Over lunch with a civil society leader in our community last week, there was concern expressed over how she feels our Canadian cities are becoming increasingly split over ideologies, never-ending opinions, online mischief and a rampant kind of identity politics.  She asked if I could send her any writings that could give her some hope for a future kind of citizenship that can overcome forces seeking to pull us apart through a rededication to community life.  I sent her the following quotes from Mark Kingwell’s book The World We Want, among others.  Written almost 20 years ago, it remains more relevant than ever and I thought I’d pass them along.

“We must trust to listen to the other whom we do not yet know, must rely on a basic willingness to care about someone who thinks and lives differently from ourselves.”


“Our inability to know the whole truth should never be anger or prejudice against others who think differently, but instead toleration of diversity. The reason is clear:  Humans have the limitation that when it comes to knowledge, only the self can really be trusted.  And yet the self is restricted in capacity.  We must therefore be modest and open-minded, not judgmental and condemnatory.  Where we cannot know, we must not judge.”


“This drive for a common language of political discussion is in some ways admirable, since it seeks to resolve differences rather than simply eliminate them, but at a fundamental level it is misconceived.  Some ethical and political differences simply do not go away; some conflicts can never be resolved, only managed.”


“Curiously enough, therefore, and contrary to the explicit desire of most philosophers through the ages, we make a strategic error when we look to rationality as the means to realize justice.  We should look rather to desire, to what we want – and to the limits of getting what we want given the presence of other people with their own desires.”


“Citizenship is less an intellectual achievement or state of illumination than it is a way of carrying on a form of action.  It is a way of finding ourselves, or at least enough of ourselves to make do, within the complicated cross-hatched world of our shared dreams.”


“Citizens must build character more than intellect if they are to take up the challenging task of political commitment; they must be good citizens rather than simply good maximizers of self-interest or good generators of individual preferences.  It is not that self-interest or preference are inimical to justice, only that in themselves they will not secure it.  Therefore, the good citizens must nurture an attitude of hopeful pragmatism, must cultivate the specifically political virtues of negotiation and acceptance, as well as the more searching virtues of love.”


“The language of political virtues insists on something that the interest-oriented discourse of political and economic rights cannot; namely, that privilege confers obligations on those who enjoy it. That there is a moral duty to act not only for one’s own benefit, but for the benefit of others less able to fend for themselves.  That’s citizenship in action.”