Down at the field this morning, the sun shone. It shone with vigour. It shone with conviction. It shone with feeling. The mares basked and glowed in the light, as happy as bugs. My friend and I talked and talked and talked. We brushed the good horses and we talked of life, and marriage, and the peril of expectations, and cultural differences, and clashing opinions, and how it can sometimes be dangerous to get what you want.
At one point in the conversation, we looked at our mares. They were both standing still, at the end of their long ropes, facing us, lined up smartly as if they were about to do something very important for the Queen. ‘Goodness,’ we said to each other, ‘we think we are just chatting, but we are actually doing some work.’
Teaching a horse to stand still is quite an important foundational step in horsemanship. It’s a subtle one, because you don’t quite teach it. They learn it, by default. You don’t say: now you stand still. They learn that when you stop, they stop. And that is first step of them getting control over themselves, so that eventually you can canter on a loose rein in a perfect rhythm with no fussing or fighting or pulling.
The humans stood still for a while, watching the horses standing still. The little Paint had her show pony face on, ears pricked, front feet delicately placed together. The red mare had her dozy donkey ears and her wibbly lower lip and her Zen waves of peace. ‘You know,’ said my friend, laughing, ‘if someone came in the field now, they would say we are doing nothing.’
‘And yet,’ I said, laughing too at the absurdity, ‘we are doing everything.’
Then we took them out for some more active work and the little brown mare, back in her paddock, cantered about for the hell of it and did some polo turns and a bit of a rodeo as if to say: hey, I’m working too. It was so funny and beautiful that we all stopped for a moment to watch her.
I wanted to write that down because it was an hour of pure joy. It’s one of those crocks of gold I shall want to go back and dig up when I am old and grey. But it made me think, too. My friend and I are very different people and have chosen very different paths in life and have very different characters, upbringings and views of the world. We have very different instincts. When we talked and talked this morning, our opinions were, in some ways, a bit different. Yet we always come together in happy common ground, find a lovely bit of earth that we share, end up laughing and shouting yes, yes. (Actually, she does not shout. I’m the one who yells when excited.) Our differences do not disturb us at all. We don’t take them personally; in fact, we hardly notice them.
Out there on the internet, there is an odd thing about difference. Difference gets very personal, very fast. There is a strange combination of displacement, category error, extrapolation and projection. So, instead of someone saying well, you see the world a little differently than I do, that someone will say: your opinion denigrates mine, means you see me as an idiot, is an act of judgement. People tend not to say: I think your view is wrong. They say: I think you are bad. This classically happens between left and right, when everything goes tribal. The Trump voters don’t think the Hillary voters are mistaken, they think they are evil. The Hillary voters don’t think the Trump voters are incorrect, they think they are stupid and racist. Everything falls into a Manichean mess of light and dark.
Even in smaller matters this strange binary division can rear its confused head. People will get into spats about the simplest meme, or picture, or saying. I saw a thing a few weeks ago where people were sharing an adorable picture of baby donkeys. Only the sweet creatures weren’t donkeys, they were goats. And the goat people got really cross about the donkey people, because everyone should know what a baby goat looks like.
I’m a huge believer in difference. Imagine how dull the world would be without it. I quite often read articles by people I radically disagree with, because I want to keep myself on my toes and not let my mind slam shut and not fall into the terrible trap of the smug liberal. I freely admit that my live and let live is sorely tested by the Donald and his not very merry Trumpsters because I think he is egregious and dangerous and he has the power to make the world a more fragile and perilous place. And when I am tired and cross and I read something very stupid on the internet I do feel the growling monster that lives in the dark lair of my subconscious lift its head and start to snap and snarl.
But I do try to remind myself that a difference of opinion is just that: the expression of another opinion. It’s not a smashing down of me and everything I believe in; it’s not a judgement on everything I do; it’s not the end of life as I know it. I don’t have to suit up and wade into battle every time someone says something with which I don’t agree. It does not have to be a fight. I can say my piece and the other person can say their piece and then, just like my friend and me in the field, we can laugh about it. You say potato and I say potahto. And we really don’t have to call the whole thing off.