Often in life we hear a story, or read an article, where a point of view is being put forward, as fact. The reader, or listener, is then often asked or expected to do something on the basis of that point of view, which is never questioned.
I call that attitude the ‘we all think’ mindset
I first came across it at University, where my then boyfriend was a bit of a politico. At that time the cause celebre was a campaign to persuade the University to sell shares which had interests in South Africa (this was during apartheid). I think the shares were in Barclays Bank.
The way it went was that there would be a student meeting where various politico types would tell us about the evils of apartheid, the scandal of the University’s ownership of these shares, and the strong need for us all to DO something about it. They would then start to shout and wave their arms about, becoming more and more screechy, until eventually they would have to be carried off, foaming at the mouth, and be revived with tea and biscuits (I made that last bit up).
The upshot was that we would all storm in and occupy the University admin building ‘in protest’. All great fun of course but totally pointless, as the only real outcome was to inconvenience the University admin staff (although maybe they were used to it and just carried on working elsewhere …).
At no time did anyone question the underlying premise that the University selling its shares would do any good. The ONLY time I ever heard it discussed in any depth was at a University Senate meeting, where I think they decided against the motion. It was such a relief to hear people discuss things in a calm and logical manner and not take things for granted. (Maybe I should have realised then that I was destined to be a lawyer).
Ever since that time I have deeply distrusted the ‘we all think’ mindset and have tried to avoid being sucked into it.
The latest manifestation of the ‘we all think’ mindset is the Suzy Butler case, which I wrote about here. In this case ‘everyone’ was up in arms about how awful it was that a charity worker was not being allowed into her own home by this despicable squatter who had overstayed her tenancy and was refusing to pay rent. When I pointed out to the BBC researcher that actually she was not a squatter and was entitled to stay there, she was quite surprised.
The ‘we all think’ mindset is dangerous because it can lead people into taking action to support things which, if they considered them properly, may not really be things they support or believe in. Or it may encourage them into taking unwise action.
For example as some people have pointed out, Ms Butler’s conduct towards her erstwhile tenant quite probably constitutes harassment as defined by the Protection from Eviction Act 1977, rendering her liable to prosecution.
The harassment legislation was brought in to protect tenants from being evicted (or ‘persuaded’ to leave) by criminal landlords without going through the courts. If charity workers ‘just wanting to live in their own home again’ are allowed to evict their tenants (or ‘persuade’ them to leave by vilifying them in the media) without going through the courts, then that makes a nonsense of tenants rights.
The two situations may feel very different, but if you change the law for one, it is difficult to prevent the law changing for the other too.
We should all think about these stories, without the miasma of emotion which tends to surround them. You may find that, on reflection, you have quite a different opinion from ‘everyone’.
And join with me in rejecting the ‘we all think’ mindset.
(The Thinker photo by KellyK)