I had barely heard of Jo Cox when the news emerged of her death last Thursday. But watching the tributes pour in, I felt a deep sense of loss. The loss of a determined humanitarian, a champion for equality and fairness, a dedicated MP, and a loving mother.
Of course, good people die every day, and we barely check our stride to acknowledge it. But sometimes there is a tragedy that bursts our collective public conscience, that makes us take stock and unite across social and political divides. Tributes from politicians of all stripes, and a vigil that demonstrated all of Yorkshire's diversity, suggest that the passing of Jo Cox is one of these occasions. The death of Princess Diana and the Syrian refugee child washed ashore last year are others that spring to mind. There are many reasons why these tragedies stand out. Whether it's their positions in society or the resonance with the narrative of the time. Or the crushing challenge to our innate desire for fair play - the part that cries out at the screaming injustice of it all. That such beauty, energy and compassion should be taken away from us so cruelly. And so prematurely.
Amongst the many tributes, the most moving was the clear-minded rallying call from her husband Brendan Cox. Fighting grief that dwarfs everyone else's combined he asked that "we all unite to fight against the hatred that killed her". In a world where homophobia, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia are becoming part of the everyday, it is clear that we must heed Brendan Cox's call and fight now more than ever. But how best to fight hate? How do we fight hate without becoming haters ourselves? How often do we attack those we disagree with, with our own brand of hatred and aggression? How often do we belittle, insult or publicly shame people to make our point? And, aside from validation or self-righteousness, what does this achieve? Does it convince our targets to change their minds? Or does it entrench their views (and in some cases) further damage the low self-worth that drove their hatred in the first place? If so, then we are not really tackling the hate at all. Despite our best intentions, we are adding fuel to the fire. We are fanning its flames, making it worse rather than better. We are paving the way for populist politicians to validate it and giving license to the tabloids to spin yet more of it.
So how to fight it and achieve a positive result? At the very least, we can engage in debate that uses facts that are not exaggerated or taken out of context. The recent EU referendum and Donald Trump's campaigning across the pond, show how desperately this is needed.
But beyond arguing by the facts, perhaps there is room to emulate people like Jo Cox and show more compassion for those we deal with. Compassion for the vulnerable we protect, the people we debate with, and also to ourselves. Personal insults should probably come off the menu. Margaret Thatcher once said "if they attack one personally, it means they have not a single political argument left". But as well as making us look out of ideas, insults remove all hope of convincing people to our way of thinking. Given how people define themselves by their role models we should probably avoid insulting them too (yes, even Nigel Farage).
Empathy would be a good replacement for aggression. Jo Cox said "there is more that unites us than divides us". So let's look at what we have in common - our desire to be respected, to care for others, to be safe (to name a few). Often I see Tories attacked as nasty, heartless and self-interested (I have said similar). But many want a better society as much as us on the left - they just have a different strategy to achieving it. And those that are self-interested may simply be seeking to protect people close to them. The same nuances apply to anyone we strongly disagree with.
Finally, perhaps we can show more compassion to ourselves. Psychologists say that when people aggressively promote their views it can be because they define themselves by them so strongly. They become their views and any challenges are viewed as personal attacks. For increased wellbeing, and less sensitive debate, it's important to ensure some separation. We are obviously far more than our views, but sometimes it takes self-compassion to realise this.
Certainly if there's one lesson I'll be taking from this, it's to take as much heat out of debates as possible. Aggression, insults and hate are not the answer.
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