On my walk to work every morning, I pass through a playground. On the day after the Alberta election, I took the above photo for this post; the kids’ chalk drawings reminded me of the phrase, “everything we need to know, we learned in kindergarten.”
If you read my last blog post, you can probably guess I was disappointed on the day(s) after the election. But, as I also implied before, I’m pretty fortunate. I don’t have a lot to lose, since I don’t directly rely on many social services, and am not usually a target for discrimination. Too many other folks aren’t so lucky. (That said, I’d be incredibly happy to be proved wrong in my concern for them and for the overall future of my province.)
For people in fortunate positions like mine, I think it’s important we remember those things we were taught in kindergarten. In the last ten days, I’ve talked to people who are upset and frustrated. I’ve talked to people who are feeling hopeful, satisfied, and maybe a bit smug. Many others are just feeling wary – exhausted from all the outrage, fear, and anger that have become part of too many discussions.
My post about the election included most of the above feelings/attitudes (yes, including the negative ones). But the response to my post became the really interesting thing. Most of my blog posts are read by about 100 people. But according to this site’s most recent stats, my latest post was read by nearly 34,500 people. As the numbers climbed, I had a few friends reach out to ask if I was getting hate mail or being attacked by internet “trolls.”
The thing is…I wasn’t. Not everyone agreed with what I wrote, and that’s fine. Even better, some people wrote comments to explain how they disagreed with me. Most positively, those people were pretty respectful. That feels like a win: we should be able to disagree constructively, not just revert to polite silence!
I also had some positive discussions offline. One of my favourite conversations during the whole election campaign was with my stepmom. I assume we voted differently, but our conversation gave me some important points to think about, and I felt like she also listened to what I had to say. That is how it can be – how it should be.
There will be plenty more opportunities in the weeks, months, and years ahead to disagree with each other. So, try it out. No matter how you voted, try disagreeing in a helpful, generative way – particularly if you’re in an advantaged position.
Ask genuinely interested questions to find out what’s behind the other person’s views. Can you see them as a person and not an opponent? What are the deeper-seated values behind their thinking? Is it about the future? Their children’s future? A fear of being excluded?
If these values can be understood, maybe it’s also easier to find out where our views veer off in different directions. Or maybe we’ll see that we’re actually on the same path, but going at different speeds. (On that latter point, two friends recently shared this cartoon. There’s an important message at the end, which says, “if you see someone taking painful steps, someone questioning, someone divided – please consider compassion.” Take a couple minutes to read the whole thing; it’s well done.)
Last week, I was lucky to be invited to a dinner with people from a variety of backgrounds and political groups. One has held public office. Another is a minister. Others are in the corporate sector. And so on. But the thing we all agreed on is that Calgary can’t be the best of Calgary (and by extension, Alberta can’t be the best of Alberta) when people feel divided or when we’re standing in opposite corners – throwing things, calling names, doling out silent treatment.
As I already said in one of my very first blog posts, there is pressure – from politicians, the media, outside interests – to choose one view or another. We’re told we have to pick a side. What if we just picked each other instead? Like this psychologist says of her day in a kindergarten classroom, some of our most essential skills “include awareness of one’s own feelings and the feelings of others; ability to solve problems, develop goals, and make responsible decisions; sharing empathy, kindness, and compassion; knowing how to communicate and build relationships.”