Recently my father was having lunch with some cronies and ordered a roast-chicken dinner. He was a bit taken aback when the waitress asked him if he wanted an egg. It struck him as a bit odd – the idea of an egg with a roast chicken. But being aware that modern chefs often use soft-boiled eggs as sauces and not wanting to look out of touch, replied "yes". When the roast chicken arrived he was rather puzzled to see that it was minus the egg. But in a stereotypically "British" way didn’t comment on the lack of said egg and simply went on to enjoy a rather splendid roast chicken.
But the issue of the egg was gnawing away at him. He remarked to my mother later that he didn’t understand why he’d been offered an egg in the first place. But he was even more puzzled by the fact that having been offered one it didn’t then materialise. Next morning over breakfast he scared the living bejesus out of my mother by suddenly shouting: "Leg! She was asking me if I wanted a leg!"
Nowadays we’re bombarded with mainstream and social media headlines and soundbites, often crafted to elicit an immediate emotional response, usually negative. It seems to me that we might have lost the ability to critically evaluate the information we receive. We don’t always have time to check the validity of everything, and that’s fair enough. But at the very least we should ask ourselves basic questions: "Who stands to gain from my emotional reaction to this and what is the context of the person/organisation sharing this? Where did this information come from and how credible is the source? Is there contrary evidence?" If the answer to any of those questions is "I don’t know", then we need to immediately distrust our emotional response and either take the time to check or recognise that information might not be reliable.
I include family and friends in that. Just because my mother says something is true doesn’t make it so (sorry Ma!) unless she can point to a source where her information can be validated – and not a meme or trope or emotionally laden imagery.
What’s so delicious about the story of my father and the egg is that even though he had his doubts he didn’t question the offer of an egg, and then when the egg didn’t come he didn’t question why it wasn’t on the plate.
This is so relevant to us in the sector – especially now! We mustn’t accept what we are told without question. "There is no money for this service"; "we value you but have to make cuts"; "it’s too difficult to do"; "the minister/MP/councillor is too busy to see you" and so on. Asking the questions and challenging the statements will get you better information and possibly encourage others to think more critically. And, in any event, it’s our bloody job to ask: "Where’s the blimmin’ egg?!"
Debra Allcock Tyler is chief executive of the Directory of Social Change