Tuesday, 31 January 2017

We start today with a love story…

It was a warm summer evening as Rupert and Jemima strolled the fields of Dingley Down.  He turned to her and took her hand: Jemima was entranced with love! Everything was a blur… she had forgotten her glasses.

They had often walked this way before - that is, putting one foot in front of the other – and the warm meadow grass felt soft and lush beneath their feet… and then soft and lush beneath their hands as they tripped and fell flat on their faces. The two love birds got up on their feet; nobody else’s were available.

They desperately wanted to marry and they both had youth on their side, the outcome of a drunken visit to a tattoo parlour in Benidorm. However they faced a major hurdle: they needed the blessing of the most dominant of grandparents. Grizzly and tough, a pipe smoker with a deep gravel voice, and never far from a whisky bottle, grandmother Cardomane would not be easy to persuade. Yes it was she who got cold in the family’s hairy tent. Sorry, I mean it was she who controlled the family’s inheritance.

I think I had better leave it there after that mistake…

There is nothing so warming as a story of true love. The simultaneous beating of two hearts, and the promise of a life of unity spreading ahead. However unity seems to be in very short supply of late, and this prompts me to re-visit this much posed question: “Why is it that we humans, so capable of love, and charity, and generosity, can end up causing such deep divisions in humanity?” Let’s look at some examples:

The population of the UK has been split in two by the Brexit vote. Passion still runs high on both leave and remain sides. Numerous well-attended anti-Brexit protests have been held, such is the anger at the outcome of the referendum. In a weekly BBC televised political debate, where members of the public can put questions and comment from the audience, normally polite people can be very insulting to each other. For example, ‘Leave’ supporters referring to ‘Remain’ voters as ‘Remoaners’, and ‘Remain’ supporters questioning the basic intelligence of those who voted ‘Leave’.

In America we have seen news broadcasts showing images of anti-Trump protesters on the streets – ‘Not My President’ one banner read - and now President Trump has just introduced the country’s toughest immigration regime ever, all be it temporary, and cancelled certain trade agreements which has been met with concern from US and overseas leaders, institutions and society. Reuters reported that House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat from California, evoked an image of the Statue of Liberty weeping.

In Germany the Social Democrat Martin Schulz – who will attempt to challenge and unseat Chancellor Angela Merkel this year – gave a speech to 1,000 supporters in Berlin, speaking of deep divisions in Germany and said he would fight for greater fairness and social unity. Germany’s Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble reportedly acknowledged that Germany made mistakes with an open-door policy that saw more than a million migrants enter Germany over the past two years. A poll conducted earlier this month suggested that refugee policy would be the biggest issue for voters in the September election. Immigration was certainly a major factor in the outcome of the UK’s referendum. At this point however let’s remember that migrants are human beings and not commodities.

I have only covered a few divisions, and the task of healing them is gargantuan, but there are things we can do. Academics have the tools to make a contribution, and any contribution no matter how small is worth making. Just like Rupert and Jemima we may fall on our faces sometimes, but the academic community has a responsibility to promote critical objectivity wherever possible, as the antidote to ill-informed, subjective thoughts and deeds.

We need to develop the healing path of mutual respect and understanding based on honest, truthful, critical objectivity

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