On humility, democracy and talking to each other

During my walking around Liverpool as the year has turned I’ve been thinking a bit about what and how I write on here – and about the coming up  GeneralElection. Here are a few of my thoughts.

Looking down into a winter garden.

First, about shouting and being opinionated.

This instant publishing on social media can easily lead to positions of self professed importance for us bloggers and tweeters, it seems to me. Unedited by others and not necessarily taking much time to reflect on what we’re saying, we find anyway that the stronger the views we express the more reaction we provoke. So we can get into the habit of never expressing a view mildly and certainly never appearing to have any doubts. Because doubts don’t get ‘likes’ do they? And mild opinions don’t provoke comments. So being strongly opinionated and shouting louder and louder about our opinions is the nature of the game around here, isn’t it?

Well actually, as I get older and having been doing this writing in public for a good while now, I’m not sure.

I think I am sure about some of the things I am. I am a ‘we’re truly all in it together’ socialist. But everyone who isn’t a socialist isn’t wrong.

I am also an atheist. But everyone who isn’t an atheist isn’t wrong.

In fact I’m increasingly finding I love reading about the opinions and discussing the opinions of people who, for most of my life, I’d have had little time or patience. Because it’s boring always reading and talking with people who agree with you. And because I’m not sure. And in discovering the joy of not being sure I am discovering humility.

In the past year, affected by much walking and thinking, by my contacts with the Liverpool Quakers, the deeply thoughtful spirituality of Leonard Cohen’s last couple of LPs and interviews, a splendid day of multi and no faith conversations in Liverpool Cathedral, my own deepening conversations with my friends and new people I’ve encountered. And even through reading the sincerely held convictions of traditional and conservative thinkers I’ve discovered the degree to which I’m not sure. The degree to which human goodness and sincerity can be found in places where I’ve never gone and looked for them before.  And I therefore have the confidence to say, more and more frequently, if only to myself, I don’t know. What do you think?quaker02

Some of this is about democracy. And about responsibility. What shall we do? What’s best? And saying, I’m not sure. Let’s talk about it. Really talk.

I don’t think it’s about me ‘settling in my ways’ or ‘moving to the right’ – things people are often said to do as they get older. If anything I find I’m becoming more socialist, more questioning and opinionated, whilst at the same time becoming less able to follow particular party lines. I want to talk now. Really talk.

Nor am I saying ‘they’re all the same, politics doesn’t matter.’ Politics profoundly matters. It’s the mechanism we use to decide how we run the places where we live.

And coming up now is the once every five years opportunity we all get in this country for true democracy, our General Election. Yes sure, we do get regular local exercises in democracy, but now most of the money and real power to change things have been gathered into central government, a General election is our only chance to democratically change how the country is being run.

So as we arrive in Election Year and as the Election Strategies begin to be rolled out. And as the shouting starts about immigration and bigotry and the  media follow it round, call it reporting…let’s all slow things down and actually think. With the wisdom of generations. And the humility of the newly arrived.

Let’s try out some humility.

The humility to know the generation of humanity we happen to live in is merely part of a continuance. A tradition, if you like. Not something static. But something like the blues, like a  tradition that each generation deepens with its thoughts and its experience. If we can only have the humility to realise that humanity did not start and, probably, will not end with us.

Let’s talk. Really talk.

In the background of the Angel's Fishing Rod seeds, waiting for springtime.

We don’t know everything. In fact, as individuals we know hardly anything. But all together? Imagine what we could do if we could sit down and talk? All of the things I am, to all of the things you are. Really talk in real places. And talk on here, in social media. But with more of a sense of enquiry than we are used to. With more of a tendency to welcome people into open discussions. People who might not have voted before. Because more people voting in a democracy is important, isn’t it? Let’s try behaving like adults.

In quiet humility. Knowing we’re all of us not sure. Let’s spend these next few months really talking and really listening to each other. The way things are we only get a real say in how this particular country is run every five years. So let’s make sure we have a real say by talking.

