Throughout my life, I’ve had anger issues. This comes from growing up with a father who had his own anger issues, it being a learned behaviour. Over the years, my anger has been both a blessing and a curse.
Anger, focussed properly, can be a good motivator, pushing me to attack difficult problems and providing me with the energy to solve and conquer them. My competitive juices can be increased by well-placed anger, and when I am motivated I can achieve great things. As long as these problems are things I can solve on my own.
The trouble is my anger also tends to bleed through in my communication skills, and, in this area, it is much more of a destructive force. When I get angry, I’ve noticed that my speaking and communication style tends to bring out negative responses from others; folks will get intimidated or dismissive or lose interest in some fashion or another. In any case, I know listening to me when I’m angry is not a pleasant experience, and that people will tune out of the conversation.
When it comes to politics, most of my adult life has been spent in blessed ignorance. As a child growing up in PEI, I used to watch Knowlton Nash on the National every night with my parents, and we’d listen to CBC radio in the morning as I got ready for school. I’d even read through the Guardian from time to time, Charlottetown’s newspaper of record. Until relatively recently, this period of my life was my most informed when it came to politics in Canada. Once I graduated high school and moved out of home, I became immersed in computer culture, leaving the political world behind.
This situation did not change until about 5 years ago. That was when I started attending council and committee meetings here in Victoria. And this is where my anger issues started to really get in my way.
By the time I started hanging out at various city halls, I had been an IT professional for over 10 years, after graduating from Camosun College in the late 90’s. I had worked on countless software development projects, first for software serving several US governmental organizations while working for a Tacoma-based IT company, and then for a number of BC ministries as an employee of a small local consulting company.
From these experiences, I had become accustomed to working with my clients to identify a problem system, build up an understanding of the existing system by creating a data model and use-case diagrams, then design and build a software system that streamlined and improved the efficiency of work done by government staff. My whole professional experience developed expectations for problem solving approaches to be logical, fact-filled, and tackled by using incremental, rigorously-tested solutions that evolved over time.
When I started showing up to council meetings, I found myself immersed in a very different world. In my naivety, I expected council meetings to be well-informed discussions resulting in logical and well-defined solutions to difficult problems. After all, this was my experience of the professional world, so why would politics be any different?
Instead of a talented team of qualified professionals solving carefully-analysed problems, I found mostly a bunch of untrained amateur-enthusiasts (e.g., council) making broad political decisions, often in the absence of information or logic and with very little monitoring or follow-up. This is where my anger started to become a problem.
When you only know highly-skilled professionals doing quality work, having to watch inefficient, unprofessional, untalented work without being able to intervene or interject wears you down quickly.
And thats how I feel when I try to watch the City of Victoria do its day-to-day work. Council is so disorganized, so broad in its strokes without careful consideration of the details of the processes they are setting in motion, that all they manage is one poorly-planned and executed “solution” after another.
The hardest part is that this council has been dysfunctional for so long that almost everyone paying attention has become so frustrated that they have either tuned out of the process altogether, or else they have become so cynical that all they do is complain and cast aspersions. It’s almost impossible to get anyone to pay attention to just how poorly our city has been run, and even if they do notice, they’ve become so jaded that they’re convinced things will never change.
Instead, election after election passes by, with city operations being handed from one incompetent bunch to another, and the situation keeps getting worse.
I’m Part of the Problem
This brings me back to my anger. Over the last 5 years, I’ve gotten so angry at the state of local politics in this country, and especially in this city. Two main factors are feeding this anger: 1) I have been educating myself on how a city should be run and every day I gain a better understanding of how things should be done, and 2) every time I watch a council meeting I see council members making common, easily-corrected mistakes and errors of judgement and process that never get pointed out or corrected.
Even reflecting on this now, I can feel the anger welling up inside of me. It’s frustrating and maddening to see such poor work mixed with self-pride from the main actors. It’s even more maddening to see that those watching either don’t care or don’t think anything can change.
And that anger has been working against me.
I’ve spent a lot of time ranting about this over the last 5 years, mostly to my friends, but also to any politically-plugged-in observer who would humour me while I ranted. Mostly what that has accomplished is me alienating those people as I wore out my welcome with tiring rant after tiring rant.
Trying to Find a Solution
So that’s what I’m hoping to fix with this new edition of my website. My goal is to find a way to break this deadlock of public apathy with politics and governance in the City of Victoria. I need to work on the construction of my argument that things can be done better, and to bring forward some ideas on how to improve the public discussion in our city (and in city politics in general).
Most importantly, I need to make sure I keep my anger in check when attempting to do so. I won’t always succeed, but in attempting to be open and honest about myself and my process, I hope to improve my approach and start building a community around me instead of alienating myself.