Monday, January 31, 2011

Of Aspirations and Hopes, Part Three

What the longstanding dynamic between residents and City Hall reminds me a bad marriage.

Mostly in the sense of both parties having carried on through the dysfunction. Over the course of time, what's in front of you tends to become what you expect, so that unless there's an impetus to change things, the status quo will remain just that.

Moreover, 'couples counselling' is often predicated with expanding the two parties' skill sets, providing them with deeper understanding by way of improving communication skills. (This includes developing better listening skills as much as those connected to talking.)

In Scott London's powerful essay 'Thinking Together: The Power of Deliberative Dialogue', we have some very good suggestions as to what truly constructive communication looks like within the realm of governance, and under what circumstances it best flourishes.

(I need to say here that the end result of having an 'increased relationship of engagement between residents and their Councillors in local governance' is not comprised solely of 'deliberative dialogue', but it is an undeniably important element. For a broader overview, it might be helpful to take a look at 'The Power of Dialogue' as well as this post.)

Here are some choice bits from Mr. London's essay:

"The purpose is not so much to solve a problem or resolve an issue as to explore the most promising avenues for action. Following a usage that traces back to the ancient Greeks, deliberation can be defined as the process of establishing intent and resolve, where a person or group explores different solutions before settling on a specific course of action."

"Deliberative dialogue differs from other forms of public discourse -such as debate, negotiation, brainstorming, consensus-building- because the objective is not so much to talk together as to think together, not so much to reach a conclusion as to discover where a conclusion might lie."

"A problem needs to be solved; a question cannot be solved, but it can be experienced and, out of that experience, a common understanding can emerge that opens an acceptable path to action."

"It is commonly assumed that the only alternatives to consensus are compromise and dissent. But deliberative dialogue offers another possibility by assuming that individuals' views may be to some degree amorphous and indeterminate until they have been, as Madison put it, "refined and enlarged" through the process of reasoning with others."

"But as I listened to these citizens deliberate in community forums, town meetings, study circles and other venues in the early 1990s, I made a significant discovery: people's disagreements on given issues were usually the starting point, not the final outcome, of their deliberations. As people voiced their ideas, their experience, and their opinions, as they took in the perspectives of others and clarified points of tension and disagreement, the emphasis would gradually shift away from ideological differences toward common values."

"The most powerful aspect of a deliberative session is the glimpse it offers of how people "reason" about public issues. Opinion polls and "on the street" interviews — the conventional mechanisms for capturing public sentiment — tell us very little about this process. At best, they give us a snapshot of where people think they stand on an issue; at worst, they offer a distorted and misleading view of how and what people are thinking. A useful opinion, after all, is not a momentary response to an unexamined question but a process of thinking, shaped by the continuous acquisition and rearrangement of knowledge and the activity of inquiring, exploring and evaluating. A question may "invite" an opinion, but it also may modify and recast it. In this sense, people typically do not "have" opinions but are, rather, involved in "opinioning." That an opinion is conceived of as a measurable thing falsifies the process by which people, in fact, do their "opinioning." Polling that relies upon "short form" answers to predesigned questions tends to hide this process from our view and to substitute a "vote" (or checkmark) for a judgment."

"Deliberative dialogue represents a striking contrast to the sort of discussion and debate that too often passes for public discourse today. In our poll-driven and media-saturated political culture — where rhetoric and sound-bites masquerade as serious ideas, and where political and professional elites often presume to speak on behalf of the people — we rarely take counsel of the public. And when we do, it tends to be in the most superficial of ways — through snapshot polls, perhaps, or "on the street" interviews. Deliberative dialogue illustrates that the consent of the governed is not an abstract or elusive democratic ideal. It is a matter of people playing a greater role in shaping the debate and setting directions for public policy not just by talking together but by thinking together."

Of Aspirations and Hopes, Part Two

As I was reading Scott London's essay 'Thinking Together: The Power of Deliberative Dialogue', I found myself nodding a lot. Caught up in a combination of reassuring resonance and insight being sparked, amongst the figurative lights coming on and bells ringing and chords being struck, I emailed out quotes to friends and colleagues.

