24 September 2012 | Myanmar
In the absence of actual sailing, (my boat is in Mexico and my body is in Thailand, a situation due to be revised in just a few weeks), I am spending time preparing lists of things to do and things to buy.
Recently as I pondered the things I want to put in my new medical kit for offshore use, I was forced to consider the notion of tolerance within the cruising community. Generally I think most cruising yotties are tolerant people. Perhaps as many as nine out of ten are easy going, happy people who will listen to others' points of view without voicing serious opposition - live and let live and all that stuff.
The thing is there is the one in ten in our expanded community who creates the average. And, I suggest the average is more akin to 50/50 than to the 90/10 which the previous paragraph might suggest. This is because the ten percent has strong opinions which he, or she, will stridently vocalise with a frequency which often motivates the good guys to weigh anchor and move to the next bay across.
Often the conversation will start without any mention of the common bond of sailing but could contain a variety of the following words in some structured form which leaves the listener in no doubt about the coming direction of the dissertation: Moon landing, conspiracy, government, 9/11, JFK, oil, Afghanistan/Iran/Libya, conspiracy, mushrooms.
These people absolutely know what's going on. No one can fool them, and they probably have spent the past ten years or so alienating their friends and family and turning themselves into antisocial evangelists. Enter the tolerant cruising types. Lots of nodding and smiling takes place before hurried escapes are made under an implied threat of forthcoming disaster concerning blocked toilets, leaking stern tubes or approaching nausea.
But, back to the medical kit: A medical evangelist said all I needed was one particular miracle preparation which would take the place of a whole cupboard filled with proven medicines. Imagine that; just one thing, the universal panacea which apothecaries have been seeking since before Jesus was a lad. This bloke had it and couldn't wait to tell the world.
This isn't about the preparation, (the side effects of which are well documented and often include serious illness and death) but about the people who were party to the discussion. Most sailors were tolerant, listened attentively, scattered a few platitudes across the path and beat a retreat. One, however, needed to argue the point. The discussion became progressively more heated and the protagonists were only approached by the 'Reasonables' when someone suggested to someone else that "I'll punch your nose straight through the back of your head".
In a rare moment of philosophical clarity, I made the connection between the conspiracies, the medical miracle and religion. They are all beliefs. Mostly they are without any form of scientific proof and with only tenuous links to the empirical. But, they are beliefs, faiths, things which work well for different individuals. They are like the horoscope, tarot, dream catchers and incantations. If they work for you they are good for you. But missionaries are generally not well accepted, no matter what the message.
As cruisers we are often in a position where our faiths are tested. We may privately prevaricate over the existence a higher being, but we are not so undecided when threatened with peril and stand ready to invoke any deity whose name comes to mind as the next thousand foot monster breaks above the stern of our tiny craft.
The trick is to believe as you will. Believe in all the conspiracies you choose to consider; believe in the miracle cancer cure, believe anything you want as long as it makes you feel safe. But remember, if you become a missionary, if you become one of those streetwalking, tub thumping religious salesmen, you are invading someone else's reality, challenging their beliefs and telling them, if they hold a different view, that they are wrong, ignorant and liars. This is not the recipe you need to use to win friends and influence people.
It's not your beliefs they become angry with, it's the manner in which you berate their beliefs and the refusal common to all evangelists to countenance an alternate opinion whilst forging ahead with no regard for the feelings of those within earshot
Here's a tip. If the bloke on the opposite side of the table is starting to turn a funny colour as you rabbit on about your pet theory, take heed. He's a ninety percenter who's about to cross to the dark side and it's time for you to check your dinghy is still tied to the stern cleat. You can apologise on the VHF later in the day!