Recently there has been a lot of fuss about Russia. I don’t mean to demean the fuss, but to put it into context, international relations have always had their ups and downs, and at times of great political heat, populations tend to get caught up in the bias. I was thinking how it relates to the fuss that goes on in families – the same accusations, the same misinformation, the same provocations, the same reactiveness. I was wondering what could be learned.
There are a few characteristics of these times. Remember, perhaps, the Iraq war(s), and how various pieces of ‘information’ were assembled into dossiers and presented as fact. In particular, chemical and biological weapons, it was implied, existed, and were quite possibly to be used. Wording was found that pushed the known truth to its boundaries and slightly beyond, to maximise acceptance of the desired political stance. The public and Members of Parliament were made to feel disloyal if they did not join the lying (or twisting of the truth); if they did not, they were accused of being traitorous in some way.
What are the main things that change when things get intense?
Think of the last argument you had with a loved one. I bet it was hard to avoid statements like ‘You always…’ When we’re annoyed, and in the heat of the moment, our angry selves take over, and make the truth subservient to our personal needs. We are inclined to borrow from the truth to support our own perspective. It’s not how it should be, but we do it because we think we are under attack.
Currently, politicians are lining up to show their loyalty to the UK by inventing new phrases about ‘Russian Oligarchs’ and ‘Putin’s henchmen’. The implication is that Russia (we don’t really know what we mean by this) is somehow irredeemably bad, and will always do bad things. The only option, apparently, is to stand up to Russia, to ostracise it, reduce its influence, and starve it of resources, until it comes to its senses and gives in. Life is not that simple, but we don’t care; we just want a clear enemy.
Governments have an advantage here. Logically, they must keep a part of government private, to do investigations. Politicians have access to such investigations before the public. Therefore, politicians are in a position to imply anything they like, and to hint that someone, somewhere, in the private realm, has disclosed evidence to them. No member of the public can challenge that.
In this way, at times of threat and haste, no one has time to wait for conclusions. Politicians have great power, in that they can assert what they like, and loyal staff will not contradict them, for fear of being disloyal.
The temptation to manipulate public opinion is so great, that politicians use it en masse, and then cannot turn back, because they might seem to be supporting ‘the other side’, whatever that other side, that enemy, might currently be.
Again, think of the last time you got upset with a loved one. During an argument, or an intense situation, we can be tempted to speak first, and check our facts later. It is almost impossible for us to restrain this urge to pretend we know more than we do. We are desperate to gain control of the story, and so we assert what we can, especially when no one can prove us wrong. Religion can be misused in this way. Who can argue if someone says that God has inspired their point of view?
Suddenly, when politics gets intense, a ‘for or against’ mentality applies. In personal relationships, too, we make the same distinctions. Watch a couple splitting, and you will often see a great wariness about the ‘story’ that gets put out. Friends’ loyalties are tested, as each ex-partner tries to ascertain who is ‘on their side’. Families often divide on biological lines, and one or other party can lose a lot of friends overnight.
In the current frenzy about ‘Russia’, Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the opposition, has been accused several times of being somehow allied with the enemy, when he simply calls for restraint, and patience, in waiting for evidence to come through about the truth of a situation. It takes a strong person, and a lot of integrity, to remain steadfastly connected to a calm perspective when everyone around you wants you to take sides. But it’s how wars start, and we’d do well to look at Mr Corbyn’s example, whatever our political perspective. Waiting is unfashionable, but it often pays off in the modern intense political arena. A lot can change in a few days or hours.
So, in families, or among friends, or in politics, three things in particular can go wrong:
1. We start making sweeping statements about our enemies
2. We stop waiting for evidence, and pretend we know things we don’t
3. We start trying to alienate those who disagree with us
In personal lives, the kind of things we say include:
‘John was always difficult. I think he’s got a psychological disorder. I saw him with Jane the other day. He’s such a nasty piece of work. I don’t know what she’s thinking.’
In political lives, the kinds of things we say include:
‘Jeremy has always had links to socialist governments. He’s unelectable. He’s now trying to defend Putin. I don’t trust him.’
THE MIX OF FACT AND FICTION
In all our lives, all the time, fact and fiction are linked. That’s why we read books, return to life, read more, live more… fact and fiction are fused in an alliance which helps us learn about life. In a right relation with each other (when our intentions are compassionate), they help us. In a wrong relation with each other (when our intentions are malicious), they turn our minds upside down.
WHAT CAN WE DO?
So what’s a better way to be? Well, remember that famous poem ‘If’ by Rudyard Kipling:
‘If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you…’
That poem advocates maintaining a peaceful calm and a clear perspective whatever the circumstances. It’s worth a re-read.
In the meantime, maybe, to protect yourself against all the truth-bending:
1. Stop talking so much, and just listen.
2. Wait and see.
3. Be compassionate towards everybody.
There may be a time when you need to take sides and fight. But just make sure you’re not being manipulated in the moment. Make sure you’re not accidentally fighting someone else’s battle. Make sure your intentions are free of bias.
Modern politics is increasingly ‘in the moment’ and frantic. To protect ourselves, and the truth, we need to get better at listening, waiting, and being compassionate. That way, we can’t be manipulated into fighting other people’s battles. We can stay free to make peace.