I was sent down this path I'm on of contemplating a more focused civic activism courtesy of an email exchange with Raise the Hammer editor Ryan McGreal last summer. What gelled from our correspondence was a notion he'd posited that eventually morphed into the idea of 'increasing the relationship of engagement between residents and Councillors in local governance.'

Pretty soon after I began mulling over this concept (focusing on the notion of changing how people felt about municipal politics as well as how they participated, not on getting elected officials to be more accountable, transparent or even responsive), I realized that while to some civic activism organizations, turning around voter apathy, raising the turnout rate to much more respectable levels would be the most important goal imaginable, that it couldn't possibly be what was paramount to me.

And now, 'The Power of Deliberative Dialogue' was reminding me that the core of my ruminations is the idea of getting people engaged, which means communication, which means creating dialogue.

What London's essay pointed up all the more was that even beyond acknowledging that there simply isn't enough engagement going either way in local politics, it needs to be acknowledged that even worse, neither party has a facility in place with which quality engagement can be constructed. Sound communication. Constructive dialogue. How can there be, when there's been such an air of contention, of misapprehension, when there's been this wonky paradigm, this skewed construct that's never actually worked that well, but keeps being bought into, mostly because there's never been the impetus to migrate to something better...?

And yet even within this essay, direction can be found as to how to get to that better place, where 'deliberative dialogue' becomes part of the available mechanisms. Which actually leads me back to another of London's articles:

"Genuine understanding seems to be the exception rather than the norm in everyday communication. We speak at each other, or past each other. We speak different conceptual languages, hold different values, embody different ways of seeing the world.

Much of the time, we're not even listening to each other at all. The dialogue is a monologue. We fire salvos of information across the Internet, or shoot each other text messages, or blog or Twitter about ourselves. But is anyone paying attention? And if they are, do they catch our drift?

The trouble with much of what passes for communication today is that it's all crosstalk. It's a din, not a dialogue.

The noisy chatter reflects the fact that we don't really know how to engage one another in authentic conversations. We simply haven't learned the skills of listening closely to each other, of engaging in meaningful exchanges, and of finding shared sources of meaning. We lack the know-how and the tools."

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Of Aspirations and Hopes, Part One

I believe there's hardly anything that stands in isolation in the universe. I believe that synchronicity is constantly at play, ditto for synergy. Never mind serendipity.

I also believe that our personal journey more often than not commingles with our other ones. Professional, etc.

So it goes without saying that it's no surprise to me that I've delved so animatedly into the areas of engagement over the past six months or so. (You'd have to either be walking in my shoes or be intimately familiar with my particulars to understand, but that's OK, this editorial isn't based on that degree of familiarity.)

Truth is, I've always been rather 'fond' of communication. Yes, for as long as I've been writing, but on a much more personal level. There's a special place in my heart for genuine back-and-forth exchanges. For contact, for communion...for dialogue. Which to me can all be gathered up under the umbrella notion of 'engagement'. Now, if you wanted to put a spiritual spin on things, you might want to observe that engagement is nothing more, nothing less than an expression the God/Spirit/Universe in each of us. So I have no problem in aligning myself with the greeting 'Namasté', most recently utilized in the James Cameron film 'Avatar' with the expression 'I see you'.

Keeping this in mind, it's no wonder I've been so blown away by the material of Scott London on his site. Specifically the previously heralded 'The Power of Dialogue'. But now there's a new pinnacle in town: 'Thinking Together: The Power of Deliberative Dialogue', an essay adapted from 'The Power of Deliberative Dialogue', published in the book 'Public Thought and Foreign Policy', edited by Robert J. Kingston.

There's simply too much in London's essay I'd like to mention, stuff that's germane to my pet yammering-on subject, 'increasing the relationship of engagement between resident and Councillor in local governance', so I encourage you to take a look at what he has to say...and check back for Part Two in this series.

Saturday, January 29, 2011


The official review of the 2006 Municipal Elections in Ontario claimed that:

"60% of votes cast were done on the basis of 'name recognition'."

Further, the voter turnout for our recent 2010 election was under 40%. 


