The Annals of Ignorance: Part 2 

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An open mind is a terrible thing to waste. Once closed, it's a bear to reopen. Ego closes in around it like scar tissue. A decision has been made. A mind's been made up. Arguments and rationale need to be tightly woven to support and maintain the conclusion reached.

It's a well-established adage in business that attracting new customers bears a cost of between five and 25 times more than retaining existing customers. Incapable of being measured in monetary terms, opening a closed mind has to be commensurately harder than keeping an open mind.

But like a blank page needing words, numbers, formulae, art or anything else, open minds like to be filled. They relish the comfort of conclusions. Of answers. Of assurance. They seek the solitude of a decision made. Ambiguity and uncertainty are as unsettling as restless sleep.

Unfortunately, the drive for that solitude is so strong, open minds are wont to take the nearest shortcut to conclusions. Shortcuts littered with scanty information, often one-sided and generally incomplete. The dissonance created by conflicting information is about as comforting as a child screaming in an otherwise sedate setting.

When I was a young lawyer—don't hold it against me; they wouldn't take me as a fireman—I had more time than clients. Rather than pretend to be doing something that might pay, I frequently wandered over to the courthouse and watched trials. Criminal, civil, it didn't matter. It was better than TV and I stood to learn something.

Over the course of probably 100 trials, some of which I played a part in myself, I learned a lot about the value of an open mind. In a trial, the prosecution or plaintiff put on their case first. I never attended a trial where, at the conclusion of that presentation of evidence, it didn't appear as though they had an air-tight case.

Until the other side began to present their evidence.

Suddenly there was dissonance. There was doubt. There were questions about whose version of events were right, were just. It often came down to a question of which evidence seemed more believable, which witness seemed more authentic, whose "truth" was the truth.

When there was a jury involved, the judge would inform them at the beginning of the trial they were likely to hear conflicting testimony. She or he would admonish them to keep an open mind until they'd heard all the testimony, seen all the exhibits, listened to all the witnesses. In other words, they were asked to swim upstream against human nature and not jump to conclusions.

Watching jurors react to testimony, it was pretty clear how hard, impossible even, this was for many. You could see it in their faces, read it in their body language, often tell the moment when they'd made up their mind.

If you were representing the defendant, or respondent, those moments were crucial. Whatever scrap of testimony closed that mind would have to be countered with much stronger evidence and much better arguments if you had any chance of reopening it and getting that person to give up a conclusion they'd jumped to without hearing both sides.

From sea to sea to sea, a lot of minds snapped shut on Feb. 27 after listening to or reading excerpted news stories about Jody Wilson-Raybould's presentation of her truth to the House justice committee. Those were in addition to the ones that had closed based on nothing more than The Globe and Mail's reporting that began 20 days earlier.

The most egregious of these were minds that wandered far afield from the question of whether or not the alleged actions of the Prime Minister, his senior advisors, the clerk of the Privy Council and others crossed a line that wandered into ginning the justice system. They were the ones that immediately jumped to racism and sexism as motivations behind whatever went on.

When other truths came out, through statements and testimony of Gerald Butts and Michael Wernick, there were questions raised about which truth was the truth, or, more accurately, which snippets of the duelling truths painted a fuller picture. We heard things from both of them we would rather have heard from Ms. Wilson-Raybould, like the detail about turning down the Indigenous Services portfolio or about being the one to initiate the Dec. 5 dinner meeting at the Chateau Laurier.

I don't know whose truth is true. Neither do you. Neither does anyone else. Especially those who shout loudest they do know.

I know the PM has made a mess of this from the beginning and it isn't getting any less messy. He's squandered credibility, assuming he had much to squander, and he's fertilized the seeds of cynicism planted early in his term. I suspect however this plays out—something we won't know until October's election—it'll be the kind of case studied in management and political science classes to illustrate how not to handle a building crisis.

It is not government done in a new way, as promised. It is the antithesis of open and transparent government. It raises legitimate concerns about how good Canada's government can be as the country continues down the road toward more entrenched us-and-them polarization.

If you already hated Trudeau, it gave you new reasons to hate him even more. If you were a supporter, it gave you reasons to question your support. If you were ambivalent about politics, it probably drove you to binge-watch cute cat videos on social media and left you feeling better about not voting.

Regardless of your political leanings, it left a wistful desire for something better. It made you wonder about the validity of the notion we get the government we deserve. We deserve this?

Funny, I thought we deserved a government that would put some effort into building up the country, fixing crumbling infrastructure, make inroads into reducing poverty, open more paths to equality, adequately fund healthcare. You know, stuff governments are supposed to do.

We may never get the government we deserve, but we have to start by being people who really do deserve better. And to do that, we have to be more open minded—or at least not so fast to jump to conclusions and dismiss the other side as our minds snap shut. A closed mind is an ignorant mind and there is no progress where ignorance rules the day.

To read Part 1, please go to


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