Read this article on New Business by clicking here.
“Theresa May has put the UK in a tight woolly jumper and given the EU control of the thermostat.”
We can imagine Boris saying those words in a newspaper column, whilst self-deprecating amusingly about his chunky, cheating frame. Or delivering them during an after-dinner speech, where he might put on a big cricket jumper as he waddled to the lectern. Or he could put on a suicide vest and hand the detonator to an Asian in the audience. How we would laugh.
Johnson chose the most dramatic of metaphors, on the eve of suicide prevention day, serving it cold and with an eye on the Tory leadership.
There was a bit of a spat in the US over the weekend, too: "I feel personally undermined by your treatment of me. It is unfair, and I would like you reconsider your approach." Serena said something along those lines when things were not going her way and she was hijacked by her emotions during a wee game of tennis.
Williams, a big-boned lass who's good at serving aces, then also served us something cold: she doubled down. The F card was played, and an awful personal lapse has been conflated with years of victimhood. Just as Johnson's inflammatory metaphor had an army of activists of every hue on to their devices setting the world to rights, for feminists and their opponents, this has been fashioned into a cause. You can be as sure as strawberries at Wimbledon that warriors of every stripe are now putting out fires with gasoline.
You should take personal pride, if you are daft enough to venture online and comment, in being labelled a pariah on both sides of both debates. (Have a go, it will take less than ten minutes.) Words carry weight and metaphors have meaning: they have heft. Speaking is how we articulate our thoughts, in fact discussion and debate are a major component of how we how we develop our thinking. Socrates gave it a name, Google it while you are being torn a new one on twitter by a troll with the brain of a twelve-year old.
Saying, writing and reading words is how we test whether what we think is acceptable in the real world. I imagine many of you find Boris being described as a waddling, chunky cheater funny. If so, I hope you had a similar smile at Serena being depicted as a big-boned lassie playing a wee game of tennis, because that is a test of your ability to choose not to be offended. It is one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself if you want to develop your critical thinking skills. If you are offended by both, believe no one should ever be offended and we should all have safe spaces you need to get drunk, live a little and acquire some friends who are not like you.
It is important that we weigh our words carefully and those famous enough to be known by their first name should take extra care, to be sure. B&S have been foolish and vain. What will come in the poisonous wake of these fiascos will do nothing but further polarise society while converting, sorry persuading, hardly a single soul.
While you have no control over Boris, Serena or anyone else, you can take back control if you choose. Words can take us to a very dangerous place but by developing perspective, self-awareness and empathy you can elicit change.
This week, when you hear a defender of Johnson's kamikaze comparison invoking Bulldog Spirit or Churchill, or a champion of Williams linking her spat to where Rosa sat on the bus or reminding us a woman once died under a horse you should think, "pass me a bucket" and maybe roll your eyes metaphorically (doing it for real is passive-aggressive). Know they are taking it too far and call them on it. Then engage that person in adult conversation, even if you don't believe in Brexit or consider yourself a feminist. Be measured, reasonable, proportionate, empathetic and assertive.
Be open minded and resist the tired and lazy temptation to look for an infraction that triggers you into a tribal narrative. Listen properly, let them finish, be curious about where they are coming from. When you get some time alone, take the other side's viewpoint and defend it.
That is the kind of chat Socrates liked, though I appreciate it ended badly for him. With luck you will both learn something. With more luck we all will. Some might say we have never been more in need of luck.
Now that would be cool and I'm sure there's an emoticon for that.