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We Can Disagree Mr. Harper and That's Okay

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Prime Minister Stephen Harper needs to figure out that not everyone is going to agree with him and his government's policies -- and that's okay.

Rock legend Neil Young is making his way across Canada this week on a high-profile concert series in support of First Nations who oppose further expansion of oil sands extraction into their lands.

Harper, through his spokesperson, responded to Young's concerns with empty talking points, reiterating that the natural resource sector remains a "fundamental part of our country's economy."

Okay. Thanks Captain Obvious.

How is that exactly responding to the legitimate concerns around treaty violations and the undeniable damage by tar sands extraction to the land, air and water that has Neil Young and First Nations' communities speaking up?

Why is it so hard for the Prime Minister to at least talk to people who disagree with him, instead of hiding behind empty talking points delivered by a spokesperson?

In politics, to admit that something can be both good (in this case an economic driver) and bad (in this case water, air and land contamination) at the same time makes an issue multi-dimensional and much harder to communicate in simple talking points and TV sound bites. However, to admit the complexity of an issue is also key to beginning a reasonable dialogue.

Very little progress on an issue occurs when one person is unwilling to recognize the legitimate concerns of another (just ask my wife!). And recognition of a different perspective does not mean you have to agree with that perspective.

Of course, Harper and his talking points want you to believe that Young is the problem. That Young is out to lunch and doesn't understand the issue. That the rock legend and the First Nations he is working with are playing politics, while the Prime Minister is the reasonable one.

But here is, in part, what Young had to say in response to the Prime Minister's statement:

"As to the thousands of hard-working Canadians we have respect for all working people. The quandary we face is the job they are working on. They are digging a hole that our grandchildren will have great trouble digging their way out of. ... There are better jobs to be developing, with clean energy source industries to help make the world a safer place for our grandchildren."

Young even offers a framework for a road to a long-term solution:

"We have a huge problem with science and the understanding of it. Science cannot be ignored as inconvenient, and that's what today's leaders are doing."

"Don't accept that there's no other way. Let's develop a way out of this. Let's have ingenuity. Let's figure out a way. People have ideas. There are many solutions we don't understand that are alternatives to what we're doing. We need to look ahead and develop renewable resources and technologies to move forward and produce energy."

That is a substantial response worthy (dare I say) of a Prime Minister. But in this case it is the words of a respected Canadian who is willing to speak their mind on an issue in an educated fashion, to acknowledge the other's position and thereby open up the possibility of a dialogue with those that may disagree.

In psychology, there is the concept of 'Theory of Mind" which is the developmental milestone in our childhood where we begin to realize that others can have different thoughts, perspectives and beliefs than those you personally have. Typically this "Theory of Mind" develops around the age of three.

As adults we not only understand that others can look at something differently than we do, but we also become accepting of that and okay with different opinions and perspectives. Eventually, as we become what I would call "wise", we begin to embrace and celebrate these differing perspectives.

In politics today and especially with this current Prime Minister on the issue of the tar sands, it appears Canadians are being treated like toddlers.

You can add your name to a petition asking Stephen Harper to stop the talking points and have a real conversation with Young, First Nations and, in turn, Canadians about their legitimate concerns about the rapid expansion of the tar sands.

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