Divorcing a narcissist – analyzing Trump’s campaign….

There has been a great deal of interest in ‘narcissistic personality disorder” as a result of Donald Trump’s campaign to win the Republican presidential nomination contest. So it is surprising that there has been so little apparent analysis of Trump’s candidacy in these terms.
It seems clear that Trump has decided – in his mind – that he is seeking something to which he feels already entitled. He is, in his mind, already Presidential. This political contest is only about removing obstacles to the perfect union with the nation’s voters which he already sees in his mind.

When I began to analyze the Republican primary nomination contest in terms of the marital relationship of narcissists (there being many articles about ‘divorcing a narcissist’), a lot of things began to fall into place.
If you think of Trump’s own perceived relationship with US citizens as being like the spouse of a narcissist, then anyone in the way of the relationship is a target to be either charmed or attacked, depending on their behaviour.
Disagreeing with the narcissist releases a floodgate of hostility,” says one New York Times blog post. “You aren’t supposed to have an opinion of your own. The narcissist is a master at turning the tables. ‘I never said that. You’re much too sensitive. Everyone says you’re crazy and mean.’ When you try to set limits or to defend yourself, the narcissist stockpiles your grievances to throw at you during a later date.”
Think, for example, of when Jeb Bush tried to confront Trump during one of the debates – and the sheer nastiness that this evoked from Trump. Or when Hillary Clinton, or Megyn Kelly of Fox News, called Trump out on his self-evident sexism.

This dark side emerges only after the narcissist has charmed a woman into marriage. From the same New York Times article :
They come into the relationship with this charming and very seductive beginning. But that turns into emotional warfare. Narcissists are people who lack empathy, who are not accountable for their behavior. They set up their world so it’s about themselves. They exploit others for their own gain. If you’re in a relationship with a narcissist, you eventually discover you are there to revolve around them and to serve them. You can only imagine the shock that happens for people when they get seduced into something they think is the best thing that ever happened to them and it turns into this kind of relationship.”

There don’t seem to be many effective ways to deal with someone whose world revolves entirely around themselves, whether in a marital relationship or in business or politics. Almost anything I have read about dealing with this kind of narcissist – sometimes called ‘malignant narcissism” or ‘narcissistic personality disorder’ – sounds almost helpless – more about how to manage the person’s behaviour or how to respond to the environment that person creates than to change that behaviour. Much like the Republican party establishment sounds in trying to deal with Trump’s ever more outrageous behaviour.
Behaving according to an agreed set of rules, written or unwritten, requires one to see that there are rules – or that those rules apply to the person in question. This is not how narcissists see the world.

The most specific kind of advice about narcissists seems to be focused on how to divorce a narcissist.  And this is interesting, because as you read about how the Republican Party – and other candidates – are trying to deal with Trump,  the frustration and lack of effective ways to manage his behaviour sounds a lot like the conversation wives of narcissists must have with their therapists.
They want out of the relationship because it is damaging them and their children (read Party and voters), but getting out will cause even more damage. It is – for the spouse, just as for the GOP – a ‘lose-lose’ proposition.
Wives of narcissists go into marriage with a certain picture of the relationship; so too did other Republicans go into the contest for the US presidency with a picture of how the process should operate. By the time they discover the true nature of that relationship – which is set on the narcissist’s terms – they discover that the narcissist has rewritten the rule book, and they are far behind the proverbial eight ball..
And when they finally try to share their story with family and friends, they often find that it is hard to convince them of the problem because the narcissist seems so outwardly charming and successful and their story so much more powerful than that told by their spouse. The problem looks entirely different when you are on the inside, than it does from the outside.
In the case of Trump’s candidacy, the media seems to serve as a stand-in for ‘family and friends’. He manages them by trying to charm them, even as he controls their access. If they write critical stories, or dispute his stories, he bullies them by mocking personal attributes, or (in one case) by billing them for a flight he had invited them on as part of doing a story.

