It’s been a crazy few months.  Our world has changed dramatically. As we close out the year, we are watching; our neighbours to the south heading into a critical election, the rise of anxiety and concern over our economy, the chase for a vaccine that might give us back what we used to call “normal” life increasing racial tensions and global climate change.

Since the debacle that was last week’s presidential debate, I have been reading, listening, and reflecting on what is making communication so difficult. For me, it comes down to two things – facts and values.

What is true?

It appears to be impossible to have a civil discourse. Rather, it is about who shouts louder or is willing to promote their agenda further. The Netflix documentary, The Social Dilemma helped me gain a new perspective on what is happening – we are not all looking at the same “facts”.

In the olden days, reliable sources of factual information included the fifth estate, universities, and government agencies. Today, every source is suspect for bias and every person is fed information from different sources. While I don’t believe there is only one truth, I do think we have some solid evidence of some irrefutable facts. For example, Canadians have spent a lot of money “flattening” the COVID curve; climate change has been measured in many ways and people whose skin is not white face societal obstacles.

Our data collected through our online activities is shaping what we see as individuals. So someone who believes vaccinations are high risk will get different information about vaccines and other social issues than someone who believes vaccinations are good for public health.

What do we value?

Even when presented with different facts, I have some hope that there are fundamental values that people may agree on. American values (life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness) and Canadian values (peace, order, and good government) are quite different, and they explain our different approaches to COVID19.  Yet, if we dig deeper, both sides would agree that human lives are important and that living where we can feel safe and free from harm, enables us to flourish.

What do we need to bridge the gap?

The process of bringing people together to address big issues needs leadership. Not just political leaders but leaders from disparate backgrounds. Those leaders need to be able to listen, learn, debate, collaborate and, ultimately, find the solutions to big issues. They need to be tenacious and they need to have the vision to bring people together peacefully through civil discourse and positive actions.

Where and who are these leaders? I don’t know. But unless a few of them materialize soon, our society and our world will continue to breed civil unrest and distrust.