Arguments inspire, inform, ignite, and unite. Where would we be with out them?
By Ben Bull
Published October 22, 2007
I'm a huge fan of the RTH comments page. When Ryan set it up almost three years ago now I gave myself the handle 'Rusty Nail'. I thought discussion boards were like the CB Radio fad of the 1980s. I felt pretty stupid when I realized almost everyone else was using their real names.
There's been some great discussions over the years. Popular topics have included:
Rapid transit - Jason Leach's article from our December 2006 issue sparked a discussion which included almost as much useful information on the board as in the article itself.
Election semantics - RTH writer Paul Shaker expertly dissected the fault lines in Hamilton's complex urban fabric in our October 26,, 2006 issue. A lively discussion ensued.
Balanced transportation - Sean Burak's first class case for redressing our transport imbalance received an RTH record-setting 53 comments!
For a writer, it's a wonderful compliment to receive feedback on your work. Good or bad, whenever anybody takes the time to respond to your ideas, that's all the praise you need. You know you've successfully sparked an emotion, and informed the debate.
Debate is a rare commodity here in Canada. I wrote recently, on the thread about how Canada is a disappointingly uninterested nation when it comes to thrashing out ideas.
Coming from the UK as I do, I am used to daily diatribes and heated discussions around the dinner table, the water cooler and in the pages of the paper. But Canada is quiet. Too quiet.
I remember landing my first proper job over here, at a large audit firm in Toronto, 10 years ago now. Sitting around the lunch room one day I tried to engage my new workmates in a discussion on multiculturalism - "Canada is no more enlightened or tolerant that Britain."
I contended, provocatively, but no one took the bait! Faces turned to the window, nervous glances were exchanged. My colleagues were too uncomfortable to talk! What's everyone so worried about? I wondered.
The next day I was advised to "watch myself."
"You might hurt someone's feelings," I was told.
Hurting someone's feelings is one of the risks we take whenever we open our mouths to speak. Of course there are potential consequences for speaking our minds, but there are worse consequences if we don't.
Canadian uninterest permeates the political atmosphere too. It's ironic in a way that one of the issues we've debated most aggressively on RTH over the years is the growing scourge of apathy among Canadian voters.
But really - is anyone surprised at the pathetic 52 percent turnout in the recent Ontario election? Perhaps that's another topic for debate...
For those who think this doesn't matter, just consider that this is almost certainly one of the reasons the Federal Liberals are backing the minority Conservatives right now.
The Libs don't want an election because, in part, we don't want one either. We can't be bothered to have another debate.
Surely it's not all our fault. It can't be - can it? Our silence is certainly more to do with the dearth of visionary politicians and the endless scandals in government - right?
And for sure our disengagement is due at least in part to the lack of transparency and responsiveness in our three levels of government...
Well, if you're looking for someone else to blame for our lack of political interest and chatter, then you could always start with the press. When is the last time our national media 'broke' a meaningful story?
When is the last time any journalist you know stopped staring at the wire and got off their arse to dig up a story of their own? I don't wish to be glib - I know several reporters who work hard to get inside the news - but it's just not enough.
This country needs to start talking.
I love arguments. I remember climbing onto my high horse at a writer's group in Hamilton: "This town needs to stop shitting on its downtown," I declared, in words to that effect, to a bunch of people I hardly knew, "It needs to grow up."
I was blasted with a volley of rebuffs. "Leave our town alone!" moaned someone at the back.
"You don't know what you're talking about," said someone else.
It was great. I stood my ground, of course. Just as I, and several other RTH readers, stood our ground in the most recent contentious message board discussion on RTH last week:
"There happen to be a lot of people who HAVE to drive to ... work," wrote one commenter in response to my point about how I don't like to drive, in an RTH blog titled, All Part of Doing Bidness.
So the debate raged on. "I know we are disagreeing," the other commenter replied several comments later, "but this is a lot fun".
It was probably the most telling comment of the debate.
Arguments are fun. Arguments inspire, arguments inform, arguments excite, arguments unite. Sure, they're not always fun and they do sometimes "end in tears" as my Mum used to say, but really - where would we be without them?
I have no idea when the next RTH discussion thread is going to uncoil. But when it does, I promise you I'll be there, along with the rest of you, to help unravel it.
Until then, it's been nice chatting with you.