Sunday, July 19, 2009

Goodwill and Taking the Mickey

Today I spoke at the Crime and Justice Festival, at Melbourne's beautiful Abbotsford Convent.

My first conversation was with Irfan Yusuf, author of Once Were Radicals: My Years as an Islamo-fascist. There was serious discussion and goodwill, but also laughter - lots of it. And much of it self-deprecatory.

To me, this was a wonderful example of Israeli writer Amos Oz's point: fundamentalists can't laugh at themselves. Taking the mickey, and having the mickey taken out of you, is a high point in tolerant, civilised life.

Importantly, this doesn't mean being cruel; doesn't mean wallowing in pettiness, mockery or sarcasm. Instead, it means taking your own ideas less seriously, and trying to (seriously) recognise the reality of others. First, goodwill. Then piss-taking.


Melinda said...

Hi Damon - my mother and I attended your session yesterday and thoroughly enjoyed it. I reflected afterwards about your comment that, when faced with an intolerant view, particularly directed towards our own self, that it is better if we can rise above it and realise why that person is being intolerant (whether because of lack of education or narrow view etc), rather than reacting and breaking their nose! While I do think this is an admirable sentiment and something to strive for, do you think we also have a duty to try and make the person understand the intolerance of their views? If we excuse someone's views on the basis that they don't know any better, does that not in effect let them off the hook and allow them to get away with intolerance? That was just one point - we had lots to think about after the session. I'm also really looking forward to reading your book. Kind regards, Melinda

Damon said...

Thanks, Melinda.

Yes, I think you're right: ignorance or weakness is no excuse for cruel intolerance.

And, yes, I think it's right to resist or contradict this when we encounter it.

For me, being 'bigger' is a good way to start. We start, not from angry self-righteousness or grandiosity, but from understanding, patience, care.

It might well be that a punch in the nose is exactly the best reply. But we won't know this unless we've taken the time to understand the person we're about to thump.

We try to understand, not to excuse or rationalise, but to give this human being what they deserve.

(And as an aside: it might be that we're wrong, too. Maybe someone's giving a very reasonable, well thought-out, researched portrait of a given culture or historical period - it sounds intolerant, but it's actually spot on. We have to be big enough to recognise this also.)