Saturday, 25 June 2016

Bridges, not barriers.


I'm feeling desperately sad.

Not just because of the referendum result, though that's part of it, but because of how it is polarising people in the UK (and beyond) even more than before. On social media, I'm observing fights break out between folks I love, ugly words, unpleasant judgments.

If #Bremain had won, there would doubtless be the same polarisation. I don't claim to have the answer. But the process has left me in little doubt that there is a rising tide of xenophobia in this country. Not everyone who voted leave, not anywhere near, but watching some of the news broadcasts from around the nation has opened my eyes.

Some of the comments I noted:

'I voted leave because no white kids can get in at my local school, it's all taken over by the immigrants.'
'I voted leave because our country is full up.'
'I voted leave because I want to get England how it was before all the immigrants moved in and spoiled it.'
'I voted leave because it will sort out all those Muslims.'
'I voted leave because they take benefits from us and I can't get a doctor's appointment because of them.' (whoever 'they' are.)
'I voted leave because they take all our houses and we're left with the worst ones.'

It went on and on in this vein.

The statments about leaving because of sovereignty and democracy I had much more time for, but in general I felt that we were stronger for being part of something bigger, for working together with other countries. I also felt that EU directives on worker's rights, the environment and human rights were important factors I felt it would be problematic to possibly lose. There's the miniscule worry for me that I simply don't trust our government as it is to 'take back control', but that's not the only reason I voted Remain.

I have no idea what the future will look like. There are dire predictions of the economy going down the pan, of the pound in free fall, of job losses and cuts harder than we ever knew before (if we thought Tory austerity was severe, we might be looking back on those cuts with fondness for former times.) I don't know if any of this will be reality.

What I do know is that we are at a crossroads, now. We can rally all we like at the vote; the prevalence of the older population voting Leave, the fact that it was actually only 38% of the electorate who voted Leave at all, the many rumours circulating of Brexiters who wished they could take their vote back because they believed Nige and BoJo about that £350 million thing. But I don't think a petition for another referendum will do anything, ultimately, because in the end, this was democratic, and the Leave side won. Therefore, what we must do is work together to step into the future, whatver it may be. To stop backbiting, namecalling, hate tweets and everything else that only further polarises. In the end, we are all human beings together. The great majority of us - whatever 'side' - want what is best for everyone. We may think some are misguided, they may think we are, but we don't have the right to spew hatred. No one does.

This doesn't mean that I can't say what I think, but that I think that personal attacks (some I saw today: 'I thought better of you, I thought you had more sense than that, I'm de-friending you) are never a helpful thing. Never good.

So how can we go forward? We just bumble along, I suppose, like we always do. And we support one another. I know of someone who has already been made redundant due to the referendum, and of many who are worried for their jobs. How can we help?

I like what the Archbishops of York and Canterbury have said in their statement about the referendum:

As citizens of the United Kingdom, whatever our views during the referendum campaign, we must now unite in a common task to build a generous and forward looking country, contributing to human flourishing around the world. We must remain hospitable and compassionate, builders of bridges and not barriers. Many of those living among us and alongside us as neighbours, friends and work colleagues come from overseas and some will feel a deep sense of insecurity. We must respond by offering reassurance, by cherishing our wonderfully diverse society, and by affirming the unique contribution of each and every one.

This is what I want to see. This is why I am worried about all those statements I posted above. I would love to see a society where we all welcome one another as fellow humans, loved and precious, uniquely formed in God's image. I hope that this can turn to something good, to something generous and forward-looking.

I kind of fear that it won't.