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A Coming Out Party for Optimists

August 28, 2011

Watching the funeral services yesterday for Jack Layton, I felt it was like a coming out party for optimists, a chance for people to be unashamed to express hope in the human spirit, in the future and in what is possible in our country if we all work together.

I’m tired of cynicism. I’m tire of it from the latest federal election, the Toronto election and the insanity that is the current American political ‘discourse’.  I’m tired of people tut-tutting that this or that is impossible. Look at the world, the impossible is happening right now. Dictatorships are falling left and right, just because the people have decided it is time. Unshakable assumptions about our world economy are falling around us.  Pragmatism is needed, it always is; but pragmatism isn’t equal to cynicism. If something is really important to us as a society, then we can make choices that reflect those values.

I think Jack’s kind of pragmatism are what the world needs and it is absolutely clear that his honesty is what Canadians yearn for.  As others have pointed out, if some aspiring politician wants to know how they can cause a seismic shift in the politics of this country, they need look no further than the enormous outpouring of genuine grief at Jack’s death. The death of a politician.

Even Pierre Trudeau’s death didn’t cause this kind of spontaneous expression of sadness. Certainly, part of it is the shock. We all assumed, agree with him or not, that Jack Layton was a key part of the fabric of our country and would be here for a while to come. But part of it, surely, was his sheer decency. He had principles and he had a party, but he was always willing to talk to the other side to see if compromise was possible.  His response was always thoughtful and it was always honest.  Those qualities should be a requirement for holding public office, as it stands, it has made him into someone to be admired.  If someone with Jack’s decency can survive and thrive in politics then maybe there is hope for our country to reach it’s potential. People just have to take courage from Jack’s example and step forward.

I’ll let Stephen Lewis and Jack himself finish it off:

But it obviously goes much deeper than that. Jack, I think, tapped into a yearning, sometimes ephemeral, rarely articulated, a yearning that politics be conducted in a different way, and from that difference would emerge a better Canada.

That difference was by no means an end to rancor, an end to the abusive, vituperative practice of the political arts. The difference was also, and critically, one of policy – a fundamentally different way of viewing the future of Canada.

His remarkable letter made it absolutely clear. This was a testament written in the very throes of death that set out what Jack wanted for his caucus, for his party, for young people, for all Canadians.

Inevitably, we fastened on those last memorable lines about hope, optimism and love. But the letter was, at its heart, a manifesto for social democracy. And if there was one word that might sum up Jack Layton’s unabashed social democratic message, it would be generosity. He wanted, in the simplest and most visceral terms, a more generous Canada.

– Stephen Lewis

If we want to honour Jack Layton’s memory and all his hope and promise we should commit ourself to making his final message the new definition of the Canadian dream. The dream of an unapologetic, capitalist yet social democratic country:

My friends, love is better than anger.
Hope is better than fear.
Optimism is better than despair.
So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic.

And we’ll change the world.

– Jack Layton


Rest In Peace Jack

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