Wednesday, June 21, 2017

My Commencement Address to the Graduating Class of 2017

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Bill Templeman, June 3, 2017
Each year at this time the rich and famous are called upon to bestow a little wisdom to the new flock of graduates who are about to be ejected, utterly unprepared, into the trench warfare of life. As Margaret Atwood said in a commencement address she gave years ago: "Even in the best of times, it (graduating) is more or less like being pushed over a cliff, and these are not the best of times."
Oh, for the sweet chance to dispense a bit of free advice to this captive audience! If only I could give a commencement address....
But I am neither famous nor rich. So, in spite of my decades of diligent service at becoming who I am today, fame has successfully eluded me. I will never be called upon to give a commencement address.
Too bad. Faced with the gap between my pent-up urge to be a commencement speaker and the continued lack of demand for my services, I will have to be content with this address in absentia.
Herewith is my address to the Graduating Class of 2017:
Dear Graduates, Family Members, and Friends:
Beware of fossils like me who are too eager to dispense free advice. Don't listen to what they say about the tangibles -- careers, money and technology. But stay open what they may say about the intangibles -- love, birth, death, the passage of time, taking risks, making decisions and living life on purpose. Remember that you are not the first person in the universe to be young and to face the decision of what to do with your life.
Look in a mirror. What do you see? Whatever you see, know that this is the probably the best message a mirror will ever send you. From here on, gravity will begin to charge hefty interest. Make no mistake about it. This is your finest hour. It won't last.
Keep staring at that mirror. Now that I have told you that you won't be young forever, consider your priorities. Do things soon that the young do best. Like traveling abroad on the cheap. Or living on Kraft Dinner in a garret as you learn your art, master your field or pursue your dreams. Or climbing high mountains. Or saving the world. Get your adventure juices going and do not postpone them. If you have wanderlust, then now is the time to wander. So do the young things now. Your career can wait.
Remember what I just said about putting your career on hold? Maybe I'm wrong. You can only put your life on hold for so long. Every college town has a scattering of lost souls who never left. They delayed life's decisions for as long as they could until they ran out of time. It's really cool to be in limbo at 23. It's not so cool at 45. Some of the important things to do when you are young- like graduate school or starting a career that needs to be started young, are also things that may restrict your ability to enjoy your youth. Does this contradict what I said earlier?
Absolutely!
Living with contradiction is a life-skill you better cultivate in a hurry.
Do not worship other people. They are not you. You have come into this existence with a unique set of gifts. Your challenge is to discover these gifts, explore them with passion and share them with the world. You are not here to fit into others' expectations of what you should be or mold yourself in their image. You are here to become you. Get on with it!
Right now you are on your way up and you believe the world had better make room for you. If only it was true. In fact, the world doesn't give a stinking toot about you.
You will have to make your own breaks. You alone are responsible for your own progress.
Another thing: Though no one else will do this for you, you can't do this alone. You will need your friends. Friendship is like oxygen. You can't see it, but it keeps you alive at all times. Cheat on sleep but do not cheat on your friends. Treasure them. In the end, they will be like a prudent government bond fund. Nothing flashy, but immensely sustaining over the long-term
Question your own assumptions. If you believe a 9-to-5 job is not for you, find out why. You may be right. Or you may be kidding yourself
Beware of ideology posing as reason. Learn how to tell the difference and do not trust those who would counsel you not to do your own thinking.
Regarding politics and saving the world: You will probably have no effect on the unfolding of reality or the Big Picture of History. That doesn't mean you shouldn't try. However, while you may not be able to alter reality, you can alter your attitude towards it. Paradoxically, this alters reality. Try it and see.
Take smart risks. Risk getting to know what you really want to do then risk going for it. Don't compromise your dreams. Ever.
Bill Templeman "skipped his graduation ceremonies, opting to receive his degrees by mail.

Peterborough Deserves Better Civic Engagement


I approach the speaker’s podium. A hush spreads over the hall. “Please state your name and your address.” I comply. “Thank you. You have seven minutes; you will be given a warning when you have one minute left.” I am about to take part in a ritual that is at once sacred and meaningless: I am about to make a citizen delegation—a presentation—to Peterborough’s City Council.

