During a paper review on BBC News this morning, the subject of food banks was raised in relation to the Archbishop of Canterbury’s statement that hunger is a growing problem needing government support. His opponents say the problem is the poor don’t manage money well. I said managing money is difficult at all levels when there isn’t enough. The better-off have the luxury of MasterCard for buying groceries, allowing them to offset the problem. The poor don’t. Of course we need food banks.
Back home I was mortified to find that my remarks had been used on social media to add me to the list of people ‘blaming’ the poor for going hungry. The nuance in what I had said – that the only difference between those who judge and those they’re judging is the ability to mask behaviours – was lost.
When our brains are continuously bombarded with information it’s inevitable that both the delivery of, and the response to, an opinion may be misconstrued, misdirected or misrepresented, particularly where it’s verbal and immediate. The instinct to post a riposte on social media without pause for rumination, and with people who have even less idea of the context in which it was given, increases the potential for misadventure. There is no leeway for the benefit of the doubt.
Thankfully, the same is not true of the written word. To criticise a text one has to follow a narrative around every bump and lump from beginning to end before responding. Sometimes the prism through which the information is being presented may not become clear until a late turning point or revelation. When it does, we may have to reexamine the language used, and the details shared.
Context is all. At Tricycle Readers we examine short stories and poems in detail. First we listen to them. Then we reread bits and get the full measure before starting discussion. It’s a form of literary mindfulness: the clearing of the head to let in someone else’s story. It’s not just who said it, but what was said, when and where it was said, how it was said, and why.
Literary mindfulness is a weekly event in Kilburn and it helps you listen harder across all endeavours! If you’d like to try your hand at literary mindfulness, please email for details.