Burning the midnight oil

Recently after burning the midnight oil at the Legislature, I had to rise and shine long before the sun had risen or shone on a Friday morning. This was not really a choice to make because I had a long drive to get back to the constituency office to meet with my team in the early afternoon. It was a tough week, to be sure. It seemed there was an inordinate amount of frustration and conflict that week. People are weary, tired, and anxious after enduring the multitude of hardships and uncertainties that we face day after day. This pandemic has played havoc with almost every aspect of our society and general way of life.

So, after supper, I put my feet up, sitting in my favourite chair, waiting for my friend to come over for a visit. I was tired and looking forward to the weekend; by spending some quiet time on the lake and in the bush. So, I plugged into my phone to listen to some tunes. I eventually was mesmerized watching the sound wave graph that measured the music’s different musical levels and tones. My mind wandered.

It seems that it is just my nature to consciously and unconsciously look for relationships, similarities and comparisons between things. I think it’s how I help myself understand the world around me. The thing that caught my attention was how the wave-like behaviour of the many bars on the graph as they rhythmically hit peaks and valleys so quickly.

It then occurred to me that the sound graph could equally represent the impact of everyday things and events that affect our lives. I know that I’m not alone in thinking that it seems that over the last few years, even before the pandemic hit, how people are looking at the world around them from just a single lens; their own. I’ve really noticed how people seem almost purposely to seek out and exemplify differences between one another. Unfortunately, the result of this is that Canada appears to be heading toward being a nation of highly divided and intolerant people. What’s worse is that I’m afraid this trend is proving to be true even here in Nothern Ontario.

There is no shortage of evidence of this change in our society. Look no further than the unrest that fell over the nation a few weeks ago. It is not hard to see why this happened. People are tired of dealing with the many relentless stresses that directly result from the pandemic. We’ve endured lockdowns, restrictions, economic hardship, loneliness, loss of education and employment opportunities, sick loved ones and thousands of deaths across the country and in our own communities. Understandably, Ontarians are tired, frustrated and scared.

The job of an MPP requires regular communication with people. Note that communication means that I have to listen first and talk later. Before being elected, most of my jobs required the same skills. Effective communication requires both parties to listen to achieve an understanding of perspectives. In fact, there are multiple perspectives in some situations that need to be considered and understood. However, understanding a person’s perspective does not necessarily mean that you have to agree with them. We all know that there are different paths to follow to get to the desired destination. Therefore, even though all parties may understand each other, in the end, they still might not agree on what is right or what is best.

There is no doubt that there has been a marked change in how people react to one another when they disagree. There was a time when people could talk things over then walk away satisfied that their position was understood and worthy of genuine consideration. However, there has been a trend toward intolerance of opposing opinions in recent years. Unfortunately, frustration, anger and lashing out are becoming ever more commonplace. Historically our democracy has been a success because Canadians have chosen to rise above such unhelpful behaviours.

HOWEVER, as I said earlier, this deterioration of our society didn’t start because of the pandemic. It began long before the pandemic hit. The pandemic merely fueled the fire. The civil unrest was simply a manifestation of the real problem – intolerance.

I say, however, now is not the time for despair, fear or anger. Instead, now is a time for Ontarians to reach way down in their souls and restore the hope we have in each other and our province. We should not shy away from communicating with one another but instead use everyday opportunities to restore our society to be all it can be. We can help route out ignorance and misinformation by listening to and understanding each other. We must utilize opportunities to provide science-based evidence and factual information from reliable and verifiable sources

To be sure, calling people out and demonizing them is not a pathway that will lead to a better, stronger Ontario. Sharing, listening and understanding will win the day. And note that understanding does not equate with agreeing. People have the ability to understand and yet still disagree. We must learn to resist the urge to form unnecessary and exaggerated walls between people we disagree with.

In recent years, my team and I have noticed an increase in calls and letters from constituents who vow that if I do support a bill, policy or opinion that is contrary to their own way of thinking, they will show their displeasure at the ballot box. And, of course, such is their prerogative. But the funny thing is that if such people would just take a moment to consider a long list of values, ideals and policies that we actually do share, they most often take a step back and assess the overall picture.

Do we share a concern about keeping our northern highways safe and clear in winter? Do we share concerns about improving access to government services such as DriveTest? Do we share concerns about the need for more doctors, medical services and nurses? Do we share concerns about protecting our wildlife and the environment? Do we share concerns about the need for more and better jobs, a living wage and affordable housing? And do we share the view that all people, no matter where they live in this province, should have access to clean, safe water in their homes?

Like the sound graph that caught my attention, our lives will always continue to have fluctuating highs and lows. But if we want to return to some semblance of the calm, respectful and tolerant society that most of us grew up in, we need to turn down the volume of our reactions and exchanges of ideas and just learn to listen better and understand each other.

As always, please feel free to contact my office about these issues or any other provincial matters. You can reach my constituency office by email at [email protected] or phone at 705-461-9710 or Toll-free at 1-800-831-1899.

Mike Mantha
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