GRUMPY old man alert! Long ago, when I was still a student, my family and I
GRUMPY old man alert! Long ago, when I was still a student, my family and I moved from deepest darkest Shropshire to a county I won’t name, but somewhere north of Watford.
On day two, Little Brother and I went to the local shop, and Little Brother asked for something, medication I think, from behind the counter. As he handed over his money one shop assistant looked at the other and said “Eeee, i’n’t ‘e POSH?!” It wasn’t our accent, there is nothing remotely “posh” about an authentic Salopian accent. The shocker was that he had said “Please” and then, even greater novelty, “Thank you.”
Now this isn’t going to descend into a Meldrewesque rant about declining politeness, though it justifiably could! I have been struck lately, though by the level of sheer contempt displayed in public discourse lately.
The contempt our leaders show for each other and the contempt many show for the intelligence of the general public — that is to say you and me. The EU referendum brought that home to me clearly. Since the vote I’ve read too many articles which suggest directly or by implication that Leave voters are old, stupid, racist or all three at once.
It is currently a very fashionable labour-saving device to label anyone who disagrees with you about some moral or political question as a “hater”, a “racist”, a “denier”, or a “bigot”. Labour-saving because if you can persuade people to believe it then that absolves you from dealing with the actual arguments and reasons of your opponents. It is an easy emotional trick, not a philosophical or political argument. When we play that game on our blogs, our Facebook pages, in the comments section of online newspapers, when we casually attribute the worst motives to others, when we fail to listen to their reasons and arguments, we treat them as less than human and we poison the atmosphere.
This is just as dangerous in it’s own way as the air pollution. The common courtesy of listening and responding is an endangered habit in many areas of our culture.
Christianity has always taught that every human being is made in the image of God, and is therefore precious and to be valued and respected accordingly. That is the ultimate basis for democracy. But in practice what does that mean?
I can do no better than quote Richard Dawkins, no mean exponent of the rhetoric of contempt, but who gave much better advice to his 10-year-old daughter. “And, next time somebody tells you that something is true, why not say to them: ‘What kind of evidence is there for that?’ And if they can’t give you a good answer, I hope you’ll think very carefully before you believe a word they say.”
Precisely so. If you disagree, or don’t understand, ask questions. Don’t just dismiss or deride. That alone will sweeten the atmosphere in which we all operate. And of course “please” and “thank you” always help.