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Can civility return?

Confessions of a realistic pollyanna

I know a couple back in Canada. They have been married for 5o years or more. They get along differently than many couples I know. They fight all of the time. One says the sky is blue. The other will say it is grey. One says it is warm outside. The other says it is chilly. For 50 years, the couple has argued with each other. That is the way they get along. I guess they agree on the common, important things. But in the little things in life, they are sparring partners. Even though they fight all of the time, you can see that this couple is indeed in love.

This couple gets me thinking about the politeness of debate. I was amazed to hear that for most of the 20th century, the politicians in Canada actually engaged in a form of polite debate. Yes one leader would support the policies of their party or another, but they did so in a polite way. That is your opinion and this is mine, sort of thing. They would debate hard all day and then the different party leaders would have each other over for supper. It was possible to disagree without disrespecting. This has been lost in Canada and in so many other countries. Our parliaments have become camps of us and them. Governments win power often not because of good policies and good managements, but rather because they convince us that their party is so much better than the other party. Governments don't come up with new policies, they just poke holes at the policies that were made by previous governments from other parties.

I have witnessed this once before myself. In 2009 I was invited to a meeting of several internation social justice and peace agencies in Bogota, Colombia. Sometimes the debate got quite heated. "Your clients are benefitting because our clients are suffering." "You do business with folks who oppress people we know." "Your agency is getting funding from a government we don't trust." "We need economic liberation." "We need freedom from the military occupation that we face." For four days these people shared, debated, finger pointed, name called.

And then it happened. On a evening away from the meetings we had a dance. People danced with those that they had argued with. They laughed. They had a wonderful time. The debates of the day had gone by the wayside. The joy of life and delight in each other's company became the order of the day.

The next date heated debate returned. But you could see that tension had been eased. Despite their differences, these people could see they could work together. The previous nights dance had forged a new community of respect amongst the people.

This country has just undergone a bruising debate on same sex marriage. People on both sides of the debate report that they have been verbally and physically abused because of their debates on the Issue. A friend's church was invaded last weekend by vocal "No" supporters who were trying to bully those who had not yet voted yet to support their cause. I pray that once the results are announced next Wednesday morning that parties on both sides can vow to work together for the good of all people. I pray that all of us can look for the similarities that bind us rather than those things that seperate us. It will take humility on both sides. It will take a good amount of listening. But with some hard work, it may be possible.

Robert Frost talks of the two paths in the woods. Here is his poem here:


Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveler, long I stood

And looked down one as far as I could

To where it bent in the undergrowth;


Then took the other, as just as fair,

And having perhaps the better claim,

Because it was grassy and wanted wear;

Though as for that the passing there

Had worn them really about the same,


And both that morning equally lay

In leaves no step had trodden black.

Oh, I kept the first for another day!

Yet knowing how way leads on to way,

I doubted if I should ever come back.


I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.




We may have taken different paths in the forest. Next Wednesday one side will be happy, the other sad. But maybe we can put aside the vitriol of this debate and realise that we can be still together as one. Blessings.

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