By Art Martens
When Linda and I met a couple for lunch in Abbotsford in late December, their first question was, “Is Hedley’s water contaminated?” Like others in B.C. they had watched Global News coverage of the Hedley town meeting called to discuss the water issue and provide clarification. Someone had invited Global to the meeting, apparently to ensure the greatest possible audience for the protestations of several citizens. We assured our friends the water had been tested and, except for individuals with weakened immune systems, has been deemed safe for human consumption. Unfortunately, the blemish on Hedley’s reputation may not be as easily undone.
After the town water meeting, I was reminded of former FBI Director James Comey’s words in A Higher Loyalty. Addressing his agents, he said “You are the beneficiaries of a reservoir of goodwill built up over decades. Faithful, honest agents before you have earned for our organization a reputation for integrity and credibility. No matter which political party they favoured, they knew when they testified in court their responsibility was to truthfully represent the FBI, not a political party. The problem with a reservoir is that it takes a long time to fill, but one hole in the dam can empty it quickly. In the same way, if an agent’s words or actions reflect negatively on our organization, the reservoir of goodwill can be just as quickly drained.” Although it was likely to result in him losing his position, Comey resisted political pressure, knowing it would taint the Justice System in the thinking of Americans.
Over many years I’ve seen how difficult it is to remove a negative belief from my own mind, or that of another person. In the 1980’s when Linda and I arrived in Hedley, we sometimes heard the community referred to as “Deadly Hedley.” At times I was reticent to admit I was from this community. The reputation still lingers in some minds. Recently when a business owner in Keremeos learned I live in Hedley, he immediately said, “oh, Deadly Hedley eh?” The words had been lodged in his mind for decades, and now they popped out unbidden. I told him we don’t say that anymore.
Since the town meeting, I’ve wondered about the implications of the angry words of a few seemingly distraught citizens being eagerly and widely broadcast by the Global News camera. Very likely the individual who invited Global wanted simply to vent an excess of frustration and anger.
My experience with big city media has convinced me we should not think a reporter will look for a Chicken Soup for the Soul type of story, or even a balanced story. Reporters know a provocative, sensational account will, almost without exception, garner more readers or viewers.
One possible unanticipated and unintended implication of Global’s negative portrayal of Hedley particularly concerns me. After viewing the angry accusations, did some high quality people strike Hedley off their list of places to move to? Why would anyone choose such a fractious, dysfunctional community? Also, this kind of media attention can hardly be good for local enterprises like The Hedley Country Market, Hedley Inn and Hostel, or the Hedley Trading Post.
Fortunately our town is actually a pretty happy place. We have a substantial reservoir of goodwill built up by dedicated citizens over the years. People from other communities attend the popular monthly $5 Pancake Breakfast at the Seniors’ Centre. The Community Club’s Summer Street Dance invariably creates a buzz in town. The Hedley Museum has gained a solid reputation and attracts tourists from all parts of Canada and around the globe. Many people willingly participate when there is a need.
We can choose to sweep the recent turmoil under the carpet, but this may be only a temporary fix. Alternatively, we can decide to learn from the experience. In an online article, Jeanne Segal (PhD) and Melinda Smith (M.A.) suggest it’s important to “make conflict resolution the priority, rather than being right. Resolution lies in releasing the urge to punish, and in being willing to forgive. Maintaining and strengthening the relationship should always be your priority. Be respectful of the other person and their viewpoint.”
Although Hedley’s name may have been somewhat tarnished by the Global reporter’s focus, we can decide to put this issue behind us and move on together. Working collaboratively, we can enlarge the reservoir that others have bequeathed to us.
Source:: Living Significantly