This year, going home for Christmas will, I fear, provoke more inter-generational conversational warfare than ever before. My book, How To Be Right, can hopefully help defuse at least some of the potential flare-ups. The writer and actor Robert Webb put it rather more pithily when he described it as, ‘A must-read for anyone about to spend Christmas listening to their parents and/or grandparents talking shit.’
Obviously, I would caution against employing Robert’s description of a beloved relative’s opinion on, say, immigration to their face. Because while you do want to talk to your family about things that matter at Christmas, even after draining the third glass of brandy and opening the sixth pair of socks, you don’t want to be rude or upset your loved ones. This book is your guide to being right at Christmas, without leaving everyone eating their turkey in silence.
It was prompted by conversations I have been having for years with callers to my radio show on LBC. Recently, some of these exchanges went unexpectedly ‘viral’ online because they highlighted a glaring flaw at the heart of the current relationship between politics and the media. Namely, that the people who possess the strongest opinions are often wholly unable to justify them under the simplest of questioning. And if people are getting away with this on Question Time and in newspaper columns, it’s hardly surprising that ordinary punters don’t realise just how deep into their own lives the cons have gone.
The people who possess the strongest opinions are often wholly unable to justify them under the simplest of questioning.
And we all have at least one family member convinced that their country – and by association their entire life – is somehow being ruined by political correctness or the EU or Muslims or gays or whatever other cynical misdirection is currently being employed to convince people to act, or vote, against their own interests. Simply telling them that they are wrong to hold these views, however, is unlikely to prove productive. Instead, I have discovered, it is far more fruitful to ask them why they think they are right.
Whether arguing that ‘you can’t even celebrate Christmas in this country any more’ or that ‘we have to leave the EU so that we don’t have to follow all those laws they impose on us’, the simple practise of asking them politely for some evidence to back up their conviction invariably proves that either they don’t have any or they have been horribly misled by the diabolical work of a newspaper editor, usually from the Daily Mail.
Obviously, you have to have some basic knowledge at your own fingertips. My book provides chapter and verse on, amongst other things, the full story of how ‘Winterval’ came into the national vocabulary and how the myth that councils were taking down union flags for fear of offending minorities passed into tabloid lore. There’s also a helpful guide detailing precisely what Jesus said on the subject of homosexuality (spoiler alert: absolutely nothing) and just how much ‘control’ European Union member countries can exercise over our own borders.
If you do find yourself compelled to challenge anyone, do so by asking them not ‘what’ they think but ‘why’ they think it. Their lives will likely be improved by the ensuing removal of fear and anger from subjects that, on proper examination, merit neither.
It’s important to be kind when conducting these tricky conversations, though. Just ask which supposedly EU-imposed law Uncle Bob is looking forward to no longer obeying, or precisely what Auntie Beryl means by the words ‘political correctness’. The results will likely be more astonishing to Bob and Beryl than they are to you. This is because British television screens and newspapers have been controlled for years by people whose vacuous slogans and lazy prejudices have gone largely unexamined. If you can see people saying this stuff unchallenged on the BBC then you can hardly blame Bob and Beryl for believing that it must be true. If you do find yourself compelled to challenge anyone, do so by asking them not ‘what’ they think but ‘why’ they think it. Their lives will likely be improved by the ensuing removal of fear and anger from subjects that, on proper examination, merit neither.
Finally, though, please remember how lucky you are to be spending Christmas with your family – however infuriating they may sometimes be. Whenever I was enduring a career lull, I would always tell my dad that I was writing a book and he would always, without fail, employ Peter Cook’s famous response and say: ‘Neither am I, son, neither am I.’ We lost him in 2012 so he wasn’t around to see me become a published author. I would happily concede defeat in every argument under the sun in return for seeing the look on his face when How To Be Right popped up in the window of our local Waterstones.