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Staying balanced in divided times

As the Brexit debate gets ever more acrimonious, it becomes ever more important to keep our humanity, perspective and balance.

The nation is clearly very divided, and the worst thing about that is that the divisive voices seem to be the ones shouting loudest. Turn on the radio and there will be someone angry or someone unsufferably smug. Oversimplification and emotion have triumphed over reason and careful thought. Whatever happens in the end, there will be a nasty legacy of deceit and betrayal, that will not go away.

At times like this, we need to protect ourselves. The biggest way that unpleasant, pushy people win is by getting inside our heads, hijacking our attention, draining our energy. We must keep them out.

One way is to turn the radio and TV off. Don’t look at the headlines in the newsagents’ racks. OK, we need some information – otherwise the extremists have won in another way, by making us switch off from our civic duty to stay informed. The value of unbiased media (or media that at least try to avoid bias) has never been higher. The BBC, despite all the flak it gets from extremists on both sides, still values quality journalism. So do sites like Full Fact, the Institute for Government and The UK in a Changing Europe.

Another is to remind ourselves that human beings are infinitely more than the ghastly, shrill voices yapping at us from the media. Even the yappers have a better side to them, which we don’t see. The Argentinean author Jorge Luis Borges said, “When you come right down to it, opinions are the most superficial things about anyone.”

We must protect ourselves against our own capacity for self-righteousness, too. I’m a keen ‘remainer’, but the leavers do have a point. The European Commission seems undemocratic and to have a ‘federal Europe’ agenda which does not seem to be shared by most European citizens. So the EU needs fixing – but that would be much better done from inside, in my view. But even if I thought the leavers were totally wrong, it would be damaging to me to start puffing myself up on self-righteousness at their stupidity.

In the end, it’s a balancing act. We must be able to argue our case with dignity and respect, for ourselves and for other people whose life experiences have led them to different conclusions to ours. The divisions are here to stay, or at least for the foreseeable future. We mustn’t let them damage our souls.

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