Hello decency, it's great to have you back
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Hello decency, it's great to have you back

IT seems as if there is something simple coming back into public life.

It is a hard thing to quantify at a distance and is, perhaps, more obvious when it is absent.

We expect it in our everyday lives and might now get back to expecting it from our public figures too. It is decency.

Micheál Martin is not someone I’m particularly politically aligned with and I expect too that, having spent such a long time in Fianna Fáil, he is well aware of politics’ dark arts.

Yet, somehow, I can’t help thinking he is, in essence, a decent man.

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A person who, if you met them in everyday life, would be kind and considerate.

It sounds simple but they are things that Covid has taught us not to take for granted.

And this is not greeting card, sentimental stuff. This is important.

These are essential qualities, qualities that are often missing.

Bertie Ahern, for instance, always struck me as a man who was as straightforward as a winding country lane.

In the end his torturously winding relationship with the truth became his undoing.

Leo Varadkar has always struck me as someone who might be busy taking a selfie in the middle of a conversation.

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I could be wrong, of course. I don’t personally know any of these people but perception, in politics at least, is important. And it is not trivial.

The personal qualities of a political leader sets a tone. It can add a shape to the wider society. It can set a template for how we treat each other.

The nightmare of the Trump years, for instance, was very much set by the personal qualities of the former President himself.

Trump is not a person I can imagine being someone who would be a pleasure to meet.

Would he be trustworthy? Would he tell you the truth? Would he be loyal? Would he be kind? Would he be decent?

Joe Biden, by contrast, has, as one of his most obvious qualities, his clear decency.

He does not excite me politically but his contrast with his predecessor does.

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A return to accepted and expected norms of common behaviour has never seemed more thrilling.

Take Boris Johnson, for instance.

Johnson has always struck me as someone whose vacuous public school charm and desperately showy learning impresses a certain kind of person.

The kind of person who is impressed by a big car, say.

But, surely, even Johnson’s most ardent admirers would be hard pressed to present him as a decent, trustworthy man.

Does any aspect of his personal behaviour or political life suggest such a thing?

Of course we, not so long ago, let ourselves be blinded by so called moral judgements.

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Irish society in particular passed cruel judgement on people who were deemed to have fallen below a hypocritical standard of behaviour.

People were hounded for everyday human frailties, for poor decisions, everyday mistakes.

Indeed things that society now, thankfully, accepts are not mistakes or failings at all. Far from it. They’re just aspects of being human. Part of the many things that make us who we are.

We have left behind our censoriousness about so much of what simply makes us human beings. And we are immeasurably better for it.

This is different.

We should not be interested in passing some kind of false moral judgement on the personal behaviour of those in public life.

We shouldn’t be interested in who they are sleeping with or drinking with. We’ve seen where that leads.

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But Donald Trump and Boris Johnson have shown us one thing.

They have shown us that people of unstable political judgement and belief are often a reflection of people whose own private conduct seems to be lacking certain qualities.

Being led by people who dismiss simple qualities like decency and kindness and honesty trickles into society.

It gives a licence for that to be an aspect of everyday life. It makes us worse. It liberates our worse tendencies.

So Micheál Martin being a decent man is no trivial matter.

Joe Biden being a decent man is not irrelevant. It is not something to be dismissed.

We could be entering a new age. At least in some parts of the world.

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An age of straightforward kindness and honesty.

It might not be truly exciting but, by God, it really does make the air feel fresher.