Friday, November 30, 2012

a visit to city hall

Its not often that I can be made to feel that I am a fool within 15 minutes of making a statement.  The statement in this instance was a tweet, and the tweet was about how as citizens of the city (of Toronto in my case) we should be more focused on the issues rather than the drama that may be unfolding in the personal or professional lives of our City Councillors.

The statement was inspired by a visit to a city meeting this past Wednesday night when I sat in on council session.   I was only there for a couple of hours, so I only heard one issue being discussed. It was centred around holiday shopping.  Specifically, Victoria day (a Holiday in August) was being debated and the opening of stores to allow people to shop on that day was being discussed.

There are businesses who wish to be open in Toronto so they don't "lose" shoppers to areas that allow shopping on holidays.  Workers don't want to have to work on holidays.  It sounded like this issue of shopping on holidays comes up quite often, as the frequency of this issue being debated was brought forward by numerous Councillors.

After a few votes and presentations, a vote was taken and the idea for retailers to be open on Victoria day was defeated.  Much to the delight of many workers who were in attendance that day showing support for no work on holiday, mostly hourly workers who get "persuaded" to work by their employers.  Persuasion often being in the form of the choice of work on that day or get fired.

It was a good victory for those in attendance, especially one first generation immigrant (by her own account) grocery store grandmother, who was given a voice by having a video play of her speech that must have been given recently during a public consultation.   She was seen drying her eyes after the video came up, I'm not sure if she knew it was to be played before hand or not, but nevertheless, the issue was close to her heart and perhaps being given a voice on such a stage contributed to the emotions where were coming to the surface.

Most encouraging about the process was that regardless of views, council seemed to be working under a consensus building environment.  Shelley Carroll herself talked as though she was in support of shopping on retail days, but since she could see that the motion was strongly opposed, was going to vote against it.

Good to see mature, emotional intelligent reasoning and discussion, the likes of which we (as news watching citizens) don't often get.  We're often shown the drama-of-the-day, which was quite dramatic the day after we attended. When there's so much work being done on issues at hand, he said-she said gets more attention from us.

After listening to the discussion, I felt as though both sides had a point.  And there was a third side (and a fourth perhaps) that also was motioned and discussed.  A scenario was painted where those with children or urgent needs would be able to go to a pharmacy and obtain the medication they need (because health doesn't take a holiday) rather than populating the emergency ward of a hospital.  Pharmacies being open would help mitigate that, but pharmacies in the city now are more like mini-grocery stores to the point where they are large enough to be the anchors in some suburban plazas.   At what point does a pharmacy become more of grocery store with a pharmacy (7500 sq. ft versus 15000 sq. feet)?

Needless to say, a simple but  still complex issue.  People who choose one side or another would most likely lather, rinse and repeat their arguments ad infinitum to the other side.  Which is why we need councilors and leaders who can see all sides and reason and discuss a resolution which is to the benefit of the greater good.

And I thought to myself that discussion of issues in a calm, reasoned manner is a good method, process to utilize when leading and bringing our society forward.  There is construction that can arise out of deconstruction of arguments.  But deconstruction of discussion leads us backwards to defining the terms of the discussion.  Perhaps it leads to a viscous cycle of talking to make a point rather than talking to understand the other side.

Then, in a few minutes, my whole statement of "stick to the issues" was remarkably deconstructed by Michael Kruse in a recent TEDx talk.

h/t Bruce Arthur

Basically, issues don't captivate us.  Stories do. Conflict makes stories.  City Hall in Toronto is making news, international news, perhaps like never before.  And it's not because they are discussing whether or not shops should be open on Holidays.  Analogous perhaps to rubbernecking an accident on the highway more than paying attention to the eagle soaring in the sky above, we are attracted, compelled, to friction and conflict.  

This may not be a revelation to most, it wasn't exactly brand new to me (have to give myself a little credit), but it was another reminder of how issues, debates, often aren't as simple as we'd like them to be.


1. To declare formally; state.
2. To pronounce clearly; enunciate.

access information

"Our society has reached a critical moment.  Our capacity to access information has grown to the point where we are in danger of overwhelming our ability to process it.  The exponential growth in the power of our computers and network, while opening vast opportunities, is outpacing our human abilities and altering our forms of communications in ways that alienate us from each other.  We are being deluged with information through electrical signals and radio waves, reduced to a digital, super-literal form that can be reproduced and redistributed at almost no cost.  The technology makes no distinction between value and junk. The abundance and availability of free digital information is dazzling and distracting.  It removes us from our own nature as complex, unpredictable, passionate people." - Neil Turok, The Universe Within