Wipe that cod tongue look off your face

I ate my first cod tongue this year. And I’m not gonna lie: it was probably my last. If you’ve never sampled a cod tongue, you can get a feel – literally – for what it’s like. Just take a moment and try chewing on your own tongue. Did you try it? Was the texture appetizing? No? Guess what? It’s no more appealing when the tongue comes from a cod. 

To be fair to the Newfoundlanders and others (are there others?) who believe this dish is a delicacy, I have to admit I was mildly hungover when I tried the tongue. I can’t imagine that feeling queasy at the beginning of that experience was helpful. As I chewed, I looked across the table at my amazing hosts, and I was so very sorry to let them down…so I finished the tongue and tried to hide my feelings…though I’m quite sure I failed.

Where am I going with this story? A few weeks later, I was back in Calgary at one of my favourite coffee shops and I felt my face moving into the same expression that it had held in the Newfoundland restaurant. 

I was settling into a spot at the bar – coffee, pastry and book all in hand, ready to kill some time before an appointment. There was not a bit of fish flesh in sight.

But as I put my things down, I realized I’d chosen a spot next to a provincial politician. He was chatting with an older man, and even before I heard a word of what they were saying, my face looked like I’d been chomping on a cod tongue.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit to my own cynicism and often judgmental nature. It’s no secret that I have opinions. I mean…this blog exists, right?

But in that moment, I realized I don’t want to be the kind of person who looks at someone – especially a guy I don’t even really know – and feels revulsion. There’s just no way that kind of attitude can be helpful. 

I’m very worried about the state of things. (To put it mildly.) And while torching the remaining bits of civility left in my possession might clear a path, it’s probably not a path to a better place. What might be another way?

I’m heartened a couple times a year when my Member of Parliament sends an email that includes bite-sized acknowledgement of bipartisan efforts. I’m pleasantly surprised that Georgia’s defeated (and Trump-backed!) candidate for the U.S. Senate reminded people about the importance of democracy. I agree with Jason Kenney who used his resignation letter to express concern about polarization (even if I am simultaneously gobsmacked at the hypocrisy from this man who drove around the province not so long ago, intentionally stirring up that polarization). 

I hate – and I do mean hate – that public debate is increasingly waged by seeing who can provoke the most fear in their audience. I am continually disappointed in my fellow citizens that they (we) fall for it. I miss the policy discussions that were once based on inspiring ideas instead of anger.  

So, what’s a girl and her rose-coloured glasses to do? Well, as a start, I could wipe the cod-tongue look off my face when I encounter someone who thinks and votes differently. I don’t have to like him. I don’t have to fake a smile. But I could recognize him as a human.

Later, when I get the next of this year’s 8,347 phone calls from any number of political parties, I can calmly share my views on how their scare-tactics are actually just a race to the bottom for all of us. At election time, I can remember that my identity will not change if I vote differently than my historical record. I can continue conversations with colleagues, friends and family members without making assumptions about how they’ll respond if I skip my usual, surface-level cheap shots and go to the deeper things I think and feel about our shared future. 

When I played hockey as a teenager, we had the practice of shaking hands with the opposing team at the end of a game. It didn’t always feel fully authentic. And some players did it with a cod-tongue face. But even so, there was something important about getting up close to our opponents and saying thanks…while knowing we wouldn’t play any less hard in the next round. I don’t want to lose that lesson.

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