Monday, August 01, 2011

I feel a great sadness about The Gap

No..... not the clothing store - the societal gap. Unlike back in the 1970s where the gap between rich and poor wasn't enough to prevent one from knowing and understanding the others lifestyle, today the gap is so wide that one end of the spectrum no longer understands the others' reality. I have to admit, until I met my first homeless person, I never truly understood what they go through.

Until I became a student of the arts, I never truly understood what a typical artist's life is like. Until I became a regular transit user, I had stereotypical attitudes towards the transit culture.

What's my point? That the gap between the opposites in society has gotten so wide that they can no loner relate to each other. Here are some examples from my own life, but I'm sure my readers have their own stories (and I encourage them to share in the comments).

I have read news stories recently where certain players in Toronto City Hall (namely the Mayor and his brother) seem hell bent on taking a fiscal axe to the public library system. After reading a news story in Calgary that a site had been chosen for a new central branch of the public library, a commenter on the story actually said that Calgary City Hall was spending like a drunken sailor. One suggested that with the internet, there was no longer a need for libraries. This is an example of how little the library patron is understood by the non-patron. I happen to know that there are plenty of things you can access at the library that are not readily available online. I could name them, but this post would take a week to read. I will say this - there are people in the world who cannot afford the internet and the library is one of the only places they can go to get access to it. If the internet were free and ubiquitous, maybe we could do with fewer libraries. I don't see either happening any time soon.

There is a large (and quite vocal) segment of our society that see no value in a vibrant and strong arts culture. Art is perceived as luxury entertainment for the rich and the elite when nothing could be further from the truth. People distanced from the arts seem to think that an artist's life is easy. Some may not feel this way, but there are people not convinced that the arts make a significant contribution to society. What is truly alarming is when a government helps propagate this attitude by disrespecting the arts through reduced funding and never once standing up for those who make it all possible. I have to admit - I never truly understood the value of the arts either until I got involved and now am convinced that much of what I have learned from my fellow artists needs to be taught to everyone. Just so we're clear, my definition of 'the arts' is much broader than Hollywood films and American Idol.

I know many people who have said out loud that they would never be caught dead riding public transit. That's exactly how they put it [Update: Calgary's 2011 census indicates that only 17% of those polled use it to go to work]. They paint transit as a method of mobility best left to the less fortunate of society. I take transit as often as is practical (it's impossible to take transit to where I work in Airdrie and still make it to work on time) and I would take it more if it was a reliable and efficient service.

The list of growing gaps in understanding grows by the year. Many people disconnected from the opposite end of the financial spectrum do not realize that homeless shelters are filled with the working poor. They don't know how few people qualify for quality health care in certain situations. As a quick example, if a mother is separated from the father of her child, the government expects her to take the father to court and get support before extending a hand of financial support to solve the immediate needs of the mother and child. That also goes for health care coverage.

What society needs is for real leaders to emerge from the depths of greed, selfishness and intolerance to speak for those who no longer have a voice and begin to bridge the gap between the polar ends of every issue. It begins in the neighbourhood and works its way up to associations, clubs and finally, government. Everyone deserves a chance to make their dreams come true, not just those who had a good head start.

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