I find myself feeling increasingly isolated by the groupthink I see everywhere these days.
Am I the only person who is uncomfortable with the spirit of the times which divides people and judges them on the basis of what they believe or how they vote?
(Photo of a memorial to prisoners of war killed building the Thai-Burma railway in World War 2.
Hellfire Pass, Thailand)
How sad it would be
If I believed in tolerance so strongly,
I could show no tolerance
to those who saw things differently.
If I praised diversity in all things
except opinion.
If I defended human rights
with personal abuse,
foul language
or violence.
If I believed those who thought differently
were stupid,
or evil.
If I my belief in a cause
stopped me reaching out in friendship.
If I believed I held the truth and it were mine alone.
How sad it would be.

The Sadness of Labels

I've written on this previously, but the world, by and large, hasn't taken much notice.
Perhaps then, one more try will do the trick?
Online comments tacked on to the end of media reports often depress me. You know, where readers vent? It's not so much the lack of grammar, spelling, or abusive put-downs (bad as they are), that bothers me, but the almost complete lack of anything resembling conversation. The communication in these venues, if you can call it that, is pretty much like that of pre-schoolers and because of that, is pretty much pointless.
One of the comments at the end of one opinion piece this morning, bucked the trend, and pressed my interest button:
“So many people talking but in separate orbits often so not really knowing what the whole 'conversation' is. So much for the global electronically connected village, eh?”
This wise observation nails my concern. We don't listen to each other. We talk at each other: parallel conversations going nowhere and contributing to the white noise of alienation. As well as filling electronic pages with self centred twaddle, we just love to use labels, don't we?
Unfortunately, labels have a down side. They can remove the need for empathy at times when we badly need to show it. Labels can make the people less visible and less human. A nuance, like the value of another person, evaporates in the heat generated when we use labels. We can say things and think things and do things to labels that we would not do to living, breathing people.
Labels can be used as weapons against ideas as well as against individuals; quite handy for shutting down communication and stopping debate. Labelling an idea “offensive” places it somewhere we don't need to consider it seriously or respectfully any more. It shuts down debate, and also, most likely, prevents any possibility of resolution. There are others like that one that are quite handy for the same purpose: 'Racist'; 'Homophobic'; 'Islamophobic'; 'Queue jumper; 'Fascist'; 'Subversive'; 'Medieval'; and so on (the list is long).
You know the labels people use. Like me, you probably use them too. I am certainly no saint (another label). I can see the failings and the stupidity of others with crystal clarity. Unfortunately, as valuable as such ability undoubtedly is, and however righteous it helps me to feel, I can also see that it serves only to build walls. The labels I assign so freely do a similar thing. Not only do they prevent me seeing my fellow human beings, they prevent me from listening to their wisdom. All right, some have more or less than others, but you get what I mean.
If I had begun this post by saying I believed the western world faced an existential threat from muslim extremism, would you have immediately reached for a label to attach to me or a box in which to place me?
I have a deep seated sadness in me at what has become of us in this messed up world. I don't think we need to sit in a circle holding hands, singing songs of international goodwill. That would just allow the wolves free reign. Some threats need to be identified and dealt with accordingly.
That deep seated sadness in me, however, will not be healed by the necessary elimination of existential threats, nor the resort to labels to shut discussion down. For me the path to healing is the path that takes me to my neighbour's door with a listening ear.


(Peregrine Tours website image)

The last two days have been a blur. Sunday night I was packed ready to leave for a solo trip to India on Monday morning. Sue has a full time job and allowed me a leave pass. I was about to strike out on the sort of adventure that retirement makes possible. At least, that was the plan.

About 9pm Sue started to complain of abdominal pains and within an hour we were on our way to the Emergency Department of our local hospital. Acute appendicitis was the diagnosis and surgery indicated for Monday. To my shame I spent time trying to work out an angle where I could still fly out the next day. A better person would not have hesitated, and immediately embraced the obvious imperative of putting the loved one first. Not that I would ever have left Sue in the lurch. It was just that I was doing the mental permutations that might have allowed me to have my cake and eat it too. I’m so glad I stopped doing that and concentrated instead on her. That love is the stuff of life was, once again, made obvious to me. I need these reminders apparently.

So that my India plans are not all wasted I will take the opportunity to use the only two words of Hindi I managed to learn.

Google tells me ‘namaste’ is an everyday greeting meaning something like: “The spirit in me salutes the spirit in you”.
While I haven’t experienced its use in daily life, I like the imagery this word evokes. Just as I am special, so are you. Not one without the other. Both together.

Which gets me thinking. Since beginning retirement I have become a daily tragic when it comes to online opinion columns and the contest of ideas. Up in arms and full of indignation I fire off several killer missives most days. A warrior in the battle of ideas, I expose sloppy thinking and intolerance wherever they raise their heads. Well and good I suppose. There certainly is a battle going on out there for hearts and minds; a battle I fear my side is not winning. The language and spirit of the times works against those who value tradition and reference to authority. If you are not ‘progressive’ then what are you; ‘regressive’? For goodness sake!

But enough of that. Why I mention it at all is because I see an allied trend that worries me. While strong and vigorous public debate on values and ideas is a healthy thing, a tendency to label those with different ideas as bad, evil or barely human is not. Political debate in everyday life has become toxic. Not only are opinions polarised, but also there is a kind of group think with a temptation to seek out those who agree with us and shun those who see things differently. Neither progressives or conservatives are immune from this temptation, and we are all the poorer for it.

I find I have to stop myself sometimes. It is so easy to dismiss people who see the same things I do and yet interpret them diametrically oppositely to how I do. They must be simpletons, blind fools, or worse. I know I am not alone in this. A scan of any feedback column anywhere will confirm just how many idiots, scumbags, fools and lying subversives there are out there. I hope I am not alone in feeling sad about all that needless alienation.

Namaste: the spirit in me salutes the spirit in you. You may not believe as I do but that does not mean you are a fool, or insincere. You may very well be either or both those things, just as I may be from time to time, but I know in my heart that God made you just as beautifully and lovingly as God made me. That stops me short from time to time. And it should.

To my opponents, enemies though you may or may not be, deluded though you might or might not be, enlightened as you might possibly be, don’t think what I have written above gives you a free kick. It’s still game-on, but I say to you: ‘Namaste’.

The other Hindi word?

‘Shukriya’ (Thank you) for reading.

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