22 July 2016
I happened to get a glimpse of the floor under our bed in a shaft of sunlight and I was appalled. There was a thick coating of dust dotted with black beads from a bracelet that had broken as I was putting it on. I thought I had retrieved them all. If we were allergic to house dust mite, we may have been asphyxiated. Once I’d seen it I had to do something. So I got out the vacuum cleaner and began moving furniture.
The flat we live in is rented and came fully furnished. The bedroom furniture is ghastly, consisting of plastic pieces made to resemble wood. While not to our taste, it does mean that the king-sized bed is not as heavy as it would be if made from solid wood. I managed to manoeuvre it back and forth and sideways, vacuuming up the dust that each move exposed.
It is common knowledge that we only pay attention to information that aligns with what we already think. It has to be a very persuasive argument that will alter our opinions. I think that I live in a clean environment because I dust and vacuum every week. That’s because I hadn’t looked far enough under the bed. Once I saw what was there, I knew I had to set about rectifying it.
Looking under a bed can be scary. Ask any child who’s taken a flying leap to get into bed once the lights have been turned out. That’s where the wild things are! So perhaps it was lucky that I saw the dust layer in the bright light of day.
We live in a “post truth” environment in which the likes of Donald Trump can gain political advantage by consistently lying about how Americans are the highest taxed people in the world (they have the fourth lowest tax rate among 34 developed countries) and how refugees are allowed to pour in without checks (the Department of Homeland Security screens every applicant and the process can take up to two years); in which Boris Johnson can claim (and have the claim emblazoned on a campaign bus) that the UK sends $350 million to the EU every week and he would redirect that to the NHS after Brexit (a claim Nigel Farage said, on national television after the referendum, was one of the “mistakes” made by the Leave campaign); in which a user’s news feed on Facebook is determined by an algorithm that gives him/her more of what they think he/she wants and so reinforces his/her pre-existing opinions.
It may, therefore, be a good thing if more of us knelt down and had a good look under the bed. And didn’t flinch from what we found there, even if it contradicted our opinions about the cleanliness of our living conditions or it turned out to be a monster. Once we’ve seen the lie, the incontrovertible evidence that our previous opinions were misguided, or the looming injustice, we’d have no choice but to do something or change our minds. All it takes is sunlight and a certain amount of courage.