This is my third attempt. I hope that it won’t be my last, but I’m starting to get a little weary. I need you to listen. Please don’t get defensive, there is nothing here that is intended to offend. You don’t need to agree with me, I don’t ask that, just listen, please.
I understand that you feel as though you have taken quite a bashing since the general election. To you, you have had people calling you names, questioning your sanity and opinions, and accusing you of being uncaring towards the poor and vulnerable. No one likes to be treated like that. I have several friends that are conservative voters and I know them to be decent and kind individuals. We probably have a lot in common in terms of what we think a good society looks like, but we may differ in our views of how to get there. I am firmly of the belief that very few people get up in the morning, rubbing their hands with glee and thinking “I’m going to be an absolute bastard today.”
Now please try to see it from my point of view.
I have never been so upset about the results of an election in my life. I have spent several years working with vulnerable people, had my career destroyed by austerity, experienced food poverty and social exclusion, and have had first hand experience of just how difficult it is to get oneself out of poverty. Indeed, I am still struggling.
I intent to work as a clinical psychologist and that means that I have to understand the role that social factors such as poverty and exclusion contribute to mental ill-health. I know that some of these effects leave a permanent scar upon many people. I hope that I do not become one of them.
I am active in my trade union and read reports month-in month-out on how austerity is harming the most vulnerable in society. Indeed, there is much to suggest that people have died as a result of these policies.
Please bear with me, here is the difficult bit, the bit most likely to cause offence, but please take it in the spirit of an attempt to understand. I have found it hard to reconcile my view of someone I would call a friend with the idea that they would knowingly vote for a party with a track record of inflicting suffering and ruining the lives of many people. It hurts me beyond measure to believe that the goodness of people in my society has turned to selfishness and hatred.
So I tried to give the benefit of the doubt as much as could. I guessed that not everyone shares my professional interest in social factors of psychological distress, some people have only ever known lives of comfort, security, support and opportunity. I don’t blame them for that. Many people do not read Joseph Rowntree reports, after all, there are only so many hours in the day, I get that. So I wrote a lengthy status update on Facebook, explaining why so many progressives are so furious that a government that inflicts suffering has been elected yet again to do, as promised, more of the same. (I have pasted it below should you be interested).
To my surprise, it resonated with, quite literally hundreds of people. It has been shared over 300 times on Facebook. Nothing short of miraculous for someone as social-media-illiterate as I am. I hoped that Tory voters would read it and try to understand, but all I seemed to get from that quarter were sentiments along the lines of “you lost, deal with it, loser!” The more I tried to explain that I wasn’t seeking to punish anyone, or cast aspersions on anyone’s character; I just wanted to open up a dialogue to understand where they were coming from themselves, the more shrill the protests became. I was starting to doubt whether anyone was actually listening at all or whether I was being deliberately misunderstood. It got to a stage where I felt so unheard, I wanted to dismiss them all as the worst kind of narrow-minded, bigoted Tory stereotypes. By this stage, what I was burning to say was ” you knowingly voted for a government that intended to harm vulnerable people and you wonder why everyone calls you a twat? Deal with THAT, loser!” Because I am human and can only try and explain so much before I lose my temper.
But that really isn’t going to get us anywhere.
So, to my Tory-voting friends. I don’t hate you, I don’t think you’re an idiot. But I would like to understand why you voted for the party that you did. Because I don’t like to think that you want to give the vulnerable a kicking simply for the sake of it, but it’s my belief that lives will be lost as a result. Maybe you didn’t understand the extent of the suffering, or believe that there could be a food bank in your village. Maybe failure is something that you think doesn’t happen to you or your friends. Maybe you didn’t have time to read the whole manifesto. Maybe your dad always voted Tory and so do you, maybe your parents supported Labour and you want to distance yourself from them. Maybe you believe that austerity is the only way forward and human suffering is an acceptable price to pay. Maybe there are as many reasons as there are Tory voters. I’m trying to understand because that is the only way things will move forward.
But, by the same token, please try to understand me. I am an aspiring psychologist, I’m trained to sift through studies and evidence, to consider biases and to appreciate them in myself and others. My opinion is formed by the evidence that I see, hear, read and experience. I don’t expect everyone to agree with me, indeed I would be disappointed if they did. But I do expect reasoned discussion. I would like it if people explained, not justified, but explained the reasons behind their political stance rather than just yelling that I have no right to question their opinion. Maybe I might learn a thing or two, I’m quite open to that. I will be much less frustrated and ranty myself if the points that I raise, like the cost of human suffering and the criticisms of austerity are actually acknowledged and discussed, rather than the stony silence/straw man arguments/deflections/name-calling or sarcastic memes which are, sadly, the more typical responses that I have got thus far. If you behave like that, I will start to doubt your rigour and the strength of your views. If you are undecided about something, say so. Don’t dismiss me for pointing out that there might just be something that you haven’t considered. If there is an issue that you are not sure about and I can point to a link, or a study that explains, please let me know. I’ll do the same. I don’t know where you are coming from unless you tell me.
It’s not enough to tell me to “deal with it”. If there are innocent lives/future life chances at stake, I will do all I can to defend them in whatever way I feel I can. If you are of the opinion that to make an omelette, you need to break a few eggs, be gentle: those “eggs” could be a friend who is present, or one of their loved ones, and you may not even know. Don’t blame people for feeling scared and angry if their lives and wellbeing or those of their family or friends are under threat. You would feel the same. I would like to think that you would be furious, stamp your feet and do all you can to protect them too.
I would like to think that we are not so very different after all.
My original facebook post…
there’s a few people who cannot understand the post election angst/anger etc. Let me enlighten you.
Not everyone lives in a lovely cosy bubble where work is well-paid, homes are secure and there is enough food on the table. Many of us have, or seen the people we care about, struggle with crappy zero hour contracts, abusive employers, disability, mental health issues, insecure housing and unemployment. Many of us have seen our hard work, aspirations, hopes and dreams go up in flames as a result of the Tories’ policies, and for us it’s not likely to get any better.
Some of us are likely to be your friends, or people you quite like and identify with, people that you know are kind, intelligent and hard-working who have kept silent about the fact that we can’t always afford to eat properly, or heat our homes, for the sake of retaining some small scrap of pride when we realise that our pay doesn’t cover the basic cost of living. When you see us socially and we’re all smiles, but sit there only eating a starter or drinking tap water because we’d rather do that than not see you at all.
Some of us are scared for our futures and the futures of our loved ones, for good reason. We either have lived experience that informs our opinions, and/or we keep up with research into poverty and inequality in the UK. Some of us work with the victims of “austerity” on a day to day basis. Some of us are extremely disappointed that people would vote for a party that has such a verifiable track record of kicking fellow human beings when they are down.
If you do not have this experience, lucky you. But take it from someone who does. There are a lot of people with every bloody right to be angry.