We know – we don’t need to see the data, though here it is – that we (individually and collectively) embody deep contradictions. We desire power, wealth, and image. We tend easily towards prejudice. These are values that are celebrated – often blatantly, often subtly – in so many ways; through much of the media and advertising that we consume, through the role-models of our political leaders, even through the ways in which we measure the progress of our society. The dead hand of market fundamentalism, it seems – beckons us ever towards self-interest and antipathy.
But, even in the face of this, we hold other values to be important. Values of community, social justice, and equality. We strive for broadmindedness and we are drawn to beauty.
Indeed, these are the ‘intrinsic’ values that most of us hold most dearly: though we tragically underestimate the importance that our fellow citizens place on these values.
As Common Cause Foundation’s research has shown, people in the UK hold these values to be the most important irrespective of age, region, perceived wealth, gender and political orientation. We can anticipate that most people in the UK will also hold these values to be the most important irrespective of how they decided to vote in the EU referendum.
Here are four hope-full things we can each do.
Practice empathy and humility
As David Malone wrote in his recent appeal for ‘Remainers’ to express the empathy and humility to which they are so committed rhetorically: “The battle of our time, will require a courage and a faith in each other that we are squandering with every word of this bilious Brexit name-calling.” This video may help in that effort.
Know your blind-spot
As Common Cause Foundation research has also shown, over three quarters of UK citizens underestimate the importance that a typical fellow citizen places on ‘intrinsic’ values such as community, social justice, protecting the environment, and broadmindedness.
The ‘intrinsic’ values we are likely to hold to be most important are actually in step with the values to which most others attach greatest importance. Understanding this could, in turn, embolden us each to better express these values – providing further social proof of the importance that people place on them, and further emboldening others to express them.
Let hope transcend misguided tactics
In the run-up to the EU Referendum in the UK, both sides sought to deepen our collective fears – about the economy, or people from other countries. People who should have known better acquiesced to this.
“I’m backing Osborne’s Project Fear – if it helps keep us in Europe” wrote Martin Kettle in The Guardian. The trouble is, what Kettle welcomes as an argument that is “pragmatic and hard-headed to a fault” may have unintentionally contributed to our distrust of others who are not part of our social group.
So, for example, John Duckitt reports that those who perceive a dangerous world (demonstrated by agreement with statements such as “Any day now chaos and anarchy could erupt around us - all the signs are pointing to it”), are more likely to have a high ‘social dominance orientation’. That is, they are more likely to agree with statements such as “Inferior groups should stay in their place”, and less likely to agree with statements such as “It’s OK if some groups have more of a chance in life than others”.
This is just one way in which people who would like to see our politics infused by greater openness and compassion shoot themselves in the foot by mistakenly thinking that they are best appealing to fear, selfishness, or desire for social status. They are less likely to succeed – and where they do, their success is founded on sand.
Dig where you stand
And if this feels out of reach for those of us who do not feel the hand of history upon our shoulder, then perhaps it helps to be reminded of something T.S. Eliot wrote during February 1940 – while working as a night-watchman just a few months into the Second World War. He urged us to locate “our hope in modest and local beginnings” rather “than in transforming the whole world at once.”