Wisdom from the frontlines

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Participation Thursday, April 03, 2014 View Count = 1194

Wisdom from the frontlines

When asked during an icebreaker activity “who would you vote for as Prime Minister if you could vote for any leader dead or alive?” the responses included eloquent reflections on the power of Martin Luther King Jr., recollections of the humour and wisdom of a 12th grade teacher, and reminders of the power of Gandhi’s commitment to non-violence. But it was the quiet wisdom of a middle-aged gentleman from China that reminded us all why we were there. He responded that in China a great deal of trust and power is placed in strong leaders, a habit that has not necessarily worked out so well for Chinese citizens. “A good system is more import than a good leader,” he said, “and I will choose democracy.”

Last week, in a small windowless room across from KFC and Manchu Wok in the Fairview Mall, Canadian democracy was alive and well. North York Community House (NYCH), a local social service agency serving tens of thousands of residents a year, brought together eight of its volunteers for a Democracy Talk based on Samara’s materials. Including the two staff, the ten Canadians at the meeting were born in ten different countries  and five different continents.  

Participants debated the importance of issues ranging from enforcement of the Kyoto Protocol to reducing Toronto Community Housing Corporation’s bureaucracy. They exchanged insights on the merits of various techniques to bring about change ranging from posting on Twitter to meeting with MPs to voting in an election. For two hours everyone debated, discussed and shared their insights. While not everyone agreed, everyone’s voice was heard and their ideas were respected. Issues were prioritized and concrete recommendations for action were made. There was agreement that our city council and even Members of Parliament might benefit from observing one of these sessions.

Near the end of the session a wise participant from Russia observed, “A fish rots from the head down but you have to clean it from the bottom up.” His words reminded us that we are the “base,” the grassroots of democracy, and cleaning up the system starts with us. It certainly looked like it was starting in that room.

About Democracy Talks:

Samara’s Democracy Talks programs have been held across Canada and are now being integrated by North York Community House into a variety of programming including English language conversation circles and youth leadership programs. If you are interested in learning about integrating Democracy Talks into your organization’s programming, please contact John Beebe.  

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