Image by Melissa Mehta
Since the EU referendum result, I've felt heavy sadness for our country, fear for our precious inclusive society, an overwhelming desire to force brexiteers to see the 'truth' and incandescent rage at those manipulative cynical power hungry people who seem to be furthering their own power agenda regardless of the consequences. Mostly I've felt scared for the economic and social impact (both personally and nationally). As the daughter of an immigrant who was chucked out of his previously harmonious country because of his nationality, it's not difficult to see how quickly things can turn very ugly very quickly.
I then had a realisation. I finally understood that the thing that's driving the arguments of the brexiteers, whether they are moderates or right wing extremists, is no different from what's driving the remainers' turmoil in the aftermath of the vote. Those who voted leave are also sad about the risk of changes to our society, they feel rage at those who they see as changing things, and an overwhelming desire to do something, to protect what they feel is precious. If you strip back a thin layer of argument and detail, they have voted the way they have voted for the same reasons we did. They just have a different layer of icing on top of the cake.
We all have a responsibility here. It is so tempting to become bewitched by our anger and sadness, and add further layers of distrust. That way leads to divisiveness, hate and more decisions based on fear. We need to wake up and see that it is all an illusion (on both sides).
The strength in the connectedness of our society does not rest on a set of legislation, it is a simple side effect of being a human being. When we're not worrying about the bigger picture (which we only experience as snapshots through the media or anecdotal evidence heavily biased by our beliefs), we are all just humans doing the best we can, and generally being decent to each other on a basic level (even if sometimes we see other people's wider beliefs as abhorrent).
The comfort of security doesn't come from trade deals and a stable economy. It comes from feeling calm and knowing what we have to do right now to get through the day. Yes, it's easy to say this from the cosy vantage point of a middle class, double income existence in the shires. But I know independently wealthy people who are frequently concerned about their economic security, and those in precarious financial positions who are comfortable that they know they'll make things work. Feeling ok is not contingent on our bank balance.
In the initial throws of my referendum hangover, I wanted to 'make' the brexiteers 'see' that they are wrong. And then I realised I am no different from them. We are all feeling vulnerable. We are all taken in by the mirage that 'if they could only see that we need to change things then it will be ok'. When we fall into the trap of believing our well-being rests on the actions of others, it's a short walk from there to feeling justified in forcing our beliefs on others. From there, extreme acts of violence don't look quite so bonkers. We mustn't fall into that trap.
So what to do? Firstly recognise that we are off-the-scale affected by our response to the referendum result. That our minds are battered with a storm of thinking and emotion. And then acknowledge that when we're feeling like that, we are not thinking clearly. Know that that will settle down.
There are practical challenges ahead, whatever happens. We need to be making calm, rational, reasoned decisions. Whether that's about our businesses, our political leaders, or (perhaps most importantly) how we deal with an offhand comment from a neighbour who might not be a member of our particular political enclave.
We can't force anyone else to change. We can just try ourselves to understand what is motivating other people, and - I know this is difficult - see some justification for their feelings (from where they sit). From there we can properly listen, not with the intention of changing their mind, but with the intention of really understanding how they experience the world.
What good will that do? Well when people are really understood, something very strange (and wonderful) happens. Their stormy thinking is calmed (as we are not provoking them to stick to their guns) and they too get a new perspective. I know that from the situation in which we find ourselves, there are possible ways forward that will bring more prosperity, love, understanding and good things. We can't see it right now. We won't be able to see it until we let ourselves calm down, and make way for fresh ideas. That's where we need to get to, whether at the water cooler, the school gate or the pub.
It's really important we don't make this worse.