In the Face of It All, Be Positive

It is incredibly easy to be negative. Goodness knows there’s a lot about our times to demand it.

A wag once said that the economy was in good shape when you didn’t know anyone who was out of work, it was a recession when you knew people who couldn’t find work, and it was a depression when you were out of it yourself. Most families these days see us as being in a recession, despite the official cheerleading and the statistics.

We’re aware that something’s a little off with the weather; we’re noticing that supply lines seem to be in some sort of trouble because items will suddenly become unavailable on store shelves for weeks. We’re noticing the increasing prices when we do our groceries, despite all the official claims that inflation is well under control.

We look at the stories of the banks, and the investment advisors, and then at stories of ordinary people arrested, strip searched and their child taken from them by social services because their four year old drew a picture of “daddy defending us” against monsters with something in his hand that looked like a gun. How come an ordinary bloke whose daughter clearly believes in him gets manhandled by police and bureaucrats in this way (and shuffling your feet and not looking at anyone whilst mumbling “er, sorry” doesn’t count as an apology) but people who steal from client accounts (MF Global) go free still, and bankers whose banks needed the taxpayers to dig deep to “save them” continue to receive their “my life’s earnings in a single instant” bonsues?

Yet when we look for answers, no one offers them. Instead we find out that the mission of the day is to charge and countercharge on automated dialers (those scourges of everyone’s life), yet no one stands up and says the obvious: “this technology has to go; here is my bill to make it illegal in this country to use this crud, period.”

Is it any wonder people look so glum, and are hardening the way they handle themselves in public?

Not only does every broadcast, and every daily newspaper, overtly sell negativism — regardless of the issue or the line-up of the sides, it is easier to dump on “the other guys” than it is to figure out what can be done, and how, especially if ratings or circulation are required to make money! — but the principals involved, both politicians and their staff of backroom manipulators, have trouble with talking points that are positive. Being positive takes more effort, runs more risks, and takes more airtime than simply pointing fingers and saying “evil other guy!”. So negative sells up and down the line.

The voice of most bloggers is also resolutely negative, amplifying the mainstream media echo chamber rather than adding distinctiveness and counterpoint to the public. Andrew Coyne, media pundit, addressed the Manning Conference this weekend and asked “what was conservative about the policies of the Conservative Government here in Canda?” A good question. All over Twitter and the blogosphere, the attacks on Coyne began. “He was never a Conservative” was the essence, as if he needed to be to ask a very realistic question about policy in a setting where self-styled conservatives had gathered and run by the man who broke the old Progressive Conservative party apart because it wasn’t “living up to its conservative principles”. But fear not: Thomas Muclair, NDP candidate for the leadership of his New Democratic Party, talks about needing to change traditional policies to ensure the transition from Opposition to Government, and Nathan Cullen, NDP candidate for leadership takes up the multi-year-long musings about “progressive forces working together” to propose alliances between the NDP, Liberals and Greens to defeat Conservative candidates, and both are trashed from coast to coast to coast, not only by the other candidates, but by the very bloggers and media stars who had been writing for months on the need to do both these things.

It seems that we’d rather moan than change.

Yet being positive is important. Not only do the many issues of our communities, societies (and even our own personal ones) and countries require proponents to propose action so that we can begin to map out courses of action — the outcome of mere opposition simply maintains the status quo — but relentless negativism in its turn saps our energy. We begin to leave things alone: how much grief can one person stand? So we check out, and leave the future to others.

Let’s be honest with each other: of course a poll that asks if the country is going in the right direction is going to come out with a negative result. Just as if you ask people if they prefer subways over LRTs: no one notices that the top speed of the subway is 35 km/h — one of the joys of years of underinvestment in maintenance and a failure to build for three decades now — and that therefore LRTs will move at about the same speed. No one notices that you can get across the city faster on the night bus, which makes four times as many stops as the subway it replaces, because the bus moves at 50 km/h on open roads. (What does this say about reserved rights-of-way for buses: the infamous Bus Rapid Transit [BRT] that no one professes to like?) These aren’t questions: it’s easier to keep yelling, demanding what you can’t have, and failing to start on what you could. Things get worse because we let them get worse.

The trend line is clear: election after election, poll question after poll question, fewer of us care enough to want to take part. We are destroying our society through our abdication of responsibility.

