Giving Up or Growing Up?

by Rosemary Gray-Snelgrove


This feels like an odd time.  Awful famine.  U.S. owing over a trillion dollars and can’t pay.  Pending punishing cuts in Toronto (overnight buses?).  Disorienting heat.

Which means that we face the necessity of having to look squarely at the present, maybe let go of the most fervent beliefs of the past, and open up.  Hence this blog.  It overlaps with Joy Connelly’s current Opening the Window offering, [For those who haven’t become regular readers, it is excellent  – dedicated to exploring social housing options.

What follows is my confession about trying to be open to the idea that working with business may be an important way forward.  Are Bizlam’s seductions irrepressible and perhaps necessary?  Or is resist, resist the moral choice?

Cross-Reference to Opening the Window

A theme in my contributions to A Bigger Circle is my preference for an ‘open’ stance toward the world, rather than remaining ’closed’ against the foreign, the unfamiliar.  I grew up feeling more safe being closed.  Now,  Joy’s naming of her housing blog draws me in.

But now comes the test.  Opening the Window invites us today (July 19) to consider the ways in which we might be more positive in our approach to social needs, especially housing, in our communities of interest.  Why not assess our assets and stop focusing on what we don’t have in the way of resources.  Her argument is strong, providing an exciting example in Liverpool of cooperation between agencies and government providers, the local population, AND business – developers and entrepreneurs.

The perspective is one of not expecting government to come up with plans for improving the community, but of going ahead with a combination of private and agency and available government money in places where it seems feasible.

Caution – The “New Model”

 I want to be open to this.  It’s my goal to be, right?

But I had just been moving toward a conclusion that for a big city, involvement of the private sector works to improve things in a piecemeal patchwork way, whereas a livable city needs a plan.  All neighbourhoods are, in the end, interdependent.  The second argument against counting on the private sector is that city areas where residents pay lots of taxes, with wealthy Business Improvement Associations, have a whole lot more resources to create improvements than do poor communities.

My position was pushed along by last week’s Saturday Globe, specifically John Lorinc’s interview with ‘prominent Toronto designers’, all private or academic, about their approach to the proposed revamping of the David Pecaut Square in downtown Toronto.   They seek to link private means, private designers, with modest input from City planning staff, to appeal to the Mayor and Council who refuse to consider city resources for improvement projects.  They are following the “new model” of urban renewal.

The lead piece (by Siri Agrell) looks at the completed improvement of the Bloor-Yonge area, where the “new model” was applied.   We “…mimiced everything the city would do, except it wasn’t led or paid for by the city” (Mr. Harold Madi, a private urban planner).  Funding was from the local Business Improvement Associations

At first blush, it all seems rather appealing.  Just get things done.  The unevenness of the resources available continues to niggle, however.  But in Liverpool, the economically disadvantaged residents were an asset.

Joy and the “Thrall of Bizlam”

On October 31st in this space, Joy Connelly discussed her struggle with the zeitgeist of this era, the prevailing direction and assumptions that present cultural values have shaped – as raised in the Globe and Mail by Rick Salutin.

Bizlam fosters the beliefs that are compatible with business activity. It places humanity at its centre. It promotes utility, self-fulfillment and self-improvement. It focuses on behavior, not beliefs; the future, not the past. We often think of the “bad” values that Bizlam promotes: greed, selfishness, gluttony, ambition, pride and a disregard for family life and the natural world. But it also cultivates many qualities we think of as “good:” choice, freedom, curiosity, initiative, flexibility and adaptability.

In concluding the article, Joy gives us her personal antidote to the total takeover of her sense of the world:

I find myself entirely in the thrall of Bizlam, and can hardly imagine a life outside it. 

This is one reason I keep returning to the Bible…. many of the biblical stories baffle or horrify me. Nonetheless, it is one of the few books in wide circulation that was not written under the influence of Bizlam, and allows me to see outside my own world to something different.

Joy also asks readers to Comment, to offer other viewpoints and perhaps other means of dealing with the lure of a commercialized world.  Only “John” responded, with an approach that requires commitment but seems do-able.

So how to break the addiction? The AA remedy applies.
Drawing on a Higher Power, drawing on the strengths of others, meeting regularly and associating with those in ‘low positions’ (see Romans 12:16).
And by not fooling ourselves. Who was it that said the greatest obstacle we face is self-delusion?

Being Open to Business

Joy’s present article (July 19, 2011) invites a second or third look.  Assessing community assets is a promising approach.  Just what are all the sources of funding and income here?  What can we think of to really enhance each other’s strengths – working from the ground up?  Ingenuity, and resourcefulness – qualities in abundance among families accustomed to poverty – combined with financial acumen and imagination found among skilled and experienced community organizers, can very possibly spark new visions and practical actions that can include business interests.

Takes leadership, and teamwork.  Won’t just happen.  But with the right mix, could it??

But can’t happen if we don’t at least have a good look at the possibilities.  And I see my personal job as developing the generosity of spirit it takes to look beyond my carefully developed cherished preferences.



Filed under A Bigger Circle, Rosemary's entries

2 responses to “Giving Up or Growing Up?

  1. Rosemary, I am ever in awe of you. You have a gift for getting at the heart of things — challenging our thinking, but in such a kind and humble way.

    What encouraged me about the Liverpool example in my blog is that this was not so much a case of “Bizlam,” which Rick Salutin defines as “I surrender to Business.” Instead, residents were taking the LEAD, developing “asks” that business was expected to fulfill. My feeling is that, when the community comes together, then business should be there, contributing in the way it does best.

    However, like you, I read the two Globe articles you mentioned with concern. They reminded me of a revealing moment when my children were in public school. The local parent council had proudly and with great effort raised $3000 through movie nights and fun fairs. A few weeks later, I read the newsletter from a school in a wealthy area. They too had organized fun fairs and movie nights — and raised $30,000.

    So you are right about the inequity that comes when government fails to play its rightful role. (Didn’t the Bible call for kings to be defenders of the poor?) In Ford’s Toronto, the poor will get poorer — and in this case, so will the rich.

    • Thank you, Joy, for this Comment that further refines a way to move forward in this rough-tough new environment – which will be humanized the more that we neither surrender nor remain too angry.

      And maybe our next communications will contain some suggestions for social life between we four? We’re done with vacation August 20th (starting the 4th) — when is yours?


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