Thursday, 23 June 2016

Choices and Crossroads


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The UK referendum on our membership of the European Union is happening today. Right now, in fact. Polling stations will be open for another three hours (and counting...). This is it.

The whole idea took me by surprise - it's a question I never expected to be asked in my lifetime. But in other ways, it feels like it's been a long time coming. The arguments have been opaque and the build up has not been pretty. I don't need to go into that. It's already been commented on ad infinitum by people more informed and/or more vocal than me. 

Even so, the humbling thing about a referendum is that my views count just as much as theirs. And theirs weigh in the balance just as validly as mine. 

I worry that we've forgotten that. My concern is not so much for the outcome - the answer to the actual question posed, although I do have views and I do care. But my main concern is that somewhere along the way, we seem to have lost the art of listening well. 

So much of this "discussion" has been patronising or belittling. We've had an abundance of scaremongering. There's been hate speech and smugly self-righteous proclamations. Too often passion has turned to poison. It's felt so fundamentally divisive. The statement I've most agreed with was a comment from an audience member on the BBC's Question Time who said both sides of the debate should be ashamed of how the campaigns have been handled.

But this is a referendum. It's not just about the politicians and the papers. At the end of the day, we are going to have to live with this decision in our families, workplaces and our communities. We are going to have to live with each other. And we are all responsible for what that ends up looking like. The tone from the top might be less than inspirational, but the point and the beauty of a referendum is that we all contribute. 

We've made our choice, but we also have control over our actions and reactions. Even after the votes have been counted, the way we choose to talk to and treat each other will continue to influence the kind of society we end up being. We all have an ongoing voice. 

I want to be mindful to make mine count for reconciliation and progress, whatever outcome is announced in the morning.

Thursday, 2 June 2016

Escape or Shape?

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I'm thinking about the Picasso quote I picked out for the centre of this image: "Everything you can imagine is real." No offence to the great master, but I don't think it holds true. There are plenty of things I could conjure up in my mind that have no connection to the way things actually are - fears, doubts and paranoia, to name a few. 

But I know what the statement is getting at. I think it's reminding us that we can take responsibility for shaping new realities, imagining them into being. I think it's saying that we should aspire to create a positive difference in the world, or at least our spheres of influence.

Is it just me, or is it really hard to know where to begin? 

There are so many intractable issues in society. There's so much to bemoan and be overwhelmed by, it can feel like the only solution is to escape - to run away and begin again somewhere else. I've felt the tug of that temptation a little in the last few weeks: in Amsterdam and Copenhagen and at a corporate social responsibility conference, feeling like all the enlightened thinking and cultural progress is happening elsewhere and I need to jump ship to become part of it. 

For some people, leaving for alternative places will absolutely be the right choice. I am the granddaughter of migrants. I've also known the freedom of creating a better life for myself and my loved ones by walking away from things that weren't working. Before I personally experienced that world, the whole Escape the City movement made me sad: wouldn't it be better to change the system, rather than ducking out altogether? But having worked there and left, I fully understand why people move on - why the very people who would want to reshape the City are the ones who don't stay to do it from the inside. 

We have to pick our battles. We can't do everything. 

But I want to try and do some things. I want to commit to picking little corners of my life to re-align with the things I think I value but maybe don't act on enough: community, equality, sustainability. And maybe, in that context, it doesn't really matter if our approach is to escape or shape. Maybe the thing that really matters is motivation. Am I daring to believe in the possibility of real change? Am I enacting the better reality I hold in my head? Whether I have to be uprooted for that to happen, or whether I need to bed-down and keep pressing for progress where I am, I want to be a little more engaged in that struggle each day.

It's encouraging to know I'm not the only one thinking these things through. Brin has a series of posts exploring her "Better Every Day" motto that planted the seeds of these thoughts back in March. Those seeds have been watered by a talk I heard a few months ago, and another just last week. It's a trend I want to harness by documenting the little steps I take with a new series of "ethics" posts - picking up where my "in the news" label left off in 2013 when I started being more discrete due to my professional commitments. It feels like it's time to step up and speak out again. I want to see good things grow in increments:


"The path of the righteous 
is like the first gleam of dawn,
shining ever brighter till the full light of day." 
/
 "The ways of right-living people glow with light,
the longer they live, the brighter they shine."

Proverbs 4:18
(NIV/MSG)

I can't fix the whole world's problems. But I can't keep running from them either. For me, that just feels like such a depressing and unsatisfactory way to live. 

And I know we're capable of better.

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