No matter what part of the political spectrum you may occupy, it is always a shock to realise that the “others”, the ones you find most objectionable, hard-nosed, mean-spirited and downright wrong, actually believe in their positions as sincerely as you do. Maybe it’s ego, maybe it’s a lack of imagination. But we often find ourselves marvelling that anyone in their right minds could hold such crazy, daft, ridiculous and uninformed opinions as we find them ranting about in the media, in coffee shops, or even right to our faces. I mean, how could they possibly believe what they’re saying? Don’t they know how nonsensical they sound?
Sadly, we all feel that way, at least sometimes. It never occurs to us that people we like or admire really think that way. I mean, there are people, some people I respect and consider friends, who would have voted for Trump! Unbelievable! Then there are others, people who may like or respect me (not too many, I grant you), who cannot fathom how I could possibly be a Christian. They look bewildered that anyone with a working brain could believe in such things.
But, while the experience of finding political or philosophical opponents among people we would normally consider friends and neighbours might be a hard pill to swallow, we tend to accept that, to put it simply, some people are just plain weird. The world, it turns out, is full of daft and crazy people – and us.
Throughout Canadian history, we have enjoyed and even celebrated the fact that we are not all of the same opinion on most things. We have had the luxury of developing our system of democracy gradually, over generations, absorbing newcomers and their different traditions, languages and customs. We have developed a wonderfully Canadian approach to politics in this federal system we worked out 150 years ago (and are still in the process of fine-tuning even today).
We put one party in office for a while, then turf them out when they start to seem a little stale, or complacent. This is usually not because of policies, because there are rarely any significant differences between them on that score, but just to have a change. Someone has said that we don’t usually vote for something, we usually are voting against something else. That may be so. Certainly, in Ontario we have a tradition of ensuring that, if one of the major parties is in power in Ottawa, we vote the other one into office at Queen’s Park. This, of course, means that the Liberals are about to get turfed out of that building and be replaced by some others.
Unfortunately, tragically, this is not the case everywhere. In far too many places, possibly in most other places, this coat of many colours idea is not acceptable. Groups turn to violence, revolution, pogroms and assassination as a means of imposing their ideas on others. Historical grievances, philosophical or theological differences, ideological divisions, all can make people resort to methods that we in the “civilised” nations find repulsive. More importantly, we find those methods unnecessary, and that is an important point.
We have our way of doing things, of settling, or at least debating our differences, and that has evolved slowly over the centuries. Widening the right to vote and take part in the process of governing has provided an alternative to violence and revolution for the most part. Grievances, as real and deep as they may be, can be addressed peacefully, if not always to our satisfaction. This has relied on patience and tolerance of other ideas, other customs and other peoples, a foundational, fundamental aspect of our democracy.
There are still so many in our society who cannot, or will not, drop their idea of Canada as some kind of “pure” country, in danger from outside threats. I posted an Amber Alert from the police who were looking for what they called an “African-Canadian” little boy. One poster on Facebook made the statement: “So, is he African or Canadian, which is it?”. Yes, we have different ideas and different views on many things. Yes, we can often find it hard to understand the point of view of those who disagree with us. But, I ask you: can anyone really condone that kind of comment about a young child in danger? We have gone through many generations of newcomers (starting with the French and the English), all of whom had to go through a period when they were seen as outsiders and even dangerous. In this year of Canada 150, maybe we need to begin to relearn our history, and understand that what made, and makes, this country as great as it is, is that very coat of many colours, that hyphen in our Canadianism, that has allowed us to develop what most people appreciate as an open, tolerant and welcoming society.