Hope, Lies, Truth. Cape Brenton has seen it all says columnist
Finding the seeds of moral courage in Cape Breton
The world is getting gloomier. Fed up with lies and false promises, millions of people in western countries are turning to angry, populist, shallow characters who stoke fear of foreigners and thrive on “alternative facts.”
But what happened to the truth?
“Truth? What is truth?” According to the Gospel of John, such was Pontius Pilate’s infamous retort when confronted with the very word and notion – truth. In his mind, truth was the right of the strongmen to oppress, manipulate, calculate and, well, create the facts.
In Pilate’s view, there was really no right or wrong. An examination of conscience and the dilemmas of ethical living were not his thing.
Strongmen think that way today. Ironically, and dangerously, they are now feeding on people who feel they have been lied to by others. They are feeding on people who might have given up on searching for truth, on trusting anything or anyone.
And truth be told, we have been lied to by others – a lot. We Cape Bretoners do not have to look far. Greedy industrial bosses drained our resources and, too often, our people. Too many government schemes claimed to be for the many but benefitted only the few. Fly-bynight business promoters have shown up promising instant solutions to our economic situation, but to no avail.
And even some of the purveyors of truth have badly let us down. The leaders of the largest religious denomination on the island covered up for falsely pious clergy who were sexually abusing children. When the secretive hierarchy was finally made to pay, they turned on demoralized parishioners – quickly seizing property and money – hoping that the problem would go away.
But for the most part, Cape Bretoners have not turned on each other or turned on the rest of the world. This gives me hope. It tells me that we have the seeds here of moral courage. It tells me that we can be part of a solution to what is ailing the world today.
I think those seeds are to be found in our still-enduring sense of community. In spite of stresses and decline, we still have that precious resource – community. We still care for each other. Many of us belong to organizations and volunteer our time. We give generously to charities. We show up at public meetings not to shout mindless slogans and to spew hatred, but to propose and deliberate, even if it does get animated at times.
People who are homebound are usually not ignored here. We like to meet newcomers and hear from them and about them. We are opening our hearts to refugees. Membertou First Nation says: “Welcoming the World.” I like to think that it could well be a motto for our island.
But if the world needs more of Cape Breton, how do we share it? How can we truly be a region of refuge?
It’s about more than refugee settlement, although that’s important. It’s about providing lots of safe spaces to deliberate and debate. It’s about our university taking a lead on continuing adult education, service learning and freely engaging with the great problems of our times. It’s about our diverse faith communities building on already-strong friendships to combat hatred in every form.
It’s about twinning with communities far from us and building those local-to-local relationships that can transcend some of the craziness in the capitals.
It’s about developing our leadership skills and confidence to speak to the rest of the world.
Those safe spaces will be needed more than ever in the years ahead. The decline of democracy will only be stopped by a global citizens’ movement that builds bridges, not walls, the way we have done on a smaller scale in Cape Breton.
I hope those solidarity movements can find here a place to develop their skills, to repose when they need to and to study the world.
Because there is still something authentic about Cape Breton. Leaders might lie, but we know there is such a thing as truth, even if we’re not perfect. Somewhere in that basic decency and civility, somewhere in that intellectual curiosity, somewhere in that respect for faiths and cultures and justice and peace, somewhere in that humility and desire to tread carefully on the earth, somewhere in that compassion for those who have fallen on hard times, there lies a beautiful truth.
I hope the truth can keep us free.