First Nations members of the Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory block train tracks servicing Via Rail, as part of a protest against British Columbia's Coastal GasLink pipeline, in Tyendinaga, Ontario. Feb. 12, 2020.CHRIS HELGREN / REUTERS

Brookman: We must not reject the voices of others, despite disagreement


Early in my career, I was taught that no one in your company ever works “for” you but that good leadership always indicates that everyone works “with” you. 

All opinions have value and the strength of an organization is built on the input of many people. I could not help but think of that lesson while I watched the state of the union address last week and thought about how many times the U.S. president used the words “I” and “me” in his presentation. These are, in fact, divisive words and today we seem to live in a world divided by politics, religion, gender, race and a myriad of other sensitivities that none of us ever thought about until recently. 

Universities, which have traditionally been the centre of debate and often radical thought, now seem to fall under the scope of often rejecting anyone whose ideas do not comply with what the majority feel are the absolutes of the day. Dialogue or presentation that does not go along with the majority mindset is often not even allowed to make its points heard to the group. 

Where does all of the partisanship come from, why have we become so fearful and angry about new ideas or contrary opinions? Why have political parties, for example, both in the United States but to a large degree, also in Canada, moved so far to their respective positions, that there is almost no tolerance for opposing views or discussion. 

Today, if you state that you are a “Christian or a Muslim or a Jew” you may create a certain amount of discomfort with people around you. Once again, extremism and radicalism seem to have become the basis for our impression of what religion means today, and even in the most middle-of-the-road religious groups, there is a certain amount of branding and distrust that exists if you are not part of that idea of religion.

Recently, there was an Edmonton-Calgary hockey game. There is no better rivalry in professional hockey than a game between the Oilers and the Flames, and we all knew that this would be an intense, high energy game that would be played at the highest professional levels that we can imagine. The teams did not disappoint and just as expected, there was a certain level of antagonism and fighting. It is, indeed, part of the game. During the break I heard one of the commentators make this statement: “These two teams really hate each other and when young men hate each other, then you are going to get lots of fighting.”

I do not agree that the players actually “hate” each other. They are intensely competitive, they want their team to win, and they are high-energy young men. But to say that they “hate” each other is wrong and in days, weeks or months, any one of them could find themselves playing on a different team and working together.

My point is that our leaders in politics, our religious leaders, our sports teams, can promote ideas, promote competition and certainly promote winning, but we must not go down a road where they encourage us to hate those who are not in full agreement with ourselves.

To those who think that I opine for the past, for a simpler time of simpler values, that is not the case at all. However, I do believe that leadership, whether political, religious, community or business does require a certain decorum, a certain standard and a certain level of respect or, dare I say “good manners.” Too often those seem to be in short supply these days, and, yes, in that I do wish that we could return to a more respectful time.

George Brookman is chair of West Canadian Digital Imaging and a board member of Canadian Global Affairs Institute.