When I talk to my voting-age daughter, who does not vote, has no intention of getting involved, and is positively cheerful about having moved away from Canada in part because she will be an immigrant who need not ever become a citizen (and therefore is free of responsibility for the future), her objection to being involved boils down simply to the negativism of it all. “Why bother?”, she asks, “nothing will change; nothing will break through this gridlock”.

We — yes, me, and you, and all the others around us — have made the world into a place for which care is left aside.

I see the pernicious effect of this repeatedly. I have many good friends for whom it simply “is not possible” that a Conservative Government, or our Prime Minister, could ever put forward good options. They do not even lay out what’s better about another option: the entire thrust is negative. It does not matter what the issue is, or what the results obtained on prior issues have been, it is “simply not possible”. Often the same people are adamant that the BC Government, or the Ontario Government, cannot be criticised for obvious policy failures, because “the NDP will get back into power”. This is not supporting, it is mere opposing. (I would speak of other provinces, but my friends are where they are!)

It’s not just at the levels of politics with parties. Not even Mayor Ford’s supporters want to point out that his first year track record is better than the first year track record (for implementing what he ran on and put to Council) of his predecessor, that Mayor’s predecessor, and so on back through seven of them. This includes reaching an agreement with the outside workers, the very body that broke his predecessor with a lengthy strike. I am not a supporter of the Mayor, nor do I think he handles Council well, nor do I support his transit agenda, but I am willing to recognise that he has his wins as well as his losses; the good and the bad.

Here in Ontario, the Government commissioned the Drummond Report, which laid out hundreds of steps to take to fix the province’s sorry finances. Drummond had been given a mandate where he could not make certain recommendations, including on the revenue side. Certainly it is the Ontario Government’s right to decide what to do with his recommendations. But so far both Government and Opposition are ignoring them. The “debate” remains focused on ephemera. We have a minority government: the Opposition could be courageous and put forward their comprehensive policy take post-Drummond, cause the Government to fail a confidence vote (one is required for the budget later this month), and either govern (if asked to, by the Lieutenant-Governor) based on that, or campaign on it if we go to the polls. Alas, polls are more important — at all levels of government, the citizens are way out in front of the politicians on seeing the problem and wanting the solution (pick your problem).

Does this make sense to you? It certainly makes no sense to the young people I’ve talked to. They have strong views on what the problems are, and what to do about them — those are as broadly distributed as are those of their elders, of course, but they’re not disengaged — but they see no reason to invest in the system. Candidates, party talking points, media consensus about the issues of the day, none of these matter. They do not read newspapers. They do not watch television news. They do not listen to news/talk radio. They toss, unread, any leaflet delivered to their door. They see them all as a waste of time. So, too, they see going to candidates’ meetings, voting in leadership campaigns, or, indeed, heading out on voting day to mark an “X”, as an equal waste of time.

Wherever salvation from the current state of affairs is to be found is unclear to them, but they know where they won’t find it.

The game grinds on (and illegitimi non sed te carborundum may be said, but we are ground down, too).

Meanwhile, take a look around you. Depression and anxiety are on the rise. (So is the popping of prescription pharmaceuticals and casual drugs — alcohol, marijuana, etc. — as forms of relief.) Families become places where people pass in the night but dare not speak out. Tension abounds. In other words, we are making ourselves, our loved ones and our society sick.

There is with this — as with almost everything — one solid answer that each and any one of us can pick up and work with, even when no one else will join in. That is to drop our own negativity, as best we can, and be relentlessly positive. Not stupidly positive, but working toward solutions.

Being positive is all about putting forward options, recognition of good proposals, working for the future. Being Dr. Pangloss, with relentless optimism in the face of the evidence, is merely the flip side of the negativism. Treating others as worthy of our ideas recognises them as humans like ourselves; treating them to a steady diet of bullshit (whether of the “aren’t they wonderful” or “aren’t they horrid” types) is not.

It is a road of personal healing, emotional fulfilment, societal sustainability. Isn’t that worth the effort to overcome the downgrading experience of our reading, listening, viewing?

I think so. I hope you will too. Even more to the point, I invite you to help me be positive by pointing out when I slip into being negative. We all need to hear this sort of thing, if we are to be healthy and create a society that thrives.

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