Increasing extremism

Increasing extremism

In a noisy world, it is often said, s/he who shouts loudest wins. That is certainly the belief of some of the right wing of the US Republican party. It is true of Mr Putin. And, apparently, of Hamas – perhaps to counter some slightly less noisy Israeli precedents. There are many other examples in the world, in our workplaces, in our entertainments, in our homes. Noise is a threat of power. If it doesn’t frighten the opposition into submission, we become physical. Noise of all sorts is violence, embryonic at first. We pay our diplomats to maintain quiet voices. They are finding it increasingly difficult to do so. 

The politicians controlling them are demanding vitriol. They do so because the voters want it, too. Where a feisty half-hour seated in the public lavatory debating the issues of the day suited the Romans, we now expect a bawling Trump to substitute rant for reason. Even the advertisements on television, pathetic as many of them are, depend increasingly on a racket to urge a purchase. Noise is not only violence, it is vulgar, common, irrational and ugly.

Someone asked me recently ‘What was the happiest time of your life?’ I explained that I am very fortunate to have enjoyed almost all my life. If I had to choose a period when I was most ‘at home’ it would be when I was working on farms, initially from the age of about ten, more substantively when I was fifteen to twenty. The countryside wasn’t always quiet but it was always ‘paced’. It took that pace from the seasons and led young people like me towards ‘the promise of tomorrow’. That’s how I got that definition of a sunset.

Now the world is urban. There are still many good people. They are more educated than the farmhands I worked with, some of whom were illiterate. But I see a real decline in the wisdom of people today. Wise is appreciation, nothing more. Look at the definitions of wisdom and you find that they are all circular – “wisdom is the sum of wiseness”. Not at all. Wisdom is turning a conversation with a frog into an exchange of joy. Wisdom is seeing what can make others happy because that is the only way we become happy ourselves.

So where is the wisdom in war? Where, in noise and violence? Where, in hate?

The answer is that greed is the powerful engine of economic growth, the grail towards which we have been taught to drive – the faster the better. We even created Concorde to prove we could beat the speed of sound! ‘I am’, not ‘to be’ but to grow in whatever way makes me competitively richer, fitter, longer-lived. 

None of that is wrong until greed gets a capital G. Then the journey is not being assisted by the engine but driven by it. When we learn that the journey is only as long as it is going to be, that it is a huge privilege to be on it and that the happiness of those around us will determine, to the last degree, precisely how much we shall enjoy it, then we shall hear the beauty of silence, the patience of peace and the wholeness of appreciation.

Let the inventiveness of humankind steer our thinking to greater kindness. Let our skill for seeing beyond the functional to the enchanting teach us the value of appreciation. Replace the bombs with words. Slow the pace to one we can walk. Fill the minds with what is best, not what is most beastly. Stretch out the hand to help not hurt. Make our God our neighbour.

Bring a cloak of moderation to a world of exacerbating extremism.

Listen to the silence and hear the sound of wisdom. Share that wisdom as a daily communion with someone else. Let that daily habit forgive any who need forgiveness, enliven any who don’t.

And let the balm of moderation replace the ruthlessness of excess.

Only humans can do that.

Good morning

John Bittleston

Can you suggest how to reintroduce wisdom? If so we’d love to hear from you at 

11 October 2023