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.

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