Author James Hoggan spoke to a rapt — and civil — audience in Nelson in 2017.

CHECK THIS OUT: A diet of civility

Anne DeGrace writes about respectful discourse

By Anne DeGrace

In James Hoggan’s book I’m Right and You’re an Idiot: the Toxic State of Public Discourse and How to Clean it Up, he suggests that one of our most pressing problems is “the pollution of the public square, where a smog of propaganda, adversarial rhetoric, and polarization is stifling discussion and debate, creating resistance to change, and thwarting our ability to solve our collective problems.” If you were anywhere other than under a rock this past federal election you know exactly what he’s talking about.

Hoggan interviewed thinkers from across the globe in order to gain perspective. He talked to Noam Chomsky, Thich Nhat Hanh, and the Dalai Lama among others, and he collected their thoughts in one enlightening volume published in 2016 (available on our shelves at 302.2). In 2017 he came through Nelson as part of a speaking tour and addressed a packed house at the Nelson United Church.

Of course the respectfully listening audience was predisposed to civil discourse, and yet heard some surprising takes on this timely topic. I took notes, bought the book, and applied its lens to our municipal election last fall and to our recent federal election. And I heard more of “I’m right and you’re an idiot” through the course of those two events — from electors and candidates, both — than I’d have wished.

I’d like to think we are a little kinder when it comes to local politics, yet Donna Macdonald, who served 19 years on Nelson city council, talked about the need to “combat miserablism” in her memoir Surviving City Hall. She talks about all the places where boundaries are crossed — including 2 a.m. calls from disgruntled citizens — and she has good advice for anyone running for elections and those who elect them: listen to one another.

We are less kind in federal elections, when we feel a distance from our “targets,” which unfortunately gives some folks license to verbally abuse candidates (and the candidates to abuse their rivals). A current case in point is the threats and misogynistic graffiti aimed at Catherine McKenna, who was environment minister during the Liberals’ last term of office.

This state of events could, in part, be spillover from the U.S. climate of toxic discourse, but also the fallout of social media anonymity. In the book Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age by Sherry Turkle (302.231), the author posits that when we turn to our devices instead of one another, the cost is loss of empathy.

There’s an event coming up at the library that’s set to test our civility, and I hope we can hold ourselves to a high standard — something more like: “this is what I think; what do you think?”

On Thursday, Nov. 21 at 7 p.m. Nelson at Its Best and the Nelson Public Library present a follow-up to last year’s “candi-dating” event, in which voters were invited to sit down with municipal candidates for illuminating micro-conversations. Council-dating: Checking In, One Year Later is an opportunity to check in with Nelson city council to see how the first year of office has gone.

This kind of event invites civility, encourages listening, and is founded on respect. It recognizes the working relationship between our elected representatives and ourselves. There will be “speed-dating” conversations as well as a chance to hear from councillors as they respond to audience questions. The evening includes an overview of the city’s strategic planning process.

Participants can write congratulatory or critical “apples” and “onions” on sticky notes, messages that council can take for feedback information — keeping in mind the inherent gentleness of these fruits and vegetables. Because at the end of the day we all need a good diet of civility.

Anne DeGrace is the adult services co-ordinator at the Nelson Public Library. Check This Out runs every other week.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Two new COVID-19 cases announced in Interior Health region

The total number of cases in the region is at 533

Selkirk College international students get helping hands from Korean moms

We Care K-Moms have been shopping and delivering food to new arrivals

New trial ordered for man found guilty of the 2010 murder of his wife in Arrow Lakes

Peter Beckett was found guilty of murdering his wife 10 years ago

LETTER: Nelson, we have a problem

From reader Kevin LePape

B.C. counts 125 new COVID-19 cases, up to 1,284 active

No new deaths or health care facility outbreaks

Health Canada green-lights rapid COVID-19 test

Health Canada approved the BCube test from Hyris Ltd. in the United Kingdom Sept. 23

First Nations Health Authority chief medical officer concerned with rising COVID-19 cases

“There’s still so much we don’t know and we’re learning everyday about this particular virus.”

FINLAYSON: COVID-related job losses concentrated in urban areas… especially Metro Vancouver

The biggest job losses, in absolute terms, have been in Metro Vancouver

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

6 puppies rescued in mass seizure on Princeton farm die from illness: BC SPCA

Of the 97 distressed horses, cats and dogs seized, most of the puppies suffered from parvo

Action demanded over death of First Nations youth in Abbotsford group home

Family and Indigenous organizations push for thorough investigation

U.S. boater fined $1,000 for violation of Quarantine Act

49-year-old man entered Canada to visit girlfriend in Surrey

Most Read