Marc Dalton was elected Conservative MP for Pitt Meadows-Maple Ridge. THE NEWS/files

Marc Dalton was elected Conservative MP for Pitt Meadows-Maple Ridge. THE NEWS/files

CITIZEN INK: Stories of fellow Canadians foster understanding

Walking a mile in a fellow Canuck’s shoes might give us more empathy and dissipate divisiveness

by Katherine Wagner/Special to The News

Forty years ago my teenaged self penned a letter to the editor of a national newspaper.

I pleaded for Quebec to remain part of Canada. It was my first published writing.

I don’t remember the exact wording, but I do remember the hollow feeling in my gut as I worried the province I’d called home for several years might split away from the rest of the country.

That hollow feeling has returned and with it a sickening sense of deja vu.

It seems Canadians didn’t learn from our history.

Now, it isn’t only a rising separatist sentiment in Quebec, but also in Alberta and Saskatchewan and there are rumblings of discontent in other regions and communities.

I’d like to believe it’s just a short-lived election hangover, but by all signs divisions are building rather than dissipating.

We waited 40 days for leaders to stop throwing around insults, poorly defined spending promises, and slogans.

The election came and went without even lip service to a comprehensive vision for Canada. A country without common vision will always struggle to hold itself together. Without a national vision ‘what’s in it for me’ gains primacy.

The result on Oct. 21 starkly highlighted our deep regional divides and in the days since, many citizens have taken up the petty name-calling modeled by those who claimed they were the best choice to govern us all.

Our representatives are chosen by riding and Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta have far fewer ridings than other provinces and as a result our individual votes matter less at the federal level.

We are a divided country with some perspectives and regions more represented than others, further fueling feelings of alienation.

I’ve been thinking about what individual citizens can do?

Perhaps we can commit to taking more vacations within our own borders.

Instead of traveling to points south, we might take the time to make connections to the north, east, and west. It would help, but it’s also not an option for many.

Then, last weekend I attended the Surrey International Writers Conference.

Eileen Cook, a North Vancouver author and former counsellor with a specialty in neuroscience, delivered one of the keynotes.

She talked about how reading or listening to stories about the experiences of others develops empathy.

“If I give you a list of information your parietal lobe lights up as it decodes the words. However, if I give you that list of information in the form of a story, other parts of your brain light up. The frontal cortex, and the occipital lobe, and the temporal.”

Your brain doesn’t differentiate between actually being there, and hearing about the experience.

It was an “aha” moment for me.

Empathy has been largely absent from the articles and social media responses to regional concerns.

Dismissive insults and rants seem to be the order of the day, which is only deepening our divisions.

Reading is an opportunity to walk a mile in the shoes of fellow Canadians.

We have a leadership deficit in Canada right now and the rest of us cannot afford to wait.

A sustainable vision for Canada is born of understanding and empathy, not rancour and demands.

It’s time we stop waiting for our leaders to unite us. There’s power in individual connections and honest attempts at understanding and empathy. It’s the basis for mature, respectful debate. We can all take a leadership role in this regard.

Talk to someone whose views differ from your own and ask why, and then shelve the urge to argue and be prepared to really listen.

I started 2019 by pledging to look for hope in everything.

It’s been a challenge, but I’m not ready to give up.

During the next couple of months, I’ll be reading and compiling a list of books and stories that open windows into the lives of Canadians across the land and particularly our aboriginal and immigrant communities.

I’m interested in your suggestions.

On Saturday, Jan. 18, as part of the Golden Ears Writers and Readers Festival at The ACT Maple Ridge, Eileen Cook will be leading a workshop titled The Power of Story: How Stories Can Change Your Life – Or At Least Your Brain. Please mark your calendar.

There’s no charge to attend this event.

Katherine Wagner is a member of the Citizens’ Task Force on Transparency,

a former school trustee and member of Golden Ears Writers

RECENT COLUMN: Climate change and integrity on the ballot

Just Posted

Maple Ridge resident wins Rotary Duck Race grand prize

Thousands raised for local youth, seniors groups and organizations – but less than in previous years

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has announced a lottery for vaccinated Albertans. (photography by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Our View: If a lottery would help promote vaccines, why not hold one?

Getting to 80 per cent vaccinations could be easier with a couple million-dollar prizes

Maple Ridge council is considering the next 147 townhomes at the Provenance development. (Neil Corbett/The News)
Council considers Polygon townhouse development in Maple Ridge

Another 147 units in complex at Pazarena Place

The red circle is where Wednesday morning’s earthquake originated from. (Google Maps - Volcano
Magnitude 2.1 earthquake rumbles Ridge

Wednesday afternoon’s quake epi-centre was 11 km north-east of Maple Ridge

Ridge Meadows RCMP gather on Patrick Road north of McDonald Road in Pitt Meadows Thursday. (Colleen Flanagan - The News)
VIDEO: Sudden death leads to large police presence in Pitt Meadows

RCMP, ambulance and a police helicopter circled a property at Patrick Road and McDonald Road

People line up to get their COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination centre, Thursday, June 10, 2021 in Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Vaccines, low COVID case counts increase Father’s Day hope, but risk is still there

Expert says people will have to do their own risk calculus before popping in on Papa

The border crossing into the United States is seen during the COVID-19 pandemic in Lacolle, Que. on Friday, February 12, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
U.S. border restrictions to remain in place until at least July 21

Safety minister says Canada, U.S. extending restrictions on non-essential international travel

Helen Austin performing with Trent Freeman at the 2018 Vancouver Island MusicFest. Austin is one of the many performers listed for the 2021 event.
Vancouver Island MusicFest goes virtual for 2021

Black Press to stream 25 hours of programming July 9-11

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
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

FILE – A science class at L.A. Matheson Secondary in Surrey, B.C. on March 12, 2021. (Lauren Collins/Surrey Now Leader)
Teachers’ union wants more COVID transmission data as B.C. prepares for back-to-school

BCTF says that details will be important as province works on plan for September

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry outlines B.C.’s COVID-19 restart plan, May 25, 2021, including larger gatherings and a possible easing of mandatory masks on July 1. (B.C. government photo)
B.C. records 120 new COVID-19 cases, second vaccines accelerating

Lower Pfizer deliveries for early July, Moderna shipments up

A Heffley Creek peacock caught not one - but two - lifts on a logging truck this month. (Photo submitted)
Heffley Creek-area peacock hops logging trucks in search of love

Peacock hitched two lifts in the past month

The Calgary skyline is seen on Friday, Sept. 15, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
2 deaths from COVID-19 Delta variant in Alberta, 1 patient was fully immunized

Kerry Williamson with Alberta Health Services says the patients likely acquired the virus in the hospital

The first suspension bridge is the tallest in Canada, with a second suspension bridge just below it. The two are connected by a trail that’s just over 1 km. (Claire Palmer photo)
PHOTOS: The highest suspension bridges in Canada just opened in B.C.

The Skybridge in Golden allows visitors to take in views standing at 130 and 80 metres

Most Read