IT IS the best of times; it is the worst of times. The best of times because people are passionate and engaged and the worst of times because people are divided and vitriolic.
It seems in the age of Brexit and Trump, politics has become part of everyday life in a way that maybe it never has done before. But as the political temperature continues to rise, there seems to be more heat than light and some of us, quite frankly, seem to be losing our minds.
It’s not a new phenomenon, but with David Lammy recently comparing the ERG to the Nazis, hysteria and hyperbole have well and truly hit the mainstream. Does Mr Lammy really believe that comparison to be valid, or was it a shameless piece of politicking? Either explanation would be egregious, but somehow I think it was a bit of both.
I believe that most people are reasonable, but it seems as if we only ever hear from the extremes on both sides. Wanting to leave the EU isn’t a perfectly valid critique of a political institution, it’s the unconscionable destruction of our children’s future. Having some concerns about immigration isn’t a pragmatic analysis of logistics and social cohesion, it’s a heartless turning away of the world’s needy. The truth often lies somewhere in between and we’re all obligated to try to find where that is if we are to have any hope of moving forward.
So now, whenever I hear something that makes my blood boil, I take a deep breath and make a genuine effort to give a good-faith reading of what is being said. Is that what this person really means? OK, their wording was clumsy, even insensitive, but what was the spirit of the thing they were trying to say? Added to this, we shouldn’t see it as a weakness to question our own opinions. This doesn’t mean changing what we think when the wind blows, or having a conviction and then knowingly abandoning it by giving in to peer pressure, but we should be open to new evidence and new perspectives. There really is nothing to lose (other than our pride) and everything to gain. I often have doubts about whether or not my own conclusions are correct, or if they have been compromised by bad information or some subconscious bias. To reflect in this way can have only two possible results: either you will be proved wrong and as a consequence set on the correct path, or your convictions will be reinforced and become the stronger for surviving the test.
So, let’s assume the best, but prepare for the worst. Let’s give people the benefit of the doubt, allow them to make mistakes and, potentially, change their mind. After all, we’re only human and we all make mistakes. If we can do that, maybe when the real Nazis finally do come along, we’ll still be able to recognise them.