Extrapolating, this means that of the ballots available to be cast, less than 16% were done so according to acumen, using an informed opinion and powers of discernment. 

Sixteen percent. 

These are the only people genuinely engaged in the process. 

So less than 1 in 5 eligible voters take their franchise seriously. 

And we lecture people around the world about the wonders of democracy...

Oh, Mark...

Here's the link for Managing Editor Mark Cripps' recent take on the PanAm Games Site Selection Process fiasco, 'Ivor Wynne decision better than nothing'.


Let's just dive in, shall we?

"I never thought it would happen, but a detente has been reached between the city and the Hamilton Tiger-Cats on a stadium location."

First off, it might be helpful to look up the meaning of 'detente', because in a very real way, this frames what 'They Call Me MR. Cripps!' sets out to say. It's generally regarded as 'the easing of strained relations, especially in a political situation'. So right off the bat, instead of looking at things from the point of view of two potential business partners hashing out a business agreement, we have a political slant to the discussion. Need I say that the endless misinformation, the fomenting of such in MSM and on sites such as Raise the Hammer (by commenters, not so much information-wise by Editor Ryan McGreal) was bad enough, but to 'politicize' the process doesn't help matters at all.

"After a year-long debate with more twists and turns than a Sandusky, Ohio, roller coaster, I’m certain most people welcome an end to the ride.

Undoubtedly. But this shouldn't be looked upon as a chance to slam a fist down onto a table and yell 'Enough already!' Even if this has been a screwed-up process, it's still very much part of governance, and in being so, deserves much more than the equivalent of being sent to its room.

"Whether you support a rebuild at Ivor Wynne as the final, last-ditch solution to the Pan Am Stadium question, the most important thing to remember is without a proposal, Hamilton risked losing $70 million in infrastructure funding from the provincial and federal governments."

A deal is only a good one if it works.
If, for whatever reason, even if it's just a case of City Council 2010 or 2011 not handling things as well as they might have been handled and no 'good' deal can be worked out, then there is no 'loss'. (Yes, I understand that 'good deal' is a subjective term, wildly variable, its interpretation rife with pitfalls. Just as I understand that your approach to this mirrors what I've heard from some Councillors, and Mayor Bratina.)

"How could Hamilton, a city desperate for infrastructure upgrades and with no money to finance improvements, kiss off that kind of dough? For idealism? For selfishness? For dysfunction?"

Nicely framed again. And unfortunately, many Hamiltonians have chosen to see things this way. But this kind of rhetoric has no place in fiscally-responsible governance. Especially in a city with as many ailments as Hamilton has.

"Troubling for me during the entire debate was how some people entrenched themselves so deeply in their personal philosophy on urban renewal versus suburban sprawl that they would rather have seen the money burned in a big pile than see a stadium built anywhere but in their preferred location."

This approach to logic reminds me of stuff coming out of the Tea Party in the US.
Yes, people were 'entrenched'. I for one am totally and completely against suburban stadiums, especially as they relate to Hamilton.
However, painting people with divergent opinions as the sort of ilk who 'would rather have seen the money burned in a big pile' doesn't add anything of grace or input to the discussion. In fact, it lowers the level of discourse markedly. This is the stuff of a 'Letter to the Editor', not a Managing Editor.

"When crucial decisions were being made during the stadium process, a minority group of inner-city advocates packed the chambers at city hall, clapping righteous patronage to councillors who supported the West Harbour. Extra kudos were extended to anyone who criticized the Tiger-Cats. Some councillors put on award-winning performances to appease the partisan crowd.
But hey, that’s democracy. Unfortunately, some people have to work during the day, and their views were overrun by a small group with time to spare and an agenda to push."

I almost don't know where to begin.
What's the flaw here, Mark? That 'some people' can exert their right to free speech while others are handcuffed by their 9-5 responsibilities?
Are you saying that 'the system' is that vulnerable to coercion?
That there are 'some Councillors' who need to be reprimanded for their 'performances'?
Are you saying that maybe there needs to be a greater relationship of engagement between residents and Councillors so that a more even flow of input is received by those charged with looking after our best interests?

