Fiction friction occurs when I scrape my imagined reality up against someone who has created a different narrative. If I rub my centrist, libertarian, ideological promiscuity up against your socialist, environmentalist, feminism or your socially conservative, monotheism things heat up. When I brandish a capitalist fiscal framework and you are armed with an egalitarian universalist schema a battle is likely to ensue. Is there a way to overcome the Us/Them divide? I have asked dozens of friends and colleagues, reached out to influencers in numerous fields and pressed my memory for times when the chasm was successfully closed. The usual approach is to seek common ground and work from those moments of agreement forward rather than backward. One of my closest friends was once an adversary who I held in extreme prejudice. She stood in front of me in presentations to authorities and governing bodies decrying the position I was soon to take and defending the status quo as beneficial to those she represented. We didn’t share the same worldview, we didn’t share ideology, and we didn’t share collegial conversation. Seven years ago, a common friend invited us, separately, to a fundraising event and then sat us together at a table off to the side. The interaction started aggressively with each of us staking and defending a macro position. Our common friend said ” You are both better than that, start over again.” We did. I asked ” what is the most important issue that we are facing, today?” Her response wasn’t terribly different from what mine would have been and that evening over a pint or two, we debated, discussed, defended with curiousity and respect and arrived at a 12 point plan to make our corner of the world a better place. The goals were the same even as the approaches were different. I learned that I/we can’t build bridges if we stand on opposite sides of the divide and hurl accusations and insults at each other. We don’t often agree but we share life together, when we can, trying to understand the other and holding one another with affection and admiration. Finding common ground didn’t remove the friction but it helped me understand why her fiction was so different from mine. I have shifted my perspective on some ideas and she has altered her position on some. We still create some heat when we meet but we don’t hold grudges and we lead with grace. Inside respectful differences lies the as yet unimagined. We can fear it as unknown or use the tension to spark and ignite a different way.
I am not suggesting collaboration or even cooperation as a predictable approach to problem-solving. We do need to demand enough diversity of opinion and approach in our lives in order to overcome the inertia of mediocrity that we live in. I need to understand how someone that I dislike because of our differences can possibly think what they think. I am unable to battle racist tendencies if I am unaware of or refuse to acknowledge the reasoning and arguments of a racist. We can’t overcome wicked problems by blaming the victims but we can’t really solve them without understanding how we are all complicit (including the victims). Even typing the parenthetic bit, I realize that it will cause friction with many readers and would outrage colleagues if I said it out loud in a meeting. How can we warm up the discussions without burning up social and political capital? I am learning the lesson and still usually err on the side of too much fuel to the fire.But I have also been involved in far too many debates where all we hear is our own voices bouncing off the walls and faces in the room.
Have you experienced fiction friction this week? Is the broken world we live in adding constructive or destructive flames? Do you need permission to be provocative in your proximate relationships? Do we need a reminder to redress with respect and to listen with attention and intent to understand? Can I enter a discussion without wondering or worrying about winners and losers?
This morning I had three coaching sessions where I was able to practice controlled burn and saw all three clients react with their own measured, heated response. I learned something new, they committed to doing something different and we left the sessions without anyone feeling injured or insulted. The experience leaves me hopeful that we can intentionally change how we rub up against each other without becoming too smooth or being erased completly.
Make Today Remarkably Hot,
In the midst of the 2017 fall election in Calgary, Alberta I am reminded of a quote from the Greek poet Archilochus, who lived around 650 BCE, ” The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.” The sly fox knows how to deceive his prey and predators with misdirection or misrepresentation or by hiding in the weeds. Even after he has been caught in the henhouse, he won’t just own up to the crime but deflects it towards a skunk, a weasel or another fox.
The hedgehog knows that transparency is the best defence and when he makes a mistake he acknowledges his position and rolls into a ball seeking atonement. He really knows many things but they all revolve around honesty. He knows he is a hedgehog, he knows he isn’t a horse or a hare or a frog. He has accepted his role and has determined to be the best hedgehog in the woods.
