Recently, another controversial debate started on the Facebook community group from my neighbourhood. This time was about bike lanes vs on-street parking.
A good place to start
My convictions are well known and I don’t need to state them here. Actually, I want to dig a little deeper. When it comes to what really matters, everybody wants the same things. We all want to feel safe, have our say, be happy and connect with family and friends. I can bet this is the case for everybody in that thread. How about we start a conversation from that place? Where we can find the things we have in common.
We all saw how much we can accomplish when we stand together. Sometimes, the problem (or the solution) is not so clear. Opinions are split and that is when tight communities stand out, when we know our neighbours, when we spend time with each other, laugh together, cry together, dance together, cook together… we create a safe space where we trust each other and can really listen to each other.
Why don’t we always start there?
Social media in general is not the ideal place for debates because we are reduced to a little icon or a line of text. That makes it harder to see each other as whole human beings and recognize the things we have in common. This is true even for friends or acquaintances, but even worse if it involves total strangers.
What usually happens is that we put a ‘like’ in comments we agree with and we put a ‘dislike’ in comments we disagree with. We often see it turning into a power play (a respectful one most times, but still a power play) where each group tries to have more comments and likes on its side. This polarization is counter-productive because in most cases the best outcome for everyone lies somewhere in the middle. But the dynamic makes it harder to change opinions or create consensus.
The problem is not that in the end, one group will lose. The problem is that everybody loses. That kind of social dynamic overtime slowly rips apart the social fabric.
So what can we do about it?
Good news! The first step is very simple. And many of us are already doing it. See your neighbours, talk to them! As many as possible. Try to go beyond the typical: “How are you?”, “Not bad, thanks. How about you?” Maybe they need help with something. Maybe you can just offer an easy-to-make homemade gift. Maybe you have a hobby or a TV show that you both like.
Remember the good place to start? This will definitely bring us all closer to it. Any conversation is very different with neighbours I shared a meal with, played with their kids, had a backyard fire or heard about a loss. I am really thankful to many of my neighbours who helped me paint my house when we moved to Princess Ave or helped me organize a block party or gave me pumpkin pie or tomato seeds. Those memories make a huge difference in the way I interact with those people.
I know it is not always easy, especially now during COVID, but this will definitely bring us all closer to that good place to start. Maybe the hard conversations can start at the very moment we are open to see each other fully.
In 2020, we were constantly reminded that our society has some big challenges to overcome. To achieve a different outcome, we need to do things differently. Real change requires real conversations.
Many of my neighbours know where I live, if you live in my neighbourhood and you don’t have my address, I’d be happy to tell you. Feel free to stop by for a safely-distanced conversation or for a loaf of bread. Since March, I’m into making bread on a regular basis. Yes, I was one of those guys responsible for the shortage of yeast and flour, sorry about that, but I swear I’ve been sharing it with my neighbours whether they want bike lanes or on-street parking.