Originally published as a column on CFJC Today Kamloops and Armchair Mayor News on January 14, 2019. 

Saturday morning started with a good amount of sunshine and blue skies. I hiked and took in the fresh air and the beautiful landscape, and spent some time remembering Cindy Ross Friedman, whom I got to meet for coffee and chats many times after moving to Kamloops and whose celebration of life service I was to attend later in the day. Gone too soon, she had a spark like no other.

Then I had to ruin some of all of that by perusing the news. Don’t get me wrong. I like keeping informed except that some days the news can really get one down. One of today’s troublesome headlines was about the attack on social media on local radio host Brett Mineer after he called out the racism and other unacceptable behaviour displayed during the visit to Kamloops of Prime Minister Trudeau by some affiliated with a group called Yellow Vests Canada.

There are, to be sure, opposing views to many of today’s issues. There are no easy solutions that will please everyone and emotional responses can get the best of us. An impasse of any kind can become an opportunity for renewed dialogue. Instead, the above-mentioned turned it toxic.

Hatred-fueled threats are scary and unsettling, and the screen interface only adds to the severity of the problem. For some, it is much easier to write down hateful messages than it would be to say them in person. Social media can be both a blessing and a curse as far as social issues are concerned. It is unfortunately way too easy to incite hate in a mob; it spreads like wildfire and it damages just as much or more.

I said it before: being in the public eye, whether as a politician or a media person, should not make anyone a target for threats and worse. Also, being in the public eye means that your opinions will be widely known and while they may please some, they will displease others. Emphasis on ‘opinions’ though. It’s not the public person and their family we are to discuss, but their ideas and opinions.

There was never more urgency for speaking up in matters of our common future. But boundaries must be in place for the dialogue to be a healthy one. When my boys were little, I perused many a parenting books, hoping to pave the way to good-enough parenting with some solid advice. Spoiler alert: no book does the trick, it takes living it every day and exercising our humbleness and power of introspection to make it happen. But there was concept that I encountered in one of my favourite parenting tomes by Barbara Coloroso and it stuck with me to this day: whatever you do and say, make sure you leave your child’s dignity intact.

I was reminded of this during Cindy Friedman’s service. She was a dedicated social activist and her opinions were anything but vague. But whether she spoke in public, wrote an opinion piece or letters to the editor, she expressed herself with eloquence and class. She believed in building bridges through dialogue as much as she believed in putting herself on the line for what she believed in. But never without grace and never by sacrificing the other person’s or people’s dignity in the process.

That is where it’s at. Belief in a cause, persistence and desire to influence political decisions while considering all sides of it, they do not need to turn ugly. Hatred need not show up. That is not freedom of speech, but an abuse of it.

To be fair, it happens at all levels, including academia. That is an entire issue altogether, but the bottom line is the same. Spurred by toxic public discourse, people’s behaviour can turn horrible and cruel. Every time I come across a story about some mob attack and the hatred that infuses it, I am reminded once again that we stand no chance in solving anything if we tolerate any of it.