Here we are — nine days into a shiny, spanking new year and, well, it’s easy to feel pretty fed up with it already. It seems everyone’s at someone else’s throat — brutal wars are grinding on, politics is more like a rotting septic tank than ever and, crowning it all, there’s this unedifying battle of the princes. I’m desperate to get the Wales and Sussex boys into my courtroom and gavel them on their bottoms (figuratively speaking) till they see sense.
You see, throughout my professional life I’ve worked in conflict resolution, unpicking more or less every flavour of spat and squabble you can imagine.
The solution, to be sure, always begins with two obvious things: honesty and listening. Those alone don’t cut it — it’s also about helping people find the right attitude to rage, getting everyone to a place where they can sit mindfully in their problems and solve them. It’s the only route out of the toxic quagmire of histories you simply cannot change. It’s difficult, but it’s necessary.
It’s also the attitude I’ve seen lived over and over again by the extraordinary community of Holocaust survivors. I’ve been privileged to meet many of these remarkable men and women over the years (not least working alongside my mum in Holocaust education) — and I grew up learning from the example of my late grandfather, who lost four sisters, a brother and both parents in the Shoah.
I’ve sat on stage alongside them — Harry Spiro, Sir Ben Helfgott, Mala Tribich and many others — and heard hundreds of thoughtful, deeply emotionally literate questions asked about their lives. The echo in every single one is “why do you not hate?”
Because they don’t, and their reasons tell us all something deeply necessary.
There’s a few aspects, and the first one’s the simplest: “What good would hating do?” It’s like a shrug of the shoulders — but is no less important for all that. Another is deeper and more complex: an unquestionable thirst for joy. They live the lesson that only happiness at its fullest is worth having — to see them dance at parties or laughing at the buffet — is to feel that nobody else has quite that glowing knowledge of what existence should be at its fullest. It’s central to Judaism — what we call “simcha” — but it’s available to all. They know that, if they permit darker emotions to soil and corrupt their spirit, their persecutors would be allowed some element of victory, and that would simply be unacceptable.
There’s a final piece to it too, best summed up in a Yiddish word I love: “davka”. It has no straightforward translation, but, in one sense it means being contrary, refusing to let others set your script. Going elsewhere in your response — declining that narrative — re-opens a life of fulfilment.
So, as we tip-toe warily through January, I’d invite everyone to let their anger go, because each moment of rage fills space that’s meant for moments of joy. It’s a lesson for us all — royal or not.I’m slowly inflatingI’ve been doing GMB in the morning and Snow White in the afternoon. You’d think all that rushing about — grilling politicians at sunrise and singing with Paul Chuckle at teatime — would get me in shape, but no luck. In fact, I’m slowly inflating.
Last year I ended up with a panto six-pack… currently, my belly looks like a bin bag filled with Special Brew. Not only that, but I pulled my back doing a spectacular flip. So I’ll be returning soon to Jason Vale’s juicing place and praying that that sorts me out.
It turns out I’ll be there at the same time as Carol Vorderman. It’s amazing to me that some people dismiss Carol as body obsessed — she’s got a pilot’s licence, knows every number there is and has brought more people to Stem than I can fathom. She doesn’t let other people determine her narrative, she’s far too fabulous for that. I just hope she’ll keep me fully juiced … if anyone can, it’s her.