Try having a conversation about Brexit!

In reply to my posting about winning arguments, Carmen, a regular reader ( thank you, Carmen!) makes the following point:

“A pre-problem which I’ve experienced before even reaching a “how-to-win-the-argument” mode, is  establishing an agreement–stated or implied– to commit to a conversation. People are adept at giving their political viewpoints but at the same time setting up subtle speed bumps to deter subsequent conversational exchanges.”

I have recently spent time  in London, and have been disturbed at the huge divisions caused by Brexit. Start what you think is a reasonable conversation, conducted by polite and well-educated people, and far too many (for my liking) simply cut you off at the pass.  By that I mean they state their viewpoint in such a final and definite way that you are left with no alternative but to think “Um….” and change the subject.  This is tough because my wife, who is American, asks pertinent questions, wanting insights and real information.  She has, like me, been frustrated.  These are actual comments we have heard:

– “The EU is corrupt and needs reform” (more so than the British Parliamentary system? Wow!),

– “The Euro is bound to collapse and we need to get out before it does”. (a self-fulfilling prophesy).

– “We are fed up with the whole thing.  Just get us out and let us get on with our lives”. (a popular sentiment, if totally irresponsible).

– “We have had enough of being told what to do by Brussels bureaucrats!  Straight bananas indeed!” (Most of the stories are made up, Boris Johnson, as a journalist, being one of the chief story fabricators. It’s been a decades-long emotional crusade by the hard-right British media, which is the majority of the media).

– “I’ve met him (Boris). He’s very charming and very impressive” (well, yes, he’s a politician)

– “He’s strong, knows what he wants and gets things done” (O.K, but are they the right things?)

– “ He’s going to stop all this immigration. It’s ruining the culture”. (This from an immigrant taxi driver).

”He’s very clever.  He knows what to do”. “What would you like him to do?“  “Oh, I don’t know – I’m not a politician.”  (makes you despair, doesn’t it?)

All the above said with such conviction and finality that any attempt at conversation withers. Particularly disturbing if the person you are speaking to is a member of your family or a life-long friend.  One would have to go back centuries to find the country so deeply divided; but of course it is not alone!

One Comment

  1. If it’s any consolation, Carmen and you aren’t alone. British people are generally very polite and don’t like to cause any offence. A conversation about Brexit is likely to cause offence. Therefore, we tend to avoid the subject.

    I can only offer two suggestions. Firstly, people need to learn how to set their own views aside and be neutral analysts, particularly when talking to foreigners or people who don’t know much about politics. They should be able to articulate and analyse all viewpoints on a subject without their bias affecting their ability to explain. An attempt at neutrality, however artificial, goes a long way.

    Secondly, we mustn’t be afraid of confrontation. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been in a situation when someone (normally a middle-aged man) expresses a bigoted or extreme view, and I’ve kept my mouth shut for the sake of preserving civility. We, myself included, must learn to engage with our opponents, however rude it may seem.

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