I’ve spent most of my career listening to people yell at each other. From the floor at a town hall meeting, across the aisles in legislative assemblies and increasingly in short bursts of vitriol in rolling (and roiling) newsfeeds. There are usually two reasons for heated words and fired-up actions.

The simplest explanation is, you earned it. This is often the case when government and/or industry comes to town, often arm-in-arm, to try and convince community members to allow a new development or accept a loss. They’re often met with stony glares and pushback and when you dig into the reason for the resistance, you inevitably are told stories of past wrongs or long-standing problems that have never been properly addressed.

The second explanation is rooted in assumptions and stereotypes we hold of each other, which are nurtured, whether with intent or not, in the stories we tell.

The third explanation is a group has forgotten its stories and instead has allowed others to tell their story through another’s lens. Inevitably these stories are imbued with failure, loss and blame in service to making the storyteller the hero – the old adage that history is written by the victor.

Digital technology is disrupting the way we tell stories and bringing new stories to light. New communications technologies have lowered the barriers to entry for new voices with new perspectives, and the result is we are learning stories about our collective past that challenge the familiar stories we tell ourselves.

In both instances, the anger and frustration unleashed by the revelation of past wrongs and/or new perspectives can be unsettling, and to avoid these difficult conversations we retreat to our familiar tribes and groups to shore up those comforting stories of old. But that won’t work in a network because relationships within a network work like personal relationships, only on a massive scale. In a network, no one and no organization stands alone. We are our networks, which means we all judge and are being judged by our perceived values based on others’ interpretations of our present and past actions, as well as the behaviour of other corporate, political and community players in our space. To avoid the scorn of public judgement (#cancelculture), we must move from passive observer to active participant on issues that matter to us personally, to our employees and to the communities we serve. It’s not enough to be a good public servant, politician, corporate or private citizen; we must be role models too.

That takes patience. On every issue I have worked on either as a journalist or as a strategist, one fact remains true: before you can move forward, you have to mend what was broken – even if it wasn’t you that broke it.

Which brings us to Chapter 5 – the pride and trust episode.

Our first guest is an old friend, Hance Colburne, a long-time CBC journalist who hosted the Saint John morning show. Hance and I covered a lot of the same stories and we’d sometimes talk about them on the show. Alaina was also a frequent guest during her sojourn in federal politics. A few weeks ago Hance posted a rather personal note on his LinkedIn page that caught Alaina’s attention. It was about his recent move to Ottawa and his jumping into the unknown, with an eye to try something new that is purpose-led. Like Alaina and me, Hance is trying to figure out how to channel what he’s learned from years in the trenches of public debate into a career that helps the people in his community.

Our second guest has spent her career doing just that. Cheryl Whiskeyjack is the executive director of Bent Arrow Traditional Healing Society in the City of Edmonton. She “helps urban aboriginal peoples live in two worlds at one: the urban space with its particular laws and norms, and the aboriginal world of ceremonies and beliefs that have has existed on this land for millennia.” Cheryl has been putting in the heavy but rewarding work of building trust-filled relationships with an assortment of community partners throughout Edmonton, all in service to helping Bent Arrow’s indigenous clients build skills and resilience. As Cheryl writes on the Bent Arrow website; “People are sitting straighter in their chairs by the time they’re done their program.” That’s pride at work.

Trust and pride: we can’t have deep change without both being present.

Hope you enjoy the show.


A co-production of the Deep Change Network and Unsettled Media