"I have to admit, though, it was a gripping drama with an eclectic cast of characters providing 12 months of arousing content for media pundits.
The entire experience reaffirmed my belief Hamiltonians are passionate about their city.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem councillors are listening...or at least they only seem to listen to people who support their personal beliefs."

Wow; you sure do play the 'victim' card well.
And I'm really curious about your second sentence here. At first you're lambasting those who have taken the time to voice their opinions in whatever way they're able...and yet you're applauding people for showing they're 'passionate about their city'.
Your final sentence makes me believe that you're intent to inject 'whine' into your own opportunities for free speech. And that's a shame.

"Let’s take Confederation Park as an example. I spoke to Ward 10 Councillor Maria Pearson on a number of occasions regarding the stadium debate.
She would defend her decision not to support Confederation Park as a location with comments like, “That’s not what my constituents are telling me.” Last week, a poll commissioned by councillors Terry Whitehead and Scott Duvall seemed to contradict the suggested opposition to a stadium at Confederation Park."

My first question here would be 'Who ended up being targeted by this poll?
Exactly what is the demographic?
You should be asking the same questions, because I believe there's as much of a 'disparity' here as there is with your bitching about the one present in some people being able to voice their opinions (and thereby influence proceedings) while others 'have to work during the day'.
So tell me; do you honestly believe that the people being polled in this instance are a good representation of the people-at-large?

"Here’s one of the poll questions: In regards to the possible Confederation Park location, would you like council to consider building the stadium in Confederation Park or would you prefer to see the space remain as park land? In the eastern suburbs, which one can assume refers to Stoney Creek, more than 50 per cent of those surveyed supported a stadium at Confederation Park, as opposed to 41 per cent who wanted the site to remain as a park.
So clearly, if we are to believe the results of this poll, the majority of Pearson’s constituents actually wanted to see a stadium built at Confederation Park.
Across the city, Confederation Park squeaked out as the preferred location of residents polled."

Polling is always dangerous. Here's what someone far wiser than either of us has had to say on the subject:

"After a half century it's beginning to dawn on us that there is no such thing as public opinion. Since people don't normally have fixed opinions or well-established viewpoints on issues, their answers depend on the questions. Since reason — and, by extension, democratic politics — cannot be measured, polls are at bottom useless. They furnish us with statistics and give an air of scientific credibility to the fundamentally unscientific business of politics, but they tell us nothing about the quality of the public's views."

We elect/hire our Councillors to make the best decisions possible. I am against even the hint of the notion of people somehow being able to 'vote' on every major decision before Council. (Even if this were what our system was predicated on, there'd be a provision for easily-taken plebiscites, doncha think...?) So the idea of a Maria Pearson being slagged off for purportedly 'not listening to her constituents' (you're not a coffee mate of a former Ward 10 candidate, are you Mark?) is sad, funny and disappointing all at the same time.

"As for the Ivor Wynne solution, it wouldn’t have been my first or second choice.
A modern stadium in a high profile, high traffic location was always the best solution in my mind. Confederation Park or the rail yards at Aberdeen and Longwood would have given the city a showpiece of progress, not only for local residents, but those driving on routes through our area."

Good Lord, I can't imagine a more diametrically opposed stance to mine than yours. If I were to consider yours 'well thought out'. Which I don't. To quote Diane Lane, 'This is disturbing on so many levels.'

"Having a stadium buried in the West Harbour, out of sight and mostly out of mind, made little sense in terms of giving the city a showpiece."

I stand corrected; this stance is worse.

"The Ivor Wynne site isn’t much better in terms of using the stadium as a trophy of progress, but as opposed to making a wrong decision, or losing the money altogether, it’s better than nothing."

"It's better than nothing."
You know, I've had lots of conversations with Mahesh Butani, former Mayoral candidate, about the legacy 'malaise' that afflicts Hamilton. To me, at its core, it has to do with what I see as a protracted identity crisis prompted by its historical profile being decimated, combined with rampant peripheral development, a curiously abusive relationship with downtown management, and a dearth of true leadership.
Tied in with this, what you're saying here in this final comment speaks volumes.

