July 20, 2021ByPatrick Flannery
Hateful acts can provide an opportunity for us all to show our best side.
On June 6 a very bad person drove his truck into a family out for a walk in London, Ont., killing four of them and leaving a nine-year-old boy orphaned and fighting for his life in hospital (he’s since been discharged and is expected to make a full recovery). A man has been arrested and charged with murder and terrorism. Police are confident his motive was hatred of Muslims.
This one struck rather close to home, as I’ve spent most of my life in London and live and work here now. Our whole family followed the story closely and watched at least parts of the heart-wrenching vigil and memorial service broadcasts. We made our donations to the support of the boy, Fayez Afzaal. The attack has sparked a lot of conversation with my daughters, both of whom have Muslim friends. When I heard about the attack, the first thing I thought of was how common it is in this city to see women in hijab and their families out for walks, together, as a family. Much more common than seeing families who are not identifiably Muslim. I think it speaks to the strength and importance of the family bond in that community, which is pretty nice to see in this era where tearing your teenager away from the smartphone is like pulling teeth. I sincerely hope this incident doesn’t in any way discourage them from continuing to go for their walks.
Since the magnitude of the tragedy for the family and London’s Muslim community is beyond description, I won’t try to describe it. Instead, I’ll describe the reaction and response, because there may be lessons there for all of us when faced with terrible events in life and work.
The outpouring of grief over the event has been unlike anything I’ve ever seen in the city. There’s a huge pile of flowers at the intersection where it happened, even though I suspect some are regularly taken away. The crowd at the vigil was huge – thousands. The leaders of every national party were on hand, as well as Ontario premier, Doug Ford and the mayor. The London Free Press contained little else for days and the attack got nightly coverage in the national news.
My first takeaway from this incident is that tragedy, no matter how horrific, can be mitigated simply by giving people a chance to come together and express their feelings about it. It often brings out the best in people, and avoiding the negative and the difficult usually creates more problems than it solves. Sometimes when bad things happen in our businesses the instinct is to withdraw, circle the wagons and say as little as possible. Legal considerations aside, it’s often better to at least say what you can to advance the healing process.
The second is that the attack was the senseless act of one person. But the reaction has exposed what lies in the hearts of most people. By and large, people are not racist monsters who want to hurt others. Canadians of all stripes can see the fundamental humanity of a family out for a walk, whatever their cultural differences. Much has been made of the bigotry that still exists in society that might have inspired this attacker and his predecessors. However much of it there is, and however pervasive it is, it is as nothing compared to the goodwill and decency of the overwhelming majority of people. There is certainly racism in Canada, but Canada is not a racist country.
And, as business leaders, I think we should acknowledge and celebrate this fact in our corporate culture. I haven’t seen a workplace yet in Canada that isn’t a hodgepodge of colours and accents and ethnicities and backgrounds. None of this is to say that challenges don’t remain. But we can point to the huge crowds at the London vigil, and the diverse faces on our own store floors and say “This is who we are. Not the other thing.”.
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