The Undiscovered Country

Shakespeare’s Hamlet said something interesting:

“To be, or not to be–that is the question”

The traditional interpretation is that Hamlet is weighing whether to take his life or not but beneath or beside this is another struggle, to take action or not to take action. For Hamlet he is also struggling with deciding to take the life of his uncle/step dead and honour the request of his father’s ghost or to not.

But there is something about Hamlets soliloquy that has had me thinking for quite a while now. Our collective “To be or not to be” is around how to get to that, to borrow a phrase from the Puritan John Winthrop,” City upon the Hill”. That place of potential we all want and which,  should we take actions, could be a better for us and our fellow citizens to live. To create that forested city on the hill.

I was lucky enough tonight to run in to my good friend Adam Caplan and we fell into, as we often do, these meaningful conversations about who we are and what we believe. Adam pointed out to me that he found the system of our traditional political parties to polarizing and that it was difficult to engage in critical thought and the dialogue that follows in the face of the contentious poles of Left and Right. I agree with Adam here, it is hard and there is a sense, one that I am sometimes guilty of using, that you’re either with us or against us. But perhaps there is another path here that we need to consider.

My friend Glen Pearson and I have been having an ongoing conversation about the ideas of citizenship, this is something Glen has been talking about for some time, and from those conversations I have come to agree with his ideas that the new power that needs to be developed amongst us is that of the engaged citizen continually speaking to the issues in his or her community/province/country rather that the politics of left and right. What we end up with is community coming forward to make sure our political, business, religious, and community leaders understand what we support or don’t support.

In the past months I have been involved with the citizen’s panel with Glen, James Shelley, Kevin Dixon, Eric Shepperd, and Sue Wilson. We have been working away at the Social Assistance Review Process at the behest of City Council. At the first City Symposium last month we had a huge turnout of Londoners who were interested in learning about the income gap and we will ask them to become further involved in two events this month so we get their input on the systems that most affect the disadvantaged in our city. This is a clear example of the idea of engaged citizens becoming involved – of answering their own to be or not to be question.

Today I went down to the Electro-Motive plant with James and Glen to support my fellow Londoners on the picket line. Essentially their employer, Caterpillar, has said to them take a 50% pay cut or nothing with no middle ground. The shear indifference of this offer is breath taking. But it has led to some troubling thoughts and discoveries as well. Many people whom I respect and genuinely like are not supporting their fellow community members in this struggle because they don’t like unions. But if using Glen and Adams ideas of having critical conversations outside of polarizing party lines and of citizens coming together to move ideas forward we then reach something else Hamlet talked about: the undiscovered country.

Our friend Hamlet goes on to say:

“But that the dread of something after death,

The undiscovered country, from whose bourn

No traveller returns, puzzles the will,

And makes us rather bear those ills we have

Than fly to others that we know not of”

Our Danish pal has some important ideas in these lines that I think we need to consider. Let’s take that first line, the dread of something after death. We can, and again I’m as guilty as anyone else, speak to an issue not out of critical thought or even compassion but out of our comfortable well-worn beliefs that may be an uncritical habitual reaction – our individual death of reason. In the case of the CAW on strike is the reaction against, or at the very least not in support of, these workers\based on an assumption, or maybe one or two bad stories , of what unions have actually done ? Has this opinion been politicized in terms of right and left? Is our will puzzled because we cannot imagine being in support of such a group? Do we not support our fellow citizens because to do so would go against our comfortable viewpoint of the lazy union worker and that is uncomfortable or deadly to our previous viewpoint? And does this lead us to” bear those ills” and see these workers go down alone rather than come out strongly in support of them together?

The beginning, the middle, and the end for me are the following 3 points when it comes to the fight at Electro-Motive:

  1.  It is not fair that these workers are being told to cut their wages in half even though we , as represented by the federal government, have given this company tax incentives to be in our community
  2. If we allow this to happen without a fight then this will happen again and again and again and the result will be a race to the bottom in terms of wages – something that has already happened in the service industry(can you say Wal-Mart?)
  3. I cannot stand by and not speak out in support of my fellow Londoners when they are being unfairly treated by a company that has shown indifference toward their wellbeing and the wellbeing of our community

I know for some of my friends reading this that it is a difficult place to be in – on the one hand they do not like the  unions but on the other hand they do not like to see their fellow community members be treated like this. To them, and to all of you, I suggest we resolve the to be or not to be and discover the undiscovered country of critical thought, compassion, and engagement in order to make London a better place for us all and support those who need it even in the face of what maybe personally uncomfortable.

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