A Tim Minchin song might not seem like an obvious place to find wisdom, but I’m a huge admirer of his clever wordplay & humorously accurate observations on life. The Fence is chock-full of exactly this – ‘an anthem to ambivalence’ – taking a stab at the stream of false dichotomies we’re all living our lives by.
We divide the world into terrorists and heroes,
into normal folk and weirdos,
into good people and paedos,
into things-that-give-you-cancer and the things-that-cure-cancer
and the things-that-don’t-cause-cancer-but-there’s-a-chance-they-could-cause-cancer-in-the-future.
We divide the world to stop us feeling frightened
into wrong and into right and
into black and into white and
into ‘real men’ and ‘fairies’
into status quo and scary.
We want the world binary,
But it’s not that simple.
The older I get, the more real life I experience, the more true this entire song rings to me. It’s so easy to have a firm opinion one way or the other, and it’s often incredibly comforting to see the world in black and white. That person who hurt you is just a really bad person, cutting out sugar is definitely the secret to being super healthy, that kid having a screaming fit at the playground has terrible parents. It’s time-consuming and often uncomfortable to look any harder, to accept that the person who hurt you is probably lovely in lots of other ways; that good health is about balance and good luck, and one simple food fad will not protect us from sickness; that there might be a hundred reasons for the child having a tantrum, and there but for the grace of good fortune go all of us, every day.
As a reasonably liberal, open-minded person, I like to believe I’m on the right side with my views of current events. Minchin’s song reminds me to be wary of even these convictions: we never truly see the whole picture, largely because the media and news outlets subscribe to the same polarised belief systems and are all invested in keeping us all loyal to our designated ‘side’.
“Your dog has a bigger carbon footprint than a four wheel drive.
So does your baby – maybe you ought to trade him in for a Prius.“
There are some things I can’t sit on the fence about. I definitely think Trump is an idiot; I’m certain that immunisations don’t cause autism – but for most things, when I catch myself thinking in absolutes – putting people or ideas into tidy little boxes – I sing this to myself and try to find a comfortable perch on the fence. & sometimes, it even works. ?