The last 12 months have been an interesting time to be living in the UK. When the headlines were blaring about the possibility of a Brexit and then the unlikely outcome of having a TV star billionaire as the leader of the free world, I enjoyed hearing opinions about what both elections have meant to people.
While I have steered clear of any political commentary online myself (I think we have all had enough of that) as an American who lived in Australia and now resides in London, I get the unusual perspective of seeing how each country has responded to an election that has defined their national identity (for a while at least).
When Brexit happened, there was shock, fear, some outrage and a real questioning of ‘what happens next’? Psychologists reported an increase of people coming in for appointments with anxiety issues after the vote – with a genuine concern about what this vote meant for their future and for the country as a whole.
I have learned a lot from watching how the British people have responded to this major disappointment (particularly in London where the majority of people voted to stay in the EU) and have taken some life lessons from their approach:
1.They talked about it. Openly. For such a reserved culture, this was one topic that really resonated with people. The day after the results there was a coming together of people who were shocked at the result – I had strangers on the street talking to me, which is a rare thing in London town. Disappointment forces you to admit that you did not get what you wished to have, and it is actually easier for you to protest with anger than it is to encounter your sadness about a course of events. There was grief, for sure, but they talked openly about their disappointments instead of blaming and shaming and wanted to process the ‘how did we get here?’ before moving onto what was next for the country.
2. They took action. Politely. To say most of the Brits I know are disappointed with the outcome of the Brexit is an understatement. They are devastated. Many are angry. But instead of just wallowing in emotions – they are using the political process to their advantage (read the petition to vote again for the Brexit which was read in Parliament - albeit it was dismissed there were still four million voices heard). There are forums in London to discuss the impact and people genuinely want to understand ‘what does this really mean?’ for the economy, immigration for the future of their career (not to mention their UK passport). I know of colleagues holding ‘picnic demonstrations’ – yep, political lobbying with tea and sandwiches at Hyde Park. They set emotion aside and did something with their disappointment – which was either learning more about the issue or fighting in a structured, diplomatic way.
3. They love their country. Still. During the US election, the amount of people who vowed to ‘move to Canada’ if the result went a certain way was kind of ridiculous (although moving to Canada does sound awesome). I get it. It’s been a very frustrating, shocking and upsetting 12 months. Most Americans felt like there wasn’t a real choice to be had. When Brexit happened most people said ‘what do we do now?’. They stood up for their country and realised she is to be protected, not abandoned because the road people have chosen is not the one a lot of us don’t wish to be on. This is when real patriotism comes in – staying and fighting for what we believe in and affirming our own values when the reality is not at all what we envisioned or hoped for.
4. They understand the power of one. In both countries, the issue of immigration became a trigger and there were reported acts of racism and targeting minority groups. I saw friends and colleagues make efforts to ensure that those around them were not just safe but felt welcome. Not that these gestures weren’t made before, but with the heightened tension of both elections, having someone offer their seat on the tube or standing up for a Muslim woman who is being taunted at was something that acted as a sort of public demonstration. My lovely British counterparts understand while the political world may be in shambles, one small act they make can still impact the culture around them.
The most important lesson I have learned from the British people during this time is when you have lost something and experience real disappointment (which we all do as some point in life) is not to give up. Martin Luther King famously said “We must accept infinite disappointment but must never lose infinite hope.” Take control of what you can in your own life and continue to pursue what you really believe in, which is the most powerful thing we can all do.
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Rachel DeGiorgio is a blogger who loves to travel and share her life musings. She currently lives in London with her Australian husband. Follow her on twitter @rachdegiorgio.