You can hear the frustration of ex-wives  (or the victims of schoolyard bullies) in the complaints that ‘fact checking” Trump has no effect on his behaviour.  Just as the narcissist controls how the marriage is seen from outside, Trump is able to use social media – most specifically Twitter – to manage his own public image, forcing the media to respond to that image. When it comes to extricating one’s self from a relationship with a malignant narcissist, the results sound more like scorched earth warfare than about any normal kind of human relationship.
Spouses of narcissists, say commenters, often come to the point of divorce because they want to protect their children. But the narcissist turns the children (read – voters, or maybe the country)  into bargaining chips during protracted and expensive ‘scorched earth’ battles that go on and on, drawing in lawyers and judges as part of the narcissist’s cast of background actors.

So I have been wondering – what will Trump do if he loses some of the upcoming primaries, in Iowa and New Hampshire. Cruz seems to be leading in Iowa’s Republican caucuses these days, and just yesterday, Trump began musing about whether Cruz is really eligible, given that he was born in Canada – known in US political circles as the ‘birther’ strategy. Cruz has declined every invitation to attack Trump (and appears, by all I have read, to be as narcissistic as Trump) – but that doesn’t seem to matter.
If you think about it in terms of separation and divorce, who will he turn on if he doesn’t achieve the goal he already sees clearly in his mind. Is he likely to turn on the voter who is rejecting him? Is he likely to turn on the media for distorting his message? Is he likely to turn on the GOP and the other candidates, including whichever one wins the GOP primary? Safe to say that it’s not likely to end well.


When a narcissist joins your team….

I still remember that team meeting – the rest of us were keen, excited about the possibilities now that we had coalesced as a team and felt ready to move forward on our plans to meet our membership needs. We were all excited – but one of us was, it later became evident, excited for a different reason.
In retrospect, I realize he was a narcissist, proud of his new title. And he saw us as a backdrop for his role – not as partners in a collaborative team effort. In some senses, I suppose, he was more aware than we were. He knew that holding a title, as he did (even if appointed, not elected), gave him power. It was something he had been pursuing for a while.

Over a period of years, our team had developed as a collaborative effort. We shared the responsibilities once held by one person, who held the title of regional director within the organization – and we made our decisions collaboratively, as equals. It worked well, for some time, and we built the organization in our area until it was seen as the strongest region within the global organization.
The person who held the “title” was committed to working collaboratively, and it worked well, so we never saw the need to incorporate the team concept into the organization’s bylaws.

Then came this man, and everything changed – rapidly. As we talked about our plans, he talked about ‘the board’ and what it wanted. Odd how it seemed that the board had reservations about everything we wanted to do – and he was the one who knew what the board ‘wanted’.
So all our plans, highlighted on flip chart paper, went nowhere (unless, as I realize in retrospect, they suited his purposes) – although he talked about them a lot – to others. It was just that it never seemed the right time for many of these plans to move ahead.

And then there was the ‘palace coup’. We had one vacant team spot – he proposed to fill it by calling for interested members. We had done this several times before, to fill a spot. But this time, he proposed to add all the new volunteers to the team and to let the roles become clear over time.
In the corporate world, one would have called this a ‘hostile takeover’. But in our world, this was called “expanding the team”.  What it meant, effectively, was that we were outvoted – as he had recruited, and conversed, with all the “new team” himself. Unable to change us, he had recruited his own team.
The organization itself was made up of people who work in such situations on a regular basis. But no one seemed curious about why our long-established team was dissolving. They apparently just saw numbers – he had expanded the team. And no one called any of us to ask why, after so many years, we were all leaving the team – and the organization.

I still remember, at a locally-organized event we were all attending, watching as the ‘director’ spoke about the team without acknowledging the rest of the team members in the room – including those who had done the bulk of the work to organize the event.
I guess in his mind, it was clear. He was the director – he was in charge. For him, we were just a part of the backdrop.
From the audience, it must have sounded okay. I mean, he did give credit to all those who had laid the foundation that he was now standing on. He has continued to do this – give credit to those who built the foundation, even as he and his actions effectively dismantled it.

If I sound bitter, it is because for a long time, I was. I just didn’t really understand why – until I heard a recent program on CBC Radio about narcissists. Then I began to see him clearly, for the first time.
I don’t belong to the organization any more. I felt that for an organization made up of people who work with (among others) dysfunctional teams and organizations, there should have been more curiosity about why such a long-established team had dissolved.
But now I realize that the organization, too, was one of his victims. He was charming to board members, cultivating each member even as he acquired knowledge – which he then could use to build his own reputation and business.
He saw power opportunities, and he took them. And having learned the organization’s language, and thinking, he cloaked it all in the right words. It just took them a lot longer to see him clearly than it had taken us.

