You are what you believe
THE ambition for this column, when it was first published in The Daily Telegraph about three years ago, was that it should be the starting point for discussions about the things – the fundamental things – that people believe, or profess to believe.
To give you a bit of guide, there’s this bloke I know who once said to me that he “believed” in two things; the first was that you should always make sure your shoes are good, and the second was that a well-sprung bed was essential. And yes, they’re pretty important beliefs. You don’t want to wake up with a bad back, and bunions are definitely not a good look.
I’ve got this other mate who believes emphatically that anyone who votes for the Labor Party is certifiably – possibly even criminally – insane. And interestingly, he’s married to a woman who will not allow any criticism, nor scarcely any discussion, of her belief that Christ is the son of God and our only hope of salvation and life eternal.
The word “belief” is interesting – interesting in the sense that we pick up the intensity with which it is employed by context. While my mate with the good shoes and the comfortable mattress would argue strongly in support – no pun intended – of his two big beliefs, there’s no doubt the strength of his feeling is not on the same Richter level as my conservative voting buddy’s belief in the lunacy of Labor. And even his conviction palls beside his wife’s unshakable faith in the omniscience, the perfection and omnipresence of her deity of choice.
So the perhaps-ponderous intention of this column, when it was first offered, was to prompt discourse around “beliefs” in the third, and possibly in the second tier, as characterised above; “core” beliefs as they might be described by Kevin Rudd, as opposed to smaller “beliefs” by which we regulate the day-to-day detail of our lives. And that’s still the idea, ponderous or not.
Yet it’s intriguing; some of topics in previously published Belief columns which generated the most vigorous debate were not really matters of any great depth or weight. One of them was about whether the legal alcohol limit for drivers should be reduced to zero – more than 150 responses, for and against, to that one. Surely that is a matter of opinion, rather than of any deeply held conviction. Or perhaps not.
But the point is, some topics surprise by the vehemence of the responses and opinions they give rise to. For example, there’s the story of the famous American newspaper advice columnist Ann Landers, who once presumed to tell her readers how they should hang their toilet rolls; end over or end under. The social division on the issue, as revealed by the inundation of correspondence she received, was deep-seated and both sides stuck to their guns with extraordinary tenacity. This was very definitely a matter of real belief.
Or go to any office business meeting and ask for an assessment of the company’s present position in terms of trading opportunities, strengths and weaknesses, threats and challenges. Expect mono-syllables, or silence. But ask for views on where to hang the key to the coffee cupboard and expect to be late home for dinner.
So, there you have it. This column is about beliefs – any beliefs. Anything you hold to be true, anything you think ought to be defended.
And as you’ll see, a lot of The Punch is about politics. This column won’t be - except for today.
I believe we’re ill-served by our present crop of politicians at virtually every level of government, but not because they’re corrupt, or incompetent, or lazy, or dull-witted. By and large, our elected leaders are hard-working and diligent. But it looks from my admittedly distant vantage point that virtually all our politicians mistakenly believe their first duty is to the adversarial nature of their trade, rather than to their constituents.
In short, their stock in trade is the trading of insults, not the free exchange of ideas for the better management of our society. They don’t just disagree with one another, they seek to discredit, to denounce, to ridicule and to abuse. It’s an unedifying and distracting spectacle which does credit to none.
I reckon we deserve better than that. What do you think?
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