When I first announced my decision to run for mayor, that announcement was met with delight from many who knew me from my past work to make our city streets safe and welcoming for everyone.
That delight quickly turned to dismay when, in answer to a question about my pandemic-related essays I released a short video about my feelings about COVID-19 mandates. And when the Toronto Sun published my intention to end vaccine mandates for city employees if elected, some tried shame as an approach to convince me I was wrong.
What I heard, whether from these comments, those in response to my essays, or articles and op-eds in the news these past two years, was that, since these measures have been declared to be in the common good, they should outweigh the freedom of the individual to make their own personal choice.
You can read those past essays about closures, vaccine and mask mandates if you wish, but in this article I want to put those specifics aside and focus on what I feel is the bigger picture. I believe much of our division as a society these past two years has come from what is perhaps a misunderstanding of the common good.
That in a city, town, or tribe, common values are needed for the society to function is without question. Almost everyone would agree that we need to be aware of the impact of our decisions on those around us. We would also agree that deliberately inflicting suffering on others is not right. And finally, we would agree that some actions, no matter how much a given individual wants to take them, will cause so much harm to others that they cannot be accepted by the society to which the individual belongs. Where the division begins is when we each have a different definition of what is for the common good.
The irony is, I define the common good by what I individually believe is important for others. And others define the common good by what they individually believe is important for me and everyone else. But the common good is not determined by a magically objective set of guidelines that are easy to follow, it is determined by a chorus of those individual values that, when enough members of a group share them, become unified into a set of rules for everyone in the collective.
What we consider about the past to be wrong was at one time considered to be for the common good. It was only through the efforts of individuals who saw it differently, who called for and individually followed a different set of guidelines than the collective, that the values of society changed to create the city we have today.
If I say something is best for everyone, that it’s in the common good, I need to remember I don’t know that that’s true. I don’t know what’s best for you or that person over there. I only know what I feel is true and right for me.
That means, when someone tells me I’m wrong about what I think is best for them, I need to listen. And, back on the topic of mandates, if I require or call for someone else to do something, and someone disagrees so much that they are willing to lose their job, lose their friends, be barred from family dinners or group gatherings, be called names, and have calls for their death spread on the front page of major media outlets, I need to ask myself if it’s still true that my way is the right one. If I still feel it is, then I need to ask myself how far am I really willing to go to exclude them – and am I prepared to live with the consequences of more extreme action?
I haven’t yet fully come to peace with the way we as a society treat people who disagree with us about what we think are the right choices for them. But I know that peace is there to be found when I remember that all of us who cry out against others – on any side, of any issue – are doing it because we genuinely think we know what is right for the common good. If we can remember that we don’t know what’s best for others, if we can observe the world closely so we see when our actions are hurting others instead of helping them, we won’t make the same mistake in the future.
My position on mandates or anything else I believe in isn’t important. If it’s not in line with yours, you don’t need to listen to me – I can not and will not force you to change. There will be plenty of other great candidates on the Toronto mayoral ballot on October 24, and some of them may agree with you. All I ask is that you hear what I’m saying, and where I’m coming from, so that we can work together on the many values that unite us. We are fellow members of the amazing tribe called Homo sapiens, and that makes me your sister no matter how much we disagree.