We must always guard against becoming overly jaded about the modern world – given the tendency for memories of the past to become rose-tinted – but 2019 seemed to bring more political division and rancour than usual.
Or, as Queen Elizabeth put it in her Christmas speech, the path of history “may at times this year have felt quite bumpy”.
For any politically neutral leader, giving a major speech can be a difficult task. How does one avoid spouting truisms and meaningless platitudes and instead say something worthwhile, while avoiding crossing a line and showing support for one side or the other of a democratic debate?
But, sometimes, we all can get so caught up in the passion of politics that we forget things which should be obvious.
The Queen spoke of the importance of reconciliation and how “small steps taken in faith and in hope can overcome long-held differences and deep-seated divisions to bring harmony and understanding”. “By being willing to put past differences behind us and move forward together, we honour the freedom and democracy once won for us at so great a cost,” she added.
No matter how difficult our problems seem to be and no matter how strongly we oppose someone else’s views, we should always remember that the vast majority of our opponents are people just like us, individuals trying to do the right thing in their own way.
In his address, Pope Francis said: “May [God] soften our often stony and self-centred hearts, and make them channels of His love.”
Whether we are Catholics, followers of another form of religion or none at all, when we talk about the importance of thinking about others – that is, showing a degree of care for them – we should not just think of those with whom we agree, but also those who can make our blood boil.
That does not mean we should hold back when making political points. Far from it. But we all need to have a basic level of respect for fellow democrats.
But everyone involved in democracy also needs to subscribe to basic standards of decency that are so obvious they should not need to be mentioned – honesty, courtesy and a sense of equality. Trust in politicians has fallen alarmingly over the past year. If it to be restored, our elected representatives need to remember such truisms.