I can’t claim to be anything other than disappointed in the decision made by my fellow British citizens to leave the European Union. I was fairly confident that we would remain but then, I live in London in a bubble of Guardian reading friends who tend to work in the health or social care sectors so now realise that my attitudes were shaped within an echo chamber that didn’t capture some of the anger in the country.
I’ve been dwelling on anger, frustration and sadness at the outcome. I was lucky enough to have had the opportunity to spend a few years living and working in another EU country and my partner is from continental Europe. He has taken the vote personally in the ‘you (plural) don’t want us here’ sense.
But as I read through some of the anger in discourses from the ‘remain’ camp, particularly some of the rage reserved for the generational gap, I’ve become a little less angry with the outcome and a little more thoughtful about my response.
Some of the most damaging rage is reserved to those building this into a conflict between age and youth. Yesterday, when I expressed a concern about the free reign being given to ageism on Twitter, I saw a range of responses that worried me.
Blaming one’s 78 year old father for removing opportunities for one’s 16 year old son who didn’t have the right to vote is one of the more toxic tropes to emerge amid the aftermath. After all, it’s important to remember that 78 year olds have no less stake in the country’s future or rights to vote than 18 year olds. It’s no more valid than saying ‘people in Sheffield’ have removed opportunities for ‘people in London’.
The nastiness which has allowed unadulterated ageism to emerge shows that it has rarely been anything other than hiding beneath the surface and the ease with which it has not only come out but been embraced is a worrying development. I’ve been surprised at some of those who feel that they have been given permission to rage against age but understand that’s amid an initial anger, upset and disappointment.
Referendums are free votes and however the demographics play out, the selective blame game doesn’t help a country that above all, needs unity. While we talk about magnanimity in victory – of which we have seen little – there’s also something to be said about acceptance in defeat. Maybe it’s a bit early for that now but my hope is that those – and it is almost 50% of the country – who are gutted by the outcome, don’t turn this into a further opportunity for intergenerational warfare or blame.
I’ve seen the ‘but I’m 60 and I voted to remain’ comments being made when sweeping statements have been made about the ‘selfishness’ of ‘baby boomers’ but no one should have to defend themselves individually against broad brush assumptions and attacks. It’s sad seeing some of those doing it but my hope is, it’ll be initial rage rather than continued generational conflict.
So where now? This is uncharted territory and it’s a territory I didn’t want to be in but anger has to diminish. I won’t be moving overseas, despite probably being more able to than many as I have lived and worked in another EU country and have strong links – including my partner’s family and a fluency in another language which might help. But I’ve done that before and however disappointed I am, I’m a Londoner and this is my home. I’m not going anywhere so will seek to find what can be built and grow in the ashes of disappointment. The world hasn’t ended. There’s a lot of financial and political uncertainty ahead. The drift towards isolationism and rage against ‘establishment’ worries me but the best way, I think, to overcome is through unity and not division.
So rather than blaming individuals who voted to leave or dismissing their concerns or insulting people who voted differently from me as ‘racists’ or ‘ignorant’ as I have seen some do – the better thing surely is for us to try and understand each other so that we can build links to create better futures. Between young and old. Between metropolitan and rural. Between different classes.
To quote Jo Cox, which seems particularly timely
We are far more united and have far more in common with each other than the things that divide us