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Listen up and speak up, Saturday

Opinions are like… well, you know what opinions are like. And yes, everybody has one. The ubiquity of opinion does not diminish its value. The quality of opinion? That’s another matter.

Opinions are like… well, you know what opinions are like. And yes, everybody has one. The ubiquity of opinion does not diminish its value. The quality of opinion? That’s another matter.

Regardless, the free and open exchange of opinions, ideas, hopes and dreams is what makes the world a better place to live. Without a robust markeplace of ideas, we wouldn’t have, just to take a trifling example, Cherry Garcia ice cream. The Ice Cream Dictator for life might have decided enough was enough when strawberry joined chocolate and vanilla and the world would be a tricolour, Neapolitan mess.

That’s a basic problem with dictatorship as a form of government — lack of choice; lack of input. Oh sure, everything might seem well and good when a firebrand dictator takes over and alleviates the citizenry and any former government officials still living from the odious task of making decisions, but let’s face it, sooner or later the honeymoon ends and you’re left with some strongman who’s telling you what flavour of ice cream to eat and killing off your neighbours who insist on making tutti-frutti.

But the enduring allure of dictatorship is its efficiency. One man; one rule; no vote. Citizenship in a dictatorship asks — demands — only obedience. There’s no need to follow the issues of the day, no need to educate yourself on the myriad choices of candidates and platforms in an election, no need to think about what actions might make your little slice of heaven a better place to live, no onerous requirement to participate, be involved, make your voice heard and your opinions known. No need to hope and dream; both are quickly outlawed by the Supreme Commander. Just eat your ice cream and shut up.

I’ve never lived under a dictator; I’m a democracy kind of guy, born and bred. And while there have been times in the recent past when it seemed as though my elected leaders had no more than a cosmetic interest in my opinions — perhaps especially my opinions — I had the chance, as did the rest of us, to voice them.

Now though, after a painfully long absence while we experimented with a form of government known to political scientists — they’re not real scientists, you know — as Backroom Dithering, our mayor, council and staff are rolling the dice one more time. In a bold experiment in participatory democracy, the town meeting is back.

Saturday we’re all invited — yes, even you — to come together and make nice and maybe, just maybe, help decide something more important than which flavour of ice cream we want. Sorry, I don’t want to confuse anybody. There won’t be any ice cream at the town meeting this weekend. I did hear something about a cash bar and maybe, just maybe if the collected citizenry of Whistler chants loudly enough council will pass an impromptu motion to buy the first round. But free beer or no free beer, this is your best shot at doing something other than bitching about how this town is being run.

And need I point out that it may be your last best shot?

There is no unanimity on council nor among staff that holding a town meeting is either a good or smart idea. One school of thought holds that we elect and hire people to run things around here and we should just let them get on with their jobs without all this niggling second guessing or grousing about privatizing this or taking a pass at that. The competing school of thought is we’re all rowing this boat together and we should all have a say.

But short of chucking a cream pie in Mayor Ken’s face, the quickest way to kill this exercise in participatory democracy is to ignore it. Go for a bike ride Saturday afternoon. Take a hike. Stay home and play video games. Do it in large enough numbers and the message will be loud and clear. “You guys decide. I’m too busy — completely uninterested — to bother coming out. My opinion doesn’t matter.”

While showing up is a good start; I’m afraid we all bear an even greater onus if this harebrained idea is going to work. We’ll have to participate. Bring ideas. Listen to others. Work.

All great social endeavours need ground rules. I’d like to offer these.

For our elected officials and staff, you’d better be seriously interested in what the people who take a whole afternoon to attend this meeting have to say. We’ve earned our cynicism honestly. We’ve been down this road before only to find out we wasted our time. If you don’t have any interest in what we have to say, don’t bother going through the motions of holding this meeting. Just buy us our free beer and we’ll party without you.

Don’t take it too personally when someone insults you at the speed-dating table. For some of us, chowderhead is a term of endearment. If you get all defensive and start to bristle right away, you’ll miss the good stuff that comes after the insult. Besides, the rest of the people at the table will do their best to “socialize” the folks who come with a ready supply of axes and grindstones. Remember, most of us like you… just not all of us.

Finally — let’s keep the rules simple — remember the age-old golden truism of human interaction: action talks; bullshit walks, or something like that. If we don’t see any RESULTS of our interaction, we’ll assume you either weren’t listening or you broke rule number one above. We’re not coming out Saturday because we can’t think of anything else to do. If you don’t acknowledge what you hear with something approaching tangible action, what are we to think?

And for all you Whistleratics planning to attend, the whole process will be much more efficient and productive if you follow these rules. First and foremost, no one cares how long you’ve lived here. Don’t tell us unless we ask. We won’t ask.

Get to the point. I know I don’t but I’ve got a lot of space to fill each week. We all have something to say. Say your piece and pass the talking stick.

Rise above enlightened self-interest. This isn’t primarily your opportunity to do what is only best for you. Think bigger. It’s not about how to make your business more profitable, your house more valuable or your ownership restrictions less onerous. It’s about steering the ship of state, not the ship of you.

For everyone attending, have a good time and remember, William Roberts’s mama might have said it best but the Greek philosopher Epictetus, or maybe his mama, said it first: We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.

Those are wise words… unless you’re voicing your support for council buying the first round.