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

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