Donald Trump has become embroiled in another controversy over British internal affairs. He obviously heard some report of a demonstration concerning our National Health Service.
Interpreting it as a protest against the NHS, he immediately wrote a tweet accusing the Democrat Party of wanting to impose a similar universal health care system on the USA.
What escaped him was that the demonstration had been defending the NHS, against cuts to spending.
In the event, not only Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, but also Prime Minister Theresa May and Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, all spoke in support of a free-at-point-of-use health service.
The exchange typified Trump’s tendency of jumping to conclusions, rushing to tweet his immediate impressions on complex issues, before understanding their implications.
It also reminds of an amusing encounter in a London restaurant two years ago. I was looking after two US visitors from the deep south.
One, a doctor, was very politically conservative and economically libertarian in his views. I don’t know if he voted for Trump, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he did.
While we are eating, a friend came up to say ‘Hello’, as he was dining in the same location. He was actually an extremely left-wing editor of a radical journal.
I introduced these two ideologically opposed acquaintances, wondering what would happen when they joined battle.
The outcome was, however, totally unexpected. My leftist friend began to share with me his frustration at government NHS cuts, which were limiting doctors’ freedom to act for their patients.
Misconstruing his comments, my US guest proceeded to inveigh against government interference with health provision in the United States, i.e. Obamacare.
Amazingly, neither recognised the other’s political persuasion. Ironically, they ended the conversation each believing that they had shared agreement with an intellectual ally.
They were talking past each other. Their ideological blinkers had prevented them from hearing what the other was really saying.
My other US guest and I looked at each other, smiles on our lips, as we observed this illusory agreement between these two substantive antagonists. One lesson for me was again the irony that Right and Left frequently meet at either end of the political spectrum.
For, far from being a straight line, the ideological continuum is a circle. The political world, like the physical world, is round. The opposites of Left and Right meet at the extremes.
Yet, there is another lesson. What does our worldview, or belief system, blind us to? Interpreting events and conversation through our preconceptions, we hear what we expect to hear.
We are thereby prevented from noticing potential disagreements, as well as areas of agreement. So that we consequently become deaf to what the other person is saying. We hear but do not listen.
Such listening is highly prized in the counselling profession, but could be equally valuable among our political leaders.
If we genuinely ‘attend’ to what someone else says, we may not solve all potential conflicts. But we may at least know what is going on.