Accidental Activist

It's What We Do That Counts

Democracy, like life, can only resemble a rich and meaningful experience if we throw ourselves into it.

By Ben Bull
Published April 10, 2007

When Hugh Laurie is counseling a rape victim in one of the episodes from this season's House, she asks him if time will ease her pain.

"No," replies the Doctor. "That's just something people say. It's what you do that counts."

I thought about this scene as I read the recent HSR debate musings on RTH the other day.

Jason's questioning of Councillor Brian McHattie's HSR fare hike approval? Ryan's assertion that this was shaping up to be another made-in-Hamilton debacle?

All good points, I thought, but what will they do about it?

I had a neighbour once, when I lived in Leeds, a single Mum. She used to come round for coffee, sigh a lot, and tell us all about her latest visit to the psychic.

"He told me I would meet someone before Christmas!" she'd enthuse. "He'll be handsome and rich." Sandra would then trudge home, mope about the house and will her life to change.

That's all she did. She never took any action to change her fortunes. She just got her fortunes told. In the three years we knew her, she never met anyone and her life never changed.

Like Luke. I met Luke on a Kibbutz in Israel when I was staying there back in 1989. He shared my little hut and spent most of his time sat at his desk making elaborate entries in his huge leather-bound diary.

"I like to capture all my thoughts," he explained to me one evening, after declining my invitation for a drink, "So I can look back and learn."

One night, as I was stoking the fire pit ready for another night of alcohol and incoherent conversation, a watermelon fight broke out. "Come on!" I shouted to my reclusive roomie, "There's a Fight!"

But as the melons turned to mush about me, and the missiles came raining down, there came but a feeble reply from inside the hut: "I can't - I have to finish my diary."

So it went with Luke. Night after night, fight after fight, my bunk-mate missed out on every meaningful, not-so-meaningful, immature escapade that occurred on the Kibbutz.

I wondered what he had to write about. He never did anything.

This theme came back to me on my recent visit to England. My Mum lent me the book she was reading, Yes Man by Danny Wallace.

In it Wallace recounts his transition from a bored, housebound television producer, who said "No" to everything and to whom nothing ever happened, to a sprightly, articulate best-selling author who learned that one way to shape the world around him was to just say, "Yes" more often.

Speaking of England, I had a wonderful time there. I spent two weeks hiking in the Lakes, visiting my family and hanging out with the coolest nine-year-old boy in the world.

My main objective for the trip was for Jack and me to have a blast and create some memories for life. We achieved that.

But when I got back, and thanked my family for all the events they'd planned and the fun we'd had, I realized we'd achieved a lot more.

"We had so much fun," my family replied. "Thanks for the memories!"

It occurred to me, as my family recounted their favourite moments of our visit, that making memories is not a one-way affair. The effort we make in life, the actions we take, impact our own lives, as well as the lives of everyone around us.

A couple of days ago Adrian gave us Councillor McHattie's views on his decision to approve the HSR fare hike. "This is the very difficult balancing act that someone like me must work through," the Councillor explained.

Turns out Adrian had sent him an e-mail.

Ryan then appraised us of his conversation with one of Mayor Eisenberger's assistants, and explained what he had learned of the Mayor's thinking behind the affair.

They took action. Now, perhaps as a result of this action (or perhaps not) there is news that some councillors are re-thinking their HSR fare hike stance.

I wonder, as I read the comments from other RTH readers, how many of us are moved to act on our concerns, to make a difference in a more direct way.

Beyond the garden fence quarrels and self-contained frustrations, how many of us are able to find the opportunity amidst our strife?

Democracy, like life, can only resemble a rich and meaningful experience if we throw ourselves into it. Standing around moaning, or simply writing about what's on our minds, is only a part of the experience.

Like the good Doctor says, it's what we do that matters. It's what we do that counts.

Ben Bull lives in downtown Toronto. He's been working on a book of short stories for about 10 years now and hopes to be finished tomorrow. He also has a movie blog.

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