I don’t make a habit of reading the wave of clickbait articles that flood my Facebook everyday from established and lesser known websites alike but I do like to read the comments on things that catch my eye. A habit I think we can all agree isn’t the most sensible course of action unless you want to go from 0 to furious in 0.1 seconds. With the UK general election coming up in 8 days there has been a regular fountain of opinions spurting all over social media (mine included) and trawling the comments section is where most arguments kick-off. However, reading why people think we should/shouldn’t vote for this party or another made me notice a key way in which we try to communicate our point of view to others – comparisons.
Now, comparisons can be very useful in some circumstances, for example I might ask how oat milk tastes and get the response ‘it kind of tastes like porridge’, which will give me a fair idea as to whether I will like the thing or not. Or when I’m on Netflix and it suggests things to watch with similar themes to things I have already seen. Or when I ask if I will enjoy the book Girl on the Train and get told that it’s like the new Gone Girl… that one isn’t so valid because it isn’t anywhere near as good as Gone Girl. I swear I am not still bitter about the time I wasted on reading that book, honest.
Anyway, when it comes to some topics I find that comparisons are a weak way of helping someone see your point of view and understand how something can effect you because unless that person has experienced life in a similar way to you it can be near impossible for them to empathise with your situation and why you have the opinion you do. My favourite political comparision, and by favourite I mean the most ridiculous one I have been on the receiving end of was this nonesense:
The squirrel works hard in the withering heat all summer long, building his house and laying up supplies for the winter. The grasshopper thinks he’s a fool, and laughs and dances and plays the summer away. Come winter, the squirrel is warm and well fed.
A social worker finds the shivering grasshopper, calls a press conference and demands to know why the squirrel should be allowed to be warm and well fed while others less fortunate, like the grasshopper, are cold and starving. The BBC shows up to provide live coverage of the shivering grasshopper; with cuts to a video of the squirrel in his comfortable warm home with a table laden with food.
The British press inform people that they should be ashamed that in a country of such wealth, this poor grasshopper is allowed to suffer so, while others have plenty…
[Read the rest here if you want]
It is much longer and gets pretty infuriating as it rambles on and basically blames homeless people for being homeless and suggests that as a society we should only look out for ourselves, an idea I can’t subscribe to. I guess you could call it more of an extended metaphor but it is a demonstation of how a Conservative voter explained their point of view to me by comparing themselves to the ‘squirrel’. But here is the issue with using this as a comparison of ideas – a person who has never felt the financial, societal security that the ‘squirrel’ has and has also benefitted from things like the NHS, job seekers allowance, child benefit, bursaries and countless other things that have been cut or eradicated cannot possibly empathise with the ‘squirrel’ in the same way they can’t empathise with the ‘grasshopper’. In my experience, those who have had next to nothing are the most generous when they eventually have something to give back, whilst those on the other end of the scale take the security they live in completely for granted and find it hard to understand why they should help their fellow human. There is a total disconnect between the two that comparisons just can’t fix.
It is like trying to compare a woman’s experience of life to a man’s; a gay person’s to a straight person’s; a cis person’s to a trans person’s, I could go on. We utilise comparisons in an attempt at sharing understanding with someone who can not fathom how your experience of life is different to theirs. Sometimes it can work, impart a little bit of understanding but when it comes to the big things I find it lacking but what else do we have? It’s hard to deal with your own existence sometimes without adding the troubles of someone else’s on top but it’s that compassion and willingness to step into the shoes of someone else that points us in the right direction. Now we just need an effective way of driving the big conversations in that direction.