David Hamill: We can't just shut out disagreeable opinions

As I recall, it was James VI of Scotland who, totally convinced of the validity of the doctrine of the Divine Right of Kings, considered that anyone who disagreed with him was either a fool or traitor. Given that his actions and beliefs were directed by divine guidance, he was necessarily infallible and there was no possibility that he might be wrong.

We should not close our minds to others thoughts and beliefs. Picture: Getty
We should not close our minds to others thoughts and beliefs. Picture: Getty

Such dogmatic insistence on the correctness of one’s own beliefs, allied to an intolerance of other people’s views or opinions, is alive and kicking today, 400 years later.

Although there are many examples, we saw it quite vividly during both referenda: Scottish Independence and Brexit. Supporters of both sides were frequently inclined to portray themselves as true patriots and those who opposed them, in James VI’s terms, as fools or traitors.

Each side regarded their position as the only one of integrity, while that of their opponents was dishonest and dishonourable. The outcome was and still remains an atmosphere of mistrust and poisonous divisiveness.

Nor is such intolerance restricted to those whom we might normally consider to have closed minds.

We hear calls all the time for a variety of views or beliefs to be proscribed. These calls are made because a section of society regards these opinions to be offensive.

Don’t get me wrong – we have every right to be offended by speakers or writers who preach racial or religious hatred or who deliberately incite violence.

However, on many other issues we seem to have developed incredibly thin skins. We are very easily offended and there is an increasing tendency to be offended on behalf of other people without stopping to wonder if they are actually offended in the first place.

Equally, there is a marked reluctance to consider seriously or even listen to the views of those whom we regard as causing the offence. For example, there have been instances of Israeli groups and individuals being shunned, boycotted or banned because of their government’s approach to the Palestinians.

All my instincts tell me that common humanity demands that the Palestinians should be granted their own nation state; but is it reasonable to deny Israelis an opinion just because we happen to disagree with it?

Also, is it right that individual citizens or groups of Israeli origin should be judged by the actions of their government?

Very occasionally I purchase a copy of a particular daily newspaper known for its right of centre stance. I find most of its political and social attitudes abhorrent and diametrically opposed to my own and I could very easily be offended by much that is contained in that publication. However, I read it because I don’t want to close my mind to the thoughts and beliefs of others, no matter how strongly I may disagree with them.

Intolerance diminishes me as a person.

David Hamill is retired history teacher. He lives in East Linton, East Lothian