At some stage, if there isn’t already, a precise name will be given to the emotional and psychological state caused by a rapid succession of political events. In just a short space of time in the UK, where I live, we have experienced a debased referendum, preceded by the murder of the Labour MP Jo Cox. Shortly after the vote in favour of Brexit was announced, the fallout began. Shocks in the markets, the resignation of the British prime minister David Cameron and then just about every leading pro ‘Leave’ politician, all happened in rapid succession. Add to that the disbelief and grief felt by many who had not seen a Brexit victory coming, the attempts to overturn or reverse the decision, plus all the anger and recrimination flying about as the Labour Party implodes, and you find that most of your waking – and sleeping – hours are caught up in the drama.
From the outset, I tried to seek out people who were talking or writing about strategies, people who were looking for constructive solutions once the Article 50 button is pressed. But it is hard not to be disturbed by the discord, the disagreements over the way forward, the rows that develop as a result of a myriad different perspectives. Friends, people I encountered in shops and cafes were genuinely upset by the decision, some of my friends from elsewhere in Europe face uncertain futures.
It’s fair to say if there is such a thing as a Post Brexit syndrome, I was experiencing it when I set out for Barcelona on 2 July. I spent most of the night in the hotel reading and writing, trying to get my thoughts into some perspective before I got the bus to Tremp the next day. Would I be able to switch off? I wasn’t sure, but as the bus trundled inland, the constant agitation receded and within 24 hours of arriving in the beautiful hamlet of Eroles, the fretting and continual thinking of the past weeks began to quieten.
Disconnecting from the drama made for a bumpy landing, but the programme allowed for that. It was titled ‘Radically thinking as a species: Promoting inclusion in our towns and neighbourhoods’, and was an opportunity to rethink the narratives around migration and refugees. In workshops and discussions we looked at systems, and the symptoms, structures and mental models that sustain our thinking, as well as the interplay between our individual and collective beliefs and actions.
The time was an opportunity to reconnect with something I know, but don’t always find easy to put into practice, the fact that what we think, feel and believe matters in political and collective space. It opened up the possibility of change being more than about focusing on structures and policies, but on our agency, both personally and collectively.
What amounts to a reworking of the feminist slogan ‘the personal is the political’ has interested me since I saw in Madrid, Spain’s capital, how women were changing the way politics is done. Significantly, there has been a shift among feminists who as well as focusing on women’s issues, have positioned themselves in other political spheres and are challenging power structures, adversarial politics and experimenting with ways of devolving power.
There were a number of aspects to the week that helped me, not least the people who I got to spend time with, but below are some that have stayed with me since I’ve been back in London, where I’m trying to consider how I respond to ongoing shocks in my country – yes, really Boris Johnson is foreign secretary – and try and work out what action I should take.
Settling into a rhythm of life which was more conducive to thinking rather than reacting, to taking a more considered approach rather than just following a trail of media and social media output.
We cooked together, ate together, did tasks in the house or garden together and built relationships that in a short time seemed genuine and trustworthy.
The opportunity to unplug from the constant churn of information and ideas meant there was more time for deeper thinking. This seems vital if we are going to come up with new responses.
For effective conversations to take place, there has to be as much, if not more, focus on listening as on speaking. Often it seems like conversations are really only a group of people waiting their turn to say something, but when people hold the space skilfully, while allowing those taking part freedom within it, discussions can be much more creative.
Learning to deal with difference is of vital importance. When there’s so much antagonism towards the other, it really matters that we hold on to our own humanity and connect with others’.
In the context of building relationship and seeking to understand one another, we were able to begin to tackle difficult issues and be challenged. While this isn’t easy, if it’s in the context of wanting to be aware of our own beliefs and actions, and the need to be responsible, then we have less reason to fear any conflict or disagreement.
Information and debate aren’t always effective means of helping us gain knowledge, and can tie us in a perpetual holding position when finding solutions to problems, and can in fact hinder the kind of deeper thought needed to develop new ideas and approaches.
We need to develop resilience, and develop practice such as meditation and exercise to aid that.
Some years ago I began a blog called the Winnable Game in response to a friend’s child saying he feared that people were powerless to change the terrible things that were happening, which made life an un-winnable game. Since then my conviction that, actually, we are the vital component in the process of change has strengthened. One slogan that gained a lot of traction during the EU Referendum was that we needed to ‘Take Back Control”. Perhaps the reason it resonated so powerfully was that it has some truth in it. We do need to take back control, but control of our lives, our emotional integrity, our thoughts and our own agency. Returning from Eroles, I feel more aware of what is required of us if we are going to be proactive, rather than have our desires and our discontents ‘played’ by politicians and others in power.
This post was first published on 20 July 2016 on the Eroles Project blog, where you can also read it in Spanish.