A wake-up call to im­prove our abil­ity to come to­gether

The Amherst News - - OP-ED - Danny Gra­ham is the chief en­gage­ment of­fi­cer for En­gage Nova Sco­tia.

It’s been al­most one year since Don­ald Trump was elected U.S. Pres­i­dent.

And for many of us Cana­di­ans we re­main as be­wil­dered to­day as we did a year ago.

It’s com­mon for us to mock our “Amer­i­can Cousins” - or a lot of them - for be­ing duped by the “un­truths” of their new pres­i­dent. We are in­dig­nant that so many of them want to de­stroy Oba­macare (the Af­ford­able Care Act) that, in spirit, is so Canadian - eh.

And why can’t they just give up their guns in the wake of so many tragic shoot­ings?

I have Amer­i­can rel­a­tives who love Trump, hate Oba­macare and own hand­guns. We bar­beque, talk sports, love our chil­dren and en­joy each other’s com­pany.

They are good-hearted peo­ple – some born in At­lantic Canada. We trust each other to be there for cri­sis, an­niver­saries, funer­als and wed­dings – but that’s where the trust ends. We have lost our abil­ity to dis­cuss pol­i­tics, cli­mate change and many of the most im­por­tant chal­lenges fac­ing our world.

So, what gives? Is this a US-Canada thing? Partly yes and mostly no. Let’s start with the con­cept of trust.

The Edel­man Trust Barom­e­ter (https://www.edel­man.com/trust2017/) shows that, glob­ally, trust is plum­met­ing - in gov­ern­ment, me­dia, busi­ness and NGOs. Only 15% of 33,000 peo­ple sur­veyed in 28 coun­tries be­lieve the sys­tem is work­ing, while 52% be­lieve it is not –32% are un­cer­tain. This con­tin­ues a dra­matic de­cline that started with the global fi­nan­cial cri­sis.

Closer to home, the 2017 Barom­e­ter, as well as EKOS Re­search, point to a Canada that can no longer count it­self im­mune from the global trends of im­plod­ing trust and ris­ing pop­ulism.

While we have im­por­tant at­ti­tu­di­nal dif­fer­ences with Amer­i­cans, we mostly have sim­i­lar­i­ties. Poll­ster Frank Graves tracks th­ese trends and won­ders whether the Canadian es­tab­lish­ment – tonedeaf to the pop­u­lar­ity of the likes of Trump, Rob Ford or Don Cherry – re­main out of touch.

Well-ed­u­cated opinion lead­ers are com­plain­ing about us en­ter­ing a “post-truth” era, but should we be pay­ing more at­ten­tion to a “post-trust” era?

Trust is one of the se­crets to so­ci­etal hap­pi­ness and well­be­ing, ac­cord­ing to renowned Canadian re­searcher John Hel­li­well. It is the glue for com­mu­ni­ca­tion and col­lab­o­ra­tion - the mor­tar for eco­nomic suc­cess and im­proved qual­ity of life.

Much has been writ­ten in the last two years about why the world got frag­mented and dis­ori­ented (E.g. eco­nomic in­equal­ity, po­lar­iz­ing so­cial me­dia, de­clin­ing “so­cial/ moral fab­ric”), and what’s needed for a re­set (E.g. a dif­fer­ent eco­nomic frame­work; a new po­lit­i­cal par­a­digm; a pub­lic en­gage­ment re­nais­sance).

The dis­tor­tions and dis­rup­tions of many me­dia, and the In­ter­net in par­tic­u­lar, have been mas­sive. Our grand­par­ents wouldn’t rec­og­nize the of­ten-toxic echo cham­bers of Face­book and Twit­ter. They couldn’t imag­ine surf­ing end­less TV chan­nels, blogs and web­sites from our lonely La-Z-Boy to find opin­ions that only re­in­force our nar­row per­spec­tives.

The call of our time is to open our minds wider and dis­cover what those least like us might have to teach us. At its core this gets per­sonal. It re­quires us to ac­cept each other – es­pe­cially when we dis­agree - and con­nect in tough con­ver­sa­tions.

Pick your wicked Nova Sco­tia prob­lem - racism, clear-cut­ting, eco­nomic de­pen­dence, size of gov­ern­ment, in­equal­ity, youth out­mi­gra­tion, voter ap­a­thy or real es­tate de­vel­op­ment. None of them are quickly fix­able. They can only be re­solved at the speed of trust.

The Ivany Re­port said, “Over­com­ing the psy­cho­log­i­cal bar­ri­ers of di­vi­sion, dis­trust and dis­cour­age­ment may be just as im­por­tant as rais­ing cap­i­tal, pro­duc­ing new prod­ucts or find­ing new mar­kets.”

Our or­ga­ni­za­tion, En­gage Nova Sco­tia, has been work­ing with Nova Sco­tia com­mu­ni­ties to build trust through bet­ter pub­lic en­gage­ment be­cause we be­lieve it’s harder to dis­trust some­one “up close”. At­ti­tudes are formed in fam­i­lies and com­mu­ni­ties, and global change starts lo­cally.

In the last two months for ex­am­ple we have col­lab­o­rated on work­shops with 16 mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties to build un­der­stand­ing about the im­por­tance of pub­lic en­gage­ment. Th­ese mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties and oth­ers are build­ing ca­pac­ity to host bet­ter pub­lic meet­ings and close the “trust gap” amongst scep­ti­cal cit­i­zens, am­bi­tious com­mu­nity or­ga­ni­za­tions and cau­tious lo­cal gov­ern­ments.

Imag­ine a Nova Sco­tia where peo­ple reg­u­larly came out to com­mu­nity meet­ings; felt heard; built un­der­stand­ing with long-stand­ing op­po­nents; and sup­ported bold lead­er­ship to find new so­cial, eco­nomic and en­vi­ron­men­tal op­por­tu­ni­ties.

Th­ese work­shops are a few of the ac­tiv­i­ties we are un­der­tak­ing, in part­ner­ship with peo­ple and or­ga­ni­za­tions from one end of the prov­ince that are step­ping up be­cause they be­lieve in this place, and are ready to build a Nova Sco­tia that is more uni­fied, in­clu­sive and adap­tive to change.

The US pres­i­den­tial elec­tion and the mis­er­able splin­ter­ing our “cousins” are ex­pe­ri­enc­ing rep­re­sent a wake-up call to im­prove our abil­ity to the come to­gether. Let’s not waste it.

I be­lieve we are up to the chal­lenge. If ever there was a can­did and tol­er­ant cul­ture that can nav­i­gate th­ese chan­nels, Nova Sco­tia is it.


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