The Dryden conversation: cont'd
Ken Dryden, thanks to his new book out this fall, has become a recurring name on this blog, and here -- a little later than I planned -- is the latest instalment in the conversation. Dryden, for those new to the discussion, has written a book called Becoming Canada, in which he is urging citizens to update their own image about this country.
Dryden believes, with some justification, that political reporting might not be up to the challenge of prodding this conversation, and about a week or so ago, I wrote a bit of a response to that assertion. What follows here is Dryden's email reply to that post, which I'm putting here on the blog with his permission. If you do have thoughts on this subject, I'm sure he'd be keen to hear them. Becoming Canada now has its own Twitter account, which you can find by clicking on that link or going directly to @BecomingCanada.
Here's Ken's note. (Oh, and in case you're wondering why I waited so long to post it, I just wanted to make sure it didn't get lost in the sea of other political debates last week over potash, Prentice and premiers. It's a quiet week right now - fingers crossed -- so I'm hoping that people have a bit more time to take in what Dryden is saying.)
I didn’t say that the political media are ill-suited to the kind of conversations we need about Canada, nor do I believe that. And I’m not saying that I have thought more about these questions than you in the political media have, because I do not believe that. You see the country; you talk to people; you are in the incredibly privileged position of being able to knock on almost any door, phone up almost anybody, and have them talk to you about what they’re doing, feeling, hoping. My point is that political reporting, for the most part, day-to-day, whether because of dictate, habit, tradition, evolved instinct, ease – I don’t know why – doesn’t reflect this. Instead, it’s about Harper charges this, Ignatieff complains that, and as much as we – politicians and political media – find all this fascinating, most Canadians do not. Who’s to blame is not the point. I think, in fact, we – politicians and political media – bring out the worst in each other. (You may or may not know that about 8 months ago I decided to take myself out of the regular political formats – Question Period, scrums, interviews etc. – because I hated what I sounded like to myself). I don’t know if readership for politics is down; you would know. But I do know that voter turnout at elections is way down, and for younger people it is even further down. And that is a big problem. And how many people now who do vote do so only out of a sense of citizen’s obligation. You hear it, and I hear it, everyday, people who are very interested in Canada and very interested in the world who say, I’m not interested in politics anymore. We are doing something wrong, and this is no good for anybody.
My disappointment with the coverage on my book so far is not about the good or the bad (that might very well be ahead), it’s that most of what’s said comes to be through the filter of everyday politics. This book is not about politics. Politics is only a context. The book is about Canada, what we are, what’s in us to be, and therefore in everything we do, in business, the arts, education, sports – in anything – and in politics too, what aspirations, what ambitions we might have. What roles we might play in Canada and in the world. I also write about this, in part, because as I say in the book, I think it is only if we focus on some bigger story, some bigger aspiration, that we can reduce our political sniping at each other. There is so much more in you – the political media – and there’s so much more in us – the politicians – and there needs to be. That’s my point.
Briefly, on the piece you wrote in 1998 – as you know in my book I talk about Canada and Canadians in many of the same ways you do. And I say that it’s these very qualities of listening, patience, the willingness to discuss, negotiate, work through – what you collectively describe as “empathy” – that we have had to learn and develop because of all of the differences that have made up our existence – originally among our aboriginal peoples; then the French and English; now people from almost every country on Earth. It is these qualities and this training that have allowed us to make our diversity work, our multiculturalism work, and enable us to create, as I call it, a multiculture, a global culture, which is different from anywhere else, which we are building together and which makes us matter in today’s increasingly global world.
I would argue, however, that there is no contradiction between empathy and winning. In many ways, the instinct for empathy, I think, the willingness to get inside the skin of a subject, or a co-worker or an opponent, to make some one or some thing else more important than you are, is at the heart of winning.
What I hope is that the conversation can move away from politics and the political media and back to us as a country. That is what matters. It’s time. It’s time for Canada. I think in Canada we’re building a multiculture, which makes us different from any other country, and that in a global world makes us matter. What do others think? We need to talk to each other. And if, as a country, this is what we are, as a government, as businesses, as artists, as teachers, as NGOs – as any thing and any one – what does that mean we should do? Whether we’re going to live 20 more years or 70 more years, this is our country. What Canada do we want? This is the conversation we need to have.
Anyway, I’m sorry for the misunderstanding; but I’m not sorry for the conversation that this has generated between us. I think the next one can start in a different place. I look forward to it.