Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Let them eat poo

What's going on here?

His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales (HRH) has said something sensible, interesting and important. A large number of intelligent, good-hearted people have commented. (I got this from the amazing Eclecticity, who was sharp enough to spot that this was probably not a full or balanced report, but couldn't resist the joke headlines.) Two questions occur:

  1. Why were 98% of these comments so crass? (I'm not sure I've ever used that word in my life. Is it right? crass Yep.)
  2. What lessons can we draw for our own life and work?

Why would sensible people make stupid comments? 
Not knowing the individuals, I can only guess:

There is a ready-made story that superficially fits.

The story of the ruler who is out of touch with reality is as old as Cnut (the 10th century anagram who ruled an empire including Denmark and England but was unable to command the tide to stay out). HRH is a natural fit here. Like a US Supreme Court judge, he is accountable to no-one and nothing except his family and conscience. He has always spoken the truth as he sees it, knowing full well that the press will mock him. In an age of spin and sound-bite, he is a magnificent anachronism. (This does not make him irrelevant. The Prince's Trust is a practical counterblast to populist demands for zero tolerance.) 

I am looking in the wrong place
There is something about the Internet which draws a disproportionate number of stupid people. 
I don't believe this. The same people often demonstrate great wisdom in some posts and apparent ignorance in others.

I am looking in the wrong place
The comments on a popular blog are not supposed to be about scholarly analysis. They are a place to show your allegiance to the tribe. Clear, hard hitting professions of faith are the order of the day. And trolling raids on rival tribes, of course.
I am wrong
Clearly ridiculous. 

Lack of respect
Respect is neither admiration, which must be earned, nor deference, which is out of fashion. It is simply thinking of another human being as a person like you (or like the person you aspire to be). Not a thing. Not a threat. Not a victim. Not a problem. 
Here, people are not treating HRH with respect. That is fair enough: he's a public figure. But it does mean that they don't even attempt to work out what he was saying. Worse, though, they aren't treating the slum dwellers with respect. So they are not open to the possibility that they might be leading meaningful lives and have wisdom we could use. This is plain stupid.
Fluffy? Not at all. Using ourselves as models may be misleading, but usually it gives us the best chance of understanding. Without respect we can only build grotesque caricatures. And before you know it, there are heads on spikes. 
This story came from the Telegraph, a British paper. HRH's views are well known and widely pilloried, but it is possible that a humorous headline could have drawn attention to a serious article. Humour does not always travel well.
What can we learn?

Decide: tribal or thoughtful.
If tribal, disengage your nagging internal critic and get swept away on a wave of joyful glee or righteous fury. Let your love, or hate, flow like a mountain stream. THEN edit. If you must. 
If you plan to lead a tribe, of course, you need to be both passionate AND thoughtful. Tricky. Which is why we can't all lead. 
If thoughtful, I try to answer the question: "what would persuade me to say that?". This at least assumes some doubt and gives the other person its benefit. 
It doesn't always work, though: I'm only human. Which is rather the point.
Any other ideas?

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