Image description [The European Flag, 12 gold stars in a circle on a dark blue background]
Be it in the newspapers, on social media, or in people’s own lives it is clear that the result of the referendum on Thursday will continue to reverberate for some time. This article in the Independent has several examples of families feeling the pain of the vote, feeling rejected for who they are or who they love. On my own Facebook I have seen friendships end, and family members hurl words like traitor at each other.
How can we navigate this, given that it’s apparently going to take two years at the least to negotiate the terms of the UK exit from the European Union? I hope here to provide some practical tips and ideas, not so much about keeping the peace, but behaving in a manner which leaves us not feeling drained, attacked or as if our feelings do not matter.
See the individual not the group
When caught in strong emotions it’s all too human to make sweeping assumptions, to say “all people who do this, think that”. That an emotional state is not a reasoning state of mind might sound obvious, but sometimes we need a reminder. You may know how your auntie Jean or best mate Bob voted, but unless you directly (and calmly) ask them why they voted, you do not know. Sweeping statements such as “all leave voters are racist” treats people as if they are not individuals, and are based on assumption not facts. Try to remember to see each person as an individual therefore, rather than assigning group characteristics to them.
You may discover that your best friend Bob actually voted because he believes in forced repatriation, or some other extreme view. That is the moment to be congruent about your values, and if need be, end the friendship. Congruence is about your behaviour and values going hand and in hand, and only you know what your core values are. You alone can decide where your line in the sand lies with reguard to the behaviour and beliefs of those close to you.
A word here about ending friendships. Unfortunately, as children we tend to be told that we must get along with everyone, and that message runs deep. Many people take on the idea there is some kind of moral failing if a friendship ends. In fact friendships, like most relationships have their own natural life span, sometimes a few weeks, sometimes many years. It’s not a weakness or a failing to recognise that life means you have moved on. How you end the friendship, without point scoring, or the need to have the last word, matters far more than the fact it has ended.
With family members it may be more difficult to have a complete break, or you may not wish to, which brings me to my second suggestion.
Space to Breathe
I was struck by the person in the Independent article worrying because their parents are due for Sunday Lunch. Mainly struck by -“Why are they coming for Sunday lunch?” It is a very child like mode of thinking to pretend everything can magically be OK. An adult accepts that people have feelings, and respects that. If you know someone is upset by how you voted, be the adult, give them space. If you are upset by how someone voted, give yourself space. Most social media has excellent mute facilities, use them. Again don’t make this about having the last word, there are no prizes for winning arguments. There is not even any need to tell people they are muted, again try to keep this in the “adult” unemotional state. This isn’t about demanding recognition for how you feel, but about acknowledging your feelings and putting steps in place to prevent a rift.
Let it go
As I have already said, there are no prizes for winning an argument. If your niece is driving you mad sharing “we are all doomed” posts on Facebook does she need a lecture or a hug? What matters more, proving you are right, or accepting that people think differently from you, and might be hurt by different things? Over the weekend I saw quite a few “you lost, get over it” posts on twitter, and was struck by the lack of compassion and empathy being displayed. You may not agree with how a family member or friend thinks, but that does not mean their feelings are wrong. Feelings are facts, by which I mean they exist, independent of whether we think they should or not. By acknowledging the feeling, and offering support for it, you are not saying you agree with the cause, you are going a long way towards avoiding an argument which could lead to an irrevocable rift.
By trying to remain in an adult, reasoning mode, letting go of point scoring and replacing it with compassion, and giving yourself and others space, you will be able to negotiate those emotionally charged situations which could lead to broken friendships and family rifts.