I had the enormous privilege to sit with many hundreds of others and listen to Nobel Laureate, Professor Amartya Sen as he delivered the Enlightenment Lecture celebrating David Hume at Edinburgh University. If I am honest, much of what Sen talked about was rather above my head – Humean ethics, reason and the passions and their relationship to philosophy, economics, politics and religion being something of which I am only vaguely aware.
But what was clear was our need to transcend the partisanship and polarisation of so much debate today. If one thing characterised Sen it was this: graciousness. He responded to every question posed in the Q&A afterwards as if it was the most important question he could be asked on that topic. He made the questioners, often struggling to articulate their points, feel valued and that each point was worthy of considerable discussion.
His graciousness was a reminder to many of us, senior politicians included, that there is a way to address difficult issues with civility and courtesy. That strengthened the debate rather than weakened it. It certainly strengthened Amartya Sen’s standing as a man of great dignity.