If we accept that language shapes our view of the world, then how do the words and phrases our national politicians use influence and colour that perspective? Is our world a better place because of the values and actions they embrace through their communications?
I decided to start this discussion after reading what Conservative MPs on March 12 at the House public safety committee on Bill C-51 asked different interest groups speaking out against Canada’s new anti terrorist bill. Instead of the deep, probing questions that would help all of us better understand and shed light on a new law that very much changes the way our law enforcement interacts with the public, they attacked: Politics ruled at the expense of the public good. Here’s just one example:
“During a question-and-answer session following National Council of Canadian Muslims executive director Ihsaan Gardee’s presentation to the House public safety committee on Bill C-51, Diane Ablonczy (member of parliament) used her allotted time to “put on the record” what she described as “a continuing series of allegations” that the NCCM has ties to groups that have expressed support for “Islamic terrorist groups,” including Hamas….”
Ihsaan Gardee pushed back hard.
“These are precisely the types of slanderous statements that have resulted in litigation that is ongoing,” he said, including a defamation lawsuit launched last year against the Prime Minister’s Office over “false statements” linking the group to Hamas made by now-former spokesman Jason MacDonald….
“McCarthyesque-type questions protected by parliamentary privilege are unbecoming of this committee,” he said, referring to a style of questioning used by U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy in the 1950s, imputing guilt with little or no evidence to back it up.
When theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking was recently asked the one trait he’d like to eliminate from the human race, he pointed to aggression. Forget about the next meteor headed to earth or the melting of the arctic ice cap, Hawking’s believes it is the need to win at all costs. Instead, he would replace aggression with empathy. ‘”The quality I would most like to magnify is empathy. It brings us together in a peaceful, loving state.’”
We have all heard it many times before: Across the globe, with some regional differences, trust in government leaders sits at the very bottom of the barrel. Sure, lack of trust is an issue for all leaders today, but beginning with the 2008 recession elected politicians have taken the biggest hit.
A recent global study of 8,000 millennials aged 18 to 34 revealed they don’t trust governments to solve some of the world’s greatest challenges alone. Could part of the reason be the gap between the values, language and behaviours many national politicians employ and what inspires this generation — community, inclusiveness and collaboration?
The leaders we need today create the environment for meaningful conversations to take place and solid, long-term solutions to take hold.
In the U.S., no one would accuse either political party of such grand gestures. In fact, both democrats and republicans have proven themselves masters at communicating fear, and gut-level messages without any context backing them up.
U.S. Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein said last September, “The threat ISIS poses cannot be overstated.” About the same time Republican Senator Lindsey Graham warned that the Islamic State would “open the gates of hell to spill out on the world,” concluding theatrically that “this president needs to rise to the occasion before we all get killed back here at home.”
Words have power. If the pace of change happening across the globe continues, and there’s no reason why it will slow down, then don’t our world leaders have a duty to choose carefully the words they use?
(Next discussion: Why some words open up and others shut down communication)