EU referendum turmoil and the need for open-mindedness

grunge EU flag

We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.

Albert Einstein

A blog on the importance of being open-minded at university has been on my mind for a while now, and over the past few weeks I’ve realised just how important a topic it really is. What has happened since the EU referendum results were announced has highlighted just how much of a need there is for us all to be more open-minded and to be able to see things from other points of view without anger, judgement and resentment.

From scathing insults on social media to friends and family members falling out, the decision to leave the EU has highlighted just how divided the United Kingdom really is and the underlying issues causing the divisions. I am strongly in the remain camp, and have experienced feelings heartbreak and disbelief about an outcome of solidarity instead of unity,  what is happening in this country on so many levels, and that my identity as a European citizen and being part of, what I perceive to be a progressive and forward thinking society, is at risk.

I know I’m not alone though in feeling upset, frustrated and angry about all that is going on. What I also know though, is that it’s not helpful or constructive to carry this negative energy around for too long. This energy causes stress and won’t help to find the best solutions.

What is it to be open-minded

In order to be less emotional about all that is happening, I’ve been making a conscious effort to be more open-minded about why people voted the way they did and to understand the underlying reasons.

Being open-minded means to be receptive to new and different ideas, to consider all possibilities and to question one’s own current thinking and practice; to send the brain down a new and unknown path.  It involves removing your personal biases and prejudices from any situation and to allow your worldview of ‘normal’ and ‘right’ to be challenged. Open-mindedness is about holding respect for the opinions of others and looking to understand the reasons behind them.

Being open-minded isn’t always easy though. It takes conscious effort, mental energy and a strong mind.  It involves putting the brain in a state of confusion and ambiguity, which it doesn’t like and that goes against our default mode of thinking of closed-mindedness. It means allowing yourself to be vulnerable to the fact that you might be wrong.

Allowing this confusion however, brings many benefits. When you live life with an open mind, you develop a strong sense of self that is not confined by your own beliefs, nor the beliefs of others. It is freeing and helps us expand our horizons and be more diverse and interesting persons.

It doesn’t mean you have to accept or agree with everything, but developing an understanding of others’ viewpoints helps the mind to relax. It helps to stimulate flexibility, critical thinking and creative solutions. It’s hard to develop empathy without an open-mind and attitude.

Open-mindedness and empathy to heal the divide

Whilst I may not agree with everything I hear and read about, being open to the different opinions and situations of others of all ages and backgrounds is helping me to be empathetic and feel less tense. I acknowledge that each person who voted or chose not to vote, did so based on their version of the truth, created from their beliefs, values and experiences. Whatever the vote, each individual believed that leaving or remaining in the EU was the best thing for them, their families and the country.

Even those who voted not really understanding what they were voting for; it’s helpful trying to understand why this happened. What is transpiring is that people have lost faith in the political system and the Government doing what is right for the British public. People are fuelled by fear, uncertainty and threat.

Many who voted to leave are jubilant that their voice is being heard after generations continue to be affected by austerity measures and social security reform. They believed this to be their chance to change that and whilst I don’t believe being in the EU has caused this, the referendum has made me much aware of what is happening to others in this country whose lives are so far removed from mine. Even the United Nations has stated that the UK in is in breach of human rights obligations with the austerity measures in place.

It’s unfortunate that it took something as serious as the EU referendum to make Government sit up and hopefully makes changes to show they are listening to a disengaged public, but at least now there is more pressure for them to find considered, comprehensive and lasting solutions (regardless of whether we do actually leave the EU or not). In order for this to happen, we too must listen to and understand each other.

Barack Obama spoke of an ‘empathy deficit’ ten years ago. He highlighted the need for a sense of empathy to infuse politics in America and it’s clear that empathy is needed now in the UK, not just in politics, but in society as a whole to bring about social change. To heal divides and rebuild a united nation, empathy and open-mindedness are key, as is condemning the racist actions of a prejudiced minority and giving no place to hateful behaviour towards others.

QuietSphere students teamworkBeing open-minded at university

Studying for a degree brings young adults together from all walks of life and at university you’ll meet people of different religions, lifestyles, cultural and socio-economic backgrounds, sexual orientation and nationalities. The list goes on! There will be things you disagree with, you don’t know or you don’t understand and that’s perfectly natural. And you will meet students who voted differently to you. What’s important is to be open to and respect each other’s view-points, even if you don’t agree with them.

Naturally we are tribal creatures, as has been demonstrated in recent weeks as groups side with each other for support, identification and inclusion. Unconsciously we do things that are familiar to us and hang out with similar people to reinforce our belief system. It’s important to be aware of this as you embark on your student journey.

Make the effort to get to know different types people, learn different ways of thinking and expose yourself to different experiences. It may not always be easy, but developing empathy and open-mindedness is not only needed to build a more supportive, understanding and fairer society; it’s also what employers are looking for in graduates with empathy increasingly being touted as the most important 21st century skill.

One of the privileges of being at university is the exposure to such diversity and the opportunities this brings for personal growth and development. As the future leaders and the younger generation witnessing what has happened as a result of the referendum, be the change that is needed. Take advantage of your university experience and be open to everyone you meet, no matter what their background or vote. You’ll be stronger and wiser person for it. 🙂


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