Tuesday, 25 September 2007

Early political memories

Gwe and Johnny have both kindly passed this one on, so here’s my attempt. It isn't easy to select, because there was so much happening in the late 1960's, but I'm opting for a conjunction of two events in 1968 - mostly because of the lessons they teach.

There was a point during that year when there were Russian tanks on the streets of Prague, and British tanks on the streets of Belfast. One newspaper published a picture of a youth stoning a tank, and later received a letter from a reader which read something like “Thank you for your graphic picture of the youth stoning a tank. But can you tell me please – was the youth a Czech patriot, or an Irish hooligan?”. So many lessons there:

Life is not a cowboy film. You cannot tell the goodies from the baddies by the colour of their hats.

One person’s goodie is another person’s baddie. To the Czechs, the youth was a patriot; to the Russians, he was a traitor to the revolution. (And a similar dichotomy existed for the young Irishman.)

Whether someone is a ‘goodie’ or a ‘baddie’ changes with time. Hence, most governments end up negotiating with ‘terrorists’ eventually, and ‘terrorists’ often end up as ‘heroes’ and ‘freedom-fighters’. Ask Mandela.

Events are often essentially neutral. What makes them, or the participants, ‘good’ or ‘bad’ is oftten more to do with our own preconceptions about the circumstances and the participants than with the objective reality of the events themselves.

Events are filtered. Unless things happen on our doorsteps, we only see them as filtered by the news media – and they have often decided for us what’s ‘good’ or ‘bad’ before deciding how to cover the events.

And most of all – we need to try and understand opposing viewpoints and the basis for them before there can be meaningful debate. Debating from the standpoint of our own preconceptions without being prepared to examine and challenge them leads only to a dialogue of the deaf. Or stones against tanks.

2 comments:

gwe said...

"And most of all – we need to try and understand opposing viewpoints and the basis for them before there can be meaningful debate. Debating from the standpoint of our own preconceptions without being prepared to examine and challenge them leads only to a dialogue of the deaf."

Couldn't agree more! Thanks.

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