Very sad. And I guess I am still somewhat bitter – but mostly at the organization, for not walking its talk.
He, as I now realize, was being absolutely true to himself.
He was, after all, the ‘director’.

Widening the conversation about peacebuilding…

One of my hopes for the New Year is that the Canadian government will broaden the conversation about peacebuilding beyond the role of the Canadian armed forces.

A long time ago, I heard Gwynne Dyer speak in Yellowknife. One thing he said has remained with me – that Canada as a country is more like the United Nations than any other country on earth. Our population is made up of people from all around the world.  As a nation, this gives us a unique perspective on – and potential contribution to – building and nurturing peace around the world.

We need to take advantage of this capacity as we think about peace and security issues – because how one sees peace and security differs, based on our backgrounds and experiences. And we don’t often have the chance to share experiences as widely as we could and should.

Over the past month and a half, I have been curating stories about how Canadian communities and people are welcoming Syrian refugees. I have noticed how often those who have themselves been refugees and immigrants are at the forefront of the welcoming, as they see a way to give back some of what was given to them.

Often, in my work as an election observer, I have met Canadians who have served our country in a variety of ways, and heard some of their stories. Many of us have come back from international work with no way to share our experiences more widely – either with others who have similar experiences, or those whose work lies in soldiering.

A few years ago, I was invited to speak as part of a panel on human security. The other participants were from our military. I spoke about the value of civilian participation in peacebuilding and democracy, and I included some stories. One was about how, when I returned to Yellowknife from Bosnia in 1996, I did not walk on paths apart from the paved road and sidewalk for almost a year. It had become second nature for me to avoid anything but the paved road because of the danger of mines.

The next morning at coffee, a colonel spoke to me about my presentation. He said that when I told that story, he was instantly back in Bosnia. He, too, had shared that experience. We don’t often enough have the chance to share such experiences.

Why does it matter that we share our stories? In the early 1990s, in Somalia, there was extensive international participation in trying to end the fighting in that country. The Australians sent a contingent, who were posted in Baidoa, where there had been back and forth fighting as Said Barre tried to regain the capital, Mogadishu. There was famine, and fear, in Baidoa.

Before they deployed, the Australians spoke with an Australian NGO that had been working in Somalia. They learned about the culture, and about the importance of elders. So when they went to Baidoa, they behaved differently than troops posted elsewhere.

They reached out to the elders, and to the NGOs who were feeding the people. They asked for their advice, and they followed it. They disarmed the community block by block, leaving guns only to those who were guarding the NGO premises. They worked with the elders to rebuild law and order, refusing to accept the local warlords as having any authority in governance.

Not only did this strategy help to restore law and order in Baidoa (at a time when other armed forces, including the Americans, were accepting warlords as ‘government’), but it helped provide security for the lightly-armed Australians. The elders brought news of arms dumps, and other security issues, often walking long distances to tell the Australians about these risks.

Knowing the situation in advance, from a cultural perspective, helped the Australians understand the security situation differently than other armed forces did. It helped them craft a strategy that worked.

Expanding Canada’s dialogue about security, and peacebuilding, beyond just the armed forces offers Canada a chance to act differently – and very likely, more effectively – in places like Syria. I hope that the Canadian government will see this opportunity and will find a way to expand the dialogue on how to build peace (and fight war, if that is necessary) beyond the Canadian armed forces. For a country so like the United Nations in our population, we have a unique opportunity to convene a different kind of dialogue about security – and that is a gift we can bring to the world in 2016.



