Commenting recently on what seemed to me to be a lucid and thoughtful article by a British Member of Parliament about the UK Government, I made two brief points. One was that I thought most political parties in the democratic world were in search of better leaders. I added that I thought leadership today required ‘the gift of self’. Having made my two somewhat bland points I glanced through the other comments that had been made. It was still only a couple of days since the article had been published. I was astonished to find that all the other comments then posted were rampantly vitriolic and nasty – and posted under pseudonyms.
Everyone has a right to their opinions. Democracy doesn’t work unless those opinions are expressed and debated. Nobody has a right to be rude other than for amusement, and even then their biting comments should be clever not vulgar. A look at the social media confirms that smart, thought-provoking comment seems to have substantially given way to mindless, ill-mannered tirades where the use of obscenities and nastiness are apparently seen as acceptable substitutes for wit and wisdom. This is particularly strange in a world where there is better (or is it just ‘more’?) education than ever before, where the ability to communicate is well advanced on anything we have previously seen and where children are supposed to be protected to a greater extent than could have been imagined even thirty years ago.
Presumably the argument for such abusive language is that reason is ignored and only violence – verbal or physical – is effective. The persistence of war in the world rather supports this view. And yet the majority of humankind is clearly against war – at least until it comes to asserting a specific group’s wishes. The incredible example of the United States torn into opposing nations by issues as far apart as racial equality, facilitating murder by firearm and the right of a woman to decide if she wants to have a baby may be used as evidence that reason doesn’t work. It is certainly proof that violence and abuse are not credible alternatives to it.
People of sense do not expect to achieve a perfect world, much as they may seek it. But they do expect a habitable one. With the planet’s gross over-population and carbon-controlled climate, the imposition of famine and currency destruction would seem to be leading towards some sort of Armageddon. But humankind is far too intelligent to succumb to that. What then will provide the basis for a renaissance of civilisation? The American Constitution entitled every individual to the freedom to pursue happiness. Happiness is certainly what people want in life but relatively few seem to be getting much of it. What went wrong?
Two things. First, happiness is not pursuable. As Nathaniel Hawthorne said ‘Happiness is a butterfly; pursued, it is always beyond our grasp but if you sit quietly it may alight on you’. It can be achieved more actively than that, too. When our behaviour is caring for, and generosity towards, others it will certainly alight on us. Second, happiness has little to do with possession beyond the basic necessities of life. What turns out to be pursued, not only in America but across the world, is money – the vehicle for possession. Countries, armies, societies and institutions do not form the basis of a happy society. Only one thing does and that is personal standards, whether as British Prime Minister or as Russian Czar.
Who is to model this desirable standard? Only you and I, I think.
Shall we widely condemn ‘Hate talk’ and make our thoughts known to those who indulge in it?
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