My Berlin friend has strong views on many topics. We disagree on rather a lot of these, which I find interesting if a little challenging at times. He has a similar background to me and is highly intelligent academically. I find it curious that, what I would call our baseline beliefs, differ so markedly.
We were both raised in Belfast by working class families at the height of The Troubles. We attended local Grammar schools and went up to university at a time when this was still unusual amongst our contemporaries. From here our paths diverged. Ian stayed within the folds of academia for many years, developing his interest and participation in theatre until he emerged with a job as an arts critic on a national newspaper. He pursued a career that matched his interests; I pursued a career that could earn me money.
This difference in early ambition perhaps characterised what developed into our differing value systems. As an example, we have markedly different views on what we would define as fair regarding wealth distribution. Although we would both support tolerance and acceptance of differing lifestyle choices, our political ideologies are poles apart.
One of the reasons that I wished to spend time with Ian was that I am aware that I mix with people who generally agree with my own baseline beliefs. I hoped for discussions that would shine a light on why he thinks as he does. I was also keen that my children should gain an understanding of this alternative point of view. Although I will always try to offer them both sides of an argument, it can be hard to explain reasoning behind certain political beliefs when I do not fully understand myself why people think as they do.
It turns out that this is a hard goal to achieve. Our evening discussions in Berlin touched on the impact of Margaret Thatcher, the Unions and membership of the European Union, but did not get to the bottom of why Ian’s views differed so emphatically from my own. Before my children could gain an understanding, the discussion had become dangerously heated and had to be diffused for the sake of our friendship. I concluded that these topics were just too close to Ian’s heart and were not open for debate.
Politics and history are convoluted; reasons behind events are hard to define simply. Although Ian and I had lived through many of the pivotal moments discussed, our memories did not always tally. Our reactions to events also differed, perhaps due to personal experiences at the time. I was living and working amongst people whose goal was to establish a well paid career in business, get married and raise a family in comfort. Ian was living in major cities amongst actors, writers and others whose lives were linked to creativity and the arts.
Although the time we spent together in Berlin has granted me a clearer understanding of just how ingrained political beliefs can be, I am no closer to working out why Ian thinks as he does. We appear to have similar views on ideal outcomes of political policy, yet would support radically opposing means of getting there. I guess if there were clear and easy solutions to these societal problems then politicians would adopt them. It is the uncertainty of success and the complexity of application that presents the difficulties in achieving desired solutions.
The evening discussions in Berlin that centred around music were much more satisfying than our attempts to delve deeper into British politics. Ian has an encyclopaedic knowledge of the background and development of the genres in which he is interested and succeeded in giving me an understanding as to why some people choose to listen to bands whose music I find grating.
Back in the day, when I first got to know Ian, he and some other mutual friends were creating cassette tapes of music under the Cemental Health Records label. I could recognise their early passion for experimenting with sound in the Krautrock bands he introduced me to in Berlin. Knowing his regard for the late DJ John Peel, I began to understand the attraction. I doubt that I will now choose to listen to the music, but I can at least appreciate a little better why others do.
It is this understanding that I was trying to achieve with our discussions around political beliefs. I did not expect to change my opinion, nor to influence how Ian thinks; what I was looking for was improved comprehension. Perhaps I should have realised that such views are rightly described as beliefs. Some things cannot be fully explained, being an ingrained and sometimes inexplicable part of a person. To question their validity is to question credibility.
The world would be a much more tedious place if we all thought the same way. Ian and I can continue to hold our differing beliefs and remain friends. We are both exasperated with the current political situation and wish to see similar outcomes in so many areas. I now suspect that there is little to be gained from trying to discuss the best way to achieve these though. Whatever the reason for our beliefs may be, we seem highly unlikely to reach agreement as to the most effective way forward.
I was aware at the time how much effort you were taking to calm the troubled waters, and I should have mentioned it then: I was and am grateful. I hadn’t realised how much it was costing you in terms of sacrificing your own desire to discuss, and I’m truly sorry.
I hope that we will have other opportunities to do so in the future Ian. This trip was as much for my children as for me so I wished them to contribute to the discussion; a factor that added fuel to the flames as you experienced the more polarised and bluntly stated views of an intelligent and interested fifteen year old who is trying to make sense of disparate adult opinions. We all learnt from the discussions, even if the lessons were in how to listen and accept difference rather than in understanding particular views.