I’ve recently felt challenged to think deeply about the seismic changes that we’re witnessing in our time. Haven’t we all?
In the UK we’ve seen Brexit – the success of the campaign to leave the European Union. We’ve once again a small minded nation of separatists who find it too easy to point at the stranger and blame them for all our woes.
America has just chosen a man for President whose greatest success to date was his reality TV programme and Miss Universe. The land of the free and home of the brave is riven by seething ethnic tension and misogyny, anger and bitterness.
And yet I’m given pause to reflect on a simple question – why?
I frequently tell my pupils that this is the most important and useful question we must ask of our world. What lies beneath the surface, behind the headlines…that is where the interesting stories lie.
Others far more brilliant than I have persuasively argued how both elections are the result of a forgotten population who haven’t benefitted from the great advances we’ve seen in our societies as a result of European integration and economic ‘growth’. What we see in the ballot box is the voices of the marginalised (think of Hilary’s ‘deplorables’), those who have seen jobs disappear to factories overseas, opportunities at home absorbed by those from other countries, communities destroyed by the lack of government intervention (or even interest).They look at the progress that has been made in how we view gender, ethnicity, and sexuality and find it deeply confusing…and therefore wrong – ‘political correctness gone mad’.
A politic of fear brings comfort. Blame others for our mess. ‘It’s their fault’ is so much easier to swallow.
So what do we do in response? Do we drop our vision for a society which is open and inclusive, a place where we aren’t defined by labels but by our capacity to contribute positively to building something we can all be part of?
My feeling is that our first job is to rebuild bridges with those we don’t find it easy to listen to – to allow them to speak their fears to us so that by naming them we can transform them into hope.
I know how easy I find it to dismiss those with different views to me, to respond with incredulity that any other response than mine is invalid. I’ve forgotten a fundamental lesson – that we will never win any struggle without being willing to listen to those who oppose us.
Perhaps my greatest discovery over this past year is how few the voices are in my world who disagree with me. I’m culpable of cutting myself off from any view I find myself disagreeing with.
Don’t mistake what I’m saying for an act of surrender. I will never accept that racism, sexism and homophobia are acceptable. I will fight for a world that doesn’t define my daughters by their gender, my students by their sexuality, race or religion.
What I’m feeling my way towards here is a recognition that beneath these hateful attitudes are much deeper fears and uncertainties that we must address if we seek to build a progressive society where all may flourish.
We can’t afford to ignore this, to sweep it under the carpet.
We have too much to lose, too big a story to tell, too good a vision to allow fear to triumph.
We won’t win by pointing fingers.
We will win through love, kindness and generosity.
I choose to hope.