It’s raining heavily in London today. Facebook in its infinite creative wisdom has informed me and the rest of the UK that it’s the first day of summer today. Some of us are seething at the injustice of it all. Heavy rain in June: that’s just our sodding luck, isn’t it?
Peering out from underneath my inadequate umbrella I can see that my right arm is sodden, and the briefcase hanging over my left shoulder has turned a darker brown. This isn’t such a problem. Not really. The extended downpour has a healing effect. The damp soaks into the clothes, through the skin and promises it will make its way all the way to the bones. And it needs to.
Sometimes, a good soaking is what we all need. I’d much prefer to put the over-used tea towels on a boil wash leaving the detergent to do its thing, than resort to a short intense machine wash. Take your time. Reflect. See what comes out of its own accord.
The tea towel is blood-stained. It has the blood of those who were slaughtered in the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando. It also has the blood of a public servant who in the process of doing the job she so passionately believed in was repeatedly shot and stabbed to sate the deflected anger of an unhinged individual who justified his inhuman actions in the rhetoric of the far right.
There’s even room on the tea-towel for the friend of old whose real view on homosexuality and the life I have with my partner have only just revealed itself. The revelation was shocking. I can hear the unsaid counter-argument now: “If you’re so happy with yourself, why do you need my approval?”
Against a backdrop of hate we’ve all already observed in the US Election campaign, the Orlando shootings, and the murder of Jo Cox MP, that thinly-veiled bigotry about homosexuality masquerading as ill-informed middle-England hate is just as a difficult a pill to swallow, especially when its hyper-local.
Should I be surprised? Hasn’t it always been that way? Isn’t the only difference today compared to this time last year, for example, that we’re more aware of it, because we’ve had to confront it?
For the past week or so I’ve thought about friends, family and associates I’m all connected with on social media and pondered what their reaction to the myriad of atrocities has been over the past year or so. Where do they stand? How has the sickening news from these events changed their thinking? Could it have done? Should it have done?
Is it wrong to expect it might have changed their thinking? Is my expectation that it might have done another example of the over-simplification of everyday life that gives a voice to emotional, ill-thought and ill-informed reactions? In expecting people’s viewpoints to change, am I over-simplifying things myself and creating a dangerously polarised view of the world too?
The answer is that I have a personal responsibility – we all do – to remain vigilant. To question the motivations of someone’s heinous crime or personal affront and see what we are responsible for. And when we’ve done that, we need to look further, to see what we can proactively do to rectify the situation, or whether there is much than can be done to rectify it.
And while we’re doing that we have to remember the word ‘respect’. Some years ago, I was filming a panel discussion at a journalism conference at the LSE. The great and the good stood up to say their thing; assembled journalists interrogated them just as journalists are expected to do. Jeremy Hunt – then Culture Secretary – was one of them and while the atmosphere was noticeably tenser when he spoke, I wasn’t prepared for the strong reaction the journos for a raggedy crowd of protesters who broke into the lecture room and continually interrupted him. In that moment I recognised that however much people disagreed with a politician’s view on his own portfolio, there was widespread agreement that allowing someone a voice was the decent thing to do. More than that, allowing them their space was a basic human right.
We need our space to reflect on our own view. That reflection gives us the chance to challenge that view, to see whether it fits with our core values, or whether that view is the result of a negative influence unwittingly inflicted on us. That time also gives us the time to decide on what the best course of action is.
Such questions take time to answer. That’s why the tea towels need to soak in the water for a while. That’s why the extended downpour is well-timed.