I was a bit grumpy at work last week. I had too much to do and got into bulldozer mode. There was a risk of the people I work with becoming collateral damage. On one occasion I had two of my staff convinced they’d done something to upset me. A couple of days in I knew this couldn’t continue. It wasn’t good for anyone least of all me.
I mumbled apologies. I bought cake. Tired and slightly embattled as I still was it was an improvement.
The banana skin was obvious. It could all become someone else’s fault. A layer of resentment could have grown on top of the stress, which would of course only have grown, fed by my complaints.
Sometimes you just have to admit that you’re the problem or more to the point how you are handling life’s challenges is the problem.
My wife and I spent Sunday afternoon moving furniture in preparation for some building work we’ll be having done soon. It wasn’t entirely fun. It would have been much simpler if Louise would have just settled for getting the furniture in the room. Simpler yes but annoyingly not the best plan. If we’d just moved the furniture it would have looked a mess and not worked well and needed moving again.
We were both pretty tired and it wasn’t a laughfest but it worked out because we have learned each other’s strengths and weaknesses and how to listen to each other. I listened when Louise suggested the more complicated plan B. Louise listened when I downed tools until we measured things and when I called a halt for a tea break.
I am more and more aware in the current Brexit mess how little people are listening to each other, reflecting on their own position and behaviour and looking for common ground. We have to find ways to do this.
The alternative is to distance ourselves from others, label and demonise them. I really don’t believe that will help anyone. My current fear is that it will all go wrong and the guilt will be conveniently pinned on to the bogeymen of the EU. It’s so tempting to look for the conspiracy and someone to blame because this removes things further away from being our responsibility – we instinctively want it to be someone else’s fault.
This year I’ve been struck by a common theme in a couple of great TV drama series. The latest series of Killing Eve about an international serial killer tantalised us with the idea that we might find out who the ‘12’ are that are in charge of all the international criminal going on’s. Years and Years showed a future with a horrific populist Prime Minister answerable to an unknown corporate power that was behind all her policies.
Both series used the clever device of this unknown responsible power. Clever because it’s intriguing and plays to our love of conspiracy puzzles and clever because you never have to make sense of it all by revealing how it works. Most of the time most of us have worked out that conspiracies are far too neat anyway. It’s far too tidy to say its all someone else’s fault.
Blame leave. Blame remain. Blame Theresa May. Blame Boris Johnson. Blame Jeremy Corbyn. Blame the EU. Blame immigrants. None of this gets us anywhere.
When we look at the mess and confusion in the world around us, we don’t want to admit that we’re responsible for any of it. Doing so brings a sense of shame and failure that doesn’t feel too good.
In the Bible, the people Jesus gave a hard time to were not the people who’d messed up but the people that pretended that they never did. The Pharisees wanted everyone to keep up religious appearances but Jesus knew that did nothing to change a person’s heart. Whilst the Pharisees cared about external things like ritual handwashing and eating the right foods, Jesus says that what mattered was people’s internal life – the state of their heart and the life that led to.
Sadly the church has often portrayed faith as being hard hearted and mean spirited. Nothing can be further than the example we see in Jesus. He offers his heart of love, compassion and generosity to anyone who chooses to follow him.
So what can we do in these divided times?
We can choose to see the good in others
We can choose to seek areas of agreement
We can choose to have an opinion without taking a side and making an enemy
We can choose to see the problem is not ‘them’ but to some degree all of us.
Fixing things will need all of us