Civic Engagement: What Can Residents Do? Post-script

When I think about civic engagement, when I talk about it, when I yammer on about it here, I reject the notion of 'Us vs Them'. Residents vs City Hall. Citizens vs Councillors.

I reject the innate cynicism where 'local politics' is concerned.

I'm not interested in adding to the lambasting, whether it be via murmured comment or harshly-typed vitriol.

While I certainly want to examine how things have been in order to figure out how we got to where we are, I'm far more interested in deliberating how we can improve local governance. And for me, the vast majority of the efforts, almost in their entirety, have to come from residents.

If we had an engaged citizenry that saw their involvement in local governance as part-and-parcel of how they lived their lives, if it was as engrained a manifestation as performing their roles as great parents to their children that some take on, for example, then I have no doubt that not only would we see our voter turnout rate more than doubled, we'd also see a massive change in how local governance unfolds...and how our Councillors execute this governance.

I do not believe the change we seek (even if some of us haven't envisioned it consciously) can come from any sort of restructuring from within City Hall. No rules or regulations regarding transparency or accountability, no mandates covering propriety can possibly effect the kind of authentic, substantive shift in paradigm that changing how our citizens see their place in the scheme of things could.

Neither can we accomplish much towards a better quality of living through anything fueled by anger. (Which is why the whole screaming-point of 'Throw the bums out!' at election time riled me the way it did. Ask Scott Thompson.) No, anger isn't going to get us anywhere, save onto another iteration of this clearly-unsatisfactory construct.

And yet, as I see it, the 'weak' aspect of the formula isn't on the 'Elected Official' side, it's on the other side, the side that's been habitually ignored. No matter the din from accrued disappointment every four years.

For there is no 'Them'. There's only 'Us'.

The sooner we realize this, the sooner we embrace this, the sooner we begin moving towards a much, much better state of local governance.

Civic Engagement: What Can Residents Do? A Multi-part Plan

  • Become aware of local issues, especially within your ward. (And when I say 'aware', I'm talking about a level more akin to understanding what's right and wrong with your favourite sports team, not to roughly understanding what the weather forecast is.)

  • Read your Councillor's blog or site, comment, contribute. (Push them electronically. Initiate dialogue yourself. Use the medium to its full advantage. People defend cell phones for kids with the rationale that the technology can help provide a level of safety, security. The same can be said about online access regarding improving the relationship of engagement between residents and their Councillors.)

  • Read online neighbourhood/community sites, comment, contribute. (Again, online access is a tremendous mechanism not only for information, but for change.)

  • Join neighbourhood associations, community groups. (Take the activism offline and 'into the streets', as it were. When those of a like-cause meet, it helps keep everything real.)

  • Engage your Councillor directly. (Emails and phone calls are is better. If we're ever to rid ourselves of the 'Us vs Them' mentality, if we're ever to decrease the 'tally of cynicism', if our residents are ever to have a positive default reaction to the phrase 'local politics', then we need to accentuate our humanity.)

  • Attend 'town hall meetings', either the brick-and-mortar or electronic kind. (This serves multiple purposes. It puts faces to names, both on the 'online neighbourhood' sense, and also regarding the Councillor. It also provides a more visceral opportunity to engage; we are, remember, skin-and-bone, not mouse-and-keyboard.)

  • Inject civic awareness into your family's awareness. (Think of it as the political equivalent of 'Neighbourhood Watch', or 'street-proofing' your children.)

  • Add your voice to the efforts to have 'Civics' taught more thoroughly, with more conviction in our schools. (Changing attitudes towards civic engagement has a parallel in changing attitudes towards health and fitness. It starts in the home...but must be deepened in the schools.)

  • Express your civic interest via groups like neighbourhood garbage cleanups and 'Bylaw Crawls'. (Talk is cheap, actions can be both invaluable, but also inspirational.)

  • At election time, inform yourself about the candidates. (Currently people put more time and effort into deciding what vacation destination they're heading to, what vehicle they're going to purchase...what film they're going to see.)

  • Vote, and do so using an informed, qualified opinion. (Although this should actually be more an end result of all of these actions contributing to the sea change in how people regard civic engagement than a goal in itself, it's still as tangible an end result as we could hope for.)
  • Civic Engagement: What Can Residents Do? An Introduction

    Currently less than 40% of eligible voters exercise their franchise in municipal elections.

