It was only a minor argument between a father and his daughter, one quickly forgotten after the heat of the moment. But for me, a bemused bystander, it featured one of the funniest rebuttals to an angry demand I’d ever heard.
“Don’t tell me what to think!” one of them declared vehemently after being told what to think.
The other, perhaps unable to come up with a suitable riposte right on the spot, retorted, “Don’t tell me, ‘Don’t tell me’!”
I laughed out loud, even as I wondered if there might be a third repetition, and maybe a fourth. How long might they have gone on telling each other not to tell each other not to tell each other not to tell each other…?
But they didn’t. And they laugh about it now, too.
I am reminded of the incident every time I survey the pessimistic contents of the various news media to which I subscribe. Almost every story of national or international import seems to be a variation on that angry theme. Leaders of the world—the free world, the enslaved world, the first world, the third world, the western world, the eastern world, the wealthy world, the impoverished world (all apparently oblivious to the stark reality that there is truly only one world on which we all must coexist)—shout back and forth across the social media platforms: Don’t tell me!
And the reply each inevitably receives from the other seems eerily akin to what I heard so many years ago: Don’t tell me, ‘Don’t tell me’!
Political insults cast on friend or foe alike are answered with retaliatory insults. Harsh economic sanctions are met with retaliatory sanctions. Tariffs engender retaliatory tariffs. Expulsions of a nation’s diplomats are answered with retaliatory expulsions. Embassy closings are countered by retaliatory embassy closings. Bombings are met with retaliatory bombings. Missile attacks are countered with retaliatory missile attacks.
Think of the retaliation if there is ever a full-out, nuclear, pre-emptive strike.
It’s reminiscent of the excuse I used to hear from children on the playground so many years ago: It’s not my fault, sir. The fight started when he hit me back!
Having been the victim of an unprovoked, life-threatening attack myself—years ago, and too complicated to delve into here—I well understand how difficult it can be to turn the other cheek in the face of aggression. Trying to understand another’s motivation in such circumstances, and perhaps to forgive, is nigh impossible. I get that.
But, on a global scale, the consequences of not doing so are potentially catastrophic. During the unlamented Cold War years almost half a century ago—where two nuclear superpowers, the USA and the USSR, faced each other down—the doctrine that prevented an accidental armageddon was the notion of mutually-assured destruction: You might kill me, but you’ll die doing it!
I always thought the acronym for that misguided doctrine, MAD, seemed a perversely-perfect name. And history tells us that humankind came terrifyingly close on too many occasions to perishing in its calamitous effects.
Wouldn’t a better approach, I wonder, be MAP—mutually-assured partnerships? Would it not be better for the nations of the world to listen to one another’s concerns and aspirations, rather than turning a deaf ear?
As I’ve written in this space before, all of humankind—regardless of the power some wield, their wealth, political stripe, skin colour, religion, gender-identity, or ethnicity—all reside on one fragile planet.
Is it too hard for us, organized as we are into nation-states, to accept that none of us owns any of this world? That we are merely borrowing it for our use during our blink-of-an-eye lifetimes? That, if it belongs to anyone, it is to the future generations we hope will follow us?
I long, perhaps vainly, for a day where the world’s leaders will open themselves up to each other. “Tell me,” they could say, inviting the other side to respond, determined to listen.
“Now, let me tell you,” they could then reply, looking for a sharing of viewpoints, rather than a clash.
“Tell me more,” the other side might next say, encouraged by the openness.
Wouldn’t we all be better off if that could ever happen?
Despite the pessimistic news reports of today that dampen my hopes and cause a weary shaking of my head, I force myself to remain optimistic that humankind might yet reach that stage.
“Don’t tell me we can’t all sit down together!” I protest. “Don’t tell me it’s too late! Don’t tell me we are doomed by our own stupidity!”
Don’t tell me!