For some of us, what happened south of the border in November was a disheartening development, and shook us to our very core, as a campaign rooted in fear, intolerance, and racism prevailed. Others, although they may not have felt directly affected, might also find themselves feeling disillusioned or defeated.
I’ve been thinking about how we can help ourselves and others who may be fighting feelings of hopelessness to get to a place in which the “politics of hope” are pervasive. Because all politics are local, we might start this shift by focusing on our actions at the community level.
Invite new friends into your life.
New people arrive in our communities daily, and in doing so, some have left their friends and family behind. It’s not always easy to approach people we don’t know, but I met one of my closest friends, a newcomer to Canada, because I introduced myself to him randomly a few years ago. Had I not, I’d have missed out on someone who’s brought a lot of light into my life.
Open your home.
A simple action, but a potentially profound one, is opening your home and offering a space or a meal to those who might be alone or in need. On Thanksgiving this year, I shared on social media an offer for anyone who was alone to join me and a few friends for dinner. Because I would rather do almost anything than cook, we went out for dinner and we had a lovely time. It was neat to see a group coming together that would likely not have otherwise.
Start conversations – even challenging ones.
It’s important that we have conversations with those who present countering views to our own, or even challenge us on our opinions. It’s possible, in this era of instant online commentary, to get immersed in what can seem like a sea of vitriolic discourse. Inviting conversation can leave us vulnerable, but it’s important that we try.
Engage respectfully, but confront intolerance.
I often hear “I respect your opinion” in response to something awful that someone has said. We needn’t respect hate. We can be respectful in how we respond, but we don’t need to tolerate, or by our silence, condone, hateful rhetoric. I’ve learned that I’ve never regretted calling someone out for something unkind or hateful, but I’ve always regretted when I haven’t. The response that you get from challenging someone might be hard to take, and you may feel like you’ve gotten nowhere. But keep doing it, even with those who continue to disrespect you, because they’re often the ones who need you the most.
Make empathy guide you, and let action follow.
When we start from a place of empathy, it’s easier to build community and combat hopelessness. We will never truly know what another is feeling or experiencing, but through empathy, we can try. Given that it’s the holiday season, there are countless opportunities to take the notion of empathy and turn it into action. You can donate to organizations that are helping vulnerable communities, or make a donation in someone’s name. If you’re not financially in a place where you can contribute, the giving of time through volunteering is a gift very well received.
I know that for many, what I’ve written will be viewed as just the words of an idealist. I’ll be honest – I’m not sure if we can ever truly be well as individuals when others around us are not. But, I know we can’t live our lives thinking things won’t get better.
Maybe, just maybe, by starting in our own communities, we can begin to build the loving, kind, and patient world that we know is possible. Instead of sitting back and hoping for a better world, we take some action, and in turn, watch what happens. The result could be more beautiful than anything we could have imagined.
Janis Irwin is a Parkdale resident who spends a lot of time in the Boyle Street and McCauley neighbourhoods. Say hello if you see her around, and see what she’s up to at janisirwin.ca.