Chairman's Desk

Our society has made space for hate, rather than empathy. We will all pay the price

Yup, that was me. They guy in the big black car casually blocking southbound traffic on the Allen Expressway last Sunday evening at about 9:30 p.m. The guy who was such a jerk and so inconsiderate that he simply refused to move his car out of a live traffic lane and on to the shoulder. The privileged, entitled guy who just purposely sat 75 metres from Eglinton as traffic backed up for kilometres behind. Just sat there doing — oh, let’s make the story good for the telling — Sudoku puzzles.

Or, put another way, that’s the guy who the people yelling, swearing and honking must have thought I was. As they contorted their faces into replicas of Halloween masks, I observed they wore not masks of anger or annoyance, but of hatred. Absolute hatred.

And in that moment, on that highway, I realized just how profoundly wrong things had gone when it comes to how we treat one another. What I experienced that night was, in every way, the quieting of the coal mine canary’s song.

But, of course, it didn’t have to be — and, in fact, there was a time when it wasn’t. I wonder what it would have taken to have those people consider what really happened.

After a long drive home from a glorious outdoor, physically distanced Thanksgiving dinner with my extended family for the first time in almost two years, we were stopped in the inevitable queue that forms to turn left off the Allen Expressway and onto Eglinton Avenue West. Suddenly, my car put itself into park and turned off the engine. Because it was in park, it was impossible to move it off the road. I immediately called roadside assistance, who advised us to stay in the car and wait for help to arrive.

In short, we had acted entirely reasonably in an unfortunate situation. But that didn’t matter. Just as it doesn’t seem to matter that low-wage workers, abused when checking vaccine passports, are simply doing their job in unusual times. Just as it doesn’t seem to matter that second- or third-generation Canadians (also subject to increased verbal and physical abuse) have every right to the same freedoms and liberties as the rest of us. Or that our politicians — regardless of their stripes — are for the most part respectable individuals, and certainly in no way deserving of the kinds of harm that they face these days.

All these phenomena point to a culture that seems to have forgotten the importance of civil courtesy. That refuses to give strangers the benefit of the doubt or to practice empathy in those quotidian interactions that ultimately make up a lifetime.

This sad reality was on full display throughout our election campaign, as protestors hurled rocks at the prime minister and accused other candidates of the most ludicrous things imaginable. And just this week, it came to its inevitable nadir with the horrific murder of British MP Sir David Amess, slain while visiting with his constituents.

Amess, a Conservative, is the second British politician to be murdered in five years — the last being Labour MP Jo Cox. It sadly proves the point that this is no partisan issue; no political party is immune from the vitriol, or to its impact.

But enough is enough, and the time has come to turn back this pandemic of hate one empathic undertaking at a time. And in doing so, to take back personal responsibility for putting a stop to it all.

So, as I sat there on the Allen last weekend, taking in the gallery of grotesques issuing abuse from their cars — not one of whom offered any help to me at all — I didn’t so much feel sorry for myself that my motives had been so incredibly impugned. Rather, I felt for all the Canadians who have entered public life as candidates, volunteers or in other roles devoted to participation in our society, only to face an increasingly hostile and malignant civil society.

And then, my thoughts went to all of those who will never enter public life, for fear of being targeted, taunted or harassed. What an absolute waste.

This article first appeared in the Toronto Star on October 17, 2021.

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