    My take on the general tenor of Hamiltonians is that there's quite a 'tally of cynicism'. That people are cynical of elected officials, cynical of City Hall, cynical of the process of local governance. (Not all Hamiltonians feel this way. And not all that do would necessarily score their cynicism high on the scale. But it's there.)

    'A body at rest tends to remain at rest.'

    'It's easier to maintain than it is to attain.'

    'Inertia is a bitch.'

    My personal expressed here and on numerous occasions over at Raise the Hammer over the that positive change in a modern world generally happens only as a result of either a crisis...or something 'sexier' being presented. (I'm generalizing here, I'm being wildly vague as to what 'positive change' is, and I'm not addressing slow degradations to a 'worse' state.)

    One way we could see a sea change in how people regard their place in their own governance locally is for a crisis to unfold. A 'revolution', if you will.

    A 'sexier' way? Well, because we live in a market-based, media-rich society, a 'sexier' option would be wrapped up in presenting the idea of civic involvement as something that provided something of benefit to the resident. Allowed them to feel more worth, as if they were contributing to something, that they actually mattered in the overall scheme of things. Something that resonated within them. Something that tapped into pride. Into respect.

    I see the current situation of cynicism and apathy and detachment from the municipal political process as being akin to someone who is overweight, out of shape, drinks too much, smokes, has hugh blood pressure, who exhibits signs of early-onset Type II Diabetes and arthritis: there's so much room for improvement that the notion of 'making progress' isn't daunting as much as its potential is dizzying.

    Friday, January 28, 2011

    Of 'dialogue'...

    I'm not one for celebrity. Genuflection, worship, idolizing. Never have been able to get my head around the notion of putting people up on pedestals. Their accomplishments? Sure. But somehow elevating them merely for being them...and in the process not only reducing the observer's status (if you place someone 'above' you, then you're effectively 'lowering' yourself, yes?) but also in the process distancing themselves from their own value...has always seemed a bizarre notion to me.

    Which is why you'll seldom see me referencing someone's writing on this site. (Never mind the fact that there's always the risk of getting the "expert's" message wrong. I can't help but be reminded of the Marshall McLuhan scene in 'Annie Hall'.) While I'm not professing to be a standalone thinker, I'm also really not interested in having the regurgitation of other people's concepts and theories as my default. After all, I'm still finding my way on this 'civic activism' journey.

    But this week I happened across a writer who's got some things to say that very much align with what I tend to be yammering on about these days.

    Almost twenty years ago, Scott London wrote the essay 'Electronic Town Halls Can't Beat the Real Thing', which I happened upon when doing research for the recent series of posts about what Councillors can do to contribute to civic engagement. Though the concept of an electronic town hall as discussed by Mr. London is entirely different from what I was focusing on (his had to do with a television broadcast of a bricks-and-mortar event, followed up by a Gallup poll), it's an interesting snapshot/time capsule. As well, it contains this gem:

    "However noble his intentions, Gallup's mechanism has been a democratic disaster. After a half century it's beginning to dawn on us that there is no such thing as public opinion. Since people don't normally have fixed opinions or well-established viewpoints on issues, their answers depend on the questions. Since reason — and, by extension, democratic politics — cannot be measured, polls are at bottom useless. They furnish us with statistics and give an air of scientific credibility to the fundamentally unscientific business of politics, but they tell us nothing about the quality of the public's views."

    But it was another essay on Mr. London's site that really caught my eye. Entitled 'The Power of Dialogue', it has some brilliant things to say about communication.

    "Much of the time, we're not even listening to each other at all. The dialogue is a monologue. We fire salvos of information across the Internet, or shoot each other text messages, or blog or Twitter about ourselves. But is anyone paying attention? And if they are, do they catch our drift?"

    Mr. London notes there's a difference between dialogue and other forms of discourse: debate, negotiating, consensus-building, discussion and deliberation.

    "And unlike discussion, (dialogue) can only emerge when participants trust and respect each other, suspend their judgments, and listen deeply to all points of view."

