Leadership in an age of disinformation is impossible without respectful relationships

Hill Times January 31, 2022

Aggressive convoys, conflicts, and wars all share a similar foundation—a decision to speak and act over others regardless of their rights and absent of our responsibilities to each other.

Elder Woody Morrison would always smile in response to questions about what is truth. As an Elder, he carried with him the power of his community’s knowledge over generations. He knew that sharing powerful truth needs a good time and good relationship. Truth lives in the bond of relationship.

Sometimes Elder Woody would choose to answer the truth seeker. Sometimes he would not. Because knowledge is shared when there is an openness to learn, and openness to listen. An Elder looks for that openness before sharing gifts of knowledge.

Mainstream Western cultures tend to lean towards a sense of immediacy—answer the question now, make the best use of this time or it’s wasted. Many a meeting between settlers and Indigenous peoples have gone sideways because of this one difference in communication.

At times, Elder Woody would sit down, face you, and start storytelling. Truth in an Indigenous knowledge system is surrounded by the aunty of responsibility and the uncle of reciprocity, and it stands and breathes on the land of our grandmother. So truth and knowledge was only shared in stories which sometimes are so complex, one wonders if you’ll ever get to the point. It’s the way of storytelling, of wrapping the truth in a blanket of relationships. This is the cultural way of sharing truth and knowledge of First Nations on the West Coast. It is a shared cultural value with many Indigenous cultures. Sharing of truth always comes with responsibility. One cannot separate knowledge from responsibility. It takes time.

This is one of the stark ways in which Indigenous cultural approaches can conflict with mainstream Western ways of communicating. In mainstream Western approaches, if you feel it’s important then say it out loud now. If you aren’t heard, then you should speak up louder. You should take your space, make your voice heard. The subtle message is that one can continue on this trajectory of demanding space, demanding the mic, if one doesn’t feel heard. But there’s no reciprocity in this one-sided approach. There’s no relationship at all.

Canada sits on this slippery slope of disinformation and loss of trust in leaders. We know all too well what happens when we start sliding. It happened in the U.S. with a leader willing to say out loud things that are not meant to be said out loud. It fuelled and sped up the stark polarization of political parties. It became fuel for citizens to take those words and act on them. When a leader goes over the line an inch, the followers go a mile.

Do we expect that political leaders and influencers in this country speak truth with a sense of responsibility to each other? Do we demand that political leaders and influencers speak with responsibility not only to their own followers but also to those who might disagree?

If not, why not?

Indigenous Elders know that they hold knowledge for the whole community and for the land. The transmission of knowledge and truth is done with the utmost respect so that others can hear, and so the land will support it.

Truth is shared in relationship.

As the House starts its next session of shared leadership, let’s acknowledge that we are on some slippery ground here. It would be worth it for the House to commit some time to communicating in a good way with responsibility to each other. Even in this day and age, there’s nothing wrong with dignity and honour and respect.