“I have your back”

I read a wonderful story yesterday.
It was a story that began with an anguished mother who had spent an entire night comforting her eight-year-old daughter. The family is American Muslim, and the young girl had been watching the television news with her grandmother when she heard Donald Trump’s call to deport refugees and ban all Muslims from coming to the United States.
The young girl went off to pack up her treasures, afraid that soldiers were going to appear at her door and force her family to move.
As she comforted her daughter, the mother had to come to terms with the idea of just how dangerous this kind of rhetoric is. And in the morning, she turned to Facebook to pour out her anguish.
The response she got was unexpected, and heartwarming. She began to hear from US Army veterans, many of them parents themselves, who wanted to reassure her daughter that they would never be a part of driving American Muslims from their homes.
“Salamalakum Melissa!” said the first soldier. “Please show this picture of me to your daughter. Tell her I am a Mama too and as a soldier I will protect her from the bad guys.” Later, she told Upworthy that “It bothered me all night. Stuck in my craw, so to speak. This rhetoric and fear, hate, and violence is not okay. It’s not the United States that I would fight for. I was awake all night.”
She turned to social media to call on other vets to respond, creating a hash tag called #IWillProtectYou – and the messages of support began pouring in.
“Let Muslim children know that we will not hurt them. That they are safe here in America. That we will protect innocents as we always have and by added benefit keeping our oaths to uphold and defend the Constitution”, said one vet. Another one said: “I am not Muslim, but when anyone says the Army that I served with will go on to remove Muslims from my country, they’ll have to take me too.”

Coincidentally, it was not the only story I read yesterday about what soldiers I know call “I have your back”.
In The Times of Israel, I read about Master Sergeant Roddie Edmonds, who was the ranking US officer in a German prisoner of war camp during WWII. Some of the soldiers who were there were Jewish Americans.
The Nazi guards wanted the Jewish soldiers separated – they would be sent off to labour camps where they would most likely die. Edmonds spoke up: “We are all Jews here”, he told the Nazis, as all 1,000 American prisoners in that camp stepped forward.
The story of his heroism, which saved at least 200 Jewish American soldiers, remained hidden for years. He never talked about it, not even to his son, who uncovered the story serendipitously. But when the story emerged, he was posthumously recognized with Israel’s highest honor for non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews during World War II – one of the “Righteous Among Nations” remembered at Yad Vashem. He is only the fifth American named, and the first serviceman – and the first whose actions saved the lives of other Americans.
These are two inspiring examples of what soldiers understand as the concept of “having your back”.
I didn’t fully understand this concept until my time as an election observer in Georgia, almost a decade ago. My partner was a retired Dutch general, who had once commanded 45,000 men at the Dutch military college. I had never been a soldier.
When you work as a long-term election observation team, you spend a lot of time together. We had dinner together every night, and we travelled long distances around the area we were responsible for. We had a lot of time to talk.
It was in working with him that I grasped the idea of “I have your back” and what that means. Someone else I know calls it the concept of “honour”, meaning that you would lay down your life for your fellow soldier. It is not a concept that most of us as civilians ever experience in its full meaning.
But this week, those army veterans in the United States demonstrated so clearly what it means to “have your back” – and that for them, this concept applies not just to fellow soldiers but to those of us they are sworn to protect. And I am touched, and grateful.
And as I listened, this morning, to an interview on CBC radio about Canadian participation in the co-ordinated assault on Daesh which ended with a discussion of how Canadian soldiers are affected by their participation in such missions, I thought about how we need to tell them that “we have your backs”, both when they are in the field and when they are home.
Whatever decisions are made about how Canada reshapes its participation in the attempts to bring peace to Syria, I hope with all my heart that our message to our soldiers will be “we have your backs”. And “thank you” – for now and always.

Shaping a narrative – media choices

Listening to the CBC this morning as they are talking about Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s honeymoon and whether it will last, and pleased to see a smidgen of media self-awareness of their power to shape a narrative – and of the choices they make in doing so.

As I listened to the discussion, it reminded me so vividly of something that happened to me a long time ago that I had almost forgotten.

At the time, I was a municipal politician, with interests in culture and the arts. One of the events I had been interested in, for some time, was Folk on the Rocks, a northern folk festival started by some folks in Yellowknife that had attracted a lot of interest. People were excited by the idea that they could go to a local beach and listen to folk music, and the festival attracted high profile stars and a great deal of local participation.

