I have re-blogged this because my response to it is too long to sit in a comments section.
It is easy to confuse politeness and kindness. I do not believe they are the same thing.
It’s true that the English are the masters of politeness. The art of not saying anything too controversial, keeping the peace. That comes at a heavy price, in my opinion.
The trouble with avoiding anything controversial in order to avoid, god forbid, open disagreement is it usually involves not showing who you really are, largely because you want to be accepted and liked. Because you just want to get along with everyone.
If someone accepts/likes/gets along with you because you have carefully avoided letting them see what you really are – someone who they might actually dislike – then what value is in that? Whatever positive social strokes you might be getting from it are fundamentally a lie. I would rather be avoided by people that dislike me for who I am than accepted by people to whom I have projected a false version of me. Not everyone in the world will like me. I’m cool with that. Hanging on to excessive politeness breeds superficiality in our relationships.
It also breeds passive aggressive behaviour, the art of distancing and avoidance without actually saying as much. People are not daft and such rejection/dislike is often thinly veiled at the best of times, so you can wind up trapped in a never-never land of pretending to give a damn with someone when really, you don’t.
My second wife hated confrontation. She would go along with stuff when she actually hated it. All to keep the peace. The net overall effect was an ever-growing pool of resentment and unresolved issues that eventually hit breaking point. All for the sake of politeness, of avoiding conflict. If I am in conflict with someone, I want to know, not have them pretend it’s all OK. That way lies madness.
A lot of her friends/acquaintances through work, this being West Yorkshire, were casual racists. I had to smile and nod in their houses while listening to odious remarks. OK, the fact that I found those remarks odious is my personal opinion but – it was my personal opinion. She found them odious too but never said a dickie bird either, excusing people on the grounds “oh that’s what people round here are like”. Refusing to challenge things does not get you anywhere. It allows things to fester and potentially multiply. It is politeness that keeps quiet when your colleague is being bullied, or discriminated against. God forbid you should make a stand or take a side, set yourself against the bully who you would rather not have a confrontation with.
Confrontation and kindness are not mutually exclusive. I can fundamentally and openly disagree with someone on everything from politics to religion via sex, and still, if that person is having to deal with shit, or themselves being abused or having their rights trodden on, exhibit compassion and kindness to them on the grounds of their humanity regardless of whatever differences we might have.
The English are bad at agreeing to differ, so just bury it all away. Also, what the recent referendum has highlighted is that people struggle to tell the difference between fact and opinion.
Abraham Lincoln refused to be polite about slavery. William Wilberforce refused to be polite about the exploitation of child labour. The Pankhursts refused to be polite about the exclusion of women from democracy. Elizabeth Fry refused to be polite about the treatment of prisoners. Martin Luther King refused to be polite about American prejudice and racism. Sometimes, politeness is not a virtue.
Yesterday I watched David Cameron outside 10 Downing Street, being calm and dignified in the face of overwhelming political defeat. This was something my generation grew up with and took as read – that an Englishman would be generous in victory and gracious in defeat. That was ‘only cricket’. I can’t say I’m a fan of Westminster, politicians, the establishment or the political élite but he managed that particularly sad situation just as you – or we, in earlier times – might have expected an Englishman to do.
So whatever happened to the rest of us?
Last night I watched a young, white woman drown out an elderly academic during what was supposed to be an interesting political discussion on the results of the Referendum. He was an old, white man, she shouted, and that was why he felt entitled to talk over her and steal her air time. I…
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