A statement few people will disagree with, regardless of their political/spiritual/intellectual leanings: It’s been a pretty damn intense couple of months.
Since May this year: my fearsomely inspiring grandmother ended 95 years on this planet, a young man’s swim times determined the length of his rape trial sentence (resulting in one of the most honest and heartbreaking accounts of sexual assault ever written, and the realisation that women still have a long way to fight to feel safe). Two weeks later marked the worst mass shooting in US history, and killing of LGBTQI people since the holocaust, and then no sooner had the candles stopped burning when Britain voted to leave the EU, the Prime Minister resigned, political parties were thrown into turmoil, the pound plummeted, racist incidents soared, and one of the most far-right, pro-austerity, anti-immigration, anti-LGBT, anti-women’s rights and anti-environment prime ministers was appointed to lead the UK. And that’s before we even get started on the police shootings of unarmed black men, the refugee crisis, global terrorist attacks…
Care for humanity feels like it’s hit an all time low – it’s become tough to ask friends how they’re doing these days without prefacing it with “other than the fact that the world’s falling apart, I mean…”
And yet – through these turbulent times, I’ve also seen incredible reasons to find hope. People coming together as communities and creating grassroots actions to offer support to those who need it. Young people engaging in politics for the first time in their lives, questioning what’s important to them, and fighting for it. The most radical shake up of our politics – of our world – that this generation has ever seen. An opportunity, perhaps, to rebuild the future we want on our own terms?
If nothing else, Brexit is a wake-up call. When 52% of the population vote against society’s predictions, it is evident that the the rest of us have been stuck in a bubble for too long. It’s too easy – too naive – to think that 52% of the country is racist (much as some racists would like us to believe!), and indeed I’ve spoken to Muslims, Jews, liberals who voted leave to push for a more tolerant, democratic society.
What’s clear to me is that we need to start listening. Not just to the tweets and Facebook posts of those within our own circles, but also to those whose viewpoints we don’t agree with. Listening without judgement. Without assuming. Trying to see the world through another person’s eyes.
Only then can we start to break down borders. Only then can we start to find unity and hope amidst the disparate voices.
I’m reminded of a recent This American Life podcast – a campaigner’s experiment to change minds on controversial topics such as marriage equality and abortion. The most effective method for changing people’s minds? Listening. Just listening. Empathising with someone’s experience. And then sharing your own perspective, based on your own experiences.
The fear and instability that many of us are feeling about the world around us also seems to be reflected in how we feel about our own lives – and I think the same logic applies.
To carve out the life we want for ourselves – the future we want for ourselves – we have to be able to understand our own hopes, values, ambitions and fears – and to listen to those without judgement. And also – to listen to our neighbours, communities, strangers, enemies – without judgement. To build unity from those differences, and to build a future that works for all of us.
I don’t know all the answers, but I know they’re questions that are vital to explore. So the next Before I Die Network series will be on the theme of connecting. We’ll be hearing from a speaker who knows a great deal about just listening, and discovering what the world looks like when we look at it with empathy.
Another reason to find hope? The last time it felt like the world was falling apart (to me, at least) was the recession of 2008. Unemployment, disempowerment, lost jobs, lost homes… but also a massive rise in social enterprise, social change projects and of people pausing to redesign their lives on their own terms. The Before I Die Network was born out of that recession, and a desire to write a new story. What stories could be written this time around?
The Before I Die Network are returning with another workshop series on the 9th and 16th August on the topic of listening – and connecting. Sign up here: beforeidieiwanttoconnect.eventbrite.co.uk.