The Courage to Lead brings together prominent thinkers on Canada’s future

Sponsored feature: presented by Penguin Random House Canada

The Courage to Lead, a day of debate and discussion presented by Penguin Random House Canada. Speakers include Naomi Klein, André Alexis, Desmond Cole, Camilla Gibb and more. November 18, 9:30 am to 5:30 pm. Isabel Bader Theatre. Tickets $15-$25, available here.

Canada is at an important moment in time. Our country rests at the centre of numerous ongoing global issues, from the international refugee crisis to the effects of climate change on vulnerable populations. Considering how quickly global politics can change at the speed of a tweet, open debates have become essential for strengthening the public commons and reversing the trend towards isolation on all levels.

While informed public intellectuals are in high demand, the traditional methods for engaging with new, critical ideas – particularly within the mainstream media – are being replaced by splintering and often self-isolating online communities. This issue is increasingly acute in Canada and the United States, where online echo chambers and confirmation bias have begun to fuel public demonstrations in real life.

The World Economic Forum noted these risks in its 2013 Global Risks Report, where it found that “digital wildfires,” or spontaneous outbursts of chaotic online activity, can lead to serious consequences – from “terrorism to cyber attacks and the failure of global governance.” Once playgrounds for tech-savvy culture geeks, online communities are quickly becoming silos for singlemindedness. 

For those interested in strengthening the public commons, where civil discussions can take place between individuals and communities with differing perspectives, the best solution begins with developing strategies to better appreciate critical perspectives that don’t easily align with our most tightly held beliefs. 

In an American Psychological Association study published in 1984, researchers found that the problem of confirmation bias could actually be corrected when people were encouraged to consider information in a more personalized way. In one experiment, study participants with staunchly pro- and anti-death penalty views were provided with research that either confirmed or contradicted their beliefs. In both cases, the information only strengthened their respective positions on the issue.

But when the participants were asked to consider the step-by-step processes behind how the information was gathered and whether they would have made similar decisions along the way, participants overwhelmingly conquered their confirmation bias. As cognitive scientist Tom Stafford recently wrote about the study, “It isn’t that we don’t want to discover the truth … all people needed was a strategy which helped them overcome the natural human short-sightedness to alternatives.”

One potential way for people to overcome the siloing effect reinforced by social media is to experience live public debates, particularly situations where contrasting perspectives are given space to be heard. Events like The Courage to Lead are serving a crucial role in allowing the public to access leading thinkers engaged with hot-button topics that might not get the platform or breadth of viewpoints they deserve in mainstream media or social media.

On November 18, a number of prominent activists and authors will take the stage to discuss topics ranging from the role of citizenship, the potential impact of entrepreneurism, Canada’s current place in the world and connecting personal stories to wider audiences.

Over the past twenty years, Penguin Random House Canada has been at the centre of many of these conversations and continues to publish seminal works that challenge prevailing wisdom, from Naomi Klein’s No Is Not Enough to James Orbinski’s An Imperfect Offering. Past public debates have included day-long symposiums that raised money for charities like PEN Canada, Frontier College and the Toronto Public Library Foundation.

The Courage to Lead panels

Citizen and Community | Speakers include Pat Capponi, Desmond Cole, Sheila Watt-Cloutier and Jay Pitter. Moderated by Gill Deacon.

Boldly Canadian: Celebrating the Entrepreneurial Spirit | Speakers include Anthony Lacavera, Bruce Poon Tip and Kirstine Stewart. Moderated by Tina Srebotnjak.

Canada and the World | Speakers include Adrienne Chan, Naomi Klein, Renu Mandhane, James Maskalyk and James Orbinski. Moderated by Brian Stewart.

Telling Our Stories | Speakers include André Alexis, Camilla Gibb, Deepa Mehta and Gregory Scofield. Moderated by Rachel Giese.

Visit the Penguin Random House Digital Residency to find out more about The Courage to Lead (November 18).  

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