Rethinking the language of prosperity

Like caution tape, the colour scheme of 6 Degrees TO, a Toronto-based conference at the AGO, demanded attention and symbolized urgency. The shape of the room foreshadowed a natural movement of ideas that would merge in the end — a circle.

As practicing journalists, we are keenly aware of symbolism. Words can be symbolic, and as such we are challenged with the task of approaching sensitive topics, while considering the implications of our words.

Language and perception served as the foundation of the event’s Prosperity panel, with overarching themes of social inclusion and economic growth in regard to immigration.

Much like the diversity in the panel of speakers, so were their perceptions of the concept of prosperity. The loaded word, mostly understood in relation to affluence, took on new meanings and commanded us to consider how we speak (or write) about immigration and economic development.

Wealth is relative. It only holds meaning in the way it compares to its surroundings. A refugee who comes from war-torn Syria may see wealth as safety or sense of belonging.

To a Wall Street banker, wealth likely means something completely different.

And for panelists Madeleine Redfern, mayor of Iqaluit; Rabin Baldewsingh, Deputy-Mayor of the Hague; Shamina Singh, President of the MasterCard Centre for Inclusive Growth; and Sol Guy, founder of DAIS — their life contexts and experiences determined how they understood prosperity, too.

Images supplied by individuals via 6 Degrees TO  Graphic by Meg Wray

The two hour discussion had a deeply humanizing effect. We were challenged to imagine ourselves in the shoes of others; to rethink our use of language; and to think about what Canada, and what we, can do to create space for inclusion, and space for new Canadians to prosper — in more ways than one.

How can we help make the transition into Canada easier, and how can we cultivate an environment in which settling is easy and a productive life is not just a possibility, but a reality?

At the core of the prosperity discussion was a report written by Bessma Momani, an analyst on Middle East and global economy and CIGI (Centre for International Governance Innovation) fellow: “New Canadian Entrepreneurs: An Underappreciated Contribution to Canadian Prosperity?”

In it, Momani asks us to consider new Canadians as a “net benefit” to our society, rather than a cost.

Of particular intrigue was the fact that more Canadian immigrants than Canada-born citizens are entrepreneurs. Perhaps it’s because the fear of entrepreneurial endeavour is moot, when there is little else to lose. Or is it because of the resourcefulness learned in the home countries?

These were hot questions — ones that seemingly had answers no clearer than the definition of prosperity itself. But this is the point of conferences like 6 Degrees TO: we critique ourselves, our policies, our judgments; and thus an important conversation emerges.

When society can acknowledge that prosperity has very little to do with money and business, and much more to do with belonging and relationships, that is where true growth will come full circle.


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