Comment: Peter Rhodes on optics, coercion and the happiest places to live

Our changing language. Optics once referred to the study of sight and light. Today it is used to describe how an event is perceived by the public.

St Ives – all smiles?
St Ives – all smiles?

For example, if William and Kate cuddle Paddington Bear, the optics are great. And if nurses are on strike when toddlers are dying of strep, well, you can figure the rest.

Coercive behaviour is the latest big thing in our legal system. Bullies, whose behaviour was once ignored by courts and cops, are now likely to be prosecuted for coercive behaviour which is recognised as abuse. The Home Office says of the abusers: “They do this so they can control the victim and make them do things they don’t want to.”

Now the curious part. If police are eager to arrest coercive spouses in the home, why do officers cheerfully ignore coercive behaviour in broad daylight? A group of people block the roads, climb on motorway gantries or walk at a snail's pace. They decide how and when they will disrupt other people's lives. They choose which vehicles will be halted and which will be let through. They are planning and executing the most blatant and bullying acts in order to force their views on other people. And if that's not coercive behaviour, what is? Over to you, chief constable. And watch out for those bad optics.

How reliable are those “happiest places to live” surveys? St Ives in Cornwall is the latest national winner. I have a mental picture of a merry town filled with smiling locals. And yet . . .

A few days ago I visited Leamington Spa, hailed in the same survey as the happiest place in the Midlands. The once-elegant Parade is a mess with many stores closed and homeless folk sleeping in shop doorways. “Happy” was not a word that sprang to mind.

“What will fill the void?” lamented one Sunday newspaper at the news that fewer than half of English people now describe themselves as Christians. Don't panic. Despite 2,000 years of Christian teaching, we never seriously adopted the religion. We embraced the easy stuff like Easter eggs and Baby Jesus in the crib. But what about the hard stuff? Forgiving your enemies? Turning the other cheek? Giving your money to the poor? Never really caught on, did it?

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