Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Jan. 28, 2006

It would take much more than a mere 800 words to muse on what causes a person to look at the world a certain way, while another looks at it completely differently. Wars are fought over just such a thing, and human history is littered with the debris of the various solitudes bashing into one another.
But it’s certainly the great tragedy of the human condition. Our differences are always getting in the way. Whatever size the stage - a neighbourhood zoning dispute, a global crisis - each of us sees the world so differently as to find it inexplicable that others might see it otherwise.
Even when we agree long enough to actually solve problems, we seek reasons to disagree over the answers. Case in point: the news this week that British Columbians’ measurable health is the best in Canada, even while many of us believe that our health system is serving us poorly. Is the problem a disconnect between those who set health-care policy and their subjects? Or is it merely just more evidence of the contrarianism that defines our species?
The trouble is, the indecision is making a real hash of things. Not surprisingly, a fractious bunch of people with disparate views and short attention spans don’t do so well at the hard and painstaking work of building nations. So world events unfold as if fated, when in fact they’re merely the result of sloppy planning and a lack of consensus.
It’s the reason we’re still talking about whether people should be given the right to manage their own deaths - 20 years after Sue Rodriguez gave the last years of her life to an ultimately fruitless attempt to move the cause forward. And it’s why women in our own communities still have to work outside in the dark, where they can continue to be killed and beaten at breathtaking pace.
It’s why people are piling up on our streets despite more than two decades of talking about the need to act, and why most of the health reforms of the late 1980s targeting the region’s seniors fell apart a few years later. In a system where governments move in and out on waves of political favour and entrenched world views, no effort on any front can be sustained long enough for genuine systemic change.
As we learned during the federal election, even vital rights reforms like gay marriage can be shelved at any time in a country like ours. We congratulate ourselves for one step forward, but the possibility of two steps back is always close at hand.
Standing on such shifting sands makes me fear the futility of trying to make the world a better place, because there’s nothing saying that any of it will survive past a few years of earnest but unsustainable effort. On the other hand, to stop believing that dramatic reform is forever is too unsettling to contemplate.
I continue to wait for the revolution, and am discouraged that it seems to be nowhere in sight. I used to think women were going to be the ones to lead the charge, but the wind went out of that sail pretty fast, for reasons probably having to do with a generation of good feminists growing older, getting happy, and just not having the mojo anymore for a fight that the larger women’s community never showed much interest in.
Disparate views divide women as well, of course. We’re no better than men at reaching long-term consensus. We take up positions as rigidly as any man, and fight just as bitterly to stop those who don’t share our views. Even if we’d figured out by now how to rule the world, I suspect we’d still be hampered in our efforts by the collision of a number of strongly held female viewpoints out there as to how things ought to be done.
What’s a country to do? To begin with, acknowledge it. People think differently, even in a country as relatively cohesive as Canada. The reason the guy down the street drives you crazy is exactly the same reason why you drive him crazy: You disagree. He sees black and you see white, and each of you are baffled by the other.
We lose too much time to that bafflement. That and futile attempts to convince others to share our beliefs eat up years that would be much better spent in solving whatever problem has us worried.
We can wring our hands about Iran’s nuclear capability, or we can find our way to a new global agreement that recognizes how much every one of us has at stake on this issue. We can entrench ourselves a little deeper over the roots of homelessness, or we can get over it and start working on thoughtful, long-term policies that might actually address the problem.
Maybe we’ll never agree. But for the sake of the world, we do have to act.

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