Why sacred? Civic engagement is one of the pillars of municipal democracy. A moment of silence is observed before these meetings. Flags are on display. The National Anthem is sung. These ceremonies send a message: “What we do here matters. Respect us and respect our rules. This is sacred space.”

Why meaningless? These delegations frequently happen after council members have decided how they are going to vote. Delegations from the public are often heard directly before a final discussion and the vote in council. The councillors are merely going through the motions to satisfy a procedural requirement of local and provincial law. The decision in question likely has already been made.

“Thank you for your presentation. Any questions for our presenter?” (a brief pause as the chairperson’s eye sweeps the council) “Seeing none, I thank you.” I shuffle back to my seat, chuffed to have spoken up, but angry. I know none of this matters. At all.

Why is civic engagement in such a dismal state in Peterborough?

How can all of us, the City and its citizens, move beyond the current tone of mistrust and divisive partisanship? How can we make these rituals come alive again? How can we make civic engagement matter? We have a representative democracy; our councillors make decisions on our behalf. While they listen to us, in the end, they decide, not the citizens. If we don’t like their decisions, every fourth year we can elect different councillors. Direct democracy, as practiced in ancient Athens, had citizens making all the decisions. Given the pace of modern life, most of us do not have the time, interest, or ability to study all the issues. We need to embrace the best of representative democracy, then open the windows and let the fresh air and sunshine in. We need open democracy. Here are some practical, low-cost steps City Council could take to really improve the way the City engages with its citizens:

Release key reports issues 10 days prior to the meeting at which delegations are to be heard and a vote held.

Frequently these reports are released only four days before an issue is voted upon, not enough time for citizens to prepare for effective delegations.

Invite citizens into the decision-making process much earlier by welcoming delegations or convening discussions at the outset of deliberations, instead of right before the final vote.

In the campaigns over issues such as the Casino, the Parkway, and PDI, many talented volunteers with substantial experience spoke up. Why not let City Council take advantage of this free expertise?

Redesign the City’s website and enhance its social media posts so that the public knows when decisions are being made and what the opportunities are for citizen input.

Right now, from a civic engagement perspective, the City’s website is a labyrinth of daunting complexity. The site should be thoroughly searchable via keywords, not just report numbers.

Allow real, two-way conversations between citizens and council members.

Delegations are one-way. A citizen can present, councillors can then ask questions, but there’s no dialogue. These conversations need to be between large numbers of citizens and all councillors, not one citizen at a time, standing like a condemned prisoner before a firing squad. Trained city staff or citizen groups like Reimagine Peterborough could facilitate these large conversations. A broader use of citizen advisors, as described in the 
Planning Act’s newly mandated role for citizens on committees, could improve civic engagement.

Augment the content of staff reports to include the concerns of a broader range of citizens.

Currently, all staff reports address financial implications. How about including standard sections on implications for environmental and community resilience?

Set up a way for citizens with a specific interest or area of concern to register with City Hall.That way, they could receive all notices and reports related to their area of concern by email.

Better civic engagement would make for better decisions and ultimately more effective governance. The Parkway Extension is now stalled because civic engagement was seen as a nuisance. Defiant citizens responded accordingly and petitioned the government to intervene. Now that project is in limbo, perhaps never to be implemented; a lack of positive civic engagement has costs.

The City has learned from this mistake; the public consultations held prior to the PDI vote were far more robust. City staff and PDI executives were on hand to answer questions. Consultants were hired to survey citizens. While these PDI consultation sessions were also, like the Parkway consultations, largely sales promotions, nonetheless attempts were made to at least acknowledge the importance of civic engagement.

Peterborough deserves better civic engagement. Right now, citizens and councillors talk past each other, not questioning, not listening, and not understanding the other side. We need to have real conversations, not staged confrontations. We need to tell our councillors we want more open civic engagement. Enhanced civic engagement must become an issue in the 2018 election.