Council Culture

"Culture" means many different things. There's arts & culture, ethnic culture and office culture. Bacterial cultures, snobby rich people culture (think Frasier and Niles at the wine club) and probably lots of other uses of culture that I don't know about. It's an important word with a lot of meaning.

This tweet from Pat Maloney got me thinking about the culture of our council and municipal elected leaders:

Swearing, screaming and finger-pointing don't seem like a big deal anymore. I don't think Pat is alone in feeling that way. That's a huge problem. As a city and society, we've stopped being intentional about our political culture and it has slipped in the wrong direction.

I'll leave a detailed analysis of the pros and cons of our political system to smarter writers (looking at you Caesura Letters) but to paraphrase, our political system – especially locally – is built on the assumption that City Council is able to compromise, collaborate and work together to make decisions that maximize benefit.

Put another way, smart, dedicated people need to argue but then at some point, they need to stop arguing and agree. This requires compromise. Otherwise nothing gets done and we go in circles.

Debate, even if it is loud or adversarial at times, is critical to making good, strategic decisions. Fighting, swearing and personal attacks are not debate. Debate, no matter how contentious, should always be in the service of the larger goal: making London better for everyone. 

Political culture across the board is polarized. That's especially obvious in the US. With a two party system there is little room for anyone to be in the middle on an issue. This structure forces politicians and citizens out to the extreme edges and leaves no oxygen for compromise, rational discussion or empathy.

This type of political culture is evident in Canada as well and as Pat Maloney pointed out, is present here in London. 

"Culture" in this sense (politics or office culture) is incredibly intentional. It's not something that just happens on its own. Our political culture is created by all of us, all the time. It's created by every decision we make, no matter how small.

It's created by how we choose to argue and debate with one another. It's created by what and how the media chooses to focus on. And most importantly, it's modelled for everyone by our elected officials.

I'm not suggesting that we should have less debate, argument and heated discussion. We probably need more of that to solve our collective problems. What I am advocating for is that we all take an active, intentional role in creating the kind of political culture that enables our city to work together to make smart decisions for the future.

Taking an active role starts with two decisions we all make:

  1. Who we vote for – are they willing to fight hard for what they believe in and then willing to accept whatever is best to move our city forward? They must be willing to admit they were wrong and we must be able to accept that they changed their mind on something.
  2. How we speak with others – can you debate with someone and not make it personal? Can you try to be empathetic and see things from other points of view?

Culture matters, a lot. Together, regardless of where we stand on individual issues, we can choose to create a culture that makes London better for everyone.

If you think I'm wrong, or have another way to think about it, let's talk