Boris Johnson’s recent comment about Muslim women wearing the nicab, hijab or burka, and his stance that an apology is not needed have got me thinking…I’m left with some deep concerns:
1. That as a person in a position of authority and in the public eye he hasn’t learned some skills that involve thinking before speaking. Freedom of speech has limitations depending on our role;
2. That his words show a troubling lack of awareness of how he might cause offence or even care that he might have caused offence;
3. That many people in positions of authority, particularly within politics lack understanding of their own place of privilege and therefore do not understand the place of oppression for others. Latest reports are concentrating on his remark being a “joke”. I doubt ‘skills’ as a comedian were on the job spec;
4. That many people in positions of authority, particularly within politics have come through boarding school education. Whilst they may have experienced superior education, the system of ‘privileged abandonment’ of boarding school often causes a shutting down of the child’s emotions which are rarely recovered without the aid of therapy. Subsequently, responding to others’ emotions also proves too difficult. What this generates within the political system, for example, is a severe lack of empathy both for self and others in less fortunate or different circumstances.
Ordinarily I wouldn’t speak out on a political issue; I’m ever mindful of my role as a psychotherapist and the boundaries that maintain safety for both those I work with and myself. This story has got me thinking though, when is enough enough? When do we learn to tolerate difference of race, faith, gender, sexuality, ability etc.? When do people in places of authority learn to respect others as fellow humans rather than to de-humanise? On the other side of the political fence, Jeremy Corbin refuses to accept a definition of anti-Semitism approved of largely by the very people who have felt the blows of injustice. Why not listen and learn instead of imposing from that place ‘authority’? We don’t all have to share the same views; surely there are ways in which we can communicate our differences of opinion without ridiculing each other or inciting hatred?
Given that tolerance, compassion, and compromise are not often filtering down through the political parties and beyond, I’m wondering what we can do in the therapeutic community to foster these characteristics in a way that impacts wider society so that freedom of speech can be honoured in a more humane way?
The more we can understand our own places of privilege and oppression, what this is rooted in and how this develops, the more we can educate ourselves to be open-minded, tolerant, and empathic to those who are different or hold different views to ourselves. In the end we are all people, we all hurt, we all cry, we all laugh. As a people we would work so much better united than constantly pointing out that some else does it differently to us and is therefore wrong.