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Jack Knox column: Students show the way to a fair hearing

May 13 2012

Ijudged the Island Catholic Schools speaking competition this week.

Not sure why. A print guy judging a speaking contest is like a street mime choosing the Grammies.

Nevertheless, there I was at St. Andrew's Elementary on Pandora, where 28 kids from up and down the Island spoke eloquently, confidently and without a hint of the terror that afflicts many people when talking to any group larger than a jazz trio/Mel Gibson movie audience.

This was impressive, since the fear of public speaking is second only to the fear of misquoted statistics. Many people can't address anything other than an envelope without choking like the Canucks in the first round.

My friend Carl joined Toastmasters in an attempt to overcome his fear of public speaking. Went to a Toastmasters convention in Saskatoon.

He had just stepped out of the convention hotel in the wee hours of the morning when a carload of kids screeched to a halt in front of him.

"Are you a Toastmaster?" they asked.

When Carl allowed that he was, the kids bundled him into the car and zoomed off with Carl and the tires all squealing. Turns out they were University of Saskatchewan students on a scavenger hunt, and one of the things on the list was a Toastmaster. They took Carl to a party and wouldn't bring him back until he made a speech.

This is a true story that demonstrates why the fear of public speaking should not be taken lightly.

What was really impressive at St. Andrew's was how politely and attentively the other students listened to the speakers. No one engaged in a noisy side conversation, no one heckled, no one texted, no one threatened anyone's charitable status to prevent their voice from being heard.

This is what all of Canada could use right now: a listening competition.

Had B.C.'s Liberals listened to British Columbians instead of ambushing them with the HST, Gordon Campbell would still be running the Belleville Street Rockpile, not living in exile in London.

Chastened, the Liberals made a big to-do last week about consulting us on when to hold the new Family Day holiday - nice, though you get the feeling they only asked because they didn't care about the answer.

They should ask how we feel about the Northern Gateway pipeline. Lord knows the Liberals haven't mustered the gumption to come up with an opinion of their own. C'mon, Christy, if Barack Obama can risk redneck wrath in an election year by endorsing gay marriage, surely you can clearly state where you stand on the Enbridge pipeline proposal: yes or no?

There's no uncertainty about where the federal Conservatives stand: Stephen Harper has made it clear he wants the project. He has also made it clear he doesn't like the taste of dissent, which is why he so often has the sour demeanor of a man who has just caught Canada farting in an elevator.

It's one thing to disagree with an opponent's opinion, another to prevent that opinion from being heard. The Conservatives have launched a pretty aggressive smear campaign against the environmental groups that oppose the pipelines.

Instead of debating the issue on its merits, Conservatives have tried to bully the enviros into silence, threatening their charity status and accusing them - without presenting evidence - of "laundering" money from foreign eco-groups hell-bent on influencing the Canadian agenda (apparently, the Asian corporations pumping tens of billions into the oil patch aren't foreign). I believe they also accused Greenpeace of kidnapping the Lindbergh baby and claimed to have footage of David Suzuki on the grassy knoll in Dallas.

It must have been embarrassing this week when Tides Canada, one of the main targets of the Conservatives' innuendo, was among 17 Canadian non-profits accredited under a new program that audits charities for, among other factors, transparency and ethics (our own esteemed Victoria Foundation was also in that group).

But I digress, as is so often the case. And it's not as though the Conservatives are the only ones to tune out unwelcome messages.

In this age, when it is so easy to hear only opinions that please us, choosing media sources that echo our own views, we could all do a better job of not only speaking, but listening.


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