(Truth, Brexit, Trump — in that order)
My 9 and 15 year old debated the US election results the other morning, they’ve lived their lives between the antipodes and the UK with regular stops in Italy, Africa and wherever our travels may have taken us. They’ve never been to, let alone lived in, America. And yet the election has bluntly, sharply and catastrophically forced them to start thinking more deeply about the world we live in.
To start questioning whether their mum and dad have been living their lives with rose tinted glasses for the last decade, or if they’re just plain dense. How could they have not seen this coming, first Brexit then this. Both hugely polarising events that will have far more impact on them than it will on me
There are broad learnings to be taken from the elections in the UK and the US, things that we need to educate our kids on so that as they grow older and hopefully wiser, they’ll see the signs and take action early.
1. Know the Issues, Know the Facts
One of the scariest moments for me in the run up to the Brexit vote was when Michael Gove stated that he thought:
Let’s stop and think about that for a second. This is the former Secretary for State for Education, (at the time the Secretary of State for Justice) openly advocating for ignorance.
It was a statement that gave permission to the uninformed sceptics, the conspiracy theorists, the bigots (and worse) to masquerade petty minded evils as evidence. To dismiss truths with sweeping disregard.
In the US, the assertions that Obama was not born in the US, that the level of immigration was almost 3 times higher than reported were just the tip of the iceberg when you look at the long list of untruths paraded as facts.
I hope I’ve raised my kids to be inquisitive, I’m going to double down on that — to make sure that every decision they make is informed to the best of their ability and supported by facts. They may still get it wrong, but at least they’ll have figured it out for themselves.
2. Have Empathy for Others
Brexit came as a shock to many (including me) because we were out of touch with the pulse of the country. Even though I had been out of the country for close to a decade it was no excuse to blinkering myself from the sentiments of others.
Brexit’s seeds were planted a long time ago, as the disenfranchised looked to the past and saw England’s glory days long gone. They wanted a return to those times — even though they may well be unattainable. There was a definite view amongst leavers that their standard of living would continue to drop and that this would continue for their kids — so any change would be better.
This article by Lord Ashcroft, interspersed with infographics really gets into the minds of the voting public after the referendum, it certainly brought home some reality for me. But that’s the problem, it’s another ‘post’ — after the fact — maybe if we’d spent some time really understanding these issues and at least attempting to have meaningful discourse on them a lot early, we’d have been less shocked.
For my kids as they grow, they are going to see change, I personally fear that their lives will be less easy than mine was, post Brexit. Not least because they are of mixed European (Italian) and British heritage.
I want them to understand that peoples’ circumstances are unique, that each of us has our own set of fears, issues, dreams and vision of the future. That they should learn to be empathetic and to act with empathy. To travel the metaphorical mile before dismissing others’ concerns.
3. Know The Enemy
This is subtler than the obvious assumption. It is easy to paint Trump as the enemy, but let’s not forget that 59.5m people voted for him.
The enemy is always ignorance.
But here, in a more specific way, the enemy was the Donald, and it is easy to paint him out that way. Enemy of truth (see above), of women, of migrants, of Muslims, of alternative lifestyles, of,indeed, anyone that does not conform to his incredibly small minded world view.
To my kids, all I can say — even though it breaks my heart to say it — is to remain vigilant, to not be overly trusting, to challenge everyone to maintain the highest of standards. To not let ignorance trump truth.
Finally, I want to tell my kids that they should not sink into apathy, 72% of the UK turned out to vote, who knows what might have been had the other thirty odd percent had exercised their rights.
In the US a paltry 51% of registered voters turned up at the ballots. Over 100 million people did not vote.
If even a small percent of those low numbers are down to complacency or lack of impetus, then they could have made a huge difference to the outcomes of either of these revolutionary results we have had this year.
I want to tell my children that they must act, always, because if they don’t, someone else will act for them.
In the meantime, I’m going to carry on teaching them the skills they’ll need as they grow into adulthood, but not before I make sure they enjoy the precious time they still have as kids.
Yes there are lessons to be learned, and to be taught; and tomorrow I will teach them. For today, let them laugh and play, run and cry, and know that between their mum and me they’ll always have a space for love in their lives.