In Scotland a few months ago we all got the beginnings of a flavour of what might be possible when a whole country really talks. So let’s try it again, all of us this time.

But not with empty hash tagging. Not with vacuous ‘likes’. And not with pompously haranguing people to ‘retweet’ or else. I might be wrong but I don’t think any of that infantilising people works.

You’ll know where I’m mostly coming from if you’ve read much of what I’ve been writing on here these past couple of years. I’m a socialist and I think austerity politics is a grave mistake that can even appear to be a deliberate and cynical attack on most of us, aimed at using a banking crisis from a few years back to change and limit the nature of democracy in this country forever.

But I might be wrong. And so might you. So let’s talk.

14 thoughts on “On humility, democracy and talking to each other

  1. jacqpatiniotis

    Do you know the writer of this blog? (Ronnie) He seems a very thoughtful and well read man. I think he lives in South Liverpool x x x

    Reply
    1. Ronnie Hughes Post author

      He does. Though I am from and often in North Liverpool too. Thank you for ‘well read’ – it’s taking me all my life and I’ve never yet walked into a library that doesn’t surprise me with new discoveries.

      Reply
  2. Lucy Ferman

    Happy New Year – always love reading and thinking about your blogs and this one I could really relate to as an increasingly “shouty” woman but one who knows (despite what others sometimes think!) that my views are not necessarily “right” and that there will always be others to learn from. So talking, listening and humility are as you say essential but expressing opinions (and being free to do so) is key.

    Have you ever read any of the C16th French writer Montaigne’s works? The master of humility whose famous question “Que sais-je?” (What do I know?) is inscribed at his old chateau near Bordeaux. We’ve got another of his sayings inscribed on the wall of our loo – “No matter how high your throne, you still have only your arse to sit on”!
    Here’s a link to a piece about him you might find interesting which refers to him as the godfather of blogging:
    http://www.brainpickings.org/2014/01/07/how-to-live-montaigne/

    Reply
    1. Ronnie Hughes Post author

      Hi Lucy, I’ll definitely go and read about Montaigne, he sounds a good sort. And good of him to turn up at your house 500 years ago and write on the toilet wall!

      And of course I’ll always come out with my opinions. I can’t not. But I think it’s important we all realise that’s all they are, for all of us. Mere opinions, which may well end up contributing to what we all eventually decide to do, but benefit immeasurably from being shared out and tested, in a friendly way, with everyone else.

      Reply
  3. Cathy Alderson

    I thought I was alone in thinking that the older (and supposedly wiser?) I get, the less sure I am about things.
    A case of the more I think I know, the more I realise I know very little and feel less sure about.
    There are, however, some things I feel much more passionately about, to the point of wanting to campaign and protest loudly.
    People talking is definitely the way forward. That Pink Floyd track “Keep Talking” says it all. David Gilmour said this about it:-

    It’s more of a wish [that all problems can be solved through discussion, as ‘Keep Talking’ suggests] than a belief. [laughs]

    —David Gilmour, 1994

    I believe it, rather than wish it. Definitely, Keep Talking!

    Reply
  4. Ronnie Hughes Post author

    Yes, being less sure and saying so in public is, I find, a great relief. But I doubt that the political leaders will be doing much of that in these next few months. It’s not the style that’s evolved is it? Though it’s ok in memoirs.

    I spent many quiet hours over Christmas Reading Denis Healey’s memoirs. And of course coming to reasonably respect someone I always used to have down as a bit of an opponent of my particular views in the 70s and 80s. Respecting him for the thoroughness of his thinking and explanations of what he did and didn’t do. But also for the amount of honesty displayed in how unsure they all were so much of the time.

    Let’s get used to being unsure and saying so at the time, I say.

    Reply
  5. Helen Devries

    I wasn’t fond of Healey’s views, but I always thought him an honest man and honesty is what I wish for in a politician. We have recently had elected an honest man as President of Costa Rica and there is already a sense of change – though he is getting no end of stick in the media,owned by the oligarchs who have run the place for the past twenty years.

