Michaels: Checking biases and finding support key to changing beliefs

Cities and provinces need to do more to create social cohesion

Clutching my pearls tightly, I flipped on all the lights in my house and set off the car alarm when a young woman, who was seemingly high as a kite, wandered down my driveway and back into the dark from where she came. The neighbourhood is so old that there are no lights to illuminate where exactly that may have been.

She’d randomly appeared in the dead of night to ask for the use of my phone and access to my home, which is on a dead end street deep in the suburbs. She didn’t seem distressed, but her arrival certainly caused me to feel that way. And while my child and husband weren’t sharing my discomfort, my trusty sidekick, a senior citizen chihuahua, went out of his mind— two against two added credence to my concerns.

After all the locks on the doors and latches on the windows were checked, car keys and phone set up beside me and the bat beneath my bed fitted with new and sharper nails (ha?) there was some time to check my bias — my new old-lady bias. Heavens to Betsy, I found a drug-addled bogeyman right at my front door and it had me all aflutter. What’s become of me?

When this kind of reaction occurs in neighbourhoods that aren’t my own, my eyes roll into their most comfortable position of judgment and my head shakes. Then my colleagues and I discuss NIMBYism, small-tow-ism, heartlessness and whatever you can imagine. It’s also when I forget that while logging birthdays I’ve become less woke — also signalled by how much I hate the word “woke.”


Once upon a time I lived in neighbourhoods others would not tread. Travelled slums in developing nations. Rode on subways where cartoon villains tread, all in the way of my people.

My parents pride themselves in making the choice to live in urban neighbourhoods, before and after the so-called unwanted elements arrive. Like Depeche Mode once sang, people are people. Most aren’t horrible. And when they are you’re more likely to know them than not. Reams of stats support this.

One Stats Canada report that cites studies from 2006 and 1979 shows that victims often know their attacker. The offender was a stranger in just under half (48 per cent) of violent incidents, after excluding incidents of spousal abuse. Robbery was the crime most likely to be committed by a stranger (63 per cent of robberies) while sexual assault was the least likely to be (44 per cent of sexual assaults).

That said, giving myself the benefit of self-doubt, I found another fun stat.

Risks of violent victimization tend to be higher among people residing in a neighbourhood with low social cohesion. Low social cohesion was found to be associated with a higher risk of violent victimization. Strong social cohesion generally refers to a neighbourhood where people know each other, help each other and share common values (Charron 2009; Forrest and Kearns 2001).

For example, in 2014, lower rates of violent victimization were observed among people who considered their neighbourhood a place where people help each other (69 incidents per 1,000 population) than among people who believed the opposite (136 incidents per 1,000 population).

This made me realize a few things about myself. I need to get to know my neighbours, something we’ve increasingly done less as a society.

Also, it made me realize that local and provincial governments can do more when it comes to assuaging the not necessarily illegitimate concerns of their citizens who are now dealing with more social problems in their neighbourhoods, whether this be from social housing or simply changing realities.

Not everyone chose to live in a neighbourhood with these issues and so they may not have the tools to do so properly once they arrive out of the shadows.

Community building and education are a significant element in dealing with changing realities. While we all need to check our biases when we feel uncomfortable, fearing the unknown doesn’t make people terrible.

It means it’s time to suss out some more information and support.

Heavens to Betsy, it seems pretty obvious. In fact, if we really looked closely at our neighbours and thought about what they had to say, I think they’d know this.

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