Do you know what I hate? Actually, don’t answer that – I hate lots of things; I’m a grouchy old woman at heart. Curmudgeonly, you could say. Cantankerous even. Irritable, crabby, complaining, belligerent. Okay, I admit, I’m not quite that bad but they are good words, aren’t they? And I do get rather grumpy at lots of things (the thesaurus clearly not being one of them).
My grandmother used to say that you can dislike lots of things, but you can’t hate them. There are only two things in this world you can hate, she told me: cancer and George Bush. Two excellent candidates for hatred there, I can’t deny it, but I’d like to add another one – a third hate, if you will. My third hate is simple: it is our habit, as human beings, of putting people in boxes and then, more specifically, attacking those in different boxes – boxes of different colour, different shape, different location. Lots and lots of boxes. And I hate it.
It’s not a new thing. In fact, you could say it’s a tribal thing, but the world today is so much smaller than it was a thousand years ago. It’s so much smaller than it was a hundred years ago – fifty, even. Now, I can talk to people in Australia for nothing, and at the touch of the button. We can fly to all the corners of the globe in less than a day. We can have video conferences with people on the other side of the world. So if we can do all that, why aren’t we smashing down the boxes too?
“Oh, you’re from a different country? Well, you belong in box C – please stay out of box A, even if you are dying and in need and being attacked (I’m firmly closing the lid on box A, thank you very much – unless I fancy a change of scenery, of course). Different gender? Box M please. Sexual orientation? Oh – that one is over there, with the others, in box G. Transgender? Pft! We haven’t even got a box we’re comfortable with for that one yet – please proceed to the miscellaneous box, the one where we put those we can’t decide on – the freaks, the weirdos, the I’m-not-sures.”
We put people in boxes all the time. It’s disgusting, and it’s worthy of our hate.
It’s not just the big things either. We do it in every part of our lives. We put people in tiny little boxes, hundreds of thousands of them, millions of them, and then we tell them that they are bad because they are in the wrong box. We shoot them down, we sneer and judge, we jump with glee that we aren’t stuck in that box there.
“You shop where? Oh, I’m sorry matey but you are not in my box! You eat what? Gah! You are definitely in box D for disgusting! You read that? Really? Off you pop to box F.”
My decision to add this third hate to my grandmother’s oft-stated avowal came this week not from one thing but from an amalgam of things: statements, Facebook posts, memes, and more. The Paris attacks and the reactions to it (and the reactions to the reactions), the hateful incitements, the declarations of war, the refusals to help people in need, the way we feel the need to blame whole swathes of people for the actions of the few (because, even if they aren’t actually in the same box, the attackers proclaim that they are and we should always trust what they say). It came, too, from reading reactions to news stories: Charlie Sheen, Vicky Thompson, Jeremy Corbyn…
But what really topped it off for me, the thing that really drove me over the edge was something that is surprisingly petty in light of the world events this week. Petty it may be but it’s a perfect example of what I’m talking about. It’s the ebook vs. ‘real’ book debate and the sneering, horrid comments that I have read this week – all between readers.
“Ebooks aren’t real. You don’t get full enjoyment out of them.”
“I’m better than you because I read on printed paper.”
“At least with ebooks I’m showing I care for the environment – you obviously don’t.”
“Move with times – printed books are old fashioned so you are too.”
I mean, seriously, come on! Does it actually matter? Really? Does it even need to be a conversation? Readers get together to talk about books – a shared love, a common hobby. Why does it matter if that book is read on paper or on a screen? How you choose to read has got nothing to do with me and vice versa. One is not better than the other – they are different and have different positives and negatives but it is still reading and that’s all that counts. I don’t care what you read, and neither should anybody else. And those boxes, the ‘e-reader box’ and the ‘printed book box’, were the ones that really drove me over the edge this week because it just proved that even those who are ‘in it’ together are still trying put up divisions.
So, just so you know:
- You are from another country? Awesome – maybe I’ll get to learn something new and who knows? Maybe I can visit you some day! Oh – and for the record, we’re in the same box: human being.
- You believe in a God? Don’t force that down my throat, and don’t commit atrocities and then claim it to be in his name, and we’re cool (in fact, that applies to all these points). Oh – and for the record, we’re in the same box: human being.
- You’re a bloke? Cool. Oh – and for the record, we’re in the same box: human being.
- You fancy men/women/both? Not important – it doesn’t change who you are and has no impact on my relationship with you. Oh – and for the record, we’re in the same box: human being.
- Transgender? Good for you for standing up to all those against you and I’m sorry for all those spiteful people in the world. Oh – and for the record, we’re in the same box: human being.
- You shop in Tesco? Each to their own. Oh – and for the record, we’re in the same box: human being.
- You eat too much cake/you eat animals/you eat whatever? Good for you – believe in what you do and enjoy it! Oh – and for the record, we’re in the same box: human being.
- You read ebooks? Awesome, me too! Have you ever read John Sharpe: No. 1,348? Oh – and for the record, we’re in the same box: human being.
- You read paperbacks? Fab! Fancy joining a book club? We’re always looking for members. Oh – and for the record, we’re in the same box: human being.
- You’re human with different tastes, opinions, beliefs, and desires? Yep, me too – oh look, same box: human being.
My plea to the world today is to please, please stop creating divisions, putting up borders, creating boxes. There really is no need. There are undoubtedly some bad people out there but for the most part, we’re all just people trying to find our way in the world, trying to find our ‘box’. Well I’ve found it, and it’s ‘human being’.
So as my grandmother would (sort of) say: you can dislike lots of things in this world, but you can only hate three: cancer, George Bush, and our insistent need to put people in boxes!