Things that ‘everybody thinks’

(This is more thinking aloud than ‘knowledge’ … hoping to spark off some discussion so we can learn from each other)

I watched a little bit of ‘Grumpy Old Holidays’ last night (for readers who haven’t heard of this franchise – including ‘Grumpy Old Men’ and ‘Grumpy Old Women’ – they’re TV shows which feature famous people essentially whinging about their pet hates, in a moderately entertaining manner). I really shouldn’t do this; I end up both mildly amused and wanting to give them A Look and say “for goodness’ sake, if it bothers you so much then avoid the situation. And if it doesn’t bother you that much, then stop dwelling on it, you’ll only make it worse” – not that any of them would care at all about what I think about their pet hates, which is quite right, they’re people like Sheila Hancock and I’m, well, not.

An interesting thing about the show is its dependence on shared experience. The format works because it is assumed that you, the viewer, have also had these experiences and will exclaim “Oh yes! That is really annoying!” and it comes out in how things are phrased – “the hotel is never what it looks like in the brochure … the holiday rep is always chirpy and irritating … of course you steal food from the breakfast buffet for lunch …” – all these built-in assumptions about other people’s experience.

These assumptions are obviously false, and I think anyone would probably admit that. People may well say, though, that they are useful and a good way of making sense of the world. I disagree.

The assumption that everybody else’s experience of the world is like mine is a pretty dangerous one. It can make me more judgmental, because if something is easy for me I assume it is easy for other people – and then look down on them if they fail to reach my personal moral standards (also, I assume that they are trying to live according to my personal moral standards). It can also make other people seem more bizarre and ‘other’ – if something seems easy for them but is really hard for me, I don’t understand why, and see them as strange (although admirable) and unlike me. It means that I dismiss arguments that rest on experiences that I have not had, because if I haven’t had that experience then it can’t be typical, so is invalid … (this is all starting to sound like it’s tied up with narratives of privilege, and assumptions like this definitely tie into that, although I probably shouldn’t start discussing that here because 1) I don’t know enough and 2) it would take a very long time).

I try very hard not to assume that everyone else’s experience of the world is like mine.

Assuming that everyone else thinks more or less like me can also lead to apathy, which is also dangerous – “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is that good men do nothing”. ‘Oh, nobody thinks that really … (so I don’t have to argue for a moderate point of view)’ ‘Nobody would do something like that … (so I don’t need to worry about it)’ – someone, somewhere, does think that and would do that. cf The Internet.

But although it is not the case that everybody else’s experience of the world is like mine, it is true that everybody else is human, like me. We have to stop seeing people as ‘other’ because they are of a different religion / sexual orientation / social class / gender / accent … I find it hard when I hear people say things like “I don’t see how anyone can fail to get 5 GCSEs” (Year 11 qualifications) in a way that implies that such people are incomprehensible. You don’t see how? Really? That’s a statement about your own ignorance, then … it is not hard to identify a myriad of factors that lead to low achievement in schools, and there but for the grace of God you might be.

Similarly I find it hard when I hear things like “Of course women can do such-and-such, men can’t …” because it’s the same ‘other’ness. Why do we try to divide humanity by all of these lines and categories? That’s how we manage to do terrible things to each other – by reducing the people we disagree with to a ‘them’, not ‘us’, they’re different, they’re other …we demonise each other. Why?

Maybe because it’s easy? Maybe because a good way to unite a community is to give them a common enemy? Maybe because it can be used to manipulate other people? I get that it can be a good way to get political power – e.g. demonising women who have abortions and calling them murderers can probably get you votes in some parts of the US.

But really – people are not the enemy. (Even the extremists, although I find that hard to swallow, but I think it is true.) People are not the enemy. There are lots of things to fight, like injustice and fear and apathy and ignorance and poverty and suffering and loneliness and prejudice … and it gets a lot easier to fight them when we realise that other people are human, like us, and maybe we can fight these things together.

Comments? Thoughts? Disagree with me? What can we do? I think for now all I can do is try to live this way myself and maybe I can influence people I know personally … any other suggestions?

And for the record: the ‘Church’ in the US that wants to burn the Qur’an DOES NOT SPEAK FOR ME. It does not speak for Christians in general – as is clear from the public outcry. It is a shameful and disgraceful idea.

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