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Opinion

Paul McNamee: Making a dog’s dinner of debate

If we are to really grab issues by the horns, we must be informed. We must know what we’re talking about. Otherwise we lose the ability to talk and make things better.

I asked my dog what he thought. And not for the first, the answer came there none.

It shouldn’t have been a surprise, as he is a dog. But he is a great dog, clearly.

Like a lot of dog owners, I was surprised when Ben Fogle and his pals got it wrong on the TV show Britain’s Favourite Dogs last week. Ben announced that a Labrador was the nation’s favourite, while mine, a Springer Spaniel, was number nine on the countdown. This is doubly wrong. A Springer should have been number one, and mine first amongst those.

The criteria, since you ask, is that he is my dog. Always impossibly delighted to see you, he’ll give you his heart if you throw him a ball.

I was asking my dog, Toastie, what he thought about The Big Issue Twitter storm. We were up on the park, looking towards the Trossachs, snow everywhere. He, I think, was eyeing up a piece of fox dropping to roll in. We all have our own peccadilloes.

Toastie, I explained, last week The Big Issue boss John Bird, in his weekly column, came up with a version of a new year resolution. Given that the NHS is facing incredible pressure like never before, that things are at breaking point, John asked if there was anything those of us who are lucky enough to enjoy good health could do to help those who count on the NHS – to make sure it remains there to help them. For those people who, through no fault of their own, have chronic conditions or injuries or any number of dark visitations that ill-health can bring.

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You mean we make a few lifestyle choices, because these are things we can control, Toastie seemed to want to say, to eat and drink a bit better, to try to stay healthier? He continued to eye the fox deposit.

Exactly so. It’s really as a simple as that. A commitment to take small steps. To pledge to do it.

When the piece ran last week, there were messages of support. And then the fury. And the fury begat more fury. The general tenor was, how dare you tell people who are suffering to make lifestyle choices to deal with these conditions. Had this been the set-up, the anger would have been right. But that wasn’t it. That didn’t stop the snowball crashing down the hill. The anger wasn’t from a position of having read the piece, rather anger at reaction. And then a desire to show reaction to that.

And this is a problem. Debate becomes debased. If we are to really grab issues by the horns, we must be informed. We must know what we’re talking about. Once there, it’s good to argue. If you disagree with John, that’s fine. But know what point you’re opposing. Otherwise we lose the ability to talk and make things better.

Sometimes moments of pause and reflection before splenetic response allow for better reaction. I think that’s what Toastie was saying, though we were focused on finding his ball which had rolled into a thicket of brambles, making us lose track of what we’d been talking about.

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