Tuesday, 6 September 2011

SILENCE IS GOLDEN


We were really enjoying our second trip in our new caravan on a wonderfully maintained Caravan Club 5 van site in lovely woodland near Leicester last week-end.  Our first trip, a few weeks before, had been to check all worked well – it did and so, at last, this was the real thing!  Here we were, returned to caravanning after 20 years, away from it all, beginning a calm and relaxing break after a difficult and stressful year, especially for my wife.  We both sighed with relief as we wound down the stays.  Just what we needed.  Even better, the site owners were really helpful and we met some friendly people in their vans, smiling and going about their business.  Even the late August weather was behaving, dappled sunlight through leafy branches.  All seemed idyllic. It was as though we were in an advert… Then, unexpectedly, we were faced with a dilemma… a difficult moral choice.  What would you have done in this situation? 

It was day three, we had just returned from a walk, with our two well behaved, tethered dogs, and had put the kettle on for a brew.  We sat outside in our chairs chatting quietly together.  Then, we slowly became aware that, not far away, out of our site, a discussion was taking place between four of our caravanning neighbours.  One voice dominated but three more were chiming in.  All were in strong agreement and the volume increased.  So, there we were, unwilling eavesdroppers on a hearty discussion.  They clearly had no idea we could hear them.   Their chosen topic was immigration and it was covered, from the need to rid the country of undesirables, through blowing up the channel tunnel, to  “What I’d do with Muslims if I were Prime Minister…”.  It got worse and then quieter and there were bursts of raucous  laughter.  We had sat through this, at turns amused, aghast and finally deeply, deeply upset.  This whole experience was hurtful and ruined our few days away.  Two things stand out: that they had been so pleasant to us and that there was such agreement.  This was no discussion, it was a group rant.  We discussed what to do.  What would you have done?

Well, in my professional life I write and argue for strong moral purpose and fairness.  I challenge racism, injustice and weak argument and often do so without hesitation and I do it calmly and confidently.  But here we were, deliberately away from “all that” to relax and enjoy some unstressed holiday time together.  So, in the end, to my shame, I did nothing.  The moral?  Silence is not always golden.  I now really wish I’d said something, very politely,  like, “Excuse me, do you know that your views can be heard across the site?”  I could have added if I’d felt bold enough, “and not all of us who hear you, agree with you?”

(My nationality and religion are withheld)