The result of this election surprised me, as it did many people. Since then, I’ve found myself wondering how quite so many people voted for a party that myself and so many people I know disagree with very strongly. What’s overtaken that in my thoughts now, is the severity of the response by a number of my social networking friends – a response which has seen threats to unfriend Tory and UKIP voters, as well as abusing them with a variety of the strongest swear words.
A wiser man than me once said ‘Its not what happens to you that matters, its how you respond to what matters to you’ and whilst I share a sense of disappointment and frustration, its in that vein that I’ve been thinking over the last 24 hours.
Like many people in the arts I live in something of a left wing, liberal bubble, so I’ve not had the chance to really find out a lot about why so many people vote right wing, although thanks to a couple of guys amongst my Facebook friends, one of whom is a friend in real life, I do know for sure that some of these people are rational, polite and kindly people. In fact I’m willing to bet that most Tory voters in middle England are sound people, who, within their own social circles at the very least, are friendly and kind. In the case of UKIP and the suspicion of a racist undertones in their supporters, Id suggest one of the drivers there, is a sense of mistrust and fear of ‘the other’.
What concerns me is that when we respond to these situations and people with anger and vitriol, we are pouring fire onto troubled waters.
How often have you got into a vigorous argument with someone, perhaps including name calling, only for them (or you) to turn around at the end and say “I’m sorry, you’re right, I realise that now”? It hasn’t happened often in my experience. I suggest people are far more likely to change their minds if engaged in an open dialogue with others who dont hold too tightly to their views and are willing to look at a conversation as a way of mutually getting to the truth, rather than defending or attacking increasingly entrenched positions.
Although our differences can seem profound at times, I’ve often found that once I get talking to someone with apparently major differences in opinion to me and we’ve got into the exactly what they mean by some of their statements, and the intention behind their views, we actually have much more in common than we think. In times of difficulty, its perhaps more important than ever to see past our differences into this kind of shared humanity.
It takes courage to open up your heart to people with radically different views to your own. I know this because I’ve been guilty myself of weeding people out of my facebook feed because “I just dont want to be reading this stuff’. But isn’t this fueling exactly the kind of ‘them and us’ thinking that is one of the underlying causes of these issues in the first place?
I realise that there’s bound to be an outpouring of emotion at a time like this, but I’m hoping I can see these kinds of situtations differently in the future, as an opportunity to open up, to test the limits of my own compassion, exactly as I woud wish to see other people test theirs. After all, if we want people to be more compassionate in their politics, then failing to show compassion to them in return is likely only to backfire. To be effective in creating positive change, we need to do more than talk about compassion, we have to model it, to be it. Its as much about how you communicate as what you communicate. If you dont want division, then dont be divisive.
Of course this is all easier said than done, and it helps a great deal if we can cultivate an inner core of positivity and and self regard, and that ain’t easy in the face of suffering, whether its ours, or other people’s, but I do believe that developing friendship, or at the very least tolerance, across the political divide is a crucial step towards creating the kind of harmonious and compassionate society we all so deeply desire.