Think about the last time someone hurt you. It could be something minor or major.
When you told other people about it, what kind of advice did you get?
I’d be willing to bet that at least once you were told to forgive them, maybe even to be the one to reach out and make contact with the person who hurt you. Even though you were a victim of what they had done to you.
Why do we ask hurt people to put in this effort?
I’ve been thinking about this recently because of politics.
More specifically, in the context of the UK’s contentious vote to leave the European Union, a decision which, over three years later, continues to divide the country between those who voted to leave and those — like me — who voted to remain.
In this context, The Guardian newspaper published an article where the writer argued for “a renewed willingness to see things from the other side’s perspective and rediscover the common humanity and acceptance of compromise that so often seems to be lacking from everyday politics”.
That’s not a totally crazy idea. But what really got me was this sentence:
“If you have stopped talking to a friend or relative because they voted leave, it is probably time you gave them a call.”
My question is: why?
There is broad agreement in sensible circles that when (if?) the UK leaves the EU, the country will be worse off in at least the short to medium term, and likely the long term too. Economic predictions are fairly dire even if the UK escapes with some kind of deal with the EU. A “no-deal” Brexit is even worse, with the government’s own documents detailing fresh food and medicine shortages, fuel shortages, increased energy prices, and potential civil unrest.
You can add to that list of woe the EU nationals who will likely have to — or choose to — leave, job losses and the possibility of a recession looming.
So why do I, someone who voted to remain, someone who did not vote for deportation, job losses, and shortages of vital medicine, someone who did not vote to make their country poorer, have to build bridges with the people who did?
Why do I need to pick up the phone and say, “Hey, I know you voted for my mother to be deported and voted for my wife to lose access to her medication, and for the both of us to possibly lose our jobs, but let’s build some bridges.”
If you care so little for other people that you would actively choose to make their lives worse, then I want nothing to do with you.
And I know — maybe you didn’t vote that way because you want people to die, or get deported, or lose their jobs. But here’s the thing: you knew it was a distinct possibility. Sure, you might have dismissed it as “Project Fear” as so many leave voters did. But everyone warned you. And you voted that way, anyway.
You may have wanted none of the dire consequences, but they were not enough to stay your hand.
This happens all the time. The victims, the people who are hurt — the people who are harmed — are the ones expected to build bridges in relationships. It’s not just when it comes to politics.
If you cut a toxic person out of your life, you will get (usually unsolicited) advice about forgiving them, about moving on, about the fact that you’ll regret it eventually.
Of course, there’s no expectation on those people to reflect on what they have done, work to earn forgiveness, to apologise. No, we expect the victims, the people who are hurt, to do the legwork. It’s time we stopped expecting that of the people who have done nothing wrong.