Thanks to everyone who shared and messaged about last week’s story, The End Of Doomspreading — it’s already my sixth most-read edition of this newsletter.
My drive is to help us develop more effective ways of connecting with people who start on the other side of an apparently deep divide and turn difficult conversations into connective conversations — like the one I had in the sauna yesterday.
One of the regulars had asked me about Thighs of Steel and so I was telling them a bit about what we do in solidarity with people on the move.
From the other side of the bench, another man piped up: ‘I don’t think you’ll get many people who disagree with immigration in theory,’ he said, ‘at least, not for people who are here to work hard and contribute to the economy.
‘But why does the government spend seven million pounds a day putting asylum seekers with no qualifications and no job in four and five star hotels — and giving them a phone, phone credit and fifty quid a week pocket money, to boot?’
A previous iteration of David Charles would have felt threatened by this man’s speech.
A previous iteration would have seen this fellow sauna dweller as an enemy to be fought and defeated. A previous iteration might have fired back what this man had missed: the cold realities of living in the UK as an asylum seeker.
Alternatively, a previous iteration might have felt angry, so angry that I might have spent the rest of my sauna time simmering in outrage, completely incapable of forming a coherent response until much later. We’ve all been there.
But yesterday, I was curious.
I could tell that the man was doomspreading and doomsplaining: not only passing on ‘the world’s all going to shit’ propaganda that he’d swallowed, but also pushing his pessimistic moral opinion that there are deserving and undeserving human beings.
Because I recognised that he was doomspeaking, I knew that this man needed empathy, not argument.
So I listened for the underlying fears and emotions. What I heard was confused resentment, fuelled by a deep sense of injustice.
I also hate injustice so it was easy to empathise, not with the content of what he was saying, but with his emotion of confused resentment and his unmet need for justice.
Although we only had a few minutes before I fainted from heat exhaustion, we quickly found some common ground.
‘If they’ve got all this money lying around for five star hotels,’ the man said, ‘why don’t they look after the people who are already here, instead of giving it to people who just arrived?
‘Why don’t they use it to end homelessness?’
Zing! Why not, indeed?
From our opening statements, this man and I were apparently entrenched on opposite precipices of a gas-powered flaming canyon, where even a single step towards each other would get us burned alive.
But now I can see how easily we could work together on something we both believe in.
Even if we radically disagree on freedom of movement (at one point he suggested that the government should’ve bought up all the decommissioned cruise liners to keep refugees offshore), he urgently wants to end homelessness.
I can get with that, so that’s where we can start.
(I won’t mention quite yet that close to half of rough sleepers in London are not from the UK and that our asylum system and destitution are not as independent as he might imagine.)
Funnily enough, Dan Sumption (of pithy newsletter fame) told me he had an almost identical conversation about migration this week as well.
I hope you’re also having these conversations and I hope that the idea of doomspeech helps you make such connections about more than argument and antagonism.