But as often happens, the organizers had lost steam after a few years. The original team had stepped down, and others had stepped in. One of them – a man with a high profile in the arts community – called me, and with flowery compliments, urged me to join the board of the organization that ran the festival. Somewhat naively, I said yes.

But I couldn’t make it to the annual general meeting, as both my daughters got chickenpox. So I was a bit surprised to get a phone call from the same man, telling me I had been elected president of the society that ran the festival.

Taking up the responsibility, I started to learn more. I visited the office, in Storefront. I discovered that the bills had been filed away in a drawer – lots of them. It turned out, as I dug a bit more, that the society was in debt – a great deal of debt, as it turned out.

Pondering the problem, it became clear that the only way to get the society out of debt was to hold another festival. I made the rounds of government agencies seeking funding; I dragged all my friends into the process; we made plans for the festival.

It was a bit tricky, as all I had in terms of financial information was some figures scratched on the back of an envelope by the man who had called me initially. It was not clear what it cost to run a festival. But my friend down the street did his best to put together estimates – and he decided we were going to pay the performers with cheques, even if we cashed it for them, so at least we started to have a financial picture.

We couldn’t afford to pay high profile performers, so we put together a festival line-up that we could afford. Tricky, if you’re not so aware of the folk scene – as few of us were. Luckily, I had one friend who did know the scene and he put together our lineup.

Then the question was – how were we going to get the performers to Yellowknife? I proposed to go to a local travel agency that I dealt with (there were two, at that time, and the festival had dealt with the other agency). The man who got me into this said, “oh, I wouldn’t do that.” When I asked why, he explained that the festival owed them money – from a few years back. So I guess that was why there wasn’t a bill from that agency among the pile in the drawer of the office.

I went to the agency, explained that I had just heard we owed them money, and explained our plans for that year’s festival. I was pretty straightforward – without running a festival that year, we would never have the money to pay the old debt. They agreed to help.

And so, after hours and days and weeks of hard work, we were ready to go. I was excited as we started to see the people pour into the site. Of course there were glitches. I remember one group of Americans who came (we were excited because they had bought a lot of tickets as a group). One of them didn’t like the lyrics sung by one of our performers; they demanded their money back. I explained that we didn’t tell our performers what they could or could not sing, but if they were unhappy, we’d give them their money back, and so we did. (Unfortunately, they didn’t all leave, so some of them got to see the show for free.)

But to get back to where I started. There were two possible stories for the media. One was that this group of people, with little or no experience in running a folk festival, had pulled off the seemingly impossible. The other was that this was a festival that, unlike the previous ones, had no headliners or well known acts.

I remember how disappointed I was that the national media story was the second one.  Although I didn’t have much time to be disappointed, because I was having to find a group of singers from a small community that apparently hadn’t gotten home yet. I found them on the site, sorted out their travel arrangements home, and went home to sleep for hours.

Effectively, our merry little band of people saved something that has now become a northern institution. But you won’t find that reflected in the media’s stories, then or later.

The power of being a witness…

I have never been a refugee. We came to Canada as immigrants, from Ireland, in the mid 1950s, and I have been honoured to have been a Canadian citizen for most of my life.
But I have seen and met refugees at first hand, in Bosnia in 1996 (when I was an election observer) and in Serbia in 2001-2003 (when I worked on a US-funded community revitalization program). My role has been primarily as ‘witness’, seeing and listening and sharing stories. Often it feels like a very small thing, although I know it is a part of helping make people aware of situations they would not otherwise know about.

For a long time, after Bosnia in 1996, I did not know what to do with the pain I felt after seeing and meeting people who had been forced to flee their homes by conflict. Their pain seemed so overwhelming that to talk about my pain seemed self-indulgent and self-serving, and I worried about appropriating their stories, about not adequately conveying their stories to others.
I struggled with the question of what I would have done, had I been in the shoes of those in Bosnia who faced existential questions about their lives. If someone came to my village, and told me to kill my neighbour or be killed myself, what would I have done? This question, in particular, haunted me as I read books about the conflict in Bosnia after I returned home.
I did not have anyone to talk to about it who really understood. Once, at a Worldworks seminar I attended in Oregon with a friend, I was part of a small group where it felt like maybe I could share some of what I was feeling. I began to talk about what I had seen and felt. I linked it with stories I had been hearing about family violence, while I worked with a women’s group in Yellowknife.
But it was not long before people in the group began to respond. One woman held her stomach and said I can’t deal with this pain. Others said similar things. I could not respond, too close to tears. I left the group, and went for a long walk along the beach.
A man who was part of the group told me that he wished I had continued speaking, that there were young women in the group who worked with victims of violence who had not spoken in the group but had wanted to hear what I said. That made me feel worse, in some ways.

