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Russell Wangersky: Let’s talk about someone else for a change

Three vehicles collided lunch-time Wednesday at the intersection of Allandale Road and Prince Philip Drive in St. John's.
A three-vehicle collision at the intersection of Allandale Road and Prince Philip Drive in St. John’s. — Telegram file photo

It was a 108-character statement on the human condition.

(I know, it wasn’t meant that way, but it is exactly how it struck me at the time, and I haven’t been able to shake it since.)

“There are reports that a pedestrian has been struck near College of the North Atlantic on PPD. Expect delays.”

By the way, Prince Philip Drive, the PPD in that tweet, is a 70-kilometre-an-hour road through St. John’s.

A potentially life-changing event for an unlucky individual — being hit by a car travelling at that speed is not usually something you walk quickly away from — is redefined by the absolutely minor inconvenience it will be for others. Everyone else will still get to work, have their day, eat their lunch, drive home.

And what’s most important is the universal “me.”

Me-ism is the central tenet of our way of life; everything is defined, accepted or rejected based upon how it will affect each of us personally.

It’s become one of the primary drivers in elections, too: every provincial political policy is guaranteed to have elements designed to specifically and personally benefit individual voters, rather than simply to promise to administer government for the long-term good of a province.

In New Brunswick’s recent election, the Progressive Conservatives were promising no new taxes, the Liberals, a power rate freeze for four years, the NDP, pharmacare. (It’s gotten so blatantly obvious that bond-rating agencies saw the election itself as a threat to New Brunswick’s fiscal stability and creditworthiness.) You can’t reach modern Canadians voters, it seems, unless you’re giving them something that they can recognize as a prize. “What payoff do I get for my vote?”

Somehow, we’ve lost a lot of what created a sense of community.

I think it also has a lot to do with the opposition to immigration. Not including the outright racists, who simply discount people by their religion or the colour of their skin, I think many opposed to immigration are concerned, first and foremost, with themselves, and what they want to get, and keep, for themselves.

Somehow, we’ve lost a lot of what created a sense of community. We focus on what’s inside our four walls: are we getting the kind of internet connectivity we need to see the latest cat videos? Will our power bills go up? Will you cut my taxes, even if that means piling decades of debt repayment on the next few generations? You see the pull in online news numbers; the stories that attract traffic are the openings of new mega-stores and the ones outlining what electricity hikes will mean.

The need for effective drug treatments for the indigent? Crickets.

I wish it was different.

I’d love to be able to vote for a political party that was focusing on the long-term stability and viability of the place I live, rather than for parties whose candidates are primarily concerned with four years and then re-election at all costs. But I know I’m in the minority.

I put it down to the fact that we’ve just become so darned comfortable. Cheap credit has meant an overwhelming amount of creature comforts — many of us can no longer even conceive of wearing someone else’s ill-fitting or worn-out shoes.

I’m not saying we should all suffer as a necessary part of the human condition, but we should at least be able to summon up enough imagination to think about it a bit.

Thanksgiving was yesterday, a chance to think about the things you’re grateful for. A holiday, more than anything else, to count your own personal blessings.

Why not think about other people today?

Because other people have lives too. Sometimes, their problems are more important, more serious than your own.

Embrace delays. You weren’t the one hit by a car.

Russell Wangersky’s column appears in 36 SaltWire newspapers and websites in Atlantic Canada. He can be reached at russell.wangersky@thetelegram.com — Twitter: @wangersky.

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