For most of my life when I was politically engaged, I defined myself as a conservative. For most of the last decade, I would often tell people I was a progressive conservative. But now, I don’t feel I can put a label on my politics.
Does that surprise you? I know that for some, they might not believe it.
“Knack is one socialist wing nut.” This quote came from a post on a social media page a few weeks ago.
“…and I say this as a leftist, which Knack definitely isn’t.” This quote also came from a post a few weeks ago from someone who, as you can see, clearly identifies as someone on the left side of the political spectrum.
You might be asking why I’d even bother writing about this topic. It doesn’t seem like there’s much to gain by providing more details about who I’ve voted for in the past or how I define myself now because thankfully, municipal politics is not heavily partisan. But over the last eight months, I have seen how dismissive people can be simply because they aren’t aligned on one specific issue or because they assume where you sit on the political spectrum.
Now it is worth saying clearly that if your politics involves not providing equal rights to people of colour, people who identify as LGBTQ2+, people with disabilities, women, people who have different religious beliefs/no religious beliefs, people from different countries, people of different ages, people working in different jobs, etc., then I completely understand dismissing those opinions because restricting the rights of another person is not something we should ever be debating.
Unfortunately, there was a time that I didn’t agree with providing equal rights to everyone. For the first 24 years of my life, I didn’t support marriage equality. I’m not proud of that time and I know how much harm that caused the people close to me. I’m truly sorry for the pain that I created. It took me too long to understand that my position on that topic was not valid when compared to the person who was simply looking for equal opportunity under the law to marry the person they love.
As human rights aren’t up for debate, what is up for debate is when someone wants to discuss the best use of tax dollars, how to best clear snow, where to allow new development, etc. I think we should be actively engaging many different people to hear a variety of opinions.
As noted above, I’ve never seen it more toxic than I have now. I understand why this is the case. The uncertainty created by this pandemic has created a lot of stress in people’s lives. Many are concerned about the health of their loved ones and how they will pay their bills in a challenging economy. That level of stress means that we have less patience for other issues which can translate to anger or frustration.
The other major factor is the normalization of toxic behaviour by the leader of the United States. What would have been seen as immoral behaviour just 4 years ago is now seen by some as acceptable. That has empowered some people across the world to say and do things that we would never accept from our family, co-workers, or any person we cross paths with. I’ll have more to write about this specific issue after November 3rd.
As this has all been happening, I have found it more challenging to engage with people, particularly using social media and email. That’s disappointing because even when you hate a decision I make, I’d much rather know the reasons you disagree so I can better understand any concerns. On occasion, we can make changes that address people’s concerns. Of course, there are times that there will be no way to address someone’s concerns but I feel it’s still important to explain why a decision has been made so people understand the thought process that went into a decision.
Part of why I think it’s hard for me to put a label on my politics now is because, for me, the most important characteristics of an elected representative are integrity, honesty, and respect. I would much rather vote for someone who I agree with some of the time but know they will act honourably, actively engage others, and communicate truthfully, instead of voting for someone I agree with almost all the time but has chosen to be unethical, disrespectful, and dismissive of others.
I believe that someone who acts ethically and with integrity while actively listening to others will make the best decisions possible on the most important issues. Someone with those characteristics will be open to changing their mind based on new information. While some call that a ‘flip-flop’, I would far prefer engaging with people who want to continue listening and learning than someone who will forever remain set in their ways.
I wanted to write about this as a reminder to Edmontonians to remember what is possible when we come together, even as people with different views. We develop a greater appreciation for people with different life experiences. We become more empathetic to the difficulties that others may face. That understanding results in more informed decision making.
What I have come to realize over the years of knocking on doors and engaging with people at community events/meetings is that most people don’t exclusively agree with any one political ideology. If we remind ourselves of that every day, we may approach our interactions in a different way that allow us to appreciate other points of view even if we don’t end up agreeing.
None of this means we should avoid offering criticism. I have been critical of decisions made by current and previous provincial and federal governments and I will continue to do that. I am often more critical of parties that I used to affiliate with because I feel that some people within those parties that I used to support have taken a very different path that I feel is damaging to our democracy.
When I offer that criticism, I try to provide an alternative solution. I want to provide an opportunity for people to consider something new. I truly believe that most people want to keep learning and evolving. That desire to keep improving should include being open to a different voice. Again, if someone is trying to take away the rights of someone else or restrict someone from having the same rights as I do, you shouldn’t have to be ‘open to a different voice’ because equity is not up for debate.
How you define me may depend on where you define yourself and/or the issue currently being discussed. What I hope you take away from this post is that I will always be interested in hearing from you. I know there is no way we will agree 100% of the time, but I know that I will be able to make better decisions if you take the time to share your constructive feedback on the issues.
Likewise, I hope you keep an open mind and work to engage people from outside your immediate network. The algorithms within social media make it challenging to find information that may challenge your way of thinking. Because of that, you may think that everyone believes the same thing you do since you aren’t hearing from people outside of your echo chamber. We have to be deliberate in engaging others and I hope you make that choice to expand your network.
What are some of your ideas for how to change this dynamic of division? What steps do you take to engage those you might not agree with? How do you like to share constructive feedback? I’d love your feedback on this to help create a culture where we are encouraged to learn from each other.