But in the time since then, I have come to realize the power of being a witness. It is something that some of my friends, like Mary Alice Arthur, see as being my role in life.
In Serbia, our project’s role was to work with communities to help them decide on projects that would improve community life, in infrastructure, social and economic development. As part of my work, I often went to meetings and workshops held by others, and that is where I met a group of women who were refugees from Kosovo and who were living at a collective centre in Uzice.
Some months after I had met them, they came to visit me at our office. They asked if I would come and visit them and see where and how they lived now.
I told them that our project could not help them – it was not a humanitarian aid project. They said they understood that; they just wanted me to visit.

So I did, taking along a young woman from our office as interpreter. They welcomed us to the centre, and asked if we would like coffee. This is a staple of Serbian hospitality; every time you visit, people bring you cold clear water and then coffee, made in a small pot and served in small cups.
I said yes, thank you. And shortly thereafter, the women brought a small silver tray, with a lace cloth, and two small cups of coffee. There must have been 20 women in the room, but there were only two cups of coffee.
I found it very hard to drink that cup of coffee, especially after having seen how people lived in the centre.
I asked what kind of help they needed. They wanted a clean rug for the floor so the children could play on it, some toys for the children, cleaning supplies for the small shared bathroom (tiny as a phone booth), and backpacks for those children who were going to school so they could carry their books.

My young colleague, on our way back to the office, said “we must help”. I agreed. She came back to the office and told others what she had seen, and they began organizing the community to help with food and other supplies. I offered to cover the cost of backpacks that would be given at cost by a local store.
We want back to visit again, but this time we brought coffee with us (which is something Serbians do as a matter of course, so no one is embarrassed by not being able to meet the demands of hospitality) and small treats for the children.
I asked friends to help organize a visit out into the country near Uzice, where the children could swim and play and eat food barbecued over a fire. The children had not been outside the centre, apart from going to school, since they had arrived in Uzice.
I took pictures by the score, and when I got them developed, I got two sets of them and put one set in an album that I brought to the centre. One of the things that people lose, when they flee their home, is pictures – although some people had one or two pictures of the home they had once had in Kosovo.

I did not see the women again until I was leaving Uzice after my contract had been ended by the agency I worked for. The people I worked with had a farewell party for me, and they asked who I would like to invite.
I asked if they would invite some of the women from the collective centre, but please to tell them not to bring any presents – as I knew they didn’t have much.
When the women came to the party, held in a room above a local restaurant, I went over to welcome them. I had been concerned that they might not feel welcome.
They thanked me for the chance to get dressed up – something they rarely had – and to go to a party.
And they presented me with a small, beautiful white rug that they had woven – something I treasure still.

As Canada prepares to welcome 25,000 Syrian refugees sponsored by the government, along with thousands of others who are being brought to Canada through private sponsorships, I remember the people I met in Bosnia and Serbia. I remember that sense of helplessness, in terms of being able to address their situations. I also remember the power of that simple human connection, across the differences of our situations.
There is little I can do these days to help in addressing the worst refugee situation the world has faced since the second world war. What I can do is to be a witness, to share the stories of the refugees that are told by others, to shed tears, and to collect and curate the stories of those around the world who are welcoming the refugees and helping them find new homes and the hope of a better life ahead.
It does not make up for the loss of one’s home, often the loss of members of one’s family, the loss of one’s community, the loss of one’s country. But it bears witness to the pain and to the hope of a safe life for one’s children – and that, too, is a role we can all play.

What happens when you piss in the pool….

