Beware of darkness


I’m not sure if people were always this simplistic, or is it the result of too much Facebook and Twitter and other “platforms” that have encouraged this approach to life in all its aspects?

What I mean is this increasing policy of zero sum issues.

That means having the attitude that if I win, you lose, and if you win, I lose. It shows itself in the stand people take that says, everything is either good or evil, people are either great or devils, politics is all about good guys and bad guys.

There seems little room for discussion, for sharing differing views and considering other points of view.

Perhaps I am being a bit jaded with things these days.

Last week, I wrote an article that gently criticised the municipal council, and was then attacked for denying all the good they’ve done. This in spite of the fact that the article did say they were the best council we’ve ever had since amalgamation, and myriad articles in praise of their efforts over the past almost three years.

No, that was not good enough: I dared to point out something where I think they could have done better, and that was the same, in some peoples’ eyes as condemning them completely.

Which is, in fact, what other readers did: comments on Facebook took my article and categorically announced that this council is “useless”. Talk about zero sum politics!

The entire situation arose out of some remarks made at a council meeting, and in (yet again) Facebook posts, which basically said: “I voted for this mayor before, but after this prison issue, I won’t vote for her again”. Really? You would prefer to forget the energy, integrity, and positive initiatives of this council, and the incredible way in which they responded to the pandemic crisis, because they haven’t done what you wanted on this one issue?

Democracy should mean that we can openly and critically debate issues without resorting to winner-loser behaviour. Agree to disagree, and feel free to state your position either way. Drawing lines in the sand generally means everyone loses in the long run.

Of course, no-one likes to be criticised – even more, no-one likes to be condemned for what they believe or think. What makes criticism particularly hard to take is when those doing the criticising clearly don’t know the full story.

I have been roundly condemned by a few people over an article I wrote about an Indian Residential School at Spanish, on Lake Huron. The mistake I made, apparently, was to say it was “one of the best” of its type. The very suggestion that it was not a pit of depravity, rape, torture and genocide was enough to make me a racist in the eyes of my critics.

Zero sum, again. If it is not great, its awful; if it’s not the worst, then someone is lying. It was beside the fact that I happened to have researched and written a book on that school’s history, or that I have spent my entire professional career working for and with indigenous people.

No, these people who had done none of the research, none of the reading of the Truth and Reconciliation report on IRS institutions, felt quite qualified to make accusations of racism, lying, distorting facts, etc., with apparent ease and self righteousness.

This has to stop. People need to think between the lines, to realise that not everything is one thing or another: that there are good and bad, right and wrong, in almost every aspect of life. None of us is perfectly right all the time. Nor are we perfectly wrong all the time either.

It is perfectly fine to disagree with another person’s opinion, as long as it is done on an informed basis. Informed: that is surely the key here. Too much of our political debate is not as informed as it perhaps should be, Likewise, much of our media coverage of issues like the IRS scandal is uninformed, knee-jerk reaction designed to make headlines, not informed discussion of issues that deserve better than they get.

As for our local issue of the day: both sides need to get some perspective. The last council was dismissed because, in part, they actually told residents that they, the council, were above criticism. That was both arrogant and fatal to their political careers.

At the same time, those who threaten to throw this current lot out, in spite of the enormous good they have done in the face of unprecedented times, need to be careful what they wish for.

You may not like how this council has handled this one issue: but there are far worse ideas out there that could take their place. This is not a matter of the devil you know being better than the one you don’t. It is a matter of appreciating what we have now, and being willing to enter into open dialogue (on both sides) instead of simply condemning.

The sad fact I am facing, even as I write this, is that haters will hate, there will always be those who will jump at the chance to criticise, judge, condemn.

To quote Kristofferson once again: “’Cause everybody’s gotta have somebody to look down on, who they can feel better than at any time they please”.

Or, perhaps more importantly, the words of George Harrison: “Watch out now. Take care, beware the thoughts that linger, winding up inside your head. Beware of darkness”.


  1. That is one of the best editorial pieces that I have read in a long time. Thank you David Shanahan. I too am very saddened at our ability to talk with each other. We must respect informed decisions that people make and not attack personally because we do not agree. I fear for our country and our local communities if we can’t speak of the good and the bad without dismissing each other.

  2. Excellent article and I love the closing quotes – they resonated with me. I recognize your love for this country and it’s history. The joy of discussion begins with curiosity and the desire to learn from each other.

  3. Mr. Shanahan I know how you feel and your article “Beware of Darkness” hits a point with me. I received some nasty Facebook posts for roughly four days in a row in a local Kemptville Facebook Group this week. All because I posted “Don’t let your female dog pee on someone else’s lawn, because it causes a severe burn”. Well some Kemptville folks let me have it through their verbal diarrhea. Until the very last post when a female member of that group wrote: “For God’s sake why is someone else’s lawn your business, it’s just a f….n lawn. Society has changed since I arrived in Kemptville in 1975. I received a lot of positive comments from the community as well. One prominent member said: “This Social Media Generation likes to argue”. That’s ok until they start slinging mud. It’s an awful feeling that I have been treated in such away by some bad apples in the Kemptville Community, which I served for 46 years. So, your article Mr. Shanahan hits me right in my heart. My brother-in law said to me one time: “Don’t let negative people occupy space in your head”. So, I deleted the entire Kemptville Facebook Group from my Facebook, which meant I also lost all the good members I served and had a good relationship with.
    It is sad that we live in a society of people who are selfish, discontented, and disrespectful, and ……they show a lack of empathy. Thank you for having the courage to write the article “Beware of Darkness”. As Jeff Bezos said the other day when he returned from his space flight: “Courage and Civility”, that’s what brings success to a community: “Courage to do the right thing and Civility to bring the Community together”. William J. Langenberg

  4. We live in a society that supports zero sum outcomes, eg. first past the post elections instead of having ridings represented by %’s of voter’s preference. Our court system is winner take all. Schools are pass or fail. Politics is left or right, etc. I hope the me-too movement, black lives matter, the Holocaust of natives, and the covid-19 world vaccination fiasco help us all to see that cooperation, justice, and truth are not zero sum games.


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