Yesterday, I posted this on Facebook:
Saw a sign today saying, ‘We want our country back’.
Utterly, utterly useless.
I mean, it’s completely lacking any sort of information. It begs so many questions. For example:
What does your country look like? Any distinguishing marks?
Where did you leave it, or where were you when you last remember having it?
And, perhaps most importantly, if you’re actually stupid enough to have lost an entire country, why on earth should we give it back if we happen to find it?
It seemed to amuse some people (or perhaps they were just being polite). But I then got to pondering it all. Particularly that phrase ‘Any distinguishing marks?’ And I found myself wondering what the distinguishing marks of our country are. Or even, what would I like the distinguishing marks of our country to be? (You know, if we were choosing a new tattoo for our country, what would we go for?)
What are we known for? A Stiff Upper Lip seems to be something that we like to consider ourselves to be in possession of. But that’s gone out the window in the last couple of weeks of arguing over the in/out question. (Excuse me for a moment while my mind boggles over the concept of a stiff upper lip going out the window). More like a sharp tongue and a nasty bite than a stiff upper lip. I’ve said before how worried I am about the divisive nature of the debate. I get that people will disagree with each other, but the amount of venom that has been employed is both saddening and terrifying in equal measure.
So what would I like our country to be marked by? What should our distinguishing marks be?
It seems that many want us to be seen as independent. Boris even referred to tomorrow as being our very own ‘Independence Day’. Odd choice of phrase. I suspect this is a bit of a bitter description for those countries who’ve had to shed sweat and blood to gain their independence from us after we’d forcibly taken their freedom and self-rule. The independence Boris seeks is from a treaty we willingly signed, not the result of a war we lost. But why must we be independent? I’m married with two kids. I could plump for independence again, I’m perfectly capable of ‘standing on my own two feet’, but that would be hideously wrong, and fly in the face of both the promises I made, and the decisions I’ve made in the past to create a family, to be a part of something bigger. Rather than being known as an independent country, I’d prefer to be seen as a dependable one. Sure, standing on your own two feet is all well and good, but I’d like it if we as a country did our best to help others stand too. Not so we can all go our separate ways, but so that we can support each other when we need it. Standing on your own, with no-one to lean on, can be tiring after a while…
What about the economy? It seems that both sides think that voting their way will give us the financial upper hand. (Sounds like a win win situation!) In church on Sunday, our vicar asked a very challenging question. He was talking about being ‘better off’, and asked, “What do you think Jesus would mean if He was talking about being ‘better off’?” A useful reminder that it’s not all about having more money to spend on yourself. So instead of being viewed as a country with the upper hand, I’d like us to be seen as a country with an open hand. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think we should be the kings of the bailout. But as the fifth largest economy in the world (or ninth largest, depending on how it’s measured) I feel we have a duty to support others. Sure, some people might take advantage, but actually, the vast majority are likely to appreciate and respond appropriately to generosity. Tightening up the delivery of aid would surely be a better approach than shutting the doors altogether. I was really encouraged and moved to hear John Barnes use the word ‘compassion’ more than once in an interview with Sky News this week. It’s a word that hasn’t had much airtime in the course of the debate.
And what about migrants? Another of the facetious questions I posed was ‘what does your country look like?’ And I think that’s a bit of a stumbling block for some people. Most people won’t actually come out and say that just want a white English (dating back a good few generations) race filling up our island. But there seems to be a definite inclination towards at least a good majority of people who fit into this category. But that’s simply not what our world is like these days. Even in the depths of the darkest jungle (you know, the kind of place Paddington came from) it must be rare to find tribes who’ve had no contact with the outside world. Because we move. We travel, we explore, we learn, we work. And that’s healthy. We are more diversely connected than ever before. Migrants don’t come here and take our jobs (if they were our jobs, we’d have them!). They come here and serve our communities. They come and enrich our neighbourhoods. From them we can learn about other cultures, and our culture can grow and change with their arrival. Our eyes can be opened to a broader perspective. Sure, we won’t like it all, and some may even need to be robustly challenged. But I’d rather our country was defined by friendship than by fear. Our world has changed, and pretending that we’ll ever stop being a delightfully muddled up and multi-cultural nation is venturing into cloud-cuckoo land. Having an open door will always involve risk, yes. But it’s risk that can be managed, and the rewards reaped as a result of many of those who come through that door are plentiful, if only we’ll open our eyes.
Regardless of which side of the debate you’re on, I hope you’ll be able to accept the decisions made in this democratic process, and that you’ll use the opportunities we have in our country to bring changes that offer hope and a future to many. I hope that the rifts that have been created over these last few weeks, rifts which will doubtless be firmly established following tomorrow’s vote, will be healed by those on both sides talking to each other, and working with each other to bring hope and strength to both our nation and our neighbours. I hope that compassion will drive us to be a nation with distinctive marks. I hope we will be a nation known for its dependability, open-handedness and friendship.
What distinguishing marks would you like us to bear?