Helping all that along were technological advancements – economical transportation, the internet, cellphones and social media.

But something happened along the way, to the point where it seems most now believe the world is coming apart and the tech tools have just as much alienated us from one another as they have helped us understand one another better.

We no longer know what to make of our world. With more money than ever in its history, more exposure to other cultures and ideas, and global communications now possible in a millisecond, we have somehow found ourselves in places of anger, racism, poverty, conflict and hatred. History has returned and all those things we believed our modern life had put away have broken their bonds and re-emerged to tear us apart.

We see this played out among nations and nationalities, in politics and the media. But the front lines of the disruption are located in our communities – those places where people remain in closest proximity to one another. Sadly, many cities, like London, are learning it’s not so easy to come together.

That is especially true during election seasons, when animosities become exaggerated and community respect is eroded. The important process that results in every person having a voice doesn’t necessarily meant we listen and understand. We speak, but we can’t hear. As we grow increasingly opinionated, we are discovering there is a troubling trend toward alienation.

The word “politics” comes from “polis” – an ancient Greek term denoting well-minded citizens working out their community life together despite their divisions. It’s meant to provide for an airing of opinions and policies, followed by willingness to strike compromise to achieve progress.

But all too often these days it is politics that keeps us divided and angry – the opposite of what it’s supposed to achieve. And the more strident the voices in attack mode, the more excessive the response, leaving us in a devolving cycle of dysfunction.

Or, as author Vera Nazarian puts it: “Don’t let a loud few determine the nature of the sound. It makes for poor harmony and diminishes the song.”

The downside of all this is that an increasing number of Londoners are deciding to go silent. And those who use anger or division to secure the vote are likely not the best at pulling all the pieces together again when the dust settles after Oct. 22.

London is rapidly becoming a city of voices without a voice. A collective vision eludes us, even as we seek politicians to help us achieve it. Those moments when thousands of Londoners came together to hammer out their future in what became the London Plan are being put at risk by office seekers endeavouring to undermine it. Many had compromised to create it, while many of those opposed simply didn’t show up to participate.

A modern community isn’t worth much if it can’t include everyone. Voices, opinions, insights, learned experience, aspirations – all of these require all of us.

We have lived long enough to know that vision doesn’t come from one person’s mind, but from the difficult democratic work of citizens showing up, modifying their own views when necessary, and building what they seek. Those who have done this work desire leaders who can accomplish this by bringing us together. But if we seek only power, dysfunction or a rampant ideology, then we cannot learn and grow together.

We have dreamed together in the past and built on those shared visions. It’s time to do it again with leaders seeking to understand us, not office seekers manipulating our frustrations.

We’ve done it throughout our history, when we eventually found our one voice – the final product of many talented voices.

 

This post was originally published as a London Free Press article on October 6, 2018