Choosing Your Battle


Roulette Wheel

Copyright © Baris Simsek/iStock

by Donna Sinclair

When my friend lowered her teacup and said, off handedly, “Are you coming to the public meeting about a casino?” I sputtered into my own tea. I had heard about the provincial government’s offer of a casino for our city, and I had already made up my mind.

I disapproved. But I had also decided that I wasn’t going to the wall on this one.

It’s not easy to decide where to spend our elder energy. We don’t have all that much of it. I mentally checked off my arguments for staying out of this battle.

One, it is summer, where the season is sweet and too short.

Two, stopping the pernicious Northern Gateway pipeline and the resurrection of the Keystone XL pipeline has higher priority. I must be ready to go and stand there. Or lie down in front of the bulldozers. Or whatever.

Three, family. Soon our grandson will be back in school. We want to visit all our children. Elders like me sometimes look back on a too-busy life and realize that, yes indeed, family does come first.

Still. Others turn out in support when I hold forth at public meetings. So yes, I said to my friend. I will certainly get my body there. A full house – people at your back –  in the council chamber is very heartening.

When it comes to choosing between important issues, though, I figured I had it together. Work hard on climate change, because if we end up baking to death in a couple of decades, it won’t much matter if a casino is part of the casserole. And if those who gamble are willing to pay what is essentially a surtax imposed on them personally, well, fine.

Shows you what I knew.

I got to city hall and settled into one of the few remaining seats. Later arrivals took up places against the wall. A thin woman, back to me, was hovering anxiously near the front, clearly rehearsing her remarks.

Two employees from the provincial gaming commission made their pitch. Some revenue would go to our city, helping keep our taxes low (special thanks to those who pay extra to the slots, I thought to myself). Some to our financially-beleaguered province. And some money (I never heard the percentage) to the private company that would run the casino. Hmmm.

Some of the provincial money would go to programs for problem gamblers, that apparently predictable percentage of players who, once they start pouring money into those slots, simply can’t stop.

Representatives from the Chamber of Commerce and the Downtown Improvement Association spoke. Good idea, they thought, a casino would bring in tourists, more shopping, more restaurant activity.

And then, one by one, members of the public got up to speak. They told stories of loss, bankruptcy, destroyed families. They raised questions about extremely lop-sided revenue-sharing, vast amounts of cash migrating out of a region which already has lower-than-provincial-average incomes, and welfare services already stretched to the hilt. One man quietly described how a friend had solved his gambling-induced indebtedness with an idling car in a closed garage.

And then the thin woman who had been pacing arrived at the microphone. She had lost her job because of her gambling addiction, she told us. And then she lost her kids, and then her home. She spent some time living rough, in the bush. I recognized her then, seeing her weary face. She often has lunch at our church on Sundays, where people know and care for her.

If a casino comes to this city, she said, she will have to move away.

More people made their way to the microphone. A few thought a casino would be fun and do-gooders shouldn’t try to prevent it. Others said they had chosen this city to live in because it has an identity involving trees and parks and water, not slot machines.

I watched a vision piece itself together out of all these words. One speaker after another was describing, really, the city they wanted, a healthy city that valued potential “problem gamblers” as much as any other person. A city that did not see them as statistics, or percentages, or as a source of easy money, but as human beings. A city based on compassion, not illusion.

And so my difficult question – where can faithful elders best spend their energy – resolved itself. We are simply to be about compassion, whether in front of our noses or far away. We are to care for the earth, slowing down runaway resource extraction. And at the same time we are to care for people, every single person.

We don’t write off a certain percentage, those who “cannot gamble responsibly,” any more than we write off a river or a herd of caribou as the collateral damage required to maintain our way of life.

So I’ll be at the next public meeting about the casino, listening respectfully. And then I’ll talk about it with my friends and neighbours in the same way as I go on about climate change.

Probably they get tired of this elderly woman with nothing to do but stand in the way of progress. But I’ll do it anyway. It is the compassionate work of the elder. I have no choice.

A journalist for more than 30 years, Donna Sinclair is an award-winning writer who has traveled widely in Canada, Africa, Central America, Britain, and Eastern Europe. She is the author of The Spirituality of Bread, The Spirituality of Gardening, A Woman’s Book of Days, A Woman’s Book of Days 2, and numerous other titles. Donna lives with her husband Jim in North Bay, Ontario. Her most recent book is The Long View: An Elderwoman’s Book of Wisdom (2011).

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Categories: Donna Sinclair, Ecology and Environmental Issues, Ethics, Featured, Leadership, Money, Peace, Justice, and Equality, People

Author:Wood Lake Publishing

At Wood Lake Publishing we are passionate about supporting and encouraging an emerging form of Christianity, which is rooted in ancient wisdom and attentive to the movement of spirit in our day. Visit us online at woodlakebooks.com

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One Comment on “Choosing Your Battle”

  1. merilyn parker
    March 14, 2014 at 3:36 pm #

    Bravo Donna. Micah 6:8 – To act justly, to love tenderly and to walk humbly with your God. Merilyn.

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