    Naturally, you can read the entire essay at his site, but I'm going to include a particular chunk in this post. If nothing else, the suggestions he makes are invaluable references for conduct in our daily life, for our Councillors in local governance...and for those of us who frequent message boards or the Comments sections of sites such as Raise the Hammer and The Hamiltonian.

    Effective dialogue typically follows some basic ground rules:
    • The focus is on common interests, not divisive ones
    • The dialogue and decision-making processes are separated
    • Assumptions that can lead to distortions of certain points of view are clarified and brought into the open
    • People are encouraged to reveal their own insights and assumptions before speculating on those of others
    • Concrete examples are used to raise general issues
    • The process focuses on conflicts between value systems, not people
    • When appropriate, participants are encouraged to express emotions accompanying strongly held values
    • Participants err on the side of including people who disagree
    • They encourage relationships in order to humanize transactions
    • They minimize the level of mistrust before pursuing practical objectives.

        Of The PanAm Games Stadium Site Selection Process...And Concomitant 'Discussion'

        The Jack Joke

        One morning, Sam was heading out the door to his car when he came to a halt on the sidewalk. "Damn," he said, black cloud instantly over his head. "A flat."

        Just as instantly, he began generating thoughts. "Oh, boy... Getting the spare on is going to take time. Time I don't have. I'll be late for work, and I have a huge presentation this morning." He gasped. "I'm gonna get shit-canned."

        Sam's thinking continued. Soon enough, he smacked his forehead. "I don't have a jack! What the hell am I going to do?" he asked, the drama descending. "No spare tire installed...I'll be late, I'll miss my own presentation..." Clearly, anguish had replaced drama as he visualized the potential end result.

        "Wait!" he yelled, joyous. "Bob's got a jack! I'll go next door and borrow it!"

        Placing his briefcase on the lawn, Sam set off down the sidewalk. His mood having shifted, he grinned as he went. "I'll go next door, borrow the jack from Bob, change the tire, get to to work on time...and deliver my presentation!"

        Sam suddenly stopped at the street; the black cloud was back with a vengeance. "What if Bob won't lend me his jack? I won't be able to change the tire, I won't get to work on time, I won't be able to do my presentation..."

        Feeling tears coming on, Sam shook his head as he marched off once more. "No. He's my friend. We've known each other for years. He'll lend me his jack. Everything will be fine."

        At the bottom of Bob's driveway, Sam paused once more. "But what if he doesn't?" he asked himself. "What if he doesn't want to loan me the jack? I'll be screwed."

        Again Sam set off, this time over-full with piss and vinegar. Jaw stiff, eyes steely, he continued all the way up Bob's driveway, marching to destiny, steam coming out his ears.

        By the time he got to Bob's front door, he was livid. Reaching out to finger the buzzer, he recoiled and instead banged his fist on the door.

        After a short wait, the door opened and a smiling Bob appeared. "Hey, Sam! What's up? What's happ-"

        "Listen, dickhead," Sam spat. "You can take your jack and shove it up your ass!"

        Regarding underlying impressions of the Council meetings this week

        Often when people are trying to make up for other things -such as a sense of control, or authority or conviction...or credibility- there's a tendency towards earnestness.

        If we don't have the necessary facts at our disposal, if we're feeling unsure...we often start adding sentiment. (Admittedly, some of us stop, reconsider, recalibrate and re-navigate.)

        Indulging in bafflegab.

        Or as the Brits say, 'faffing-about'.

        (While there is a nasty extrapolation to be made here regarding lying, how we tend to 'say too much' when we're 'weave that tangled web', I'll leave that tack alone. For now.)

        Thursday, January 27, 2011

        Civic Engagement: What Can Councillors Do? Part Six

        As stated previously, I believe that the only authentic way to improve local governance on a long-term basis is to 'increase the relationship of engagement between the residents and their Councillors'.

        The direction of the engagement is paramount. It has to come from the citizenry to be authentic and longstanding. The primary impetus has to come from us.

        However, I also believe that Councillors must do what they can do to help build this new relationship of engagement. Here's my sixth suggestion towards this end.

