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Gerry ChidiacWe live in a time of great polarization – but there is a way out.

While the post-Second World War era promised prosperity to all, in recent years we’ve seen a decline in real wages for the common person, exponential increases in salary for the heads of large corporations, and government bailouts of businesses deemed too large to fail.

In 2011, we saw the massive Occupy Wall Street rallies all over the world. It was clear that many people were fed up with the state of the capitalist system. But this once-massive movement arguably had little impact.

The sentiment is still palpable in many countries, however. Masses continue to cry out at the one percent who supposedly control business, government, the media, our wages and every aspect of our lives.

But the truth is that no one controls us unless we hand control over to them.

It’s also true that the one percent are not necessarily bad people, nor are they necessarily any smarter than the rest of us. Their schools are arguably no better than our schools (at least in Canada), they didn’t on average feel more love growing up, nor are they happier as a group.

They do, however, live largely in isolation from the rest of the population and many show it by their actions. They’re somewhat ignorant of the responsibility each person holds in bringing about the positive progression of humanity.

So how do we bridge the gap between rich and poor? How do we create a world where there’s enough for everyone, where every child can reach their full potential?

Through the years, we’ve protested, picketed and held rallies. These peaceful demonstrations have been somewhat effective, especially when combined with other forms of activism. But there’s a powerfully innovative group that has been largely ignored in traditional forms of activism and we’re just learning to tap into their potential.

In a recent TED Talk, Sarah Corbett explained why activism needs introverts. These sensitive and creative souls can meet together, talk, come up with creative ways to engage others in dialogue, and bring about positive change.

Corbett gives the example of how her group made embroidered handkerchiefs and wrote letters, sharing an encouraging message with members of the governing board for a large department store in Great Britain. The board members were so touched that they invited Corbett and her friends to talk with them. They convinced these powerful people to increase salaries for their employees to a living wage, and they’re now examining other ways to be more responsible corporate citizens.

We also need to remember that although the wealthy control the greatest share of political contributions, the 99 percent control the vote.

Those of us living in democratic states are very fortunate to have governments designed to handle the flaws of capitalism. We must never forget that we’ve been here before. In the last century, we saw tremendous poverty and economic injustice, but the people demanded social programs and protection for workers.

But although laws were changed and life improved for many, we have seen a regression in recent years.

In Saving Capitalism, former American secretary of labor Robert Reich concludes by giving advice on how to be a citizen activist:

  • We must be tenacious and patient. Social change takes time.
  • We must engage in dialogue with people who disagree with us, as Corbett and her friends are doing. We may learn from them and they may learn from us.
  • Finally, we need to have fun. It feels very good to work with others in bringing about positive and significant social change.

Our interactions with others help us to realize that polarization is a myth. There is no ‘us’ or ‘them.’ There is only a diverse and beautiful ‘we,’ so we can be confident that we’ll find the answers we’re looking for as we move forward together.

Gerry Chidiac is an award-winning high school teacher specializing in languages, genocide studies and work with at-risk students.

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polarization is a myth

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