The votes have been counted and Canadians, depending on their hopes, will either be celebrating or lamenting the result of this year’s federal election.
No matter the outcome — and especially in a month when we seek to remember the cause and cost of war — it’s a good time to ask how those elected might move us beyond a culture of grabbing and toward a greater capacity for peace. And how ready are we, as citizens, to support such generosity of spirit within our national community?
We might take a lesson from Nellie McClung, best known for her efforts in winning the right to vote for women in Canada. She became a feisty politician who believed that the greater good was achieved by those courageous enough to move beyond party loyalties. For McClung, legislation alone wasn’t enough to take on exorbitant corporate profits, the need for agricultural health, the demand for affordable housing or the imperative to care for the sick, the elderly and the young. She called for something more, saying, “It is not new laws we need, it is a new spirit in our people — it is sometimes called a change of heart. No law or set of laws can bring peace to a world of grabbers.”
Her attention to the importance of a changed heart and the difference between giving and grabbing was likely shaped by her father’s Methodist conviction that a dynamic faith could change society and by her mother’s strong Presbyterian sense of right and wrong.
A generosity of spirit toward her political foes reportedly angered her party colleagues, particularly when, as a member of the Opposition, she supported government initiatives that she thought had merit. Whenever passions run high in political or religious debates, I long for more such generosity of spirit.
And I’m often the one who needs to be more generous. During the Oka crisis of 1990, my member of Parliament was Garth Turner, then a Progressive Conservative who was also a member of the party caucus of Prime Minister Brian Mulroney. He responded in an astonishing way to my letters about what I thought the government should do to prevent further violence. He told me that my words had impact when he shared them with the caucus. I could no longer cling to my prejudice about his party’s approach.
What would such a change of heart look like today? For one thing, we might rediscover the heart of citizenship, engage with one another and move from fear to courage — and then let our leaders know that we expect the same from them.
The upcoming session of Parliament faces many moral questions, none more important in my view than finding our way into right relationship with one another as Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples. A changed heart knows that there is room for all of us within an economy that respects the ecological systems in which it is housed. A shift from greed to compassion is a sure sign of a changed heart.
An open heart also needs an inquiring mind, because 21st-century challenges can’t be met by old views that discount fresh learning. It’s impossible to gain courage, compassion and knowledge if we remain focused on grabbing for advantage.
McClung said that she was determined to “stir the deep waters of complacency.” At its best, this is what an election inspires. Regardless of the number of seats gained by each party, changed hearts will be necessary if we’re to achieve shared goals and make the way of peace.
Mardi Tindal is a facilitator and mentor with the Center for Courage & Renewal and a former United Church moderator.
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