In the immortal words of the Brothers Gibb (Bee Gees, to you), “it’s only words, and words are all I have…”. Or, as Hamlet said, when Polonius asked him what he was reading: “Words, words, words”. As this week’s issue developed, I realised that so much of the content had to do with words, how we communicate with each other. As you will see, there are quite a few letters to the Editor, as well as an article by Councillor Jim Bertram, all having to do with communication. We inform each other, correct each other, and even criticise each other, always in words.
Whether written or spoken or sung, words are all we have. No, that may not be quite true: we also have silence. Sometimes silence can be deafening. A refusal to speak, to use words, can be a way we communicate anger, hurt, or even contempt. But that is a very negative way to communicate, isn’t it? There are, of course, times when silence is golden, when we need to keep a secret, preserve a confidence, times when communication would have serious negative consequences. But, in the context of community, of debate and discussion of issues of common interest, communication is always best. Ideas, conflicting ideas need to be out on the table for all to evaluate.
Last week, when we published the comments of readers on Facebook concerning the OPP campaign “Lock It or Lose It”, it was clear that the public had serious concerns about what was happening. Letters this week from Inspector June Robson and Don Sherritt answer most of those concerns, I think. Another letter takes a less generous view of our readers, but that approach needs to be expressed too. This is the main raison d’être of the Times: to give all sides a chance to express their opinions and share ideas and possibilities with each other.
People in positions of responsibility, such a politicians, officials, etc., need to be open to this kind of communication.
There is a vast difference between being attacked and being criticised. No-one is, or should be, above criticism, but people should not be attacked in a way that is personal or unfair. There’s no way of preventing backbiting, not to mention backstabbing, but the answer to it is open dialogue. John Martyn has a song called “May You Never”, which is about friendship and trust. One of the lines says: “And you never talk dirty behind my back, and I know that there’s those that do”. Those who engage in that kind of behind-the-back attacks are not as successful as they may think. Their words can get around and, in the end, it is their reputation that suffers.
We have a policy at the Times: whenever someone writes in to complain or criticise what they see in the paper, we write back and enter into a discussion of what they complain about. Their letter appears in the paper, but these communications do not, but they are important. Critics need to know that these pages really are open to them, too. This quiet diplomacy may not always result in agreement, but they do, often, succeed in making both sides more human, more real to each other.
One of the least likeable characteristics of the internet is the way in which people have taken advantage of it to insult and denigrate others in comments, blogs and posts on Facebook, Twitter, etc. These platforms have been far too slow to take down hate-filled posts, and are failing in their responsibilities to the public. Of course, what comes out in anonymous posts of that kind says so much about the writers.
Another word-filled article in this issue is about the “We Are neighbours” campaign by the St. Lawrence-Rideau Immigration Partnership. The main idea is that, no matter how long, or how short a time we have lived in this country, we are neighbours, we belong in the community. For some, that is a hard notion to accept. But, I honestly believe, that the more we talk to each other, in written or verbal formats, the better neighbours we will be and the better our communities will be.
This is not to say that “to know all is to forgive all”; we will continue to disagree over things, perhaps vehemently. But that is not a negative thing: as long as we talk to each other, we can at least know the facts of the situation and come to some kind of accommodation with each other. We can agree to disagree. Get it out on the table, examine options and other opinions, come to a conclusion. Councillor Bertram writes a good article. Susan Smith, of Kemptville & District Home Support, says it in every article she writes: Let’s Connect.
It’s only words, and words are all I have…