Wellbeing & Mental Health Matters: common ground

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In our weekly spot where we chat about things to do with wellbeing and mental health, a few words on splits in the world.

Hello and welcome to our Wednesday spot for a chat, and sometimes a bit of a think. This week, we’re looking for the common ground that unites us.

We live in divisive times. Politically, we see fracturing of communities, of countries, even continents, all playing out on a 24-hour news cycle. We don’t all watch the same news cycle though. The broadcasters are as fragmented as the rest of us, some wearing their partisanship as a banner, others practising impartiality where they are able.

This is reflected in the print media, from red tops to broadsheets. It’s echoed in workplaces and homes across the land. It used to be chewed over down the pub. And the divisions among us are blown up loud and clear on social media.

Here we step into the great amplifier of our times. An echo chamber of views, repeated, espoused, unquestioned amongst the believers, treated with contempt by the doubters. Conspiracy is rife, armchair experts have the online world at their fingertips and can cherry pick their arguments.

It can seem like there is no nuance, no consideration of the position of others. No common ground. Discord rules, and voices are drowned out under a crushing weight of what can be downright nastiness. And all sides are guilty of this. You see it within political parties that are nominally under the same banner.

Step aside from the news, from social media for a moment. Think about the past year and the illness and isolation that has physically separated us to a large extent from one another. Our societal norms of a drink and natter with friends have been curtailed. Our outlets for friendly discussion and an exchange of ideas pulled back to what we see reflected in a screen. Which is invariably ourselves.

Yet all around us, communities have been finding the roots of what pulls us together. We are not enemies because we vote for different parties. We are neighbours, we are friends. We are the people who check in with the frail, the elderly, the isolated to make sure they have everything they need. Who campaign for free schools meals. People who volunteer to deliver medicines to vulnerable people.

We are people with shared values, with common decency. Communities have reached out to one another during the past year. They have filled gaps, provided contact. They have sought to help people crippled by loss.

We don’t have to be enemies when we give so much more as friends. That which divides us only serves someone else’s purpose. When we look much closer at what is important to us, it’s each other. When we look at our own families, we see a myriad of views and opinions within our own orbit. That doesn’t stop us loving each other, or helping each other when we are in need.

Disagreement is part of the human condition. We argue, bicker, discus and then hopefully come to an accordance or acceptance of opposing ideas. We don’t have to agree on everything. What we can do is give each other space to express our views, to consider them thoughtfully, and perhaps try to understand where that viewpoint comes from. In a time of crisis people can dig into their own fears, build a wall around them to protect them from what they may see as the enemy. You might want to take a sledgehammer to that wall, but in doing so, you may create more fear and anger. And the cycle continues.

Yes, there are abhorrent ideologies out there. There are people pushing sinister agendas, and there is extremism in society. This should be challenged, in an educated and informed manner. Tolerance can only go so far, and when people act against the common good there should be repercussions within the rule of law.

It is okay to disagree but still be friends. It’s ok to accept a helping hand for someone whose voting preference is different to yours. That’s why we call it democracy. Fundamentally, under the skin, we are all human. We all need the same key things – love, food, shelter, nurture, and so forth. We achieve so much more when we break down those walls with friendship, and reach out to each other with respect and tolerance to achieve a mutual aim.

We’ve seen this in spades during 2020, both in a physical sense and in online communities driving social policy for good. Celebrate that, and embrace community spirit. We are so much stronger together.

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