By coincidence, we both arrived in Castlegar around the same time (nearly four years ago for Greg and three years for Elizabeth).
We've both noticed that when friends from elsewhere ask us about Castlegar we generally respond with something like, "I love it here!”
And recently we've both noticed that public dialogue in the Castlegar area has deteriorated, and quickly. It seems that issues become polarized before we've even had a chance to process them. Whether we're talking about things like the food bank, the Complex, access to waterfront trails, or safe streets for cycling, people (ourselves included) tend to take on positions before attempting to hear another's perspective.
And so when people ask us about Castlegar, sometimes it's actually a little bit embarrassing to say that as a community we can't even hold a respectful conversation. Of course this is not unique to Castlegar.
But surely we can agree that we all desire a strong community. Surely we can agree that we want safe places for children and the elderly to live whole lives. Surely we can agree that a healthy, active population is good for all of us.
So why is it so hard to have these conversations?
The public sphere no longer really exists: City Hall isn't exactly a place where people gather on a regular basis just to see if anybody else wants to have a conversation. Coffee shops, parks, meetings of volunteer organizations, and even churches can be places to hold dialogue but even these tend to attract particular populations and deter others.
Social media seldom contribute positively to these conversations.
So we ask this question, genuinely: how can we create or recreate a culture of dialogue and conversation based on respect, kindness and—dare we say—love?
Rev. Greg Powell Minister, Castlegar United Church
Rev. Elizabeth Huether Incumbent, St. David's Anglican Church