March 20, 2011


Type in “googlegate” (using  Google of course) and you find the popular search engine is the subject of several alleged scandals including privacy concerns related to their maps.

I have only done one media interview on the mapping affair and interestingly was not asked my opinion of using the maps for this purpose.

On Council, we hear many perspectives and points of view.  Trying to put them into perspective is part of the job.  I have less concern with trying to put three e-mails into perspective than with the generalization – real or perceived – about people who have a nice home and a boat in the driveway.  Certainly, several people in the community felt they were a victim of a “generalization”.

On Council, we also hear a lot of generalizations – generalizations about the character of people who ride buses, about students, and about people who collect social assistance. Not too long ago, our community heard very hurtful (and false) generalizations about the Sikh community. 

Recently, I attended a talk calling for more compassion in the world.  The basic premise was we cannot make assumptions about what is in the hearts and minds of people we know little or nothing about.  Ironically, the speaker then went on to express her hope that there were no politicians in the audience because they were all bad.

Everyone has likely been a victim of a generalization and I suspect we are all guilty, to a greater or lesser extent, of drawing conclusions based on a generalization (dare I say some of the correspondence I have received on the mapping issue might be considered to also be rife with generalizations). 

We all have particular generalizations that push a big button in each of us.

Generalizations are expedient but ultimately destructive.  They are sometimes fear-based.  They start arguments, and even wars.  They divide us and prevent us from getting at the root of community problems. 

None of this is to say that there are not real social trends that need our attention.  In my opinion, the biggest loss in this whole affair is the distraction from the real issue of poverty in our community and the growing gap in incomes.  The Guelph Community Foundation’s 2009 Vital Signs Report gave Guelph a D on income distribution.  This reflects similar patterns across Canada.  It is no accident that people in our community have come together from all walks of life and parts of our community to form the Taskforce for the Elimination of Poverty. 

And with respect, people living in Guelph in a nice home with a boat in the driveway are not the problem – this from a past Globe and Mail article: “Earnings among the richest fifth of Canadians grew 16.4 per cent between 1980 and 2005 while the poorest fifth of the population saw earnings tumble 20.6 per cent over the 25-year time period, Statistics Canada said in its 2006 census release on income and earnings. Earnings among people in the middle stagnated”.

Now, let the generalizations begin…

About Karen Farbridge

An unwavering change maker seeking a just, democratic and sustainable world.

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4 Comments on “Googlegate”

  1. Ward 2 Constituent Says:

    That’s it? I’m sorry Ms. Farbridge, but I’m disappointed in your response. If you have been following any of the other blogs – 59 Carden for one – you would realize that people are looking to see how you’re going to respond to ‘Googlegate’, and more importantly, Ms. Laidlaw’s foul language against another member of Council during a public budget meeting.

    Your blog entry truly falls short……

  2. Bill Hulet Says:


    With all due respect, I think you are missing the point. The problem isn’t that people who have a “nice home and a boat in the yard”, but rather, people who have a “nice home and a boat in the yard” and who scream blue murder about how property taxes are putting them into the poor house.

    There is a not-so-subtle distinction here—-.

    The generalization isn’t “all people who are well off complain about taxes”, but rather “all people who complaint bitterly about taxes tend to be well off”. These are two different sets of people. As generalizations go, I have had the same experience as Maggie—most of the people who complain loudest about their taxes seem to be people who are doing quite well. I would also point out that most of the people I meet who are doing well also seem to not be too upset about their property taxes.

    I might also point out that the Karen Armstrong’s support for compassion as the root of all religion is not in support of some sort of mushy “can’t we all just get along” ethic, but rather a very strong statement about a fairly controversial code. Building an ethic of “compassion” isn’t about being equally compassionate towards the filthy rich as the desperately poor—-it implies an implicit bias towards the poor since presumably the wealthy can take care of themselves.

    Christ did not say “can’t we all get along”, but rather “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to get into heaven” and “blessed are the poor in spirit”. Those are two statements in favour of a bias towards the poor.

    It strikes me that the people that I have heard from who are most outraged about Maggie’s comments are the perennially outraged who are simply looking for yet another excuse to vent their spleen. They are willfully misunderstanding her point to try and create a “gotcha”.

  3. kfarbridge Says:

    I had dealt with the inappropriate language issue with Council the day after the budget night (March 4th) – i.e. several weeks ago. At the time, I was not aware of who had made the alleged comment. Councillor Laidlaw has since taken responsibility and apologized to Council for her words.

  4. Ward 2 Constituent Says:

    Thank you for the reply. Ian was good enough to post this information yesterday on his blog.

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