Embracing Diverse and Challenging Perspectives

It has been roughly four weeks since I had the opportunity to immerse myself in the Spur Festival. In that time, I’ve been able to reflect on the many intellectually stimulating conversations that I participated in during the festival, and how they have shaped my thinking.

At Spur Toronto, I was surrounded by individuals who inspired me with their commitment to building a better world. On the first night, I chatted with Omar Musa, a Malaysian-Australian author, rapper and poet who is shining light on another corner of the globe. I talked to Spur Public Fellow, Kevin Vuong, about his wonderful work closer to home with the Toronto Youth Equity Strategy. By lobbying Toronto City Councillors, his group was able to reverse a funding cut for youth infrastructure. I also had lunch one afternoon with Alicia Raimundo, a mental health superhero who advocates for increased youth engagement in the design of mental health programs and services. I was glad to connect with Omar, Kevin, Alicia, and the other RBC Emerging Scholars over a jam-packed four days.

I attended a variety of thought-provoking panels at Spur Toronto. There were several moments when I strongly disagreed with the sentiments of panelists. When discussing immigration policy, one panelist declared that it was a myth that immigrants contribute to the Canadian economy. During a panel on masculinity, one panelist dismissed the idea of patriarchy. In both cases, I found myself shaking my head. I was angry but mostly shocked. How could such well-respected scholars have these notions?

However, it was Gabrielle Giroday, a member of the Spur Toronto team, who made me see the panels in a different light. She said that these panels would no longer be true conversations if everyone agreed and was patting each other on the back.

I thought long and hard about Gabrielle’s words. I asked myself: Why had I come to Spur Toronto in the first place? To have my personal views reaffirmed by more knowledgeable speakers? Of course not. I went because I wanted to have my ideas challenged, to engage in meaningful discussion, and to learn about other perspectives—ones that are held by many other people, even if I disagree with them.

Spur Toronto reminded me that a productive conversation has multiple perspectives, and as such, a diversity of viewpoints should be appreciated. I think what we can all gain from the Spur Festival is that we should invite challenging notions rather than shy away from them. When we do encounter people whom we disagree with, we should respectfully engage them in discussion, while being open-minded and remembering that there is always something to be learned. This philosophy will have paramount importance in a world where every debate is becoming increasingly hostile and polarized.

It is only through genuine conversations, rather than back-patting parties, that we can begin to negotiate Our New Tribalism.

Thank you to the 2016 Spur Festival and RBC  for sponsoring my participation in Spur Toronto as an RBC Emerging Scholar. I am very grateful for have had this opportunity to challenge, and be challenged.

Maxwell (Max) Tran is a Health Sciences student at McMaster University who has conducted research in epidemiology, global health, and mental health. He is also the Founder and Executive Director of Ink Movement Canada, a nonprofit organization that has published four books showcasing writing, artwork, and photography submitted by youth. Max is committed to making a positive difference in his community, whether it is through healthcare, arts, politics, or other means.

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