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Civic Culture Personal Reflection Social Engagement Uncategorised

The Left in Danger – Winning the battles, losing the war

First, let me clear the ground. I do not like the right wing attitudes that are suddenly (or suddenly to me) acceptable to spout in polite society. I do not wonder that people hold them, but I do wonder that these opinions are lauded and not seen as embarrassing. The policies that this climate is allowing to get through are detrimental to society and to the well being of the world in my opinion.  Yes, a struggle is on and we need to succeed in at least damage limitation.  Every battle needs more people than there seems to be available.

However, I want to get across something that is being lost in the midst of the battle. We need to keep the big struggle in view. The big struggle is not for better rights for women enshrined in law, not for the better treatment of migrant and not for better welfare.  I want all those but I worry that we are too often if focussing on them gaining pyrrhic victories. We are at the same time as technically gaining a legal or democratic victory losing those who would be our allies in other battles.

The big struggle is for the hearts and minds of the people. When we have that then we have the others will come. However, if we succeed in alienating most people then we will lose all we have struggled to gain eventually. That means we need to watch the method and tone of our argument.  So much of today that passes for debate is actually two sides becoming more and more entrenched. We think about the fight as if it is a duel between two already formed teams

Two guys fighting in a mire with cudgels, the more they fight the deeper they will sink
Fight with Cudgels (Spanish: Duelo a garrotazos) is a painting by Francisco Goya (Museo del Prado, Madrid) showing two men duelling with cudgels.

The fact is that it is a lot more fluid than that. Individuals are always making decisions on whether to participate, which side to participate on and how much energy to give. There is thus the immediate opponent or opponents but also the onlookers. Now some of the onlookers are moved by the strength in battle but others are moved by other things. These include

  • how much space you give those who join in to hold their own views
  • if you care about the issues that face them as well as your central cause, however worthy your cause.
  • are they able to influence the strategy or are they just battle fodder
  • is the underlying morality a matter of deep faith or just surface politics
  • how you deal with the ambiguity that occurs in most people’s lives
  • can they actually talk about something that is not directly relevant or is their only the campaign
  • is it ok to take time out to care for family or will that be seen as not caring
  • is there a greater narrative here or is this seen as a one-off issue

Those may sound as general questions but I think we need to be very careful that we never, ever think that the effort for any particular cause is worth sacrificing other people. Ourselves we can sacrifice and to be among the highly committed can produce great comradeship. However, if comes to something else when we think we have the right to ignore the humanity of those who are working with us. We can and will only grow if we can engage with the humanity of other people.

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