In A Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy a group of hyper-intelligent, pan-dimensional beings create a super computer called Deep Thought to find the “Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, The Universe, and Everything“. The answer produced is 42 (more on that later). So as I have just reached that age milestone I wondered if I might be bestowed with some existential wisdom… (I wasn’t). However, thinking about the bizarre maths from Douglas Adams classic reaffirmed my belief that the solution we are looking for lies in multiplication and not division.
At the root of the discord that we have seen in recent years, starting with Brexit, has been division and poliarised opinion. In the past I have unfairly bracketed all people with views at the opposite end of the spectrum to mine in the same camp. I have steered clear of unhelpful debates, have ignored barbed comments and provocations. I have protected myself in a safe social media haven with like minded individuals and in doing so I have been too narrow minded.
Watching this week as a group of anti-vaxxers stormed the wrong building I asked myself different questions. This only happened when I caught myself enjoying the delicious irony of (what I believe to be) misinformed individuals using inaccurate information to launch a protest. Instead I began to ask myself questions such as ‘why do these people believe so strongly that vaccination is wrong’? Do they all believe coronavirus is a conspiracy or a hoax? If they do how have they reached that conclusion and would I be better served seeking first to understand their viewpoint(s) rather than immediately placing them in a single, negative, homogeneous bucket?
It reminded me of a brilliant presentation I saw from Ruth Ibegbuna following the Brexit vote as she launched her Roots project. She was drawn to understanding not only why people chose to vote the way they did on both sides but also to bring those different perspectives together for rational, open discussion. We need to understand why we are where we are before we can agree where we collectively want to get to. I am aware that there has been influence applied from different quarters from media to prominent public figures to politics. My fear is that if we continue to shout at each other we will only grow further apart. The rifts in our society are real and we all have to play a role in healing them. he first step is being willing to listen with an open mind. To listen to understand.
This is what I am committing to do over the upcoming year and you may well notice a shift in emphasis on this blog space as I look to understand and learn from differing perspectives. However, the motivation will remain consistent how do we move from where we are now to a more equitable and harmonious society?
So back to Hitchhikers… Douglas Adams was asked many times why he chose the number 42. There were lots of complex fan theories that were proposed some relating to binary code and others to how light refracts through water to create a rainbow. Adams rejected them all.
The answer to this is very simple. It was a joke. It had to be a number, an ordinary, smallish number, and I chose that one. Binary representations, base thirteen, Tibetan monks are all complete nonsense. I sat at my desk, stared into the garden and thought ’42 will do’ I typed it out. End of story.Douglas Adams, November 1993
Maybe the answer to our societal challenges is a simple one in its premise. Our situation is not a joke but could we reach swifter consensus if we talked. Meaningfully, deeply and calmly. #ImNotTired