Andrew Tickell is hardly the first to suggest that we all should sympathise with “the very sorts who really bought into Better Together vision of Britain“. That we should show some understanding for people who were grievously deceived. That we should be supportive of people who have suffered a great loss.
Maybe so. But, while I don’t for one moment doubt Andrew’s sincerity, I often sense a measure of self-indulgence about the more extravagant displays of fellow feeling. More than a hint of self-righteousness. Perhaps a pinch of condescension. All bound together with a generous helping of moral superiority. Virtue-signalling is very much the dish of the day.
I am generally in favour of sympathy. If I say society has deteriorated over recent decades largely due to a declining capacity for human empathy, this may be more than just the tendency to rose-tinted hindsight which often comes with age. But if sympathy is a scarce and, arguably, diminishing resource, should it not be apportioned judiciously. As individuals, we cannot possibly sympathise with all who may be deserving. If this ever were possible, advances in communication mean that there are now vastly more calls on our sympathy than we can hope to satisfy.
Unless we’re Luddite hermits, we spend much of our days immersed in stories and images evidencing man’s inhumanity to man in graphic and gory detail. Rolling news on TV and online is a litany of atrocities, each with its list of victims for whom we are expected to grieve. We are obliged to be selective. We must be parsimonious with our sympathy lest we be reduced to a dessicated husk, sucked dry of all emotion. And if this makes us seem betimes hard-hearted or heartless, then I’m sorry. But only as sorry as I can afford to be.
Where should those suffering No voters be placed as we prioritise the calls on our stock of sympathy? What is it they have lost? Only their illusions. The scales have fallen from their eyes and, discomfiting as this may be, it hardly compares with the loss of limbs or loved ones. An emotional attachment has been severed. But the wound bleeds only in the sense of an over-contrived metaphor.
Losing something to which we are inexplicably and irrationally bound is part of the human experience. It can be painful. But it can also be formative. Before we lavish too much sympathy on Unionists coming to terms with the collapse of so much that had seemed to them solid and dependable, consider the true nature of their plight. Theirs is not a loss of the kind that leaves an aching void that can never be filled. It is more in the nature of a moving on. What they feel is, not the life-blighting pain of bereavement, but the passing pangs of nostalgia. They have not been permanently deprived of something irreplaceable. They have shed the burden of something that has proved unworthy.
Listen to those who have made the journey from No to Yes. Do they seem bereft? Do they give the impression that a part of their being has been stripped from them leaving a raw and festering wound that will not heal? Or is it more as if a layer has been peeled away to reveal something fresh and fulfilling?
Losing the Union doesn’t leave you alone. It leaves you in better company. It does not call for sympathy. It is cause for celebration.
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