Speaker offers advice on bridging political divides

· The Pulse

When Irshad Manji was booked to come to Edmonton to talk about overcoming polarization, she didn't think she'd be landing in the middle of a case study. But she's glad she is.

"I'm excited about coming to Edmonton, in part because I think it's a really interesting time to be engaging people of a city that completely rejected the UCP," she told Taproot. "It would be silly not to address the concerns, the fears, the worries, the anger."

Manji is giving a talk called From Polarization to Collaboration for the Edmonton Public Library's Forward Thinking Speakers Series on June 8 at the Citadel Theatre.

"I'm curious to see what the questions will be and what the reception will be for someone like me who is teaching how to heal divides rather than widen them," she said.

Manji, the founder of Moral Courage College, argues that people are more than their political labels. While some people may be disappointed by the results of the May 29 election, where the NDP swept Edmonton but the UCP won a majority government, she said it's important to not get caught in an either-or dichotomy.

"If Edmontonians throw in the towel and decide for themselves that well, given who the majority government is again, this is going to be urban versus rural again for the next four years... that is a frame that you have chosen," she said. "You could also recognize, for example, that many more Calgarians went orange this time round than last time around."

Manji hopes people who listen to what she has to say will be more willing to engage others in good faith, and that sometimes social change is best achieved by doing so.

"We are all so much more than the labels that our lizard brain puts on one another," she said. "That's why we can't merely assume that because of the uniform you wear or the colour you are or the party you voted for, you're my enemy. That's actually forfeiting social change."

Research conducted by the Edmonton-based Common Ground indicates polarization is indeed high in Alberta, and while there is broad agreement on policy and values, many consider their party affiliation a matter of identity.

Irshad Manji speaks at a podium, her hands meshing together in front of her

Author and speaker Irshad Manji will be in Edmonton on June 8 to talk about crossing political divides in order to achieve social change. (Supplied)

Focusing on partisan labels can get in the way of working towards a common goal, said Tina Thomas, CEO of Edmonton Community Foundation, which sponsors the Forward Thinking Speakers Series.

"I think sometimes our politics is getting in the way of the progress that we want to see," said Thomas, whose organization distributes $30 million in grants every year to various charities, much of it donated by people of various political stripes. "But I think the people that are actually trying to do the work aren't being separated by those things."

While it's worth engaging others from across the aisle, not everyone will be worth that effort, Manji acknowledged.

"You can actually proactively create common ground by offering up a rule of engagement that serves both parties," she said. "If the other person says 'Hell no,' you know that this person then is not worth engaging in conversation because they're not in it in good faith. They've closed their mind about you from the get-go."

Manji said the event will not be a speech, and that she looks forward to engaging with the audience — even those with dissenting views.

"I actually welcomed the timing of this because it will make for what I believe will be much more honest conversations," she said. People will be feeling what they're feeling at a time when, you know, we need that rawness to be worked through."

The next event in EPL's speaker series will feature Jann Arden at the Jubilee Auditorium on June 20.