‘Nasty’ is never acceptable

‘Nasty’ is never acceptable

‘Nasty’ used to be a word of displeasure, disgust and disapproval. It described something that was unpleasant, unacceptable and unwanted. We sometimes found it in the woodshed. At school one of my classmates was soundly beaten for saying “nasty mouse” – not out of sympathy for mice but because of the use of a word no child was permitted to utter. Absurd, of course, but the point illustrates the lengths people went to just to avoid ‘nasty’.

Now, nasty is the basis for making a case, whether against or by a politician, whether to attract attention or to promote a cause. The nastier the better? I think the nastier the worse. Nice may be a rather bland, tepid word, devoid of judgment, commitment and gusto. Nasty is more than the obverse side of it. It is a lack of mutual respect, it is a punch on the jaw where a cogent argument is what is needed to make a point.

Nasty has come about because we stopped using our brains, forgot the two world wars that resulted from nasty behaviour, didn’t practice the beliefs we professed but blatantly ignored. Now we are headed down a ‘nasty’ road that goes straight to ‘kill or be killed’. Can we pull back from excess that can only destroy the society our ancestors so laboriously built? If the answer is education why has our widely dispersed increase in knowledge and education failed to teach us that nasty is the destroyer of meaningful life, not its guardian?

What we have witnessed in the US election campaign is nothing short of disgraceful. It has used nasty as never before. If turning American politics on its head results in a useful shake-up of the monstrosity of unfairness and the outrage of financial imprudence prevalent in the world it will be in spite of the method, not because of it. Those who have employed the nasty tactics will be shamed forever, not least to themselves by themselves.

We say our education system needs to be reformed to take account of freely available knowledge. Surely we should think more about the reform of the system to imbue standards that substitute for those handed down from the pulpit. These old standards are today seen as outdated, although it must be said that, whatever the validity or otherwise of the beliefs underpinning them, they were workable, at least when they were accepted.

Free speech, a generous vocabulary, media that reach everyone in minutes, are the cornerstone of a free society – at least until it shackles itself with intemperance and excess. The only way to re-order the standards we have rejected is to redefine who we are and why we are. We will only achieve that when we understand what we must do to treat other people as more important than ourselves. We used to do this with religious beliefs about powers beyond our world. Why can we not see that those same powers lie within our world, in the people we live with, in the global society we are becoming?

The responsibility for overcoming ‘nasty’ belongs to each of us, not to a President, a Priest or a Policeman. One less indulgence in ‘nasty’ may be a very small step.

It is, at least, a step in the right direction.