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Anger: A threat to democracy?

Anger, hatred, rage, contempt—why do these emotions pose such significant risks to democracy? While they may seem like different faces of the same coin, understanding the distinctions between them is crucial for grasping their impact on civic life and democratic institutions.


Anger, when managed constructively, can be a powerful force for change, but when left unchecked or fueled by misinformation, it can escalate into hatred and rage, ultimately leading to contempt.


Hatred and contempt, in particular, erode the very fabric of democratic society by dehumanizing others and fostering division.


Last week, TVO Today Live aired a televised townhall discussion on the question, "Can Angry People Be Good Citizens?", hosted by The Agenda's Steve Paikin.

Esteemed panelists included Sault Ste. Marie Mayor Shoemaker, CEO Sabreena Delhon (Samara Centre for Democracy), Joel Syrette Director (Mikwa Waakaa'igan & faculty at Algoma University), Michelle McLeave-Kennedy (District Labour Council Executive & VP, Ontario Federation of Labour).


As a panelist, I had the privilege of highlighting the threat that ancient civic leaders and philosophers recognized in unchecked anger and presenting a model of constructive anger from classical antiquity, demonstrating how citizens today can harness their anger for the common good.


This approach was vividly illustrated through a real-life example of a citizen who successfully channeled her anger into constructive action, saving their city's YMCA from closure.


📺 WATCH here.


In 2019, I published an article on this topic in my Municipal World civic academy column, called: "Hatred is a Threat to Democracy," shared here as a resource.


In the article, I argue that rising anger, incivility, and divisiveness are early warning signs of a society veering towards contempt and authoritarianism. By recognizing and addressing these emotions early on, we can prevent the descent into hatred and dehumanization that threatens our democratic values.


Civility: An Antidote


In my book "Save Your City: How Toxic Culture Kills Community & What to Do About It," I argue that civility is an antidote to the destructive forces of unchecked anger and contempt. Civility fosters respect, dialogue, and understanding—key components for a thriving democracy.


By promoting civil behaviour, we can create a foundation of mutual respect and cooperation, which is essential for addressing conflicts and building strong, resilient communities.


An effective tool in promoting civility and measuring the health of our civic interactions from contempt to dignity is Timothy Shriver's Dignity Index. It provides a framework for evaluating and improving the quality of our interactions, ensuring that even in disagreement, the fundamental dignity of each person is maintained.


The need to counter misinformation fuels much of the public anger we see today. Governments at all levels are working hard to find ways to address this issue. The Local Government Management Association (LGMA) has recently published an edition rich with resources for local government leaders, which I was honoured to contribute, to titled "Public Engagement in the Age of Misinformation."


Civic leaders who want to learn more about "Tackling Toxicity, Cultivating Civility" are invited to join the first-of-its-kind global summit hosted by Kalen Academy and supported by the Victorian Local Governance Association (Chris Eddy).


This online summit will bring together experts and practitioners to share insights and strategies for fostering civil discourse and building resilient communities.

Together, we can cultivate civic skills and citizen education needed urgently today to safeguard our democracy against this "threat from within".

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