“A house divided against itself cannot stand.” Abraham Lincoln
Lincoln spoke those words in 1858 at the Illinois State Capital in Springfield after he had accepted the Illinois Republican Party’s nomination as the state’s U.S. Senator. Those words ring just as true today, and they apply as equally to governments great and small as they do to citizen movements, to family clans, and to historic canoe trips.
Picture a fur trade canoe in the voyageur times with nine paddlers and bow and stern steersmen heading down the swollen Humber River. Most are paddling hard in one direction, but a few are stroking in another, with one perennial lily-dipper on board. With this dysfunctional crew, not only is the forward progress slowed but the course becomes an erratic zig-zag despite the best efforts of most of the paddlers and the two standing in the bow and the stern trying their best to steer a true course.
Their route and the goods in their trade canoe have been selected by a talented team of mapmakers, clerks, accountants, and artisans, each a professional in their own right, and highly valued for their skills. Now ask yourselves how successful those fur trade entrepreneurs would have been if their trade goods had not reached the outposts in the northwest of Canada or the trading posts on the Bay, or if the returning bales of beaver pelts had not reached the chapeau fashionistas of Europe.
That is why you need all the paddlers to be sharing the same vision – a successful journey for their employers, a journey most efficient when all the members of the team are pulling in the same direction.
Now, apply this analogy to our Municipal Council. The paddlers are our Mayor, Area Councillors and Regional Councillors, the steering paddlers are our Town Clerk and our CAO. The team backing them is our Town Staff, and the employer is the taxpayer, a minority of whom get off their couches to vote every four years. An even smaller minority of whom bitch and complain about every paddle stroke taken and every decision that the team makes.
Some of the “paddlers” are beginning to signal their intentions to return for another voyage. Others are getting ready to move on to other ventures. And the selection of the nine new or re-hired voyageurs will be decided by us, the good townsfolk. However, our decision this season must be to select a very competent crew for a challenging four-year journey into the unknown.
On this voyage the canoe will travel into the uncharted waters of the 2020’s, years of sweeping technological innovations, complex population growth, and social diversity challenges. It will be as challenging as it was for our First Peoples when the European farmers arrived in Caledon in the early 1800’s and dammed their rivers and razed their forests. We will face the challenges of nuclear button threats, waves of environmental refugees, and the unpredictability of accelerating climate change.
Given the scope of those challenges, the new crew of paddlers must have more than qualities of endurance and strength of character. They must have a skill set that will help them guide our canoe through a watershed we are still mapping. They must possess the qualities of an adaptive mind: curiosity, creativity, initiative, multi-discipline thinking, and empathy.
We have seen the patterns in the paddling styles of our current crew. We need to take a very careful look at those who are signing on again because we can’t afford any lily-dippers or divisive contrarians who might sabotage the journey. Great people make a great team. It’s going to be a long and challenging venture – make sure we pick the paddlers who will take us safely through these uncharted waters.
A house divided may fall, but a canoe united will take our Town on a phenomenal journey into the future.