No More Platitudes

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The Article

Earlier this year, after the tragic fatal shooting of 15-year-old Jordan Manners in a Toronto high school, I made the mistake of reading a newspaper account of it. “It’s a tragedy,” various dignitaries pronounced. “We need to end the gun violence,” declared the Mayor’s office. It didn’t matter whether it was the Chief of Police, the Mayor, the Premier, or the principal, they all offered the same platitudes we hear everyday. No one said anything remotely interesting or insightful. One wonders if the mayor just has a bunch of these little one-liners stored on his hard drive, and his assistant just emails out the one that seems most appropriate each morning based on yesterday’s events.

Instead, I think that speaking some common sense might be just what we need for a change. In fact, here’s my list of what I would like to hear out of a politician’s mouth:

Contrary to popular belief, we do not need more laws. We do need citizens to take responsibility for themselves and their children. So instead of watching TV, go find out what your kids are up to. After all, it’s not up to the government or the schools to raise them. It’s up to you. So don’t let them listen to rap music with filthy lyrics. Don’t let them go out at all hours of the night. Get involved in their lives! And for you men who aren’t, why are you abandoning your children and forcing your ex-girlfriends or ex-wives to raise them all by themselves? The government can’t replace you, nor should it try. Step up to the plate and do your duty. It’s your fault 15-year-olds are getting shot in school, not the government’s. If you did your job, we wouldn’t have to pick up the pieces.

If you want a better life, ultimately that’s up to you, not up to a politician. We live in one of the freest societies on earth where people can say what they want, work hard, and thrive. But you need to have initiative and you need to have skills. Those aren’t things the government can give you. You’re the one who has to study, and you’re the one who has to show up at school or search out the government programs that are available. Too often government agencies provide a program—like parenting courses—and those who really need to go don’t because they’re at home watching TV. There’s a lot of help available if you look for it and if you’re willing to do a bit of work yourself.

Now I know there are still some holes for people who really need help. If all the people who could help themselves would do so, there’d be more resources available for those who really do need a hand. If you have a genuine need we’re not meeting, I’m sorry. I wish I could transfer resources towards you and away from those who should help themselves, but I’m going to need your help to change the culture before we can do that.

When it’s election time we’re going to promise to throw money at things to fix them. This seems counterproductive, because nobody wastes money like the government can. You probably wouldn’t even notice if 50% of those on the government payroll just stopped going to work! But we have to make promises to get elected. If people would just realize that government can’t always be the answer, I’d stop promising. Until then, I can’t.

And don’t forget that if you want your community to be better, you need to make it that way. Get to know your neighbours. Watch out for each others’ kids. Care for parks, libraries, and public spaces. Be nice to people. The government can’t create a haven out of nothing. If you don’t like your town, start fixing it.       

Now I know I’ll never hear a politician utter any of these things. It would be political suicide. But the next time I have to vote, I’ll be asking myself, which politician is secretly thinking these things, even if he or she is afraid to say them?  And that person, who is wise if not courageous, will get my support.

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