In these terrible times, it’s difficult to find any positives, but when I dig deep into how I have experienced the last 3 years, I realise I have learned how to communicate differently. Why listening to each other is so important.
Through the months of the pandemic, I was active on social media and made new friends. During these long conversations with new friends – who we probably had more in common with than many of our old friends – we learned so much about our different lives. So this article is about why listening is important and how it affects our values.
Era of lost hope
Over the last few years, throughout the continuing era of lost hope, when we didn’t get our second referendum vote, throughout the endless scandals of government corruption (which appear to be ongoing) and during the many, many months of the pandemic, the ghostly, invisible spectre of death stalked our streets and indoor spaces. During this time, people in their hundreds of thousands, died alone, fighting for every irretrievable breath, while our government politicians partied, got drunk and joked – about the “lesser people” that they had been tasked to protect -something small and potentially powerful was happening.
During the pandemic
Perhaps, during the worst times – during the pandemic – we needed space: abubble of time when we stepped away from so much that was oppressive in our lives and went into the quiet of the woods, alone with our dogs. We noticed – many of us for the first time since our childhoods, decades ago – the swarming insects in the hedgerows, the butterflies on the musk mallow flowers, and the loud-calling, soaring raptors high above us in the plane-free skies. We were surrounded by a symphony of insects and wildlife in our green spaces.
The eery, unaccustomed “carless” silence was reminiscent of science fiction,and if you were lucky enough to not have to home-school children or if you had green space nearby you could escape into another reality.
Survival, health our livelihoods
During this time, when we focused so much on what was important to all of us: survival, our health, our livelihoods, our families, and our closest friends – most of us experienced an epiphany. This epiphany was (for many of us) about what we wanted to do in our lives – going forward – and who we wanted to spend time with – because inwardly, we realised that nothing would ever be quite the same again. Apparently, I was not alone in wanting to be more isolated or separate from people, to savour the time with my family and my closest friends, whist also taking comfort in communicating with so many likeminded people on What’s App and social media. People that we talked and communicated with in the early hours (as insomniacs do), sharing jokes, funny videos or having discussions with, and who we sometimes continued our communication with by email, phone or later in person.
Similar demographic but different life experiences
We tended to be from a broadly similar political demographic: inclusive and international in our politics; to the left or centre of the political spectrum and yet we had so much to learn from each other from our different life experiences. We all knew about wealth privilege (apart from the wealthy who – I suspect, think their lives are “normal”) and most of us knew about educational privilege; but did all of us fully understand about white privilege? Or heterosexual privilege? Or able-bodied privilege? Regional privilege? Or male privilege?
Of course, politically right-wing parties would certainly try to gaslight these considerations by dismissing them as “woke nonsense” and yet how could we have achieved votes for women, civil rights and equality for black/ethnic people, LGBT rights/equal marriage – unless we had listened to each other’sgrievances and opinions over many decades about the values that we fundamentally believe in? We needed to listen to the struggles of the poor, the working classes, the ordinary people that are most of us. Over the last hundred years or more, listening to people was how we learned to address the inequalities in our society, and we made the relevant changes. Except – we stopped. We stopped talking, listening, and noticing each other and yet we surely must know (we do now!) that “No one’s ok until we’re all ok”.
Talking and listening to each other is so important
There were so many complacent people in their big houses, with their outdoor spaces (working from home) who failed to realise how ridiculous they sounded when they said (during the pandemic) that “We’re all in this together”. How insensitive and insulting to so many others who are working in vitally important jobs that we all depend on! In a similar way, how do people who don’t have a family member that’s part of the LBGT community, understand their quiet fear that they may be abused or attacked ( in this era of increasingly far right ideology) for who they are?
Or how can someone in a predominantly white neighbourhood, be aware of the concerns a black or ethnic family may have about not being accepted? It’s naïve to think that simply because we find racism abhorrent, that it doesn’t exist in other sections of society. How arrogant it is for people who are so protected financially – and in their comfortable neighbourhoods with no homeless person in sight – to dismiss the concerns of so many people who are outside their carefully manicured social circles.
The conversations we had and the new friends we made has probably been the only Brexit benefit – enhanced by our enforced Covid isolations when we hadtime to think and begin to reconstruct what we believed was important in our new normal. Sometimes, tragically, we had to learn from a bad experience to be wiser: life is a journey with many lessons on the way. I will never forget or fail to be impressed by the wise words of a friend of one of my children, whose mother is gay. She told me that it was very difficult at the time but that she felt privileged to be able to have gained so much insight by the experience.
Core values define us
In this journey of life, our different experiences and enlightening conversations confirmed what was an emerging belief in my early twenties: that what defines someone is not their wealth, position, ethnicity, or sexual persuasion, but their core values. Many of us (especially over the last decade in this country) are now very aware that it is the very essence of who we are. For most of us, our friendships and our marriages depend on them being aligned.