- Gayle Baker
Respectful Conversations: Is There More That ASK Salt Spring Should Be Doing?
A total of 14 joined us for all or part of this ASK Salt Spring Zoom gathering that welcomed Darlene Gage, Ellie Parks, and Bruce Cameron. After our Territorial Acknowledgement, each of our special guests spoke for a few minutes about their experience in community engagement and their interest in respectful conversations about potentially-divisive topics.
Ellie Parks, a community developer and social worker, joined us at this ASK Salt Spring gathering in one of her many roles, that of a Salt Spring Island Foundation Board Member. Chairing its Vital Connections committee, the current focus is on the 2022 Vital Signs project (https://ssifoundation.ca/foundation-initiatives/vital-signs/). The Vital Signs report will compile existing data from the census and other reports. It will also gather information gained from a survey, focus groups, and interviews with knowledgeable community members. So far, 702 Salt Springers have taken the survey to share their thoughts about life on the island.
Ellie spoke of the efforts of the Vital Signs team to analyze all existing data, ask the right questions, involve the most inclusive and diverse range of respondents possible - even those who are often not heard - and listen to their responses to present a fact based snapshot of life on island.
Committed to creating a meaningful reflection of islander's perception of assets and concerns, it will also assess their sense of community connection and belonging. This is the Foundation’s second Vital Signs project. The first, in 2017, was extremely-well received. There is much interest in the results of this report given our recent challenging years. Will Salt Springers feel as connected and content as they did in 2017?
Bruce Cameron, a longterm market researcher, spoke briefly of his love for our community as well as his role helping the Lady Minto Hospital Foundation and his current work with the Fire Trustees on their upcoming firehall referendum. At ASK Salt Spring, he was wearing his hat as the co-founder (with Christopher Roy) of Salt Spring Insights (https://saltspringinsights.com). Currently welcoming participants, this online research panel seeks to identify community perspectives as well as enhancing conversations about our complex issues. As a counterpoint to some social media platforms where that small percentage of the loudest get heard, Bruce hopes that Salt Spring Insights will become an accurate measure of islanders’ opinions. We learned that the First Quarter Salt Spring Insights Report will be posted on the Exchange next week.
Our third guest, Darlene Gage, set the stage for our time together with her Territorial Acknowledgement. She focused on the Indigenous connections forged from equity-enhancing circle conversations in which all speak and listen. She spoke briefly of her far-ranging experience in community development and social justice, ranging from large urban areas to her many years on Hornby Island. Wearing her Restorative Justice (https://www.rjssi.org) hat as well as that of a Director of the Community Alliance (https://www.saltspringcommunityalliance.org), Darlene led a circle for this ASK Salt Spring gathering.
She began the conversation by theorizing that one of the reasons we feel divided is that we do not have a regular town hall opportunity for dialogue. Responses from participants, each of whom had the opportunity to speak and be heard, were varied, but, eventually, some themes evolved:
A regular town hall that encourages respectful dialogue and connection in a welcoming format is needed. Without this consistent community dialogue from a broad range of participants, our elected officials run the risk of making mediocre decisions. It was theorized that the root of our dysfunction is anger that our government no longer addresses our priorities. One participant asked: Has our local bureaucracy grown so large and powerful that our priorities are no longer critical factors in government decision-making?
It was suggested by a number of participants that collaboration and consensus- building, rather than seeking a majority, is an important vehicle for better decision-making. While Roberts Rules make this more difficult, good chairing of a meeting to allow all to participate, is a key factor for success.
Why, when we have so many wanting make a positive difference, is it so hard to reach the consensus needed to progress effectively? Some theorized that, in conflictual situations, our emotions and adrenalin interfere with our lability to listen. By understanding the context - rather than just the content - of the conversation, we may be able to listen more effectively. Only then can we accept the diversity of opinion and - at times - even agree to respectfully disagree.
And, we were reminded of the value of humour as an important salve to conflict.
Another challenge to consensus and respect is Salt Spring’s rather unique character: Most of us have come from somewhere else. Without deep Salt Spring roots, many of us bring strong opinions and education - but lack that a shared life experience only possible from growing up within the same community.
Some theorized: Is it possible that this story we tell ourselves about being a controversy surrounded by water is just a story? Many gatherings - like those of the Community Alliance and ASK Salt Spring - are respectful.
ASK Salt Spring was acknowledged for its role as Salt Spring’s de facto town hall by offering a regular respectful conversations designed to influence our elected officials (as well as other local leaders). But, it was agreed that more need to participate to reach that needed critical mass of effective town halls. How can more be attracted to these valuable gatherings? Should there also be Sunday afternoon ASK Salt Spring gatherings to allow families and workers to more easily-participate? Others wondered whether, if ASK Salt Spring were to significantly-expand, would that weekly opportunity for safe discussions be compromised?
As 1:00 was fast approaching, we were left with unanswered questions about how we can craft a common community consensus but appreciative of the fascinating conversation that evolved.
Could/should ASK Salt Spring prioritize attracting more diverse voices to become our local town hall? With no answer to this question - but a great deal of food for thought - participants expressed their appreciation for this interesting discussion with our three passionate, committed community leaders, Ellie Parks, Darlene Gage, and Bruce Cameron. (Thanks, Ellie, Darlene, and Bruce!)
Before we pressed our Leave Meeting button, we learned that North Salt Spring Waterworks District (NSSWD) Trustees will be joining us via Zoom next Friday, May 6, 11-1.
To participate, click:
(Passcode: 947504, if needed.)
What would you like to ask them?
Now that the election is over, what are your top priorities for this term?
As affordable housing in Ganges and the current water moratorium are so intertwined, how do you suggest moving forward?
Do you see a resumption of talks with CRD resuming as a likely outcome this term?
Without provincial infrastructure grants, how do you propose to fund your needed infrastructure?
Please join us to welcome the NSSWD Trustees Friday, May 6, 11-1, via Zoom!
Any question, anytime: email@example.com
Want to see reports from all the ASK Salt Spring gatherings?
Want to help? ASK Salt Spring now has a Save-a-Tape box at Country Grocer.
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(Our Partners. . . .
Our rent - reduced through the generosity of our Library -
is being paid for byIsland Savings’ Simple Generosity grant.
Cookie and coffee fixings are the result of the generosity of Country Grocer.
What a team!)