Of course, you know – it spreads around. It is why there is chlorine in pools. Because they are shared spaces, in which we all swim. That is why there are toilets in swimming pool areas, and why parents make sure their children go to the toilet before they enter the pool.
In a lot of ways, our political system is much like the pool. It’s a shared space, shared by all of us – not just by the people we elect to govern us.
I have been reflecting on this, during the election campaign and more recently, as I have been collecting stories about how we are welcoming Syrian refugees. I found lots of wonderful stories of welcome, as Canadians engage enthusiastically in what has been termed a great Canadian project.

But I also found something that disturbed me. I found that a number of Members of Parliament had written letters to the Prime Minister, saying that many of their constituents had been contacting them to express concerns about safety issues related to the arrival of 25,000 refugees.
Some of the MPs posted the letter online or on their website; others posted messages on their Facebook page. Most of them seemed to have gotten a fair amount of local coverage for their messages.
The first one I found, I thought – well, yes, that is the role of the Opposition – to ask questions and raise concerns.
But as I found more, I began to wonder about what seemed to be a similarity in tone and message. I found only one that seemed different, reflecting what seemed to be the strongly held views of that particular MP.

Then I visited the Conservative Party website, and discovered that it had a message with the headline “Tell Justin Trudeau – put safety first”.
The message under the headline read:
“Safety First
Canada has a proud history as an inclusive country. Canada’s Conservative (sic) strengthened that reputation, welcoming record numbers of immigrants over our nine years in government.
The safety of Canadians must be the top priority of any government when dealing with immigration.
But Justin Trudeau’s Liberals have admitted they have no process for a security review of the 25,000 refugees they are bringing to Canada. They’re more focused on meeting arbitrary deadlines than on ensuring the safety of Canadians.
When it comes to our national security, tell Justin Trudeau to put safety first.”
People were then invited to add their name and email address and postal code, and click.
Many of the MPs letters that I saw contained a similar message. For example: “Many constituents are contacting me to insist that Canada ensure thorough vetting of potential Syrian refugees to Canada. We want Canadians to be confident that each and every one of them is identified and pose neither a security nor health risk. ”
The words on the Conservative Party website, about security screening, didn’t seem to reflect what I was seeing in the media. They didn’t seem accurate. And I reflected on Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi’s comment that of every 10 citizens he spoke with, eight were completely supportive, two had concerns about security, and about .02% were choosing to be uncivil or abusive (often anonymously). So if that was an accurate reflection of the rest of the country, it seemed comparatively few of us were worried about security.

I also noted the use of terminology on the Conservative Party website, and I didn’t like it. Even when I did not agree with Stephen Harper, I did call him Prime Minister Harper. I don’t like the way the media and the Conservatives talk about the “Trudeau” government or the “Liberal” government. Our government is the Canadian government (Mr. Harper’s attempts to have government departments refer to the “Harper government” notwithstanding). It is not the preserve of any one political party. Our Prime Minister is the Prime Minister of Canada. We need to take care with our language and our terminology – and you need look no further south than the US to understand why this matters.

And so that is why I started this post with that question about peeing in the swimming pool.

Our governance “pool” is a shared space. We all need to take care in how we swim in it. And one thing I have come to realize is that, if someone is pissing in the pool, we need to call them on it. The horrific results of what happens when people are allowed to spew hatred and thus give others permission to do so, which we see in the US, embolden me to speak out for civility and honesty in political discourse in Canada.

I listened to the Opposition critic on immigration on CBC tonight. My impression was that she was not so comfortable in talking about her party’s approach on this issue, and it seemed that there was more keenness to find fault than to offer the constructive and collaborative approach that her interim leader talked of shortly after she was chosen to fill that position.
I have found the collaborative working style modelled by our Prime Minister to be a refreshing breath of fresh air, and an example for the rest of the world. It is a respectful way to approach our shared political space, in my view. The language and strategies that he and his Cabinet are using echo much of what I consider to be good facilitative practice. And my sense is that most Canadians are delighted to have the opportunity to engage in a grand way in doing our small part to address the worst refugee crisis since World War II.

And, while I apologize for using a term that may be offensive to some, I wanted to offer one more piece of advice to the Opposition on this theme.
The late US President Lyndon Johnson, who could be rather earthy in his language, offered this advice about dealing with opponents. It is better, he said, to have them inside the tent pissing out than outside the tent pissing in.