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Dishing the dirt

James Cary


In last month's column, I mentioned PJ O'Rourke as someone I'd like to have dinner with, along with GK Chesterton, CS Lewis and PG Wodehouse. I speculated in such an unlikely scenario, I'd be advised to stay in the kitchen doing the washing up, listening in, for fear of being out of my depth with my heroes. It's odd that a few weeks later saw me standing at the front of a Faith in Politics conference at City Temple, talking about PJ O'Rourke - and washing up. In my favourite quote of his, he puts his finger on the truth about those who have grand political schemes and prophetic visions of a better tomorrow: 'Everybody wants to save the Earth; nobody wants to help Mom do the dishes.' It's a useful warning for activists, politicians, preachers, lobbyists, aid workers and anyone who dreams dreams. The desire for change and the pursuit of that goal can become so all-consuming that everything is sacrificed on its altar. As we pursue our vision and the madness builds, impatience for change easily tips over into rage at our enemies, and then our friends. Maybe even our own family. Persuasive arguments become exaggerated, evidence stretched to breaking point, statistics taken out of context, recycled and quoted to win an argument. They become 'facts' that are so jaw-dropping and attention-grabbing you can hardly believe they're true. Because they aren't. We go to lots of meetings, and have people arrange them for us because we're too busy being in meetings to arrange other meetings. We're on the telly. Rolling news at first, but then proper news. Then maybe even Newsnight. Expenses get higher because we're under pressure to be everywhere at once. Receipts go missing. Numbers are fudged. Questions are raised. Statements made. Accountability partners become part of the problem. Enemies are now everywhere. Congratulations. We were a well-meaning activist with a vision for a better future for our fellow man. We've become a jerk. The worst kind of jerk. The jerk who's stopped making the tea - let alone washing up the mugs. If we're people of faith, do we really think God wants us to be an unbearable spouse, sister, son or parent because we're trying to help The Common Good? If we're really doing God's work, if we really believe in him, don't we think he could end poverty tomorrow if he wanted to? He is God. He can do anything. Look at what he made. Look at what he did. And look at what he promises. A new heaven and a new earth where there'll be no more tears or pain or suffering or injustice. He will do that. He's working on it. And for thousands of years, he managed with us. And he'll muddle through when we're gone. So we don't need to be selfish sanctimonious jerks on his behalf. But maybe we don't want to hear this. It's very easy to look in on ourselves when we're in pursuit of a big goal, ending up in a siege mentality. In Brothers Karamazov, Zosima tells Madame Khohlakova about a doctor he used to know who said, 'The more I love humanity in general the less I love man in particular.' So, let's us not love humanity but our fellow man. Not just the people of our choosing, but all those around us. Including those who oppose us. Let us be generous to them, not stooping to the hateful speech of the rabble- rousers, retweeting tiresome, mean-spirited stereotypes. It's so easy to do. Especially when all those around you are doing it. The left bashing the Tories and UKIP. The right bashing Labour and the Greens. Everyone bashing the LibDems. Instead, we must try and see things from our opponents' perspective. Get to know them. Have a drink with them. Buy a round. With your own money. Ask about their kids. Or their parents. Or their dog. Or their garden. As we do that, we will realise they're not bad people, and most of the time, they think they're doing the right thing. They just feel more passionate about different abstract nouns from the ones we like. Even if you think they are full of hate and prejudice, there's no need to hate them. You don't have to like or ask them to be Godparents to your kids. But you can love them. Not just with your head and your heart, but with your hands. Whatever your politics, whatever your cause, do what PJ O'Rourke says. Do what Jesus would do. The dishes.