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On the Road to Damascus

Disclaimer: I am probably three times as old as most of you students and only half as old as some of the professors I have seen around here at times.

First, a geography lesson for those of you who arrived at Dal with only a high school geography course. Damascus is the capital of Syria. It is a once-beautiful city, a UN World Heritage Site, and roughly eight thousand years old, give or take a few millennia.

“On The Road To Damascus” is a common euphemism for having a monumental change in one’s life.  As the majority of you who spend every Sunday in church and Sunday School will know, the Damascus highway is where Saul of Tarsus had his encounter with the spirit of Jesus, converted to Christianity and then went on to become the most prolific Apostle, Paul. Prior to his epiphany, Paul was a full-time persecutor of the Disciples; afterwards, he purportedly wrote almost half the books of the New Testament. That was a pretty big change in personal opinion and conviction and certainly had a major influence on the world then and now.

Unfortunately, not only we are no longer allowed to have controversial opinions, but, more importantly, we are not allowed to change our opinions. This is particularly relevant to you, the young and tech-savvy, and your penchant – no, your seeming compulsion – to tell the world your every thought on social media.

In the past week or so, we have seen a surprising number of federal election candidates, for all parties, quit or be dismissed for something they wrote in their past.

I am not writing here about the coffee cup pissers and public hoaxers; I am referring to the ones who, in years past, expressed their opinion on various subjects, with varying degrees of passion and eloquence, on some form or another of social media.

These thoughts were often not well expressed and were sometimes written in the passion of the moment or, maybe, under the influence of something a little stronger than Tim’s.  The point is, these were their opinions, their thoughts, their points of view. And they got them dismissed.

Political Correctness probably reaches it apex in a Political Arena. Some of these candidates looked to be pretty good material. All were vetted meticulously by their respective riding associations and parties. All were required to have a few hundred supporters, all were nominated and elected by the party’s members in that riding, and all answered a long and detailed questionnaire about their finances and past life.

All initially passed, but have now been expelled for having past opinions and views deemed to be politically incorrect or to be contra the current official party position. We all have the right to express our thoughts and views, however bizarre, mean, or stupid. What we apparently do not have a right to is to have a change of thought, a reversal of opinion brought on through any number of means … education, information, personal experience, etc.

I am lucky enough to have many great friends who are good people. Among them are jumbo jet captains, doctors, dentists, teachers, professors, farmers, a Member of Parliament, a Senator and even a couple of lawyers. They are all intelligent, thoughtful individuals. I could not even begin to tell you the stupid, opinionated, hateful, sometimes racist, sometimes misogynistic, rants and opinions they have expressed at various times in their past, especially when they were your age. Fortunately for us, we only had washroom walls and school textbooks to let the world know what we thought. We escaped the wrath of public excoriation because we preceded social media.  You are not so lucky.

Should something you Tweet on a drunken Friday night come back to haunt you four years later when you want to run for Reeve of Guysborough County? If tomorrow you write an irritated remark on your blog about what you would like to insert into Prime Minister Harper’s digestive tract, should that be dragged into the spotlight ten years from now when you aspire to be Mayor of Trois-Riviéres? Of course not.

In the future, where will we find the pristine spawn of immaculate conceptions necessary to run for office – the flawless candidates who have never expressed opinions publically, who have never had thoughts that go against the mainstream, and who have never cheered for the wrong team? And why would we even want to elect such bubble-bound angels who haven’t ever risked anything – who haven’t lived or learned?

Everyone has to be careful about what we write, and how we write it. But we should not let our mistakes and weaker moments define us – or anyone else – forever. People change. They become better informed. They become educated. They sober up.  If we fail to recognize the possibility of personal growth, we’ll be letting the past mistakes of individuals limit the potential of our collective future.

 

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