Reactions to Margaret Thatcher’s passing have ranged from the usual careful official public words, to each extreme end of the commemoration spectrum, from those partisan parties both for and against this woman with a most singular legacy.
As a result, side-discussion has arisen about the appropriate way to discuss so public and so divisive a figure so recently passed. Some feel that it is open season immediately on Mrs Thatcher, in open and deliberate defiance of the usual social mores in her specific case.
I for one revile, albeit understand, the dancing-on-her-grave approach taken by those who were her bitter opponents, or those who see themselves still as the victims of her politics.
The issue here though is basic decency. To assert that someone is undeserving of the basic dignity and respect generally afforded to people who have recently passed just because they have been a controversial public figure is morally bankrupt and intellectually fraudulent.
What we say about people upon their passing, particularly, I think, after a long and somewhat ignominious decline, says a lot more about us than it does about them. We need to make sure that we maintain standards about ourselves that we are happy to live with, because one day we are going to expect the benefit of the same decency. To attack viciously the recently passed is to throw out a little bit of our humanity with the bathwater.
“Don’t speak ill of the dead” does not preclude an honest and open discussion about a person’s life and legacy. Far from it. But it does caution against careless slander and ridicule. It dictates that when someone has passed, they are entitled to fair treatment and honest discourse. It does not mean that we have to universally laud them and their time among us, although some people erroneously or perhaps generously interpret it that way.
And so to Margaret Thatcher. I was too young to really understand anything about her politics; I just remember her as many will – a strong leader who shaped her corner of the world inexorably, and strode the world like a colossus (collossusess…?). One of the triumvirate of world leaders along with Reagan & Gorbachev who steered the world through the 1980s and to the blessed end of the Cold War.
A wise man (to whom I did not concede the appropriate level of credibility at the time) once told me that if one needed to hate a politician, one should hate their politics, not hate the person. At the time I was unable to make that separation. I am seeing half a world full of people with the same problem at the moment. They would all do well to remember themselves and to return to aspiring to be decent people first, and put all other considerations second.
Let us consign Baroness Thatcher to history in a way that will have our society remembered as one that it was worth her time & effort to serve, and one whose legacy it is worth the time & effort of future historians to recall.