Getting at truth (by trial and error)

By Joy Connelly

I thought the faithful members of the Bigger Circle might like to know how my “experiment in truth” has fared since last week’s Getting at the truth of things. Here’s the scoop.

You may recall that my partner in a housing blog had written about the TCHC story. She was encouraged by a number of people inside and outside the housing world to turn her blog into an op ed. On Friday morning, the Toronto Star published her submission on its website, where it was noticed by at least two City Councillors who tweeted it or copied it into an email to their constituents. On Friday afternoon, the op ed had been taken down, leaving only a blank page.

We are hoping that the op ed has simply been pulled down until Monday, when it will appear in print as well as online. But just in case, I’m publishing it here – a small gesture, I know. I hope those of you who live in Toronto will read it, and pass it on to friends who might be interested.

TCHC: Looking beyond the spin

In the meantime, the former CEO of TCHC, Derek Ballantyne, has lost his job. It’s a great loss to the City, although I agree that it was impossible for him to continue in this environment. And a first-rate consulting firm made the Toronto Sun for organizing TCHC tenants. The firm had done the work for free because they genuinely care about tenants – apparently cause for suspicion.

The temptation of meanness . . .

As I’ve immersed myself in the media this week, I’ve become convinced the great divide in this city is not between left and right, or downtowners and suburbanites. It’s between reason and hysteria; calm and fear; kindness and meanness. And this, of course is the divide that runs through all of our hearts.

As I read the comments section of the Star, Sun and Globe, I was shocked at the nastiness of the commenters. But I also felt the pull to be mean back, safe in my anonymity.  I resisted that pull, but I confess to its power.

I was less able to resist the pull to talk like everyone else: to point out that “tenants are taxpayers” (which they are) rather than stick to my true belief that it is our shared humanity, not our tax status, that makes us worthy of consideration.

. . . and the challenge of engaging in public life

I’ve also begun to consider my views on public engagement. It’s clear to me that most of the hundreds who are writing in or showing up at meetings don’t know what they are talking about. I don’t blame them. I’ve worked in this field for 30 years, and am not sure I fully understand the issues myself.

So then, what is the role of the public when the issues are even bigger: what to do about Libya, or poverty, or health spending?

I think there can be a role. When the issue is close at home, it’s to be a witness to the truth. This is not about offering opinions, solutions or feelings. It is about recording your observations as truthfully as possible, and adding them to the store of knowledge that can inform good decisions.

And when the issue is not close to home, the work of the public can be to articulate the principles that should underpin decisions – through words, or (better) by acting out our beliefs. That’s the natural work of people of faith, although hard to do in a way that seems pious. (I felt preachy just writing this paragraph.) And I think this is where prayer comes in: when you hope God will act, because you don’t have a clue how to.

Friends: this blog is obviously rooted in Toronto, right now. But I know the issues of truth, and of public engagement, are universal. I’m interested in hearing your thoughts.



1 Comment

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One response to “Getting at truth (by trial and error)

  1. Thanks again Joy. Was truly delighted to see Lindsey’s article in today’s (Monday) Star.
    I share your frustration with the meanness of some of the comments, evidence that we don’t know how to disagree with the civility previous generations exhibited.
    But better to engage than not to get involved regardless of how ill-informed one is.
    For me the great challenge is learning to articulate interests that many times run contrary to my own socio-economic group, that speak well for those truly under-represented in the political process – those without a home, without employment etc…

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