It is said that we have never been so connected. We can interact with hundreds of people from all over the world in a matter of seconds. Our lives are on show, or maybe just the life we wish to show. But as we consume social media and spend less time in friends’ company, we begin to lose the poetry, the nuances, the small gestures which makes communication an investment in time and love.
Now we see the rise of tyrannical discourse, insults, opinion expressed as fact, and cowardly keyboard warriors hiding behind numbers and avatars. We have new political universals, or at least remakes of the old classics.
Catalan Independent supporters scream ‘Fascist’ at those in power in Madrid (Madrid resisted nationalist forces for nearly 3 years during the Spanish Civil War). Left leaning sensitive types are often referred to as ‘snowflakes’, suggesting weakness and frailty. It is so easy to categorise people behind a screen. Would the attackers use the same rhetoric if they were stood in front of their targets?
This leads me to write about two friends who sadly passed away in 2018.
John was a typical Londoner in that neither of his parents was from London; his mother was from Madeira and his father from Austria. John was a dedicated teacher, whose passion for the English language was measurable by his enormous collection of books. We would spend mornings talking about our favourite authors, recommend novels, discuss politics and pour scorn on the right wing movements within both the UK and other countries. I suppose some might say that we were ‘snowflakes’.
John died of cancer on the 14th of February, 2018. He was much loved and is much missed by his family, friends and colleagues.
Carlos was a typical Madrileño. He drank Mahou beer, smoked Ducados and loved football. He was my wife’s uncle. Every time we met for beers in his neighbourhood bar next to The Retiro Park Carlos would look after me. We chatted about Real Madrid, which I had adopted as my team in Spain and also about music.
Carlos, like John, loved music, especially The Beatles. Although he spoke no English he knew every word to every song. For my stag weekend I took him to Liverpool to give him the full treatment.
When you actually spend time with other humans you will almost always find more in common than differences. We should not label or categorise people by their political beliefs
What surprised me about Carlos was that he was a card carrying member of the Spanish Falange, an openly fascist political party. We would frequently discuss politics. Carlos would listen to your opinion, giving his own with respect and eloquence. He was able to put forward his version national socialism without screaming, ranting or insulting anyone. When we meet radicals, we expect them to be radical.
Carlos died of cancer on the 5th of December, 2018. He was much loved and is much missed by his family, friends and colleagues.
Perhaps what I am alluding to is that it is too easy to see things in either black or white, right and wrong or good and evil. Newspapers, politicians need us to believe in universal truths so as to influence our actions. When you actually spend time with other humans you will almost always find more in common than differences. We should not label or categorise people by their political beliefs.
John was just John and Carlos was Carlos.
*Matthew Kennington is an English teacher, published translator and writer.