The twelfth century ruler of England, Denmark and Norway, King Cnut, stepped out onto the beach and commanded the waves not to rise. But the tide rolled in and wet his feet and in that moment he proved to his flattering courtiers that kings cannot bend the elements and the power of God. Though the story is perhaps apocryphal it is illustrative of not just of the limitations of our rulers, but the power of human beings to shape events.
I am writing this because lately I feel like I have lost a bit of hope that change can occur. The power of incumbency over interesting and dynamic challengers, the broad populace’s disengagement and apathy, and our political institutions’ inability to deal with a myriad of complex issues in sophisticated ways is... uninspiring.
To me, and I’m sure others, the idea of making positive change can seem so insurmountable. Perhaps most distressing is that it isn’t just global issues that seem out of reach, but international issues, national issues and sometimes even local issues. How much can we each do to make a difference that counts? I accept the position that each of us making changes can have cumulative effects that will improve our communities but sometimes it’s not about cutting down on water waste or recycling, it’s about urban design, or making our economy fairer or helping to lift people out of bad circumstances.
Ignorance might be bliss because soon as you start to recognize the greater causes of our socio-cultural and economic issues the challenges become so much more daunting. I have been going down this mental path lately because I have been thinking about the issues confronting the Northwest Territories. A couple of weeks ago I participated in a budget consultation with the territorial government with members of the community of Fort Smith. Minister Michael Miltenberger (MLA – Thebacha) painted a somewhat bleak future for the Northwest Territories: the territory is too dependent upon government, the big mines only have a few years left, the territory has overwhelming infrastructure problems/needs, climate change is having a growing impact and the traditional way of life is facing extinction. How to approach these problems and put the territory on a positive path is a difficult set of questions to address.
But it’s not just the North. I could say similar things about my hometown in Ontario: how does the city sustain itself and transform out of being ‘just a suburb’, how will it pay for extensive infrastructure costs, can transit be developed to serve the city, will the people allow the city to evolve and become more urban, will Canadian multiculturalism evolve and develop to ensure everyone feels welcome, how will we reduce growing poverty in the city, will affordability ensure no one gets pushed out or gets excluded? These are just some of the issues confronting one city none of which a single person can do much about, at least so it seems. I am confident a similar list could be made for nearly every community in Canada, big or small, regardless of geography.
What I am trying to articulate is the conflict between the desire to make change against the frustration of the status quo (or decline) and pessimism that things can change. One of the few things that gives me hope is that I see evidence here and there of people who are making a meaningful difference: people I know who have stood for office, people who are activists, people who are journalists, people who are writers and thinkers and advocates. I see them and I believe the work they are doing is doing good and I want to take part. Ultimately I suppose that’s what fueled this blog as a project but I find more and more that I want to make a bigger contribution and I am not sure how to do that, whether it’s working for an organization whose mission I believe in, starting my own business/organization, becoming more involved in my community, or getting more involved in politics – or some combination. Frustration is natural, change is not uniform nor in a single direction, I’m just trying to find the right place to push against the water.