It’s also unfair. I’ve never voted Conservative, but I know a few — both large and small-C. And they’re good people. In this election, they had one realistic choice — even if it wasn’t one they wanted to wholeheartedly embrace.

To suggest that supporting a candidate that aligns with most of your views means that you support all of them is an immature response. We aren’t children. When I cast my London North Centre vote yesterday, I didn’t decide for whom I was voting until Sharpie met paper. I knew who I wasn’t voting for — Conservative and Liberal — but I was torn between an NDP party whose platform I largely liked, but felt was woefully naive and ultimately unaffordable; and a Green party that I knew had no hope of winning, but more aligned with my beliefs and would, effectively, be a statement that I wanted to see more of this type of representation at the provincial level.

As always, I voted for the person I felt would best represented me and my riding. But that doesn’t mean I 100 per cent believe in absolutely everything that candidate or party believed.

Instead of criticising, it’s important to understand. Why were people willing to overlook certain negative statements? What was their “greater good” to which they embraced and how can we reach out to meet those needs? Throwing stones is easy, but getting down from that pulpit, reaching over the divide, and trying to understand someone else’s needs and desires (without judging them for it)? That’s where real growth begins. And it’s how we work together to get to the foundational issues that motivate beliefs and behaviour.

Tear Down the Walls

For all the hubbub about conservatives controlling messages and appearances, the left has been the one group that demands a zealot-like adherence to its dictates and expectations.

But where does that leave those of us in the centre? Where are those of us who want to find a balance between a zealous adherence to a bottom-line mentality and an equally zealous adherence to dogma supposed to find a home?

When, “I like that idea in concept, but I have concerns about X, Y, and Z” is met with exclusion, how is that beneficial?

So if you practice politics of division and refuse to entertain other ideas, when you build up silos of exclusively like-minded thought and never have that challenged, is it any surprise when you get blindsided?

This division has existed in plain view, but both sides are too focused on creating their own silos that they can’t see over the walls they’ve created.

There’s Hope

The thing is, the bridge builders exist. They’re not on campaign teams or blatantly spreading propaganda. They’re working behind the scenes for the betterment of us all. I’ve had the pleasure of working with amazing staff at both the provincial and municipal level — they are the ones working to be inclusive, provide solutions that work across the board, and are wonderfully apolitical in their approach. Often they’re working in spite of political interference.

They are the bridge builders. And we need to encourage our politicians — and their supporters — to be more like that. They need to focus on solutions and coming up with the best ideas — and put away egos and division.

Right now, Right and Left refuse to listen to each other and are equally arrogant in their approach. When we stop putting our hands to our ears to block out dissention and use them to reach across the divide we’ve created — in our neighbour to the south’s own image — then we can get back to bridge building and making a positive change for all Londoners, Ontarians, and Canadians.

Unfortunately, this is a message that’s likely going to fall on deaf ears — if it ever gets by the self-appointed “gate-keepers” of those self-imposed drawbridges in the first place.

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One thought on “Lessons Learned: When You Turn Bridges into Pulpits or Planks, Divides Form

  1. Pingback: A Discussion on How (But Not For Whom) to Vote Tomorrow | The M-Dash by Jason Menard

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