Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The price of cheap outrage

A couple of years ago, around the time that tha BITE paper started publishing,  I noticed the sharp decline in civility on Bowen Island around various issues.  It really came to a head during the National Park debate, and later became deeply personal during the election campaign and in subsequent months.  Now the entire Bowfest Board has resigned after facing a torrent of abuse from islanders about the date for this year's festival.  Traditionally, it has been held on the last weekend before Labour Day.  This year they chose to hold it on Labour Day weekend.

This was the third controversy this year's committee has had to deal with.  Earlier they were the focus of an intense facebook debate after the decided not to pay musicians, but to still allow commercial vendors to profit at the festival.  Then they chose the theme of "zombies" which was quickly opposed by families with young kids on the grounds that, well, we already do Hallowe'en really well.  The date change was the straw that broke the camel's back.

But the way some members of the community have responded has been in a fashion that has become all too familiar.  Keyboard warriors flooded the committee with really harsh words on the forum and by email (and probably face to face to, or at least through the rumour mill) and now the Board has resigned.  The overwhelming sentiment now is "you have to have a thick skin to volunteer on Bowen."

This is actually true.  Whether you run for Council or sit on a committee you are likely to get verbally abused.  I have been sneered at and mocked and subjected to cheap outrage just because I dared host community conversations.  The community centre committee got the hairdryer treatment at Council recently.  Individuals get personally criticized for their views in public.  There has been an 18 month long campaign against several members of the previous Council who continue to attract vitriol, even though they haven't been involved in decision making at all.

How does this stop?  A part of me would like to see our mayor lead the call to more civic dialogue, but he was so blatantly personal during the election campaign and right afterwards that his credibility is shot on this topic.  There are a few Councillors on Council who could make a public appeal top chill out, step up and make this place a more respectable public market place of ideas.  I hope they will...I think their leadership would be welcome.

But we now see the price of this kind of tone.  It costs us.  Hopefully Bowfest will go ahead this year, but if it doesn't it will be a real tangible victim of mean spirited talk. Snide, snippy, sarcastic, rumour mongering gossip has to stop if we are to recover a sense of vibrant community life and see new hearts and minds volunteering to care for the soul of this place.