Thursday, September 16, 2010

In Response to Bernard Josipovic...

Over at his blog, Ward 10 Councillor candidate Bernard Josipovic and I have been engaged in a back-and-forth.

His initial post questioned the consistency of Councillor Maria Pearson's voting regarding the Pan Am Games, specifically challenging a quote about the makeup of support she'd received for the West Harbour location:

"She then goes on to say that out of 1100 emails she received, 80% of Ward 10 residents are in favor of the West Harbour. To me this number is fabricated and if Councillor Pearson would like to show me or introduce me to some of these residents who want the stadium at the West Harbour I would love to meet them. I have not come across one as of yet."

Naturally, as I have my own agenda, one not aligned with this election campaign, one not really about what we've come to refer to as 'politics', one attempting to examine the longstanding state of affairs in local governance, specifically how people view their role in the process, what they've traditionally invested in terms of time and energy and interest, in an effort to find ways to increase the 'relationship of engagement', taking a look at how a cultural shift in perception and behaviour might be brought about...

...I shifted the conversation.

After all, it's what I do. (This issue Mr. Josipovic has decided to focus on is best addressed directly to Ms Pearson, and by rights, should be something she can answer plainly. Not that I think Mr. Josipovic will be satisfied either way.)

And what's paramount right now, at least what's being primarily focused on by Mr. Josipovic, is my consistently-referenced term 'a qualified opinion'.

"I'm still wondering how you come to a conclusion of who has "qualified opinions?

I'm sorry to say, but you seem to think that anyone who does not share your point of view fits into this category of "unqualified opinions."

That this is a concept that either rankles or insults or just plain confounds someone is of no surprise whatsoever to me. Let's face it: the idea that a whole bunch of people do not have 'qualified opinions' is damning. And, I suppose, through their eyes, elitist.

But before we go any further with the discussion of 'unqualified opinions' as they relate to Ward 10, or the Pan Am Games stadium site selection process, or anything else connected with the 2010 Municipal Election campaign, allow me to explain -once again- what this notion actually means.

First off, I am not someone who wants everyone to agree with me. Though my stridency here on My Stoney Creek is undeniable, my main passion is dialogue, discussion...authentic communication. As in 'communion'. I love healthy debate, I love hearty exchanges. What I demand though, is that those involved have a full understanding of what they're talking about, a strong grasp on the issue, and aren't holding forth based on ignorance or fear or any other emotion. Ideally, an opinion is an expression of viewpoint as generated by that person's essence. It should reflect who and what that person is, what they believe, how they see Life. So yes, I take the idea of an opinion very seriously.

This isn't about 'agreeing with me'. This is about someone having invested time and effort into understanding an issue and forming a qualified opinion on it.

I've already covered the topic of voters not expressing qualified opinions as they concern their local governance. In fact, I covered it this week, in this article that I'd already emailed to Mr. Josipovic.

The article addresses my belief that people generally put less effort into choosing their political candidates than- Well, I'll leave you to read the post; that's why I wrote it in the first place.

But this 'apathy' on the part of the average person isn't just found in the arena of local governance. It's visible in almost all aspects of modern Life.

We have created a society of isolation, of entitlement, of blame, of 'Us vs Them', the energies of which can be found in ranting and raving online, in expressions of 'self-righteous indignation', mostly courtesy of the penetration of Internet and the empowering ease of the World Wide Web.

The odd thing is that with so much information and insight at our awesome potential for relative terms, we've actually become more ignorant. Ignorant as it relates to forming qualified opinions. Mostly because of how withdrawn we've ironically become, how insular, how away from things outside the 'self'. It can be seen in modern family life. In the way in which so many people walk down the street, how they don't engage on a basic level, in neighbourhoods, in communities, in cities. We shut ourselves off from what's around us, from our world, in some elemental ways. (I think of portable music players, of cell phones and the like, all purporting to bring us together, when in fact, they merely entrench this isolating default behaviour.)

By-and-large, I do not believe that people take the time to properly consider a good deal of what impacts them. I have little faith in the average person having spent the time to gather information, to examine it, and come to a conclusion that can be reasonably considered a 'qualified opinion' about something like, for the sake of argument, the Pan Am Games stadium site selection process.

In fact, I would go so far as to say this: often there is more of a 'qualified opinion' expressed by someone about their favourite sport, their favourite team, their favourite player than there is about local governance. Complicated stats can be rhymed-off before that same person could engage intelligently about Council's current endeavours, the merits of one stadium site over another.

Let me put it bluntly: I doubt that the average Hamiltonian could list and describe with any degree of thoroughness -never mind discuss- the 'Top Five Issues Addressing Hamilton'. (Naturally, I'm curious as to whether the candidates running for office could successfully complete this assignment.)

To reiterate a final time, this isn't about people agreeing with me. It's about recognizing the culture we've created, and deciding if we want to do something about it.

When you have a 37% turnout rate for a Municipal Election, I believe it tells you a lot. Firstly, that apathy is running rampant. Secondly, it's almost certain that alongside this apathy gallops unqualified opinions, in the main.

Does that seem like too much of a stretch of likelihood? Connecting those two elements? I don't think so. I think it's more unlikely that the 37% of the population that did cast votes were especially equipped, infused with the insight that qualified opinions reflect.

Because this is where we are, Mr. Josipovic. This is the culture we've created. One of only superficial awareness, one that prefers to get angry and condemn rather than examine and want to offer something to make things better. Mostly under the banner of 'I'm too busy.'

I do not believe that a new crop of candidates is the answer.

I do not believe that more and additionally strident Council conduct and behaviour guidelines are the answer.

Nor do I believe that an Integrity Commissioner, mandated 'accountability', or anything else addressing the Council side of the equation is the answer.

I believe, as I've been saying this summer, that the answer to the question 'How do we create a better local governance environment?' lies with changing how residents see their role.

I think you've already asked me 'How do we do that?!?' I've already begun to examine how this migration might be accomplished, but we're talking a massive shift in lifestyle, equal to (and very much related to, as well) the migration to a more fit, healthier culture. So I don't have any simple solution...and the middle of a campaign is hardly the place to be making suggestions. (Never mind that in this 'new paradigm', most of the change would take place on a daily basis, throughout the term, remembering that how residents and councillors would be engaging would look entirely different from how it looks now, and has looked for years.)

What I would suggest, in the short term, is that people put their money where they're mouths are, and form 'qualified opinions' about the issues that affect them...instead of getting tied up in knots thanks to anger and frustration, reacting in rage with positions that have been given less genuine consideration than where they're going on their next vacation.

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I'm always interested in feedback, differing opinions, even contrarian long as they're delivered with decorum...with panache and flair always helping.