        A Councillor should be making public contact in non-event situations.

        I believe that the inherent cynicism that people feel towards politicians is only magnified when it's perceived that Councillors are only 'seen' at events, functions, you know; hobbing with the nobs. There's no question that these occasions are a part of the game we call 'politics'. But there must be more to a Councillor's visibility.

        If we're going to change the culture of voter apathy, change the culture of disinterest, of detachment, then we have to change how we as residents see our Councillors. Specifically, how our children, our youth see them. And to me, this can be helped along by having more opportunities to have contact under day-to-day circumstances.

        These don't have to be public relations indulgences. In the case of improved awareness of 'civics', two birds can be killed with one stone. We have a lot of work cut out for us if we want our children to see local governance as not somewhat of an inconvenient obligation, but rather as something we feel a moral responsibility towards. Part of a fulfilling lifestyle. Getting our Councillors out there and seen, presenting them as 'real' is a powerful means towards this end.

        Civic Engagement: What Can Councillors Do? Part Five

        As stated previously, I believe that the only authentic way to improve local governance on a long-term basis is to 'increase the relationship of engagement between the residents and their Councillors'.

        The direction of the engagement is paramount. It has to come from the citizenry to be authentic and longstanding. The primary impetus has to come from us.

        However, I also believe that Councillors must do what they can do to help build this new relationship of engagement. Here's my fifth suggestion towards this end.

        A Councillor should utilize 'electronic town hall meetings'.

        Though the technology is still evolving, it's still possible to hold an online 'meeting' in which people are able to 'discuss' issues. It could be an 'Internet coverage' version of a live, bricks-and-mortar event, it could be one where the Councillor is essentially broadcasting in a video-chat mode and people can ask questions by way of text, it could be something akin to the traditional IRC chat-room mode, webinars, net-conferencing...

        I believe that options via broadband provide superb opportunities to connect with a higher degree of convenience for all concerned, and just about every innovation should be considered. Connection and dialogue it the goal, after all.

        Civic Engagement: What Can Councillors Do? Part Four

        As stated previously, I believe that the only authentic way to improve local governance on a long-term basis is to 'increase the relationship of engagement between the residents and their Councillors'.

        The direction of the engagement is paramount. It has to come from the citizenry to be authentic and longstanding. The primary impetus has to come from us.

        However, I also believe that Councillors must do what they can do to help build this new relationship of engagement. Here's my fourth suggestion towards this end.

        A Councillor should hold regular 'town hall meetings'.

        I do not believe that anything will ever replace the importance of in-person contact. Of breathing the same air, of being able to see the person in front of you, of being able to shake their hand and confirm their humanity. Especially in local governance, where there's no reason why this can't be accomplished. (Unlike in say with your federal representative when Parliament's in session)

        For too long, there's been a divide between resident and elected official. For too long there's been almost knee-jerk cynicism towards Councillors. An 'Us vs Them' mentality...even though residents are the 'employers'; City Hall works for us.

        Town hall meetings are invaluable opportunities to not only break down walls, but to enhance engagement by way of genuine dialogue. They shouldn't be regarded by Councillors as 'inconveniences that prevent the job at hand from being done', they're actually a means to get that job done better.

        Civic Engagement: What Can Councillors Do? Part Three

        As stated previously, I believe that the only authentic way to improve local governance on a long-term basis is to 'increase the relationship of engagement between the residents and their Councillors'.

        The direction of the engagement is paramount. It has to come from the citizenry to be authentic and longstanding. The primary impetus has to come from us.

        However, I also believe that Councillors must do what they can do to help build this new relationship of engagement. Here's my third suggestion towards this end.

        A Councillor should encourage neighbourhoods within the ward to establish their own blogs or sites and Facebook pages.

        Gone are the days when a sense of community grew organically. Life has become too fast-paced, too fragmented for that to happen, by-and-large. People live their lives in ways that their ancestors couldn't have imagined.

        And so the traditional 'ties that bind' have to be augmented, if not nurtured from the ground up. And online mechanisms are great ways to organize, to foster bonds, to engage neighbours. Which can only lead to better engagement within local governance.