I’ve just come from talking with a man who is 100% unionist and whose company, on the few occasions I meet him, I enjoy. And that set me thinking about something: when I was working on my book (yes, the one you should rush out and buy for Christmas – Whose Past Is It Anyway? – and if the shop hasn’t got it, ask me and I’ll sort it)…Where was I? Oh yes, brief commercial…But I was struck during those interviews by the frequency with which I found myself liking people whose political opinions are totally at odds with my own. I find no problem in separating the two – the politics from the rest of the man/woman – but I’m beginning to wonder if there isn’t something wrong with me. Most people seem happy to confer sainthood on those whose opinions they agree with and to consign to damnation those whose opinions they disagree with. Does that make sense?
Not as I see it; but I suppose it’s linked to affirmation. To that good feeling we get when someone tells us, either implicitly or explicitly, “Your political views are excellent – they agree with mine. You are an intelligent chap”. And when someone disagrees with us, it’s easy to feel they’re dismissing you along with your opinions.
Really, this shouldn’t be. Political thinking is only part of our intellectual make-up. There are views on sex, religion, art, psychology, plumbers – the rest of human knowledge, in fact; and on these you may very well agree with your political opponent. Or maybe you like your political opponent simply because s/he is a cheerful and thoughtful conversationalist. There are so many elements go to make up the entire person, it strikes me as daft to dismiss someone because we see one part of them as being defective, or at least different from us. That’s why I’ve always had a slight question-mark over that line from the Bible, where the heavenly choirs at Christmas sing of ‘On earth, peace to men of goodwill’. Leave aside the non-reference to women: shouldn’t we be wishing peace to those we consider to be of ill-will as well? Or even especially? Note, I’m not saying befriend them, but do leave yourself open to enjoying other aspects of their personality.
See? I’m doing my damnedest to move away from the instinctive ba-humbug that this time of year tends to provoke in me. So in case I miss tomorrow, Nollaig shona duibh go leir – Happy Christmas to all, especially to those who detest my political take on the world.