Conversations Require Listening

So far only the Green party (@BarrieGreens) has responded to any of my tweets, so I’ve been thinking about the nature of political conversations.

The essence of any conversation is that it goes both ways. Social media gives us the opportunity to have good, serious political conversations with MPs and candidates, but it doesn’t guarantee that we will.  Frankly, I see failings on both sides of the table.

The politicians are failing by still thinking in terms of push media.  Twitter is seen as one more way to promote today’s sound-bite.  For a cohort of political animals who grew up in the era of message-control, the idea of going off-script to engage in genuine dialog must be terrifying.  I got a phone call just now from the Liberal party asking if they had my support; I told them that I was still on the fence, and took the opportunity to ask them their position on affordable housing – a critical issue here in Barrie.   The caller had no idea how to answer my question apart from directing me to their website.  Even a ‘thank you, I’ll convey your concern to Ann Hogarth‘ would have been valuable.

But there are failing on the other side of the table too.  We, the voter, owe it to the candidates to actually be informed about their jobs.  If we truly believe in representational government, then that means that politicians work for us.  We, the people, are in charge.  And a good boss is acutely aware of what he expects his employees to do, how well equipped they are to do it, what issues they are struggling with and how best to motivate them.  If we only tune in to politics for a couple of weeks before the election, we can’t really complain if the parties treat us as consumers of a product rather than their employers.

Only an informed citizenry can make wise decisions.  We owe it to ourselves and to each other to understand the basic mechanisms of parliamentary government, the provincial budget, and the upcoming issues.   But more than that, we need to decide what we are trying to achieve.  Companies have mission statements.  Google is trying to ‘organise the world’s information.’   Charity:Water exists to bring safe water to people in developing nations.

If we are to thrive as individuals, we need to know what story we are telling.  And if we are to thrive as a group of individuals, as a province, we also should know what story we want to tell, what we want to achieve, and what we want our shared future to look like.