Amid the divisions of the Brexit debate, we must all try to listen to people we disagree with, writes Ewan Aitken.
My Cyrenians colleagues and I were very grateful to Deacon Blue frontman Ricky Ross for the outstanding solo concert he did on our behalf last week – helping raise both significant funds and awareness for our work in tackling the causes and consequences of homelessness.
As part of the event, Ricky and I had a chat, and I asked him about his comments a few years ago about public debate needing to be as much about listening to those we disagree with as it is about making sure we hold true to our own views. His response was to say we learn nothing if we are never open to having our minds changed by the views of others with whom we disagree.
I have always understood having differences of opinion as being an opportunity, not a problem. When we choose to listen to those with whom we disagree, and be curious not just about what they are saying but why, there is new light shone on our own perspectives. In doing so, we show that person a form of respect.
Even if we decide not to change our minds, by testing what we believe against the views of others we will better understand our views and what they mean to us, how they influence the choices we make and the relationships we form; we see the world and humanity differently as a result.
The current Brexit debacle is just one of many examples of the consequences of the political fundamentalism which has become rife over recent years, which breeds a culture of not listening and an unwise belief in a singular version of truth.
It is not just politicians caught up in this frenzy. Supporters of leave and remain stand apart, unable or unwilling to hear each other.
Instead of starting from a place of mutual respect, looking for common ground, it seems as though one faction sees the other as an enemy to be beaten at all costs.
The work of Cyrenians, not just what we do but how we do it, is predicated on listening first before acting. Our way of working is to pay attention to those we journey with; asking what it is they want to do, what success would feel like for them, what steps they’d like to take to move on from their tough reality and then supporting them with a way forward. It’s not easy: it’s messy at times, it doesn’t always produce instant results or overnight change. But it works.
Many folk we have journeyed with have overcome huge personal trauma and deeply difficult circumstances and begun to discover in themselves the capacity to live flourishing and fulfilling lives because we began by listening to what they believed would be good for them, not telling them what would be good for them.
Listening to those who are coming from a very different place is the start of a shared journey to somewhere better for everyone. And, by listening, I mean really listening, not just waiting to reply. Perhaps, if we want to find shared ground again, each and every one of us, regardless of how we voted in the 2016 referendum, should step back and allow ourselves to be more curious about what those with opposite views are really saying and why.
Not just over the next six weeks, when political parties of all stripes will be vying for votes, but beyond December 12, whatever the result. Assuming there’s nothing to learn from others only entrenches division – we may change our mind, or we may understand our position even more in the light of a different perspective. We must find common ground to make some progress towards a solution for what has become an intractable and destructive debate from which it will take many years for us to recover.
Ewan Aitken is the CEO of Cyrenians Scotland.