The recent vote for Britain to depart the European Union came with a tall side order of hate, racism, and fear. Your first reaction will probably mirror mine: deplorable. And it is. But there’s more to it.
Hate Comes From Fear
This kind of hate, anyway, is the stuff of fear. The people most affected by any economic or political changes are those who are struggling to survive. No matter what the change is, it hits those who are the least stable in their lives and situations. When you see lots and lots of reports of people in Britain shouting “Go back to Poland,” my guess is that it comes from people who aren’t getting enough to eat, or who have to decide whether to pay for medicine or heat.
We Are All Foreigners
I travel quite a bit to connect with people and share ideas that I hope will help them improve their world. In the process, I get to meet people from many walks of life. I’m always the foreigner in any event, seeking to better understand the locals.
In Birmingham, Alabama, I met a lot of smart people working to show that their region had more to their identity than their history as a steel town and a hotspot of racial violence. The history was filled with pain and struggling, and their PRESENT was filled with fear and new struggles.
But that’s where greatness lies. That’s where the wins are. They come from turning that pain into common ground. What I saw in Birmingham was a strong vision of the future built on acknowledging the past and moving forward. (Thanks, Merrill!)
I could write another 100 stories like this. Everywhere I go, I see what was and what people hope will be. And I understand where the pain comes from, too.
It’s in the Gardens We Plant
Keya from Berlin sent me a letter about how she founded an organization in Berlin called Soul Garden, where she works to use urban gardening as a tool to build confidence, language skills, and resilience and more with refugees. The thread of how the lavender in the garden can be gathered into small bundles to be pressed between clothes in the refugee camps to keep everything smelling fresh and keep some pests away was a thing of beauty.
In Keya’s world, she picked a tool she understood (gardening) to connect with refugees and to build bridges to the rest of Berlin.
You and I are Foreigners
We don’t belong. Somewhere. Lots of places. Who knows? I’ve definitely had moments in my life where I wandered into areas that probably weren’t going to be a good place for me to be.
To understand the hate takes a lot more work, actually. Because even when I’ve been somewhere I didn’t quite belong, I had advantages. I’m white. I’m fed. I have more money than some folks. (I have a lot less than some folks, too.) I’m healthy. I’m from a country that backs its citizens up (at least, that’s the promise).
But take away any few parts of that equation and it’s easy to see where people get disenfranchised and start feeling hurt.
A different race, not enough to eat, not enough money, the sense that there are programs that give more to incoming immigrants and refugees than is available to someone who lives “here” already (wherever here is). And there’s always that pervasive fear that “the jobs” all go to foreigners.
Hate Isn’t Solved by Talk
When people are deep in their fear and challenges, it’s easier to hate and resent. The way to counter that isn’t especially easy. Most people get it backwards by thinking that people expressing hate need to be made to understand something.
People in the depths of these feelings need one thing: to feel heard and understood, to see a path to THEIR restoration and salvation. That’s what they need at that moment. A full belly. Warmth. The sense that someone hears and sees THEM.
And that must be followed up by action.
It’s Complex, But Not Unfixable
The easy analogy is with two toddlers. One toddler receives a toy truck as a birthday present. She wants to play with this. It’s her new toy. Another toddler (visiting for the party) wants the truck, too. The first toddler’s mom takes the truck away and gives it to the other toddler so that she can have a turn, too. The first toddler cries and throws a tantrum and both parents are embarrassed and upset that she isn’t good at sharing.
It’s not that the toddler doesn’t want to share. She just wants equal chances to appreciate the toy and she wants to know she’s just as important as the visiting child.
Yes, this is oversimplified. Sure, there are complexities.
But you and I, the types of people who actually read posts like this, need to remember that the people going through this pain and fear and frustration and hate (who don’t read posts like this) don’t need us to talk with them. They need us to listen and understand. And they need that path to what gets them back on their tracks.
I’m a foreigner. You are, too. And in the coming years, there’s going to be even more pain and fear and suffering and frustration felt around us.
Listen. Understand. Give people paths.
by Chris Brogan