Wednesday, September 17, 2008

A recipe for dialog

This month’s issue of Harper’s magazine greeted me with an unexpected but welcome surprise. The title, “News from Nowhere”, was both unassuming and undisclosing, in true Harper’s style, so my delight came from the byline, “Iceland’s Polite Dystopia”. In a feverish rush to finish my thesis, the only music that I can focus with is the entire repertoire of Iceland’s only non-Bjork musical celebrity: Sigur Ros. Having bathed in the landscape painted by their music daily and nearly non-stop, I felt somewhat indebted to the country that produced such melodious musicians.

I read through Rebecca Solnit’s article intently relishing a country that is so perfectly human in its strengths and faults. Iceland has the world’s highest per-capita book sales – one citizen remarked that “here the garbageman has read Cicero” – and it seems to feed a national identity that instills strong principles with the ferocity of their Viking ancestors. Yet, they are remarkably unlike their ancestors in their inability to voice or otherwise communicate their displeasure with the state of affairs for fear of being ‘preachy’. And it’s not as though the opportunity doesn’t present itself as citizens can actually make an appointment with the president or simply chat up the prime minister at the supermarket.

Their predicament struck me as entirely complementary to the political climate we weather in Canada. Complementary, not in that word’s usual sense of completion but in its chromatic sense of two colours that, when united, make a neutral colour. Where Icelanders fail at discourse for want of being preachy, we fail in relying exclusively on that quality. This election cycle is a case in point. Politicians speak much more like a member of the clergy than a member of the people. Similar to the unidirectional nature of the message the clergyman passes on to his parishioners, politicians don’t seem as inspired by the people as they seem to tell the people what they want for them. Just as saying nothing isolates people, as the Icelanders do, telling people something is just as isolating. Dialog is accomplished through a sharing of ideas in the absence of force. If we could combine the passive, receptive nature of Icelanders with the sometimes overly-vocal yet passionate nature of Canadians we could have something as bright and as non-threatening as the mixture of blue and yellow light: white.

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