A well-known journalist talking about Boris Johnson and his work more generally recently explained how in order to write his column well he needed to be angry: he fuelled his fury by throwing cups at the wall and papers on the floor, shouting, swearing, until he was filled with the energy he needed to translate his feelings into writing. His articles, unsurprisingly, are negative – critical of people, of policy and of actions. They are read by many people who will hear the invective behind, and will believe the words they read from someone they respect. They may repeat them too, spreading the bile further into their own community.
Restraint and objectivity in public commentary are rare now, possibly due to a seeming compulsion in many of us to say how we feel and what we think freely online, even if it is offensive, inappropriate or inaccurate. Much of it is thoughtless, a moment of self-expression that lasts forever and can do much damage: it can be a poisoned spear into the heart of a person, or an act of wisdom and encouragement. Either way, the intent behind it leaves a lasting karmic legacy.
In the US and the UK, in France and in Hong Kong, the effects of careless words and broken promises are visible in social unease and unrest. The majority of citizens want quiet lives of modest comfort with strong, dependable leadership, but this peaceful aspiration seems far away. The sense of tension has been fuelled by alarmist, divisive rhetoric from politicians and also from commentators: media outlets seem, sometimes, to have forgotten that their key role is as a provider of information, not to be lobbyists for their personal views instead. Every public writer, including those who Tweet, has a responsibility for their contribution to community feeling and its emotional well-being. Constant negativity is destructive and cannot be justified.
I am enjoying watching the first days of Boris Johnson’s government because, at last, a political leader speaks with the cry of optimism, and already the national mood has changed. His critics abound and there is much prejudice, some of it unfair, but his voice is loud and his personality is louder. If he delivers what he promises he will be a hero; if he does not, he will find, like Icarus, he has flown too near the sun and his fall from grace will be spectacular. He knows this.
While I appreciate the sense of energy and determination in the new Prime Minister, I am conscious that Mercury is retrograde and so confusion and deception lurk behind what we see. The words “smoke and mirrors” keep coming to me, and I have a sense that there is a hidden, deeper strategy behind the promises of Brexit and the predicted sub-text of an early general election. Illusion is everywhere, and I watch political events with caution. I read the pundits with even greater caution, and try to remain detached from and aware of their prejudice.
The sometimes unedifying world of Boris Johnson, politics and the media seem far away from us, perhaps, but their flaws and virtues apply to us too. It is worthwhile to notice when we are unfairly judgmental, when we deceive, when we are angry, when we gossip unkindly or repeat what is energetically hurtful. To introduce as much as we can a spirit of balanced optimism and a sense of clear purpose into our lives will change how we feel, what we achieve, it will affect those around us and, most importantly, it will assist our spiritual journey. It is the path of Light.