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Column: A divided world won't get us anywhere

Working together is needed now more than ever.
Tracy Sherlock crop
Tracy Sherlock writes about education, parenting and social issues in her columns at the Richmond News.

I’m in a mood. I think it’s the stark opposition between the harsh realities of human behaviour and the almost-impossible beauty of the dark pink cherry blossoms exploding on Richmond streets right now.

On Monday, I was innocently listening to the radio when the headline news came on – Russia is threatening a nuclear Third World War due to western support of Ukraine. A shiver went up my spine when I heard that, but at the same time, I couldn’t help thinking this entire crisis is man-made and unnecessary.

Then there was the news that tech billionaire Elon Musk reached a deal to buy Twitter for $44 billion. Apparently, he wants to ensure free speech on the platform, but there are those who are concerned his definition of free speech might include the freedom to spread hate speech or misinformation. I can’t be the only one who thinks there is something wrong when one man has so much money he can, seemingly on a whim, take private a corporation that controls a massive amount of information, while the rest of us barely have enough money for groceries, after inflation.

Even more than my concern about disinformation, which has been a major tool for Putin, in keeping his people supportive of the war in Ukraine, is my concern about inequality. There are so many pressing social problems that spending billions on a social media platform seems entirely wasteful, kind of like building a rocket for space travel, while climate change rages here on Earth.

I tried to search locally for better news, but instead I found a story about a 17-year-old male high school student in Richmond beating up a 14-year-old girl at school, so badly she was unconscious. Apparently, he thought she had said something about another girl who liked him. It’s a bit of an extreme reaction, no?

Beside that was the story of a man in his 60s facing a trial for allegedly spraying racist graffiti onto a poster in Richmond. Sadly, this incident is far from isolated – there were 2,669 hate-crime incidents reported by police in Canada in 2020, an increase of 37 per cent last year, and the most ever, Statistics Canada reported last month.

Can’t we just try to get along? Apparently not. While these incidents may appear to be unrelated, they are all linked to our humanity – the way we relate to each other. From invading a sovereign nation to interfering with free speech, to beating someone up at school, to spray-painting racist graffiti, they’re all about how we get along.

Everyone appears to be out of patience. Even B.C. Premier John Horgan let an F-bomb go in the provincial legislature, something columnist Vaughn Palmer wrote that he’s never seen in 40 years of covering the house. Horgan has had both COVID-19 and radiation treatment for cancer in the past six months, plus he’s governing during a pandemic, rampant inflation and a war.

I get it. Saying the F-word in frustration is not the same thing as knocking someone unconscious or starting a war. We’ve probably all done it. And all of humanity is facing similar problems, like a pandemic, inflation and war, every day, with no end in sight.

But, and this is a big but, we are not going to solve existential problems like climate change or COVID-19 with anger and aggression. We won’t solve them as a world divided, full of people who can’t find common ground between political extremes. We live in such a beautiful and abundant world, but we are forever filling it with greed, cruelty and competition.

I firmly believe the only way to solve those problems, and others, like violence and disinformation, is through love and cooperation. We need to work together, not against each other. Call me naïve, I don’t care. The way forward must be found in our common humanity, not our petty differences.

It can start in schools and even on Twitter, when we use restraint and respect in our interactions. If someone is getting beaten up, step in to stop the fight, or at least call in an authority to help. If a political party you don’t support has a good idea, don’t be afraid of saying so. If you see misinformation, or even disinformation, do your best to correct it. If everyone understands the rules of the playground and learns to follow them to solve the little things, I have to believe we will eventually get the big things right. That belief is the only way out of my dark mood.

Tracy Sherlock is a freelance journalist who writes about education and social issues. Read her blog or email her tracy.sherlock@gmail.com.