Any new idea is a bad idea. Or so you would believe if you read some of the letters and opinion pieces in our local newspapers, attend the occasional public meeting or overhear snippets of annoyed conversation in the grocery store. It doesnít matter if the idea is an event, such as a festival or triathlon, or a project that means a fundamental change to the landscape such as a proposed IPP or a world-class art museum, suspicion abounds.
Table a new idea or concept and youíre pretty much guaranteed to bring the CAVErs out in full force. This group, also known as Citizen Against Virtually Everything, love to jump at any chance to be outraged, vexed or just plain angry. CAVErs know what they donít like, even if they donít know all about it.
CAVErs themselves arenít a new idea; theyíre the evolution of an idea, a kind of turbo-charged NIMBY. Chances are there were a few of them even back when we still lived in caves, folks unwilling to entertain the idea of meat touched by fire or that the concept of wheel was worth pursuing.
At one time or another, most of us have been CAVErs. I know I have. In fact, anyone can become a CAVEr, whether they are politically left or right, young or old, male or female, all it takes is an over-riding cynicism and a willingness to work from the negative.
CAVEr is an identity that comes from being consistently frustrated with the workings of our local governments and community organizations. The reasons for CAVErsí frustrations are generally legitimate: either they donít have enough information about an issue or they feel excluded from the process that may or may not lead that idea to fruition.
However, the way CAVERs go about expressing their frustrations doesnít tend to result in additional information or better processes. They have a propensity for righteous indignation and adopting stances like ďIím right, youíre wrong,Ē ďThis is an idiotic idea that will never work,Ē and ďHow stupid are you to believe this is a good idea?Ē ó positions that effectively shut down the possibility of meaningful dialogue.
After a few decades of political and community involvement, Iíve come to understand that once you take a negative position on an issue itís pretty hard to move away from it, let alone change direction. The power of the negative seems to be about 10 times stronger than that of the positive. According to popular neuroscience, negative thoughts are not only more frequent, we hold onto them longer. Once weíre committed to a negative mindset itís hard to convince us to listen to anything that might change it.
Being open to understanding varied aspects of an issue allows us to start seeing things in shades of grey, which is great since black and white thinking only serves to polarize us. And when weíre completely at opposite ends of the spectrum, moving towards the middle, and a workable compromise, becomes far more difficult.
Meeting divergent opinion with an open mind isnít easy, but itís certainly worthwhile. It means not being invested in being right but rather being invested in getting the full picture. And once we have the full picture we can articulate a more developed point of view beyond ďI just donít like it because I donít like anything new.Ē
When we can discuss why we hold the positions and opinions we do, productive discourse is possible. Through discourse we can examine the whole issue, understand different points of view, develop more informed opinions and consider where we can find common ground.