Saturday, 21 April 2018

Fighting Words

Today, I need to write about conflict. To tell the truth, I’d rather write about onion jam any day. Easy peasy. But the crow has been squawking, and I can no longer ignore her.

It's all about conflict: fight, battle, struggle, strife, controversy, quarrel, discord, antagonism, opposition, collision, incompatibility ...

The crow is in a flap about conflict, but I am the classic conflict avoider. So was my mom, who would resort to martyr-like sighs whenever she was upset about something. This would send dad into the basement to putz around in his workshop, where we could hear him banging around and mumbling nonsense syllables. You can’t fight with a conflict avoider.  But once, when I was a kid, I recall mom and dad  actually having a loud and prolonged argument It upset me so much I ran for the bathroom, locked the door, knelt by the side of the tub, and prayed like mad  that God would restore peace to our home.

I still want to run away when conflict erupts. If people in a meeting start arguing with each other, I want to grab my coat and run for home. That meeting is so over for me. Why can’t we just listen to each other?

Which is why my inner crow is squawking so loudly: I am in distress. Last week I visited my sister in Alberta, a province where I lived for 33 years. For the last 12 years, we’ve been residents of British Columbia. I love both these provinces. But now they are fighting with each other, pointing fingers, threatening, accusing each other of heinous deeds and malevolent intentions. If you are Canadian, you know this. If you aren’t, briefly, the conflict centers on oil; land locked Alberta mines tar sands and needs pipelines to send unrefined bitumen to ports to be shipped to other countries for refining; Alberta’s economy depends very, very heavily on oil and oil production. BC has the ports, but says, hold on a minute, we don’t want to build more pipelines on our lands and increase shipping traffic along our coastlines. We’re taking the risks, but there is nothing in it for us. And besides, why are we encouraging the production of more products that increase global warming? In the meantime, the company that needs the pipeline is threatening to pull out, and the situation continues to escalate. It will take the wisdom of the Dalai Lama to figure this one out.

What am I to do in this situation? My facebook friends from Alberta, and some from BC, are sending out scathing memes; people who protest the pipelines are probably paid protestors from the US, they say. BC citizens who are against the pipeline are selfish, naive, and basically idiots, pawns of the snowflake environmental movement. Hypocrites, too: they’re still driving cars, aren’t they? BC politicians are digging in their heels, launching court cases that are doomed to failure, but which may buy them time to come up with alternative strategies. The contra-pipeliners cite dozens of reasons why this project should not go ahead, but can’t seem to get it together and speak with a unified voice. While it appears from here that everyone in Alberta is mad at BC, there are folks in BC who agree with Alberta’s stand. Many British Columbians work in the Alberta oilpatch; they want to keep their jobs. I throw up my hands in confusion. What am I to think?

Google tells me conflict avoiders tend to change the subject, or they run and hide (shutting down FB would be one example), or they smile and agree with both sides. They are people pleasers.  None of these tactics leads to lasting resolution, and may just increase stress. Hence, the crow is squawking, “Stand up! Let your voice be heard.”

So I will. My view on this conflict is inspired by a billboard I saw on our recent trip. The billboard flashed past as we sped along in  the 4-lane river of vehicles stretched out as far as the eye could see. The billboard was split in half; one photo showed people like us living the good life. The words said, “Our choices today”. The other half showed young children’s faces; it read, “Their future tomorrow.” Just sit with those words for a moment. THEIR future. Our choices today impact not only us, but the future of our children and the generations that follow. This world doesn’t belong to just us. In fact, every action we take has consequences for every other being, for we are all interconnected.

The irony of this situation does not escape me: I am reading this billboard as we are consuming gasoline and contributing to climate change, hurtling down these roads to visit a warmer climate. We don’t live in a world of easy choices.

But on this issue, I must choose, and stand, and speak. It’s possible that eventually the pipeline will go ahead to satisfy the short-term needs of many, including myself, I also believe it is the wrong choice in the long run, and will bring suffering and pain to this planet we call home. There, I said it.

The crow stops squawking...but only for a moment. Then she says, “That’s a start. But words are words are words. Now what are you going to DO?”

The journey continues. Stay tuned.

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