IDEA #5: Imagination builds bridges

Okay, okay, you are going to figure this out. I’m a pathological bridge-builder.

Sure, there are times when I’ve disengaged, intentionally stood by and watched something collapse. Rarely do I destroy things or promote enclave thinking.

Building bridges between people is my preference. The NGO I set up in Yemen was called Canada Bridges. No accident. It takes imagination to build these bridges. And that, to me, is energizing.

When you decide to wade into a polarized issue (remember Idea #1, Step up, Shoulders Squared?), you have choices about how to engage. I’m not judging you on your choices.  Just want to emphasize, there are choices.

Ignoring people who don’t look like you, or think like you, used to be a lot easier. Like-minded people could hold sequestered opinions. With the instant and broad communication we have now, ignoring the ‘other’ is difficult. When I talk with my 80-year-old Mom, who lives in a farmhouse in rural Ontario, she surprises me with her questions about what’s going on in the world. She’s plugged in.

Knowing this, one choice for you is to turn up the volume and the aggression on your messages. It’s not a choice I recommend though. I get your anger. I’m angry that the University of Alberta is daring to laud David Suzuki at this point in Alberta’s history. But really, doubling down on shame and blame hasn’t helped resolve many polarities.  It’s built higher walls and thicker barriers.

Look at the pipeline battles in Canada. We’re spending our energy building barriers, not ideas. We need to figure out ways to engage with the University of Alberta, including members of their Senate whose job is to make sure the voices of the community are heard. Imagine what bridges could be built if Suzuki recognized the poignancy of this moment too, and suggested to the University of Alberta that it may be better if he accepted the honour in another year.

Nor am I suggesting you become a namby-pamby both-and’er:  We’re all one family, we just need to get along! Play nice in the sandbox. This will all blow over. 

Pollyanna or avoidance isn’t going to diffuse tensions between people who want pipelines and people who don’t; between people who want trade protection and people who want free trade.

When people say, “Oh, we all want the same things, we’re just using different vocabularies,” or “We all pray to the same God“, even “The economy and the environment are two sides of the same coin,” the arguments don’t ring true. They are shallow.

We can’t get beyond confrontation, dichotomy, and polarity with namby-pamby.

We can’t replace a fictitious polarity with an equally fictitious unity. In the Bible, God said, blessed are the peace-makers, not the peaceful.

You have decided to wade into the polarity. You have choices. And I know what I’m asking you to consider is hard.

You want to gag at times – I do too, especially when I read Trump’s tweets. But, I’m asking you to try not to gag. On issues you care about, resist gagging, and figure out how you can engage with the other, even the Repulsive Cultural Other.

Sometimes we go to great lengths to differentiate ourselves from that other.

Americans and Canadians aren’t the same.

People from BC aren’t the same as people from Alberta.

It’s striking how we can live as neighbours, share ancestry and hold similar customs and yet strive for such distinct identities.

Sigmund Freud explained this particular hostility between groups of people that are in many ways quite alike as the narcissism of minor differences. To protect our sense of self, we artificially inflate the significance of minor differences we use to construct our identities.

For example, we say things like:

Unlike the US, Canada is a country that values social justice.

Unlike Alberta, British Columbia is a place that cares about affordable housing, pipeline spills.

When you focus on building walls, leaning too heavily on minor differences and ignoring the fundamentals, you can tend to define yourself by what you are not.

It’s way more fun & imaginative to build bridges, rather than walls.

IDEA #5: Imagination builds bridges.

So, what the next idea? It’s about decision-making. How precious it is.

All of us hold power in decision-making.

You may have top-down authority to make a decision. You may have the expertise and credibility to influence a decision, to offer up new ideas. You may have the legitimacy to constructively dissent to a decision that affects you directly. You may be motivated to block implementation of a decision that you don’t like.

Making or influencing or blocking a decision that affects others is a big deal.

It’s a choice, a skill and a responsibility. It is a precious power.

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Next week, IDEA #6: Decision-making is a precious power.

Donna Kennedy-Glans, May 13th 2018

See also:

7 Ideas for Life: An Antidote to Polarity

Idea # 1: Step up, shoulders squared.

Idea # 2: Treat YOU like the ones you teach. 

Idea #3: Befriend the like-hearted. 

Idea #4: Know where you lead from.

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