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Letter: It's time to change Port Moody's toxic public conversation

'...the divisiveness present in the political climate in Port Moody has driven a wedge between neighbours on issues of critical importance. And it is threatening the future of our community.'
Port Moody sign
Letter writer says local issues have driven a wedge between neighbours at a time people need to come together

The Editor:

Re: “Letter: Port Moody's issues deserve respectful discussion,” (Tri-City News, April 5)

Yesterday, the Tri-City News published a letter by Haven Lurbiecki about toxicity in the discourse in Port Moody. Her observations are spot on — the divisiveness present in the political climate in Port Moody has driven a wedge between neighbours on issues of critical importance. And it is threatening the future of our community.

I am grateful that she spoke her mind because it describes many of the sentiments I have been experiencing lately. I, too, often find myself reading through Facebook group comments or watching council meetings and feeling generally sad at the deterioration of constructive conversation in our community. I know that I am not alone in this.

In any healthy relationship, whether between romantic partners, siblings, friends, neighbours or colleagues, there is an unwritten expectation in how we will deal with conflict when it arises — we will sit down, listen to each others’ perspectives, and work to solve the problem together. Problem-solving is hard work. It takes time, emotional effort, and, most importantly, a willingness to move forward and commitment to that relationship.

Unfortunately, we have seen the relationship between mayor and councillors become toxic and break down over the last two years in Port Moody. This breakdown is reflected in our conversation in community Facebook groups, in public hearings and public input. Drawing attention to the problem is a critical first step, but I hope this conversation will quickly move from focusing on this problem to collectively imagining solutions. We need to find a way to challenge this discord without becoming part of it.

How can we do this?

  1. Thank people for sharing their perspective - Gratitude goes a long way towards humanizing the person you may disagree with. It is hard to put together thoughts on complex issues. People who speak at public hearings, or even who post on Facebook, often spend a great deal of time, energy and thought in how they are going to articulate their ideas and feelings. By thanking them for participating, we generate goodwill between neighbours and encourage people to stay engaged and involved, strengthening our community.
  2. Practice empathy - We want people to care about our community and be passionate for issues. If you see someone respond passionately, do not dismiss them — take note of their passion and try to understand why they responded the way they did. If we spent half as much time trying to understand others as we did try to be understood by others, our community would be in a much healthier state.
  3. Take a breath and a break - Not everything needs to happen right away. In our social media-driven world, when people disagree with something, they will immediately jump to call someone out. We do not need quick engagement to grow our dialogue — we need thoughtful engagement. If you see something on social media that makes you upset or angry, take five minutes to breathe or read something else. If you have something to contribute, consider writing a draft first and thinking it through before posting. 
  4. Hold council accountable to these standards – As the representative and governing body for our community, council exists to serve the residents of Port Moody. When we demand respectful and thoughtful dialogue in council chambers and behind closed doors, they must act accordingly or face questions at the next election. You can remind them of this community expectation through writing a letter to council, sending them an email, or speaking at public input, particularly when controversial issues arise.

To come together as a community, we need to be thoughtful, empathic, and gracious to heal the divide between our neighbours. I am not naïve to the amount of work required, but I will be making stronger efforts to follow these steps to help contribute to a healthier dialogue. And for the sake of our community, I hope you will too.

Aaron Robinson, Port Moody