COLUMN: Trying to climb out of these trenches

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Great word. When we’re “in the trench” we can’t see what’s on the other side. And if it’s too deep we can’t even climb out.

This word came to mind earlier this month at a networking event in New West, where I saw two couples who are active in the community, but on opposite sides of the bitter Hyack Festival Association divide.

Do they talk to each other, I wondered? It’s impressive they can share a room, considering the Hyack mess.

When we’re entrenched, we stop listening. If we even speak to our “opponents,” we care only for counterarguments and defence. We have no interest in middle ground.

City council has shown where they stand on Hyack. Earlier this month Hyack asked the city for $185,000 for 2014. They got $25,000 and a spanking.

Meantime, we all just want to move on. The “Hyack Question” has sucked the oxygen from the room. And it’s tiresome grappling with an issue so long without a satisfactory resolution.

Is Hyack a flashpoint in the age-old battle between old and new? Or between those in power and political wannabees?

The story hasn’t quite run its course. But for the moment, perhaps, a breather.

MORE TRENCHES: Two other “trenches” difficult to cross might just be the Fraser and Brunette rivers.

Will it be a four, or six lane Pattullo? A one or two lane Bailey? Either way, Surrey and Coquitlam, respectively, don’t understand us.

Surrey thinks our insistence on a four-lane Pattullo is preposterous. Coquitlam—ditto—thinks we’re dotto to favour a one-lane Bailey to United Boulevard.

Meanwhile, New West asks: Don’t you understand how brutal traffic is in our city?

And the other cities ask us: Traffic is brutal in your city—can’t you make it better?

Surely we have the moral high ground on this one. Doesn’t quality of life trump quality of commute? Or maybe they’re both the same.

DIGGING DEEPER: Sometimes, the media folks help dig these trenches. At a protest rally we shoot pictures of the folks at the edge throwing rocks or fighting. We ignore the peaceful 99 per cent, or the protester engaged in constructive debate with a passerby.

Sometimes we can do better at filling the trench. Ideally, newspapers like this one should raise the level of dialogue, and contribute to solutions on issues that at first seem intractable.

Reporters should ask: How can we fix this? What are some solutions? And if there are divisions, they should faithfully capture the (often) reasonable arguments.

Many Surrey folks, perhaps, honestly wonder why New Westers want their crappy commutes to stay that way.

Name calling digs trenches too, and stifles debate.

When editing Letters to the Editor, I strive to cut name-calling as well as innuendo.

When I’ve let something slip through, here’s what happens: the offended party zeroes in on the slight and the original issue is forgotten. Gone is constructive debate, the topic abandoned in the face of ad hominem attacks.

Our websites once allowed anonymous commenting. Loud-mouthed, foul-mouthed “trolls” scared all the fair-minded people away. Now we use Facebook commenting, which some dislike. The upside though is that people can’t hide behind a nickname. They’re accountable now. Instead of hurling insults, debate today is civil, thoughtful, and the dozens who steered clear of an unsafe environment have returned.

As for me, I’ve not been perfect. I’ve written things that have helped to polarize. I’ve poked fun. I’m happy to be called to account when that happens.

After all, like you, I value solutions that lead to the greater good. All of us should be trying to overcome those trenches.

The problem, though, is deciding what kind of bridge is required.

• Chris Bryan is editor of the NewsLeader.

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