Right now, I don’t like the shape of politics in this country. In fact, I feel quite literally sick to my stomach when I think about it. I feel as though we are all being deliberately encouraged to be afraid, to be anxious, to view people who are different from us as other, and as a threat. The current target of our collective fear and anger is Muslims, but to be honest, I think our politicians and our media have been training us to fear and mistrust each other for some time – asylum seekers, the unemployed, people on disability pensions, young people – all of these have been presented to us recently as the source of our problems, a threat to our financial well-being, or even to our physical security. It’s an excellent distraction from an unpopular budget, and also works nicely to justify inequitable social policies.
After all, we are told, In Times Like These, we must all make sacrifices.
The problem is that sometimes what we are sacrificing is our sense of compassion and our common humanity.
I don’t think this is a sacrifice worth making. In fact, I believe that there is absolutely nothing we can buy which is worth such a cost.
What I find especially hard to take about this sort of situation is that it really only takes a few people to create it – but it takes pretty much everybody working together to counter it. So it becomes very easy to feel helpless because there isn’t much that we, as individuals, can do. And of course, feeling helpless means that it’s hard to exert the energy required to do the things we actually *can* do. There’s a reason this blog has been quiet for so long, and it isn’t just that I’ve been travelling (though I will say, not reading any news for four weeks was absolute *bliss*).
Even so, while it’s true that a single person can’t change the mindset of an entire population, there are people we can influence. Ourselves, for one. Our friends and family, for another. Our colleagues. The people we meet on the street or at the shops.
Here’s what I think.
I think that if you make it hard for people to participate in the community, then they will give up on participating.
I think that if you make people feel hated, then they are quite likely to start hating you in return.
I think that if you tell people they don’t belong, they will look for somewhere that they do belong, and this might not be a healthy place for you or for them.
I think that if you scare people enough, they will become so caught up in their fear that they will forget to think.
I think that if people aren’t thinking very hard, they are more easily influenced.
I think that there are people in the world who are cynical enough to exploit all of these things for their own gain.
But there is another side to this story.
I think if you welcome people into your community, then they will find common ground with you, and you with them.
I think that if you make people feel loved, then they will learn to feel secure.
I think that if you treat people as though they do belong, then they will find a place.
I think that if you make the people around you feel safe and loved and as though they belong somewhere, then they will do the same to others.
I think that if people feel safe and loved and part of the community, then they have space to think and feel and be creative, and we are all enriched by this.
And I think that there are people in the world who are courageous enough to attempt all of this.
We can choose to be kind to the people around us. We can choose to think before we make generalisations about groups of people. We can do our best to see in others the humanity we see in ourselves. And we can refuse – quietly or loudly, as our temperaments or the situation demands – to take part in fear, in hatred, in exclusion of others.
I know this sounds wishy-washy and as though it isn’t engaging with the issue, but it’s more relevant than you might think. The constant barrage of news telling us that the people around us are a threat encourages us all to retreat into ourselves, away from the outside world. It’s also exhausting. And I think the only possible way to start fixing this is to reach out and start finding common ground with the people around us. We need to rebuild a sense of community – one that is robust enough to withstand the voices that tell us to distrust our neighbours. One that invites our neighbours to trust us.
It’s a first step, but it’s the most important step, because it’s the foundation for all the others. And also, it’s a step that we can take in some way or another every day, including on the days when we don’t have the energy to write another letter or have another argument or even read another newspaper article. I’ve had a lot of days like that, recently.
There will, am certain, be other things we can do. I’ll be keeping an eye out for any solidarity actions I see that look useful, and will post them here – I really hate the idea that people might feel unsafe in this country because of their religion and our prejudice.
I’m sorry. This post feels like pure emotion and no information, which is not usually how I like to write this blog. But I have so many posts that are unfinished because I couldn’t make them good enough to post, and I’m beginning to think that even saying something that isn’t phrased quite right, that doesn’t convey all the nuances I want to convey, that probably does manage to exclude someone or make at least one utterly stupid statement is better than being silent, and not expressing my abhorrence of what our government has been doing – to refugees, to the poor, and to all of us, when it turns us against each other.
We are being told not to let the terrorists win. But I think when we start looking at our neighbours and seeing potential terrorists, that battle is already lost.
Rightly or wrongly, I’m not feeling as though I’m under threat from terrorists. To me, the greater threat is the one that comes from seeing danger in difference – because we are all different, one way or another.
Instead, let’s not let the terror win. Let’s not be afraid of the people around us. Let’s not allow the fear of what others might do to make the world a worse place destroy our hope in what we – and others – are doing to make it a better one.
(And if it’s the sort of day where even hope seems impossibly hard – don’t hate yourself for that, either. I’m pretty sure that being kind to yourself is the first step in finding the capacity to be kind to others. And now I sound like a bad motivational speaker, which suggests that it’s time for me to stop writing.)