I am biased regarding the politics of my city. I was biased going into the campaign and signed the nomination forms for the incumbent mayor and incumbent councillor. I pretended to be objective and neutral during the debates I heard; pretended in the sense that objectivity and neutrality are myths. I bring the sum of my experience to my analysis of ‘evidence’, as do you. I heard nothing that changed my opinion of the candidates and was not persuaded to consider changing my vote. I cat my ballots in the advance poll in favor of Mayor Nenshi and Councillor Carra. I did, however, move my vote for Public School Trustee. The candidate that I initially was leaning towards did nothing to convince me of his trust and I was offended by the heir apparent message that I heard from a campaign worker. I exercised my franchise fully and I anxiously await the results.
In reality, whatever happens on Monday will have little effect on me personally. My taxes might go up 5%, I might pay additional fees for services I use or don’t, I might need to petition my representatives or engage in public forums but all those things have been part of my life for the last 30 years.
However, Monday’s results will have a dramatic impact on our city. Collectively we will be a different place depending on which frontrunner wins the Mayor’s chair. We get to vote once every four years and then wait and see how it plays out. There seems to be a clear enough difference between camps that I/we could predict where we might be when we go to the polls in October 2021. I have declared my subjective preference and no doubt that helps create a vision of a progressive, positive, passionate city where anything is possible for everyone. My worldview worries that under a less visionary leadership, we will see a city that is devoid of culture, except cowboys and hockey teams and a less caring and less equitable place to live.
I recognize that if your preference of candidates is different from mine, you may see hope and possibility through a different lens but that is what democracy is supposed to afford us.
For the next 48 hours, I am going to proudly wear purple and represent hedgehogs as best as I can.
If you live in Calgary, I encourage you to get out and participate in the process. Vote for whoever you choose but don’t let others make decisions on your behalf by not marking your ballot. Stand up and be counted. It’s too important not to.
Make Monday Remarkable,
And then let’s get back to building a world-class city on Tuesday morning.
Maybe it is a revelation, maybe a realization, maybe a ruination but this morning a bolt from the blue reminded me that I have a theory about Maslow’s Pyramid but I wasn’t observing it in my life. Most social scientists and public intellectuals believe that the way to fill the pyramid for others (I assume for ourselves) is to begin at the base and pour resources and time into creating what we determine to be the right measure of basic needs and then move to the safety and then belonging and rarely to esteem and almost never to self-fulfillment.
For ten years I have been saying that Maslow’s hierarchy is correct just upside down. I don’t know what old Abram would say but I speculate that he was far more concerned with quality of life rather than mere survival. He would agree with “adding life to our days rather than just adding days to our life.” While starting with the bottom of the triangle might alleviate some pangs, it seems inevitable that we just help people to live longer and slightly better in their misery.
What could be achieved if they knew and understood that they (we all) have a personal mission to contribute to our own well being and the well being of our family and community? What would it look like to create circumstances that fostered, encouraged and rewarded those who used their strengths to strengthen others?
Would the pyramid fill itself if we all lived to our potential and celebrated the promise and potential of others in our midst?
My life is full and rich – not in the way bottom up pyramid fillers might see it but full and rich from where I get to sit. I am blessed with a partner (for the past 42 years) who shares most of the values and goals that I do. We have 3 remarkable sons who have amazing partners and inspiring children that we get to share life with. I am able to read, write and share what I am thinking with thousands of people, that I might never meet and live life with a couple dozen people who celebrate me, support me, challenge me and somedays irk me. I am working towards my potential and feel fulfilled.
I have a strong self-esteem bordering on delusions of grandeur that I credit to my level of awareness and compassion for others.
We want for nothing but couldn’t point to a plan that justifies the abundance. Our roof is dry, our walls are warm, our larder is stocked. We have the ability and freedom to make sensible choices about where and how we live. For both of us, each day is an adventure filled with surprises that we notice and appreciate and surprises that unfortunately we miss or worse take for granted.
Our current adventure has us living in the midst of 10,000 books and each week we get to lift up 100 children and their families by sharing the joy and confidence that reading brings. We don’t know where the next experience will take us but believe that whatever the shape our years form, as long as we fill it by strengthening others that we don’t need to fret about the bottom.
For my Canadian friends, Happy Thanksgiving and for others, take time to celebrate all the blessings you have and then spread some to others along with your love.