Everyone has a different perspective, yet it’s surprising how divisive rhetoric can twist our perspectives so much that we perceive a threat to ourselves, to our families, to our way of life. It may not seem logical, but if you find yourself on the receiving end of someone’s misperception of you, you may wonder how such a thing can happen.
While I was writing my latest book, Hiding in Plain Sight, one issue in particular kept coming to mind. It was an incident from my last trip to Alberta, before the lockdowns, before we were told not to travel, which was a while ago. Because of where I’m from, British Columbia, someone came up to me and accused me of all the misery Albertans were facing, saying that because BC had blocked a pipeline from running through our province, we were stealing all their jobs.
My first response was a profound “Huh?”
But it didn’t end there. This person went on, and once I got past the shock, I realized he was serious. He added how Alberta had propped up Canada, so Canada and BC needed to be there for Alberta now. As he argued that British Columbians are responsible for the woes of Albertans, I picked up quickly on the anxiety and fear, but I had to ask, what had fueled those feelings?
I grew up in Alberta, in an oil family. My father worked for an oil company until he became sick with cancer and was fired as a result, which really did happen back then. After burning through our savings, we were left in poverty. I remember my parents being upset and blaming the East, saying they were stealing our oil. Now, what do you think hearing that as a kid does to your perception of the world, of people? It wasn’t until I was older that I could question that. “Wait, hang on a second,” I thought. “We, as in us, our family, don’t have any oil, so no one has stolen anything from us, and the person who owns the company that owns the oil is still a billionaire.”
What could I do but laugh? If you know me, you know I don’t conform, but how do you respond to someone coming at you like that? To avoid confrontation, some will agree to anything and won’t stand up for what they believe in, but if I conformed and followed blindly without questioning, my son wouldn’t have the help he needs. I learned long ago to stand on my own two feet. You have to advocate and fight for what you believe in and do your own research. Once I finished laughing, I reminded the person confronting me that the hate that was fueling him came from the premier of the province, who knew how to stoke the flames of anger. In fact, I remember well when she publicly took a shot at BC, saying, “Maybe on Salt Spring Island you can build an economy on condos and coffee shops, but not in Edmonton and not anywhere in Alberta. Here in Alberta, we ride horses—not unicorns.”
I’d had a good chuckle over that one. I reminded the man that the premier hadn’t stopped there, either. In fact, she had banned the import of wine from BC, going after the vineyards and wineries to put them out of business and hurt their pocketbooks. All the people affected by that policy were innocent, by the way. What was that supposed to accomplish? The last time I was in Alberta, the restaurants still offered no BC wine. Californian and Australian, yes, but no wine from BC. That kind of rhetoric promotes hate and division, and it only adds to the anxiety of those who are out of work and looking for someone to blame.
Me being me, I finally said, “Look, you need to do your own homework and stop listening to these leaders, who are really good at using smoke and mirrors.” I suggested he ask some real hard questions about what the truth really is—because everyone is looking for a big industry to come in and save them, produce a ton of jobs, and provide them with decent incomes, but what no one ever asks is what the downside will be. When big corporations come in, they’re often provided big tax breaks, and the jobs provided are often temporary, paying low wages or even minimum wage. The high-paying jobs people expect are in fact few and far between, and these companies often bring in skilled labor from elsewhere, another country, another state, another province. What follows is that demand increases, housing prices and taxes are driven up, and those people who desperately needed a job are now living paycheck to paycheck to keep roofs over their heads. Even pensioners are struggling to make it, being displaced because they can’t afford to live anywhere.
Where does fear come from? Uncertainty. None of us has a crystal ball to show what’s around the corner, but if anything, we can remind ourselves that all of this lashing out and anger we see from those around us comes from fear. Ask yourself this: Have you ever made a good decision out of fear? Or do you see, looking back, that every bad decision came from a place of fear? As far as the man who was very, very angry with me, I had to tell myself that his anger came from his fear, and that just happens sometimes.
When people are scared, they need someone who provides hope, not someone who throws out hateful words and points the finger of blame at someone else.