Thinking and behaving rationally, based on factual information, is often considered the ‘correct’ way to do things, the way to get things right. Rationality is highly valued by many in our society and to a large extent in our educational establishments. There continues to be a focus on the rational, the objective. Youngsters are taught to look at the facts, to back up their arguments with information rather than to feel. Even in a subject such as English Literature which can arouse deep emotion, they are taught to analyse style, characterisation, structure, rather than to feel. History does not come to life as it could if the stories were told in a different way. And many employers look for the same rationality and objectivity. Many groups, even friendship groups, do not approve of too much irrational thinking or behaviour nor value expressions of emotion and defiance which challenge the received wisdom.
And, if someone tells you that you are irrational, emotional or subjective, they are almost invariably levelling criticism at you. Sometimes there is a sense that there is a gender issue involved – still! Women even in this day can feel dismissed because they are likely to be considered emotional, hormonal and unpredictable. But there is much to be said for being emotional and unpredictable, although the hormonal element can be a pain. This is not to say that being rational and objective is not important, and a well-rounded individual can operate successfully in both modes.
Some of the most memorable speeches are delivered by those which go against the grain, express deep feelings and have an emotional impact. Zarah Sultana’s maiden speech in the House of Commons in March 2020 defied convention, raised eyebrows and attracted no end of criticism from the tradition-bound MPs. We have understandably become rather disenchanted with the Socialist Campaign Group (SCG) recently, but Zarah Sultana’s speech seemed to be on the verge of creating a sea change in the Commons. Of course she had plenty of facts to hand, but it was a bold emotional statement which broke the rules – one in the eye for the Tory grandees. She stated at the beginning of her speech that she was not able to go along with the unwritten rule of maiden speeches: “I cannot do that, because my generation has only ever faced a future of rising rents, frozen wages and diminishing opportunities. For my whole adult life, I have only known Tory governments who wage war on working-class communities like mine, cutting our services, underfunding our schools and hospitals, and saddling me and my generation with tens of thousands of pounds of student debt.” She crossed the line and we applauded her for it.
Tony Benn delivered one of his most impassioned and eloquent speeches when he announced in 1998 that he would vote in defiance of the whip and against the government motion on the bombing of Iraq. He conveyed deeply felt emotion in his speech to the Commons as he recalled the terror people felt in the blitz in London in 1940. And he went on to express his horror that we would be responsible for the terror, loss of life and unspeakable grief of the Iraqi people: “Aren’t Arabs terrified? Aren’t Iraqis terrified? Don’t Arab and Iraqi women weep when their children die?” Tony Benn defied the whip and the majority of his fellow MPs and voted with his conscience. He was expressing his feelings of horror and disgust at the killing of innocent civilians. This emotional speech was one of his most inspirational and is one of the best remembered today. It is often quoted at times of war, such as now, when there are pleas for peace and the plight of innocent civilians shocks and haunts us all.
We lament the fact that we have few politicians who are prepared to stand up for what is right and defy instructions. We would hope opposition politicians would do just that. Of course today, if they do, they are dealt with. Sir Keir Starmer’s punitive regime will ensure they lose the whip if they step out of line.
Some of our MSM outlets are pretty wily when it comes to making use of emotion. Most of us cannot fail to be moved when we see Israeli children who have been held hostage for weeks running into the arms of their relieved parents. To be fair, there is some footage of Palestinian prisoners being released, but their ‘crimes’ such as stone throwing are invariably mentioned and the reports have an altogether different flavour. There is a report of a Palestinian prisoner held in solitary confinement for 11 years who emerged so traumatised that he could not recognise his own family. He is said to have been shackled for so long that he is barely able to walk, just managing to move forwards by taking very small steps. The mainstream media did not use this report.
Some of our news outlets do not show the most distressing images or they precede their reports with warnings. But should the level of suffering in Palestine be shown to every adult so that we experience the full emotional impact of the horror? Should we look at the children we know and love and imagine them no longer skipping happily along a street, laughing, playing, being mischievous and contrary, but instead buried alive under concrete, rushed to hospitals with serious burns, hospitals which do not have the facilities to treat their injuries and alleviate their suffering; our children speechless with trauma as they cling to the dead bodies of their parents amid the ruins of their homes or screaming in bewilderment and pain? We need to feel the suffering of the Palestinians to even begin to comprehend what they are enduring. And then we might all act and raise our voices in fury at the slaughter and the many western governments who condone and encourage it.
Clare Daly, Irish MEP, is now increasingly recognised as one of our most inspirational speakers and many of us compare her to the lacklustre beings ‘representing’ us in the UK. Of course she has facts and figures at her fingertips, but she never shies away from speaking the truth and berating those who are failing to speak out and act. And Clare Daly spoke the truth on World Children’s Day on 20th November when we commemorate the signing of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. According to this Convention the world was supposed to be united around the protection of children. Clare Daly berates her fellow politicians for sitting on their hands, not just doing nothing but enabling the genocide:
Well aren’t we great? And it’s about time that we wake up and smell the white phosphorus, the burning flesh of children torched alive in Gaza. Wake up and hear their screams over the dead bodies of their parents, their severed limbs, their blinded eyes, their parched lips, their starving stomachs. Feel their terror day after day after day after day as the bombs rain down on their homes, their schools, their hospitals. On and on it goes.
Let us cease to value rationality and objectivity quite so much. There is no question that we need facts and information and logic, but there is a need, which is of equal value and sometimes of greater value, to go against the grain, to shout our defiance, to speak from the heart.