Monday, 2 December 2019


Despite the calls to unite the country and bring people together I don’t see it happening nor do I think it should. Maybe we should recognise that we are designed to argue and disagree.

Most of the enthralling works of fiction involve conflict. The best music in operas is in those with the most depressing plots. Life is not like Love Actually. Life is awkward. 40% of all marriages end in divorce and the worst emerges when people are thrust together. Happy Christmas everyone.

Take families. I was talking to someone from a large, ostensibly very close family recently and asked if they spent much time together. “Not if we can help it” he said grimly. When I was small my big brother got on pretty badly with me and once memorably confided “I don’t like Richard at all.” Unfortunately for him I idolised him and the more I worshipped him the more he was enraged. As we got older we started to get on very well. Maybe we mellowed. Maybe getting on better just takes time (like wine). 

The current election reveals how deep the fissures in our society have become (or is it that divisions that have long been there are being more strongly exposed?) The history of Civil Wars in America , Spain , Sri Lanka, Somali, Eritrea/Ethiopia and back in the 17th century in Britain suggests reconciliation is often rather superficial.

If we recognise that Civil War and uncivil arguments are part of the human condition where conflict is about matters of principle (whatever they may be) not about money and not usually about really important issues, we might get somewhere.

The Brexit argument has been around for a very long time. Since the 11th century England has had grave reservations about the French and their opportunistic takeover of this country. Centuries of equally grave reservations about the French, the Dutch, the Spanish, the Papacy, the French (again) and the Germans involving constant disputes, sorties and wars fill our past. Britain didn’t suddenly take against Europe in 2016. The awkward British were merely acting true to form.

Some would call this the British character. A more accurate description might be that our history has shaped in us a disputatious tendency and a covert desire for a good punch-up given the slightest opportunity. The only way we can get on a bit better now is do something we are terrible at. Listening to each other.

The ability of our leaders to be grown up, diplomatic and civilised would be a good start. Fat chance, unfortunately. given the current cast of politicians. In Travels with Charley: In search of America (1962) John Steinbeck went on a road trip with his poodle Charley, discovering the racism in the southern states was as raw as it had always been. He urges us to understand each other: “Try to understand men. If you understand each other you will be kind to each other. Knowing a man well never leads to hate and almost always leads to love.”

It’s time to try and understand our differences not pretend they’ve gone away or can be easily resolved because, sorry, they haven’t and they can’t.

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