Letting someone else take a turn

When I was a little feller my mother used to tell her three boys “let someone else have a turn”. Of course she was referring to that ancient piece of wisdom that when two or three want the same thing it is always best to take turns. But like all wisdom there are layers to this sage advice and the deeper you go the harder it gets.

On one level our democratic country with its democratic institutions has had a profound influence on our culture. We’ve come a long way from the childhood games of King of the castle, when we all wanted to the crown and scepter so we could rule over our subjects. Now when I see little families walking into an amusement park the first words spoken are, “let’s vote to see what ride we go to first!” Our impulse is to vote, to take sides, to decide based on majority rule.

But let’s face it as for wisdom taking votes is a means not an end. Just because you’ve polled everyone, counted all the votes, doesn’t mean you’ve stumbled into the truth. I shouldn’t have to say this but given the times we live it needs to be said, unreflective majority rule can pump the skies with pollution, drop aid for the poor (taxes would go up!), or ban all immigration because we don’t like the look of strangers. As Winston Churchill once said, “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.” So we use a means that does not necessarily get us to the truth but is a better vessel than the rest.

I’ve written before about the need to listen to each other first, before a vote is taken. Sometimes participants will chose voting first as a kind of willful ignorance. “I don’t want to hear anything that will dissuade me from what I want to do…” Heaven forbid that something said around a table would move me to reconsider my kneejerk plan to vote yes or no.

But there is another layer to the wisdom of taking turns. Sometimes it does the soul of someone like me good to let another take a turn. Consider your privilege, what you automatically receive just by the chance of your birth, your race, your gender, your economic status. For as long as I can remember I have sat in rooms and people have turned to me for leadership, when I spoke others listened. Why? Because I am a white male, a straight middle class man with a loud and booming voice. Next time you are in a crowded room and people are at microphones watch who gets up to speak and who the crowd listens to. It’s an eye opener.

When I am in a room and people are turning to me as a Minister, as leader, as someone with a loud voice, and asking me to speak first, to go first, to offer comment, I find myself now deferring to someone I know in the room who knows more, someone the group would likely pass over. That is one of the many reasons I find the power trappings of titles and collars an unpleasant and counter-productive part of my work. I hear the voice of my mother, “let someone else take a turn.”

On this Natal Day when Haligonians are complaining about a parade taking place in Dartmouth and not the usual streets of Spring Garden Road or Barrington Street I hear my mother’s wise advice. It’s not all about you, life is not about protecting what you have, your turn. I see the faces of those who line up to take my shuttle bus every morning, they are eyeing people who stop to talk to a friend at the front of the cue. They are ready to pounce if someone dare step in front of someone else. The cue, the vote, these are tools, they are not the truth. The truth comes when everyone is valued and everyone feels the pride in getting a turn.