Whistler Forum to get tongues wagging 

William Roberts wants to get people in Whistler talking again.

Roberts, who was asked to be the Sunday morning minister at the Whistler Village Church for six months, said it’s crucial to get dialogue and discussion flowing here to ensure the community thrives and flourishes.

"By and large communities that have trust, understanding, a way in which there is public discourse, more social capital, I think there is a real competitive advantage in that, as well as a better quality of life," he said.

"The community can do better things, they can offer more services, than in a community where everybody is struggling, everybody is busy, everyone is burned out and nobody is talking."

With that in mind, Roberts is now talking about the Whistler Forum, a non-profit organization designed to promote dialogue in the community.

The concept has been borrowed from other successful dialogue forums like the Aspen Institute and the Banff Centre.

The Aspen Institute, which was founded 50 years ago, is now a renowned international centre for dialogue on issues of global concern. But it too had small beginnings.

Roberts envisions three distinct ways of getting dialogue started through the Whistler Forum.

The first approach will be to encourage the dialogue that individuals have with themselves, as they determine their changing perspectives on the world. These inner dialogues would most likely take the form of a retreat setting, led by moderators.

"We’re looking at people being able to get some time away and have a way in which that inner dialogue can really be fostered, encouraged and strengthened," said Roberts.

He dubs the process "reflective tourism" with the baby boomers as the prime target market – people who have been busy with a career and a family and are now asking themselves what’s next.

The second approach of the Whistler Forum moves from the individual dialogue to the dialogue among community members.

This approach kicked off earlier this month with the Dialogue Cafés, four seminars held in different locations throughout June.

This cafés are designed to get discussion flowing with people in our own neighbourhoods, in our local community on a variety of issues.

Roberts doesn’t deny that the community has come together in the past to talk about things like the Comprehensive Development Plan and the World Economic Forum coming to Whistler. But he hopes to develop something more sustainable.

"These are all good and we want to provide more of an opportunity for that," he said.

"The difference, and I’m trying to be pretty firm about it, is it isn’t a speaker series. This isn’t coming with an agenda per say, except that we have an issue or a topic and have people sort it out for themselves. There may be some expertise but let’s have everybody at least find their voice about their views. In that way it may be seen as a big focus group."

The remaining Dialogue Cafés will be held on Sunday, June 15 from 7:30 to 9 p.m. at Esquire’s Coffee Shop. Marcelo Vareto and Jody Edgar will discuss Growing Up Digital: The Rise of the Net Generation. On Wednesday, June 18 Calvin Winter, CEO of Quantum Technology, will discuss The Innovation Economy: Barriers and Breakthroughs, at the Learning Hub on Gateway Drive from 7:30 to 9 p.m.

The third facet of the Whistler Forum touches on bigger questions in the realm of public policy.

"What’s developing now is deliberative dialogue, and it’s a very interesting process, where citizens can almost become like members of a jury on an issue," said Roberts.

He uses the World Trade Center site to illustrate his point. More than 5,000 people had their say in what should be rebuilt at the Ground Zero site through a process of guided discussion. In this way they were able to have their say on a very highly charged public issue.

In this particular format of talking, Roberts would like to see a variety of topics explored, like how young people in their early 20s come to decisions about things in their life. He would like to involve youth in Pemberton, Squamish and Whistler.

Roberts stressed that the Whistler Forum is not seeking consensus, rather a chance to open people’s minds.

"The real purpose is not that everyone is ever going to agree in some harmonious or some utopian vision by any means," said Roberts.

"But it’s about respecting differences, listening harder to what other people are saying, having a level of understanding and learning about different points of view, while still knowing what your own values or position is more clearly."

The Whistler Forum is a non-profit organization hoping to partner with other organizations and individuals. There are five board members.

Apart from the Dialogue Cafés, the other programs are still in the planning stages and details will be announced at a later date.

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