The weather has recently turned hot and I don’t like it. Every year we get a heat wave that seems to be exactly what every one else has been waiting for and all I can do is close the curtains, lie down and wait for it to be over. I don’t sleep well, I feel groggy all the time, I feel like my ability to think roughly halves. And the worst is you can’t even complain about it. If you say something like ‘I hate this and I can’t wait for when the weather cools down so I can eat soup and wear a jumper and actually get some sleep’ people scowl at you, like your words could actually precipitate the onset of winter.
I was thinking about how we limit the things we talk about. For a people committed to the idea of free speech and the validity of individual opinion, we manage to find a lot of ways to stop people saying things that we don’t want to hear. The reason I was thinking about this was because recently, as you might have heard, the UK has been going through some really big, interesting political shifts. The EU referendum and the recent general election have meant politics are really in the forefront of a lot of people minds. But often when I tried to talk to people about it I heard the old cliché; don’t talk about religion and politics.
But how do you not talk about politics when you are living through politically significant times? Or, more pertinently, what motivates people to stop other people talking about politics? Or anything, for that matter. I am sure there is a whole spectrum of reasons why any one person might might seek to stop another person talking. Some people just seem bored by the whole subject. Talking about brexit with someone recently I was asked by someone at the table but not involved in our conversation to stop talking about brexit. He was just fed up of it. Someone else told me we should not be discussing brexit any more because it was a democratic referendum and now the question has been settled once and for all. This person, tellingly, was pro-brexit, and had been arguing against the results of the 1970’s EU membership referendum for the last thirty years. Interestingly hypocritical, right? And very revealing about why he might want to silence further discussion.
Good dialogue has to be open and it has to be honest, and we are not always very good at honest discussion. I think we are pretty good at expressing ourselves honestly a lot of the time (but of course not always) but the thing we seem to be a little poorer at is honest listening. Are you ready to hear things you don’t want to hear? Can you tolerate being disagreed with? Can you test your ideas against someone else’s without taking it personally? These things aren’t easy to do, especially with incendiary subjects and especially when it sounds like someone might be trying to take something away from you.
So is the question when do you stop arguing? My friend who wants the recent EU referendum to be sacrosanct and left alone but also wanted to argue against the previous one obviously can’t have been right in both instances. So which one was more right? Well, I think he was right to spend thirty years arguing against the referendum. You should never stop arguing. Our arguments should be inclusive, honest, respectful, but they shouldn’t end just because we are told they are over. Keep testing ideas out by butting them against opposite ideas, and keep adjusting your position based on what comes of those arguments. Honesty sometimes means hearing things you don’t want to hear and sometimes it means having to realise you have been wrong all along. But when someone proves to you that you are utterly, inescapably wrong about something, well that’s a real gift, and you won’t get it by silencing other people.
This is such a deep subject but I really believe we are improved by having better conversations and to have better conversations we need to begin by being better listeners. First, listening to other people, then by becoming better at listening to ourselves.
Anyway, I’m going to go and get some water now because even with the windows open and the curtains closed it is still way too hot and I am not comfortable and I don’t like it. I can’t wait for the cold weather to get here and I’m sorry if that’s not what you want to hear.
Also, before I go, I know that one of the reasons people tell me personally not to talk about religion and politics is because I can become boringly opinionated on these subjects. I know that, and I am working on it.