Since the referendum, we have experienced confusion and division. This is political, but it is also an emotional and psychological process. A split between facts and emotion is part of what characterised the campaign, and it would be worth thinking about avoiding that strategy as we go forth.
As so many commentators have identified, division along racial, faith, sexual and economic grounds has not just come about. The referendum fuelled long-existing divisions, and has been interpreted by some as licence to be vocal about hatred of the Other. Psychological research and practice reminds us of the importance of respecting difference and the need to explore what the differences mean. It is helpful that politicians and the media clearly state that hate crime of any kind is unacceptable. This sets a clear boundary, but we cannot leave it to distant politicians and one-off comments – we need to do this in our own communities too.
As well as setting what therapists think of as a boundary, we need to find a way to talk and think about these aspects of social life. These can be difficult conversations to have, but without them we face what is known as the “return of the repressed”. “Come on, let’s move forward” is only half a strategy. We have to know fully what it is we are moving on from. Hate is hate…but it can also indicate envy, fear and confusion, to name just three possibilities. Where hate is underpinned by these issues we need to be calling it, asking about it, exploring its deeper meanings and helping people to move forward. And again, this needs us all to participate. Every time we stand by, when we watch hate without intervening, we strengthen it.
Let’s use this chaos to create a more curious and engaged approach to difference so that we can respect it and accept it.
Regent’s University London
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