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Peacemakers in our Community


Published: 09/17/2012

by Jim Campbell

It looks as if the habit of calling Toronto a world-class city is fading. The new way is to call it the fifth-largest city in North America fifth after Mexico City, New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. (Have you noticed that some TV news reports avoid calling Toronto by name and use the phrase Canada's largest city?)
Living in or around a big city is not the environment most of us grew up in. Many came from small communities and, even if we never lived anywhere else, the smallish city that once was has grown.
Small villages and towns outside the city one day found that they became part of the GTA, the Greater Toronto Area. As I recall, nobody consulted the residents to see if that was all right with them. It just happened.
World-Class, Fifth-Largest, GTA, Mega-city, whatever it is called, it means lots of people and many challenges. To live here is to cope with lots of strangers, heavy traffic, congestion and high-rise living. Sadly for many, living in a big city also equates with living in the midst of a high level of danger.
The media keep themselves busy giving us detailed reports of violence in the big city, of home invasions, guns, drugs, road rage and gang turf wars. Some reporters sum up city life as living in the mean streets.
Every new outrage brings out calls for more police, tougher laws and harsher penalties. The popular myth is that city living is dangerous, that it is a jungle out there, it is dog eat dog an endless struggle for survival. It's a bad place to live if you want a peaceful life.
But people who have never lived in a large metropolitan city will be amazed to learn that living peaceably is what we do. Living civilized, peaceful lives together is an everyday occurrence.
We work at keeping the peace every day and it works out. Steven Jay Gould, a Harvard biologist and an essayist, wrote, Homo sapiens are a remarkable genial species. Think of how many millions of hours we can log for most people [who] go without noting anything more threatening than a raised third finger once a week or so.
We are skilled at defusing situations, we choose calm words, we walk away, we let cooler heads prevail, we work hard to put people at ease. When we meet strangers we comment on the weather, the traffic, the hockey team, all seemingly insignificant chatter, but it has a serious purpose. It is a way of putting each other at ease, a way of showing acceptance and that we are not a threat to one another. We are basically peacemakers.
And so millions of us go about our lives peacefully every day in the big city and sleep soundly at night. And most of us have had no direct contact with anyone who has been a victim of violence, of robbery, of road rage. Our lives are happily dull. And to top it off, we don't have to be extra alert or super street-smart to live here. It is all because the vast majority of people we see day by day are skilled peacemakers.
That's not news but it is the truth. It's why the fifth- largest city in North America is a liveable, peaceful place. It is not because we have lots of police, courts and security guards to protect us from the bad apples, nor is it because we have enlightened politicians and creative social programs, as important as they are in maintaining our community life. It is much simpler than that. We live together comfortably because the vast majority of ordinary people naturally work at peacemaking, at defusing possible confrontations.
Governments, police departments, our structures and laws are working at their best when they are designed and dedicated to enhancing and supporting the peacemaking skills that come naturally to all people.
We should always remember that the basic desire of all the people and communities, within the complex urban community that is our city, is to live in peace and harmony. This desire is the greatest resource we have to build communities upon. 
So to all, thanks. Thanks for being peacemakers in our community, thanks for all you do to help us all to live, work and enjoy the amenities of city life in peace and harmony. It all matters, it all counts. Thanks.  

Jim Campbell is a writer based in Oakville, Ont. Your comments are welcome via post, or by e-mail to

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