For many people all around the world, myself included, this has been a very dark week. The clouds had been rolling in overhead and many of us, in the UK, went to bed on Tuesday night hoping for sunshine in the morning. We woke to be faced with a deluge of despair.
My skin had become a little thicker given the events of the summer. I had awoken on my first full morning at the age of 32 to what felt a very different world; one where the ideologies of free travel, freedom to expand one’s mind from different cultures and different peoples was slowly becoming squeezed away. This week, that took on another global form.
Fear of what is foreign seems to be trumping a desire to understand. Back in 2010, i went to Italy, largely chosen because i had a dislike for Italians. Before me lay two options: stand on the border, hold on to my preconceptions and sneer at those i did not know or go, meet them, find nice Italians, broaden my mind. I chose the latter. I can not imagine doing anything but.
Now, today, words – not bad words but words with an inherently unpleasant feeling – such as hate and fear are bandied around with reckless abandon. One can feel oneself shrink back a little, dropping the head slightly, hunching the shoulders at the thought of interacting with people. Political views are the new weather-speak only far more ardently, vociferously and with much harsher consequences. Labour MP Jo Cox would certainly not have felt the same effects if she had announced to a large group of anyone that she really liked it when it drizzled for weeks at a time. Yet political views drawn from scant and biased information are now beholden by all.
In many ways, this is excellent – for people to be considering the world around us, becoming engrossed in political debate is certainly a great ambition for society. To be close-minded in that discussion to the point of murder is more dangerous than i care to think.
I, as many others, awoke on Wednesday worried and concerned. What did this latest twist mean in the repetition of historical events long passed? Was everything actually going to be alright? I flitted through the first four stages of grief, back and forth, worrying for my future, Em’s future, the future of my unborn child. Brexit had helped to prepare me for this mentally (I was much worse back in June, where the bargaining and denial hung in the mind for many weeks and still continue today as clear objectives remain to be clarified) but i was still confronted by worry for that of my loved ones.
I came to work where everyone seemed quiet and distant. The morning passed like any other, with little in the way of confrontation of the subject by persons around me. Then at lunchtime, i decided to take Tess for a brief walk through the woods, much as i did daily for many a year.
The grey skies matched my mood as i collected the dog, walked through the car park and crossed the bridge into the woods. I walked head staring at my feet; my body language an obvious clue as to my feelings.
Then, suddenly, i looked up to see Tess leap and bound along the path. I took in the view, the familiar path, the familiar trees, the same view that has confronted me on that walk so many times.
And it dawned on me: the world is still the same today as it was yesterday. Yes, people who yesterday couldn’t make important, far reaching decisions are preparing to take office but the world itself is still as it was. The woods are still there, the crags and boulders have not suddenly disappeared, the mountains, lakes and valleys that stood proud and tall continue to do so in their usual majesty. We are still creatures of the same planet.
Granted, i know what the cynics will say: we have to do something to keep the planet in tact! And yes, i couldn’t agree more, the world needs to be preserved and is in a delicate balance, at a time where there can be no delay. But does that mean we should fill ourselves with despair? Is that what i need to teach to my impending offspring?
No, i thought, that’s not right. I don’t want my son to spend his life wary of the woes of the world. I want them to take after the dog, leaping and bounding at the joys that world has to offer. I want them to have that inherent love of the natural world that means they feel compelled to try and do what is right.
I want them to have a rounded experience of people of an infinite number of walks of life and a love and trust of people they haven’t even met yet. And i’m not going to do that by telling them these things. They have to learn it on their own.
This isn’t just relevant for my children not yet born: this goes for everyone we meet. Differences are fine; more than that, they are to be embraced! The key is to learn and to teach. To discuss and argue, fairly and with an open mind. With everyone, from everywhere, as many different people as you can. Whether you agree with them is irrelevant, for to dismiss and lambast those you don’t agree with as bigots and fools is to become a bigot and a fool.
Read different sources, seek out the attitudes opposed to your own so you can better understand those who hold them as true. And then go, speak to those people, persuade or dissuade them but understand their motives. Read the Guardian and the Daily Mail and then make up your mind. Never think there is a right answer to anything; merely the best decision you can make with what you have to hand at the time.
I am not defending extreme right wing politicians. I am not standing up for racists, xenophobes or any of the other people with derogatory labels thrust upon them. I am saying that you need to know them to understand them. And once you can understand them, you can go a long way to broadening their mind. But this will only happen once you broaden your own.
The world today is still a phenomenal place. It is filled with more remarkable people than you can possibly imagine. Remember that, treasure that, embrace that and change it with those thoughts in mind. Those are the ideals i will be teaching my children. I hope you teach yours too.