Last week was a tough one for the world. Things felt heavy and miserable and violent – fuelled by fear and hate. Here in the UK, the EU referendum campaign was (and still is) stirring up huge waves of negative emotion and vitriol and hateful, divisive rhetoric and this rose to a head in the horrific murder of MP Jo Cox last Thursday – an act that left the country reeling.
I spent Friday in a state of shock. Close to tears a fair bit of the time. Jo Cox was one of the good ones, not just a good MP but – from everything I’ve read – one of the all round good people of this world. And she was taken in such a brutal way… really there’s nothing I can say that hasn’t been said by others… it’s just so horrifically wrong.
Over the weekend, like many others, I read and shared the quote from her first speech in the House of Commons:
“While we celebrate our diversity, what surprises me time and time again as I travel around the constituency is that we are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us.”
I’ve thought about that a lot over the past few days – about what we have in common. Beyond being human, what is it exactly? Because the words and actions of some people make me think we don’t have anything in common at all. I just can’t get my head round the racism and homophobia that have inspired recent acts of violence. Who gives a flying f**k about where people are born, what colour their skin is or which gender of people they love? Why would anyone choose to take against another person based on something like that? If there are people like that in the world, how can humanity have anything in common?
But then, I tell myself, those are just the actions of a tiny minority of people. Most people aren’t like that. Most of us share a common humanity that doesn’t let such feelings fester. Don’t we? So why do we let our differences pull us apart? Why has the EU referendum played out this way? Why can’t we all just respect each other? Is difference really so bad?
I think not, but being drawn to people like us seems to be hard-wired into the human psyche. Being friends with people we have lots in common with is great – it feels so easy and natural. You know that feeling when you just ‘click’ with someone and it’s fantastic? That’s based on similarity, I think, not difference. But you don’t have to agree on everything – that would be impossible. So difference is fine really. We can cope with it between friends… we should be able to cope with it where ever it appears.
And yet, in polite society we have the whole ‘don’t talk about politics and religion’ thing going on – as though if we’re divided on those issues we better keep it to ourselves or friendships will surely crumble. Is this really true though? I mean, I’m a left wing atheist – pretty staunchly so – but I have friends of different faiths and political persuasions. I know in these socially connected times that’s perhaps not saying much though so… ok… one of my close friends (we met at antenatal classes and
dragged supported each other through the early days of motherhood so no one can break that bond!) is a church-going Christian. She also happens to be one of the most wonderful, down to earth, kind, funny, thoughtful people I’ve ever met. Who cares if we disagree on whether there’s a God? I mean WHO CARES?!
Another of my very close friends (another NCT class compadre) voted Conservative at the last general election. No biggie perhaps you might think, but I was one of those people who felt bereft at the last election results – just, gutted and, to be blunt, incredulous that anyone could possibly think that a Conservative government was what this country needed. To be even more blunt I was, on election results day, furious that anyone could have voted Tory – seething, poke your eyes out with a sharp stick, furious. But this friend, this lovely friend of mine is just plain awesome. Kind, loyal, empathetic, smart… the sort of friend who turns up with biscuits when she knows you had a bad day and is always full of wise advice and a comforting shoulder.
With both of these friends, I respect the beliefs they have and the choices they make. I disagree wholeheartedly that there is a God and that a Conservative government is a good thing but that doesn’t mean I can’t love my wonderful friends with just as much wholehearted conviction. I do.
Having said that, we don’t talk religion or politics much – we skirt around the issue – so I’m not truly testing that ‘don’t talk about that!’ thing with these friends I guess. HOWEVER, I do have a friend with whom I disagree politically (on some things at least) and we DO talk about it. A few months ago we actually had a kind of falling out over it. Don’t talk about politics with friends you disagree politically with – you’ll fall out! Well, yeah, perhaps, perhaps not, but if you do, is ‘falling out’ really such a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad thing?
Actually what happened with this lovely friend of mine was that we sorted it out. And in sorting it out we had a big old proper heart-to-heart and honestly, the friendship is better for it. Message from the universe there – talking about and working through differences can be a good thing, a great thing, even – if you let it be. It’s not necessarily easy though. For someone like me who likes agreement and hates conflict, I’d rather keep quiet most of the time. One thing I learned from the Kids Strike is that it’s scary when you actually stand up for what you believe in and wear the badge. People can disagree. People can be offended. People, out there in the big wide world, can even be nasty.
But I reckon if you talk about the stuff you disagree on, and if you can listen to people rather than just wanting to poke them in the eye, there can be real acceptance there – not just ‘I like you because you think the same way I do’ (which, I will admit, is a position I am very fond of in friendship) or even ‘I like you despite the fact you think differently’ but just plain old ‘I like you’. Whatever. Acceptance.
So what am I saying in this rambling post? I’m not sure… but it feels like something has gone wrong with the exploration and acceptance of difference in society at the moment. We need to be able to talk about things without all the negativity taking over. Enough of the horrible polarising hatred. Sure, disagree with people, even have a little fall out if you really must. But for God’s sake make up afterwards. We mustn’t let the disagreements be all that we are. Because we’re capable of more than that and we’re so much better than that, and what unites us… what unites us is love – the capacity to love and be loved and to use that force for the good.
So, I guess this part is for you, my conservative-voting, religiously-minded friends – you go on being you, I’ll go on being me. Maybe we can even talk about those big issues sometimes without the bottom falling out of the world. Let’s listen to that instinct that tells us we are similar regardless of our differences. Let’s just… be.
“We have more in common with each other than the things which divide us.”
Jo Cox, I reckon you might be right.