Many years ago I heard a sermon in which the preacher passed on some advice his mother had given him: “Before you propose to speak, always ask yourself, is it true, is it necessary, is it kind?” In my grumpy dotage, I’m not one for pious platitudes or sentimental slosh, but as I pondered on this thought recently, in the light of the various forms of electioneering going on right now, in particular regarding the leaflets candidates put out, I thought how apt this advice, which I will refer to as the “TNK principle”, was.
As often is the case, these are the questions we should be asking ourselves in all sorts of situations but, if I’m honest, I don’t always tick all three boxes or, to refer to the image I recently posted on my facebook page, I don’t always go through all three gates, before saying (or writing) what I say (or write). With respect to my blog, this is something I am trying to do but it is for others to judge how well I have succeeded. I want first to dissect what this saying means and the implications, then apply it. In this case it will be about election leafleting (although it could easily apply to other forms of campaigning or, come to that, any subject under the sun we have a view on). One of the applications may come as a surprise.
“True” is the key factor in everything I do and before posting anything on my blog I check whether or not it is true and I will not post anything I think may be untrue. But like most politicians, I tend to refer to the “facts” that support my argument and overlook those that do not. There is no sinister reason for this and I try my best to avoid doing so, knowing often I do not have all the facts and I do not have the full big picture. Long ago I recognised the important thing in all this is finding balance, and this takes a life time of effort. Life has also taught me that most things can be viewed from several perspectives and it is helpful to recognise this before speaking. When twice I have been challenged on this score regarding my blog postings, rather than get too defensive, I modified my post to take in a perspective I had previously overlooked or underplayed.
“Necessary” is an emotive word; for what some people regard as necessary, others may regard as unnecessary. Some may feel, for example, that my taking to blog writing is unnecessary and, when comparing with matters such as giving priority to looking after my family, taking care of the poor, doing my job well and praying to God, that is true. However, and while careful not to exercise delusions of grandeur, I believe I have something to say that would help a new generation of community activists to make a difference in their community and just maybe some seed will fall on good soil and will reap a harvest in due season. However, choice of words and selection of material is all important and I try not to perpetuate meaningless waffle etc. One sobering thought is that the Bible tells us that one day we will be called to account for every careless (idle; thoughtless; unhelpful) word we utter.
“Kind” is not a word that necessarily springs to mind when we set about making a point but is, nevertheless, something we should think about. As I get older, I have come to appreciate more the value of human kindness and realise what we say could make a real difference in this regard. I realize now that even the most innocuous statement I make might hurt someone and is one reason I try not to name or shame and try to stick to the issues rather than talk about personalities. While there is a case sometimes for being cruel to be kind, for even Jesus did that when he drove out the moneylenders from the temple and spoke against the Pharisees and Sadducees, there is often little to be gained and much that could be lost when we set about personally criticizing others or saying something that will undermine their position, unless this is strictly necessary.
I have come to see that the TNK principle is important when it comes to producing elections leaflets for more reasons than it merely being the right principle to adopt. When politicians fall short in this area as, sadly, many do, I feel less inclined to vote for them and they go down in my estimation. Moreover, I feel the electorate are the losers insofar a golden opportunity to understand someone’s position is lost. It seems to me that there are a considerable amount of “half truths” being bandied around, and a lot of what is written is empty drivel and hollow words, whereas what is needed is a clear presentation of the facts, solid arguments and a synopsis of past records and future intentions, and it is evident that the temptation to have a pop at one’s opponent too often proves too great to resist. I recall in my college days a Yorkshire lad class mate remonstrating that, unlike us mealy mouth Southerners, Yorkshire folk call a spade a spade. That is good but methinks the TNK principle is better!
Let’s cut to the chase and let me talk about my ward, St. Lukes. Frustratingly, after a Google search, I couldn’t find the full list of candidates, so I will focus on the four I have received leaflets from. Where there are others, I have to work on the assumption they are not serious about winning, besides which if I don’t know them and what they stand for how can I even consider voting for them? St. Lukes is an interesting case because in the past few years victory in the local elections has oscillated between Labour (the ward was before that a Labour stronghold), Conservative and Independent (of the Independent Alliance flavor). As chair of our local residents association, I get to rub shoulders with all these and have found without exception I have been able to work with them all to good effect. Moreover, while recognizing their limitations, I have a regard and affection for the current crop: Sally Carr (Conservative); Paul Van Looy and Brian Ayling (Independent Alliance).
I should mention that the Independent standing in my ward that is not part of the Alliance has produced a leaflet and as far as content goes it is impressive. However, given there is little else I have to go on in order to form an opinion whether he has earned my vote this coming Thursday, I will almost certainly not be voting for him. When it comes to the “big three”, at least as far as St. Lukes is concerned, there are arguments for and against voting in each of the parties represented (and I use the word “party” deliberately).
If I’m honest, I have more confidence in a Conservative administration from a governance perspective than any other but they fall short, in my view, because of arrogance, lack of vision and lack of credibility when it comes to addressing major social issues, such as homelessness. While I liked the Labour party manifesto (the only party, I believe, to have produced one) and the attention it gave to social justice issues, I am skeptical when it comes to managing the economy and such matters as balancing budgets. As far as the Independents are concerned, they seem (at least from my experience) strongest when it comes to dealing with detailed matters of concern in their wards, something other parties have often overlooked and often depending on how hard working an individual representative is determines how such matters are resolved. Where Independents come unstuck is that it is difficult to work out where they stand when it does come to running the Council and the policies they would implement, not helped by a real concern that members do not speak with one voice.
Regarding the three main (in my opinion) candidates standing in my ward, I have spoken to all of them and have a good idea what they might be able to bring to the ward if elected. Given that I usually vote for the person rather than the party in a local election then it is a matter of weighing the strengths and weaknesses of each candidate. My main question is who will serve my ward best? Up to this weekend, I was undecided but, having read carefully the latest leaflet of each candidate and applying the TNK principle, I have decided NOT to vote for Caroline (Independent Alliance) or Gray (Labour) and instead vote for our sitting councilor, Sally (Conservative). Her high TNK scoring was the deciding factor. So if you are around St. Lukes this coming Thursday you may see me out telling for the Tories (the mind boggles) at one of the polling stations. I wish all the candidates well and will happily work with whoever does get returned to better serve our community.