THE LAST WORD
HOW (NOT) TO GET ALONG
When your kids are small, you often find yourself discussing parenting with others in a similar predicament. As is my wont (or great failing as many would describe it), I always tried to inject a bit of humour into those conversations that were so serious – with your childrens’ future at stake – and a little tense – in case anyone might think you were a terrible father or mother.
If there’s one life lesson I’d like my kids to learn, I might interject ’hilariously’, it is that the only real strategy that works is extreme physical violence. The mantra I’ve always tried to hammer into my kids, I might quip on another occasion, is, above all, lie, cheat and steal.
As you might imagine, my attempts to lighten the mood were rarely received with actual laughter, but they could elicit a polite chuckle or a rolling of eyes, in other words, people clearly knew I was joking, however poor the joke might be. Of course, no one would ever bring their children up to believe such things; we all know that the only way forward is open discussion, debate and mutual respect.
Okay, but look at the world around us; rather than debate or mutual respect the key words seem to be conflict and division. The Council on Foreign Relations’ Global Conflict Tracker identifies 27 ongoing conflicts worldwide, such as the wars in Ukraine, Yemen and Ethiopia. There is also a vicious drug war going on in Mexico, tensions are rising in the East China Sea, the US is politically and culturally divided like never before, while Britain can’t bear to share a continent with its neighbours. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Which brings us to Catalonia. The political situation that the country has been mired in over the past several years, in which a substantial proportion of people desire independence from Spain, while the Spanish authorities and political parties have made it clear they have no intention of even discussing, is freely described as a conflict in most media outlets. The nearest thing the two sides have got to talking about the situation is the process of dialogue agreed by the current Catalan and Spanish governments, which has been stalled from the beginning and which, in an interview in this magazine (p.16), the new head of the ANC pro-independence organisation, Dolors Feliu, refers to as a sham. In the absence of any dialogue, debate or mutual respect, the only solution that Feliu sees to the conflict is more conflict in the shape of citizen action, with everyday people standing for parliament and then taking on the Spanish state to try and force independence once and for all.
Whether that would work is anyone’s guess, but personally I doubt it. There are many reasons I doubt it, but one fundamental reason is that we know that conflict isn’t the best way to reach solutions (see above), according to most parents.
So where does all the conflict come from? Responsible parents also know that setting a good example is just as important in producing respectful and capable offspring, and yet the kids can see for themselves that they’re surrounded by conflict, presumably caused by people that include their parents. Or is it someone else’s fault?
Which makes me think of another of my little ’jokes’ that no one found funny. I would argue that it was okay for me to get drunk and smoke in front of my kids; I wasn’t providing a bad example, rather I was making a sacrifice, risking my health so that they could learn a lesson about how not to do things.