    Talking to each other is important, not just for the exchange of views, the opportunity to have our eyes opened, but to be able to trust in each other’s decency and thus, with luck, be able to build a system outside that of the existing political parties. It won’t come tomorrow, but we could start the process today.

    Reply
  6. Martin Greaney (@histliverpool)

    I was just wondering who said something about knowing what you don’t know, so thanks to Lucy for reminding me! I recently found the Penguin Classics version of his Essays: a selection. Appropriately, there are a few things in there I don’t agree with too, but overall it’s the thinking element which makes it a standout work.

    As someone who’s online a lot, I do worry about the so-called ‘filter bubble’, whereby all our (esp social) media act as an echo chamber. We’re getting less used to hearing points of view which differ from ours in our online social circle, and at the same time more used to shouting down the ones we do hear. It does us good bow and again to think about opposing views (I ground my teeth through a Roger Scruton book a while back). If nothing else, it helps us strengthen our own arguments in defense.

    Reply
    1. Ronnie Hughes Post author

      Very true about the filter bubble. And I fully empathise with you about Roger Scruton. I recently managed a whole Peter Hitchens book and enjoyed it once I calmed down and stopped arguing with every sentence. As I said, no point in spending all your life reading books by people who most likely would agree with much of what you already think.

      Reply
  7. stephen sullivan

    I do so agree with what you are saying here Ronnie.

    We have opinions & beliefs about ourselves, other people & the world itself. Many of these beliefs we hold close to our heart/minds being pretty much fixed and not open to change. They represent who we are, what we’ve been through, what really matters to us and our hopes for the future.
    However, these beliefs to my mind do not define who we are. We are greater than that. If we are not careful our beliefs act as too big a protective shield against further experience be it good or bad. A defence mechanism. My life, your life or any other persons to this point in time is simply a story/narrative.

    It is so important to me to drop that protective shield for a while and really listen to others (even as the old thoughts & beliefs run quietly in the background) without judgement & reflecting upon what has been said. Einstein reckoned imagination to be greater than knowledge. Listening to the thoughts & experience of other people stimulates the imagination whilst acting upon our own beliefs is responding to prior knowledge or learning.

    That’s the beauty of the “live blog” events recently held at the Everyman.
    Stephen

    Reply
  8. stephen sullivan

    Sorry to “hog the blog” here Ronnie but I want to add a quote to expand upon the point I was trying to make earlier….

    “We suffer from a hallucination, from a false and distorted sensation of our own existence as living organisms. Most of us have the sensation that “I myself” is a separate centre of feeling and action, living inside and bounded by the physical body — a centre which “confronts” an “external” world of people and things, making contact through the senses with a universe both alien and strange. Everyday figures of speech reflect this illusion. “I came into this world.” “You must face reality.” “The conquest of nature.”

    This feeling of being lonely and very temporary visitors in the universe is in flat contradiction to everything known about man (and all other living organisms) in the sciences. We do not “come into” this world; we come out of it, as leaves from a tree. As the ocean “waves,” the universe “peoples.” Every individual is an expression of the whole realm of nature, a unique action of the total universe. This fact is rarely, if ever, experienced by most individuals. Even those who know it to be true in theory do not sense or feel it, but continue to be aware of themselves as isolated “egos” inside bags of skin.
    ~ Alan Watts

    Reply
    1. Ronnie Hughes Post author

      Thanks for all these thoughts Stephen. I too enjoyed the conversations at the Everyman and how they seemed to remind all of us there about the joy of talking and listening as an open exchange. The conversations going where we collectively wanted, rather than where any one of us thought they might.

      No doubt there will be more live conversations this year, maybe in different venues or circumstances, just to see what effects places themselves have on what we think. I certainly feel deepened by listening in a way that mere writing never comes close to.

      Reply

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