Where is St. Albert's kindness?
Saturday, Apr 12, 2014 06:00 am
Last Friday afternoon I attended a city event for service providers and community support organizations to hear Pat Nixon’s insights into dealing with the issues of homelessness and poverty. Pat Nixon, founder of the Mustard Seed, is a nationally recognized expert on the subject. Rising from the challenges of homelessness when he was a teenager, Pat has worked tirelessly supporting effective programs that bring hope and community to those living without a home. It was an inspiring event and as the engaging discussion ensued, a particular part of his message resonated with me. Pat urged us to consider a higher understanding of community than what we might be used to.
As many of us know, St. Albert was recently selected as the best place in Canada to live. Before we pat ourselves on the back too energetically, let’s take a moment to consider the following.
Service providers at the discussion on Friday were emphatic that people in St. Albert simply do not want to face the more serious issues of violence, poverty, homelessness and other social challenges that exist in our community. We don’t want to acknowledge it. Yet we have people living in poverty in our city. We have people who are afraid to go home. We have those who cannot feed their children and who fear for their future. Affluence does not shield us from violence, addiction, or loneliness. So why do we hear so little about this?
I would agree with Pat that what makes community work is kindness. I would add that kindness first requires empathy, and if there’s one thing lacking in St. Albert, it is definitely empathy.
We live in a cantankerous community. When someone expresses a concern about an issue, people are quick to shush their worries, or go on the attack. Whether it’s overcrowded developments, increased traffic, train whistles, dogs near children, or loud cars and motorcycles – concerns are not welcome here. In fact the refrain we most often hear is, “If you don’t like it, you can leave.” Is that really an answer? If you’ve got a problem, get out? Is that the best we can do?
In an effort to present ourselves as Canada’s best, we are covering up the truth about the difficulties we face. But real life shows up on everyone’s doorstep from time to time. Real people struggle with loneliness, relational issues, addiction, poverty, family break ups and stress. Real people are not perfect.
Pat urged the attendees at Friday’s event to lean towards intentional kindness. That means not dismissing or trying to silence each other when one of us is experiencing a challenge. Noted author Stephen Covey has said that we should seek first to understand, then to be understood. That requires empathy.
What would happen if St. Albert became less concerned about how it looked, and more about how it functioned? What if we were a community that responded less with spiteful letters to the editor, and more with support and trying to find solutions? Community is about drawing in; it’s about understanding. It’s about empathy and intentional kindness. That’s the kind of community I want.
Dee-Ann Schwanke is a masters student in international management.