Hope, Lies, Truth. Cape Bren­ton has seen it all says colum­nist

Find­ing the seeds of moral courage in Cape Bre­ton

Cape Breton Post - - CAPE BRETON - Tom Ur­ba­niak

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.

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