Live and let live

I find the people that I know fascinating, particularly when I disagree with or simply do not understand their likes, dislikes, views and reactions. In that sense, I guess, I shouldn’t say that I actually know them at all. I can observe, discuss and learn more about them, but there is so much that I cannot comprehend. I enjoy these differences; the world would be such a boring place if we were all the same.

Often it is the most trivial of things that will baffle me. I have lovely friends, kind and generous people, who look forward to watching and discussing television programmes such as Strictly Come Dancing, X Factor or some cookery programme. I remain perplexed as to why anyone would wish to spend their time watching these things. I guess they must find enjoyment in them and in sharing the experience with like minded family and friends. Time spent enjoying oneself is never wasted time. Then there are the many who gain pleasure from going shopping; they don’t even need to buy anything to find it a pleasurable experience. I find shopping stressful so avoid it when I can. I never seem to be able to find what I want without search, click and compare functions at my fingertips. It truly amazes me that people pay to go on day trips to shopping centres. I do realise, of course, that there are plenty who would not choose to spend a day walking in a big circle to nowhere in particular, through inclement weather, as I regularly choose to do.

Other friends and acquaintances have strong views on issues that I would disagree with. I love to observe how they argue for a cause and then live their lives in a way that challenges their argument. Too often I catch myself doing the same sort of thing. I regularly mock my views when I realise the hypocrisy that I display in espousing one opinion and living another. I will continue to try to do better but cannot be held up as any sort of good example.

Whether or not I agree with how another person lives their life I do not feel qualified to ask someone to change. I do not wish to be told what to do and I would not try to tell someone else how they should behave. If it causes no harm then let people be what they want. When harm is caused then that can be debated and discussed, but none of us live a life that leaves no footprint. I do not believe that we should condemn others for thinking differently to us.

I would like to retain the right to think that someone else is wrong; to be able to say so without offending but rather to express a view. Likewise I would wish others to be able to tell me if they think that I am wrong. I wish to neither try to force a change nor put down another’s point of view. Healthy debate, where no one need feel offended by differences of opinion, can help us to understand why different views are held.

If consenting adults are capable of understanding what they are doing and choose to behave in a certain way, particularly in the privacy of their own homes, then I do not see why anyone else should get involved. With most people we have the choice as to whether or not we spend time with them. If we are not forced to join in then I see no need to challenge the behaviour. Each person has their own moral compass; beliefs that are important to them. So long as these views are not forced on others then live and let live.

I find state intervention in how we live our lives so irritating because it invades my privacy and tries to force me to think and behave in a certain way. There is a place for state intervention, such as to protect the vulnerable, but it is my view that this argument has been greatly misused. The same arguments used to demonise smokers, drinkers and the obese could be used to demonise those who partake in dangerous sports or those who make themselves ill or demand surgery in order to change their outward appearance. There are complex issues of medical costs and mental well being but the arguments can be equally applied in so many areas. The piecemeal application of legislation does not stand up to scrutiny. I would like to see the state back off from telling me what to think and what I may or may not say. No section of society should have to suffer discrimination or abuse but often it is the government that is encouraging the demonisation in order to force changes of perception and behaviour for political gain. Too often it is he who shouts the loudest who gets heard while the truly needy remain sidelined.

As a child I was told that one should never discuss religion or politics at a dinner party. I can see the logic in this as both subjects have the potential to cause offence due to strongly held views. As a lover of debate though I do sometimes wish that I could throw what I think into the crowd and listen to why others think as they do. In reality I suspect that my mother was right and topics are generally best avoided. I do not wish to generate a schism between friends for the sake of a frank exchange of views in areas where right and wrong are a matter of opinion and can rarely be firmly defined.

Illustration of a complex number showing the m...

Illustration of a complex number showing the multivalued nature of arguments.

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Judging Others

We all do it – judge people that is. We look and decide if we find them attractive or curious. We watch and decide if we find them friendly or overbearing. We listen and decide if we find them interesting or arrogant. We may be fully aware that initial impressions rarely prove to be accurate, but it is very hard not to use the information available when we first come into contact with someone to decide if they are our sort of person. It is a big challenge for anyone to be truly open minded.

Psychologists have claimed that we are generally drawn to people who are like us, and will marry someone like our parents. I do dislike being told what I am going to do! Looking around at my enduring friendship group though, I must concede that there could be some truth in the proposition. Although I have done my share of travelling the world and have actively sought out new experiences, both at home and abroad, the people who have become friends over the years are remarkably similar in their outlook and interests to each other. They may argue for different causes, espouse different beliefs, but their basic premises and concerns are the same. Perhaps this is what drew me to try to befriend them.

Growing up I greatly admired my father. I considered him to be intelligent and witty although quiet and reserved. It was very hard to know what he was thinking but we all knew that he loved my mother dearly. When I first met my future husband, my initial impressions suggested that he couldn’t have been more different. Yes he was intelligent, but he had no interest in books; theatre; classical music or any of the cultural interests that my father valued. Yes he was witty, but it was a quick, sarcastic and often cruel wit rather than the insightful, ironic wit of my father. If anyone had suggested that I he was like my father I would have laughed at the very idea. However, time passes and people develop and change. I can now see far more similarities between the two men – between what my husband is now and what my father was like at his age. Could I possibly have seen this without knowing when we first got together? I certainly did not actively choose to be with someone who would remind me of my father despite my high regard for him.

I would suggest that how we judge others is difficult to control. Our experiences have made us what we are and we cannot change what has gone before. Whatever the rights and wrongs of our prejudices it can be hard to put them aside; it can be hard to even recognise the impact they are having on our judgements. When I have formed an opinion I am always pleased to have it challenged. A good discussion and debate can broaden perspective and allow me to rethink. In my ideas and beliefs I will try to be open to why others think as they do. I try to be neither fickle nor dogmatic but strive to be thoughtful and reasoned. What I find harder to understand is the impact this has on my choice of companions. I would like to actively seek out new people and experiences to broaden my perspective. In reality I find comfort and enjoyment in the company of like minded individuals.

One aspect of social interactions that intrigues me is the large number of people who are greatly concerned by how others perceive them. It is natural to wish to be liked rather than disliked but this goes deeper. The superficial worries about body shape, dress and personal grooming are a harbinger of a much greater concern. For many, it seems, this concern has made the growth in popularity of social networks a minefield. Do we wish to portray a perfectly splendid life that all will envy? Do we look at others on line persona’s and feel that we are somehow missing out?¬†Although I have my own views of what I am like, I realise that I can only see myself from inside my own head. It is hard to guess how I am seen by others. At times I have been told, quite bluntly, how I am perceived. A good friend has described me as a maverick; an acquaintance has called me plain odd. I do not consider myself to be so very different except, perhaps, in my unwillingness to go along with popular opinion if I disagree. Of course I care what others think of me, but I prefer to be judged on what I am rather than on an image that has limited substance. We invest a part of ourselves in all friendships. If I am to offer myself up to that judgement then may I be judged on what I really am and not on an image created that I think others will like.

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“You might be looking at it from a different angle, or at a different time of day. It depends where you got the information, and who gave it to you. You might be filling in the blanks, taking wild stabs in the dark. It’s all open to interpretation.”