The shocking result of the referendum last Thursday detonated on Friday morning sending people into either a tail spin of panic, or quiet jubilation. The unthinkable had happened: the majority (by a hair’s breath) of the British population wanted out from Europe.
As most of my friends were Remain voters, my twitter and Facebook account was full of shock, horror and anger. None of us really believed it would swing this way. We knew people were disgruntled, disenfranchised and too ready to listen to disingenuous politicians pointing at migrants as the reason for the lack of GP appointments and school places. But we didn’t realise it was quite this big, nor that a normally conservative populace would take the radical option, an option that most people had no idea of the full and very real consequences.
And so the proverbial hit the fan. Some Remainers expressed their frustration on social media in a way that left many feeling rejected, belittled and patronised. And in a repeat of what happened after last year’s General Election, those who voted Leave remained quiet for fear of retribution.
As a nation we drank deep from this poisoned chalice we had been handed by our political leaders. Intoxicated by the experience, some lashed out at those who didn’t match up. Others have gone onto the streets and shouted racist abuse at anyone a darker shade of pale to “Go home!”. What have we done? were my first thoughts. They still are.
This is deeply worrying stuff: division not just between strangers but family and friends, politicians resigning left right and centre leaving a leadership vacuum, and long-time contained racism being let loose in all its ugliness. Above all, there is a growing sense of panic and scrabbling about for hope.
Hope. That word this is being bandied about. Without a positive future, or leaders to speak of positive futures, hope is a rare commodity. This whole episode is challenging where we place our hope. For most people, hope depends on stability: stable markets, stable relationships, stable government. A lot of those things are looking very wobbly right now. Might be time to start putting our hope on something a bit firmer, eternal even?
For hope to rise again, we need real leadership. Strong political leadership, of course, but we don’t have to wait for Westminster to get its act together (Lord knows we could be waiting some time). It can start with us, in whatever area we are leaders. Hope can start with us, strange as that might seem.
Good leaders speak positively whilst acknowledging the real difficulties, speak of possibles and point the way forward. As a parent, we really can do something here. Thinking carefully how we talk about Brexit in front of the children is one, no matter what their age. On Friday morning, we were very careful not to show our feelings as we knew my eldest was already worried about them (they’d been learning about the issue at school). Her iMessage feed that morning was going crazy with comments like “What’s going on????!!! :-(” and “Why is everyone going crazy.” “Trump is coming!” another said, as if an invading army was on its way….
So many of them are feeling the insecurity that is all around them and don’t know how to interpret what’s going on. We need to be explaining what is appropriate for them whilst reassuring them of the certainties that they can rely on. Our love for them, Minecraft, selfies… I jest but my point is we need to be conveying that the world most certainly is not ending.
Good leaders build up and encourage. We can also think about how we talk to people who are clearly from abroad. They desperately need to hear affirmation and encouragement that we’re not viewing them with hatred, whichever way we voted. I loved the photo that was posted on Best of Bristol’s Facebook page of what a Bristol shop did this week….
I’ve heard of other creative ideas like throwing street parties for multi-cultural streets. Fab idea.
Good leaders don’t take the moral high ground. Gee, we’ve had an orgy of that lately, and not just from the politicians. What happened to all that tolerance and respect and bridge building that was talked about by Remain voters?? None of us have the right to take the moral high ground, especially in a referendum that quite frankly 1% of us were equipped to engage in. As the Christian author Timothy Keller tweeted: “Tolerance isn’t about not having beliefs. It’s about how your beliefs lead you to treat people who disagree with you.”
And good leaders listen. They listen to those they’d probably not normally hang out with, like those with different voting habits or who live in different neighbourhoods. We can easily do that too. It might not be easy but we can. In fact, it’s fascinating when we do. I heard of some very interesting (and worrying) reasons why people have voted Leave. Most of them based on emotion, I have to say. Same goes for many Remain voters too.
Now, more than ever, are we being tested to practice what we preach: to build bridges and extend peace in the way that many feel the EU has done. To show respect for those we don’t agree with and build a culture of honour. To resist claiming the moral high ground. I want to be part of something that builds up, not tears down. And the best part is, we don’t have to be part of a political union to do this. We can begin where we are.
by Siobhan O’Reilly-Calthrop