Collaboration: The call of our time

While we have important attitudinal differences from Americans, we mostly have similarities. Pollster Frank Graves tracks these trends and wonders whether the Canadian establishment — tone-deaf to the popularity of the likes of Rob Ford or Don Cherry — remains out of touch.

Well-educated opinion leaders are complaining about us entering a “post-truth” era, but should we be paying more attention to a “post-trust” era?

Trust is one of the secrets to societal happiness and well-being, according to renowned Canadian researcher John Helliwell. It is the glue for communication and collaboration, and the mortar for economic success and improved quality of life.

Much has been written in the last two years about why the world got fragmented and disoriented (e.g. economic inequality, polarizing social media, declining “social/moral fabric”), and what’s needed for a reset (e.g. a different economic framework, a new political paradigm, a public engagement renaissance).

The distortions and disruptions of many media and the internet in particular, have been massive. Our grandparents wouldn’t recognize the often-toxic echo-chambers of Facebook and Twitter. They couldn’t imagine surfing endless TV channels, blogs and websites from our lonely La-Z-Boy to find opinions that only reinforce our narrow perspectives.

The call of our time is to open our minds wider and discover what those least like us might have to teach us.

At its core, this gets personal. It requires us to accept each other — especially when we disagree — and connect in tough conversations.

Pick your wicked Nova Scotia problem: racism, clear cutting, economic dependence, size of government, inequality, youth outmigration, voter apathy or real estate development. None of them are quickly fixable. They can only be resolved at the speed of trust.

The Ivany Report said, “Overcoming the psychological barriers of division, distrust and discouragement may be just as important as raising capital, producing new products or finding new markets.”

Our organization, Engage Nova Scotia, has been working with Nova Scotia communities to build trust through better public engagement because we believe it’s harder to distrust someone “up close.” Attitudes are formed in families and communities, and global change starts there.

In the last two months for example we have collaborated on workshops with 16 municipalities to build understanding about the importance of public engagement. These municipalities and others are building capacity to host better public meetings and close the “trust gap” amongst sceptical citizens, ambitious community organizations and cautious local governments.

Imagine a Nova Scotia where citizens regularly came out to community meetings, felt heard, built understanding with opponents, and supported bold leadership to find new social, economic and environmental opportunities.

These are just a few of the things we are undertaking, in partnership with people and organizations from one end of the province to the other who believe in this place and are ready to build a Nova Scotia that is more unified, inclusive and adaptive to change.

The US presidential election and the miserable splintering our “cousins” are experiencing represent a wake-up call to improve our ability to the come together. Let’s not waste it.

I believe we are up to the challenge. If ever there was a candid and tolerant culture that can navigate these channels, Nova Scotia is it.

Danny Graham QC is the chief engagement officer for Engage Nova Scotia. The non-profit organization is currently working to measure and improve quality of life in our province; as well as encourage Nova Scotians to be more collaborative, inclusive and adaptive to change.

Originally published on November 7, 2017 in The Chronicle Herald.