By David Chen
Humans have a history of politics in anything they touch. City-government decisions have the most direct impact on residents and are one of the best battlefields to either tear the fabric of community or unite them as one common people.
The most difficult part of leadership is listening to all the people, especially the extreme ideas. In my 25 years of helping in my community, I have observed that many people are quite moderate, but those on the extreme poles can be divisive in their thinking and sometimes offensive to those who have the opposite opinion.
However, if we look at what leads to extreme views in history, it is often a wrong that was committed in the past. Sometimes these can be perceived wrongs, which can be just as catalytic in forming prejudice. When society isolates and rejects people because of their extreme feelings, this prejudice can grow to become hate and, in the worst cases, violent acts.
In Vancouver, bike lanes, transit, housing rights, socioeconomics, heritage preservation, gender identity, and racial, cultural, and First Nations matters have converged and divided our community in the civic political race. These issues are all important, but they are not being used to unite our people. Many young participants in our discussions reminded us about the need for our dialogue to include everyone, not just the majority.
Former U.S. president Barack Obama gave a speech honoring the 100th birthday of Nelson Mandela, and he talked about how Mandela learned Afrikaans, the language of his captors, to understand them. Mandela knew one day that "to make peace with an enemy, one must work with that enemy, and that enemy becomes one's partner." Hearing the views of those who may be opponents, especially extreme views, is difficult at the best of times, but it becomes necessary not to give it normalization but to listen, understand, and to challenge it. When the channels of communication remain open, there is always a hope of unity.
Obama said that Mandela believed "democracy is based on the majority principle. This is especially true in a country such as ours where the vast majority have been systematically denied their rights. At the same time, democracy also requires the rights of political and other minorities be safeguarded.” This principle also remains true when the shoe moves to the other foot and populations change, making a once majority voice into an equal or minority voice.
A wise leader in my community taught me that forgiveness is the hardest thing people will do in their lives. Remember that the wrongs of the past will not be undone if we condemn those in our present for the actions of their ancestors. Let the past strictly be a reminder of what we do not want to repeat and let forgiveness unite our people into one mind and one heart.
I see all of you, and my Vancouver includes everyone.