Debra Allcock Tyler: The EU vote has left rifts and we're not listening to each other

We don't have to agree but we do need to keep talking to each other and understand other points of view, writes our columnist

When I was younger I was taught that there are three things that you should never discuss: money, religion and politics. But as I've grown older I've come to believe that that is about the worst piece of advice I was ever given. I think that one of the reasons that communities become so divided is that we don't talk about those things. Sharing what we believe about the world, whatever those beliefs are, is so important. It's important because that's the only way we will learn about each other. And it's only when we understand one another that we can become better human beings and build better societies. It isn't about who is right and who is wrong - it's about what makes us different and what makes us the same, and understanding why.

Our wonderful nation is currently torn. Out of every 100 people, 24 didn't vote in the EU referendum, 39 voted leave and 37 voted remain. That's how close it was. And as a result there are corrosive and angry splits between young and old, rich and poor, north and south, urban and rural. There are rifts between citizens, within families, within communities, within companies and within charities, because we're all busy being "right" and not listening to each other. We hear what we want to hear and ignore what we don't. And this is where anger, blame and recrimination lie.

Those who voted remain need to understand why leavers voted leave - and that will only happen by listening. It isn't helpful to lump them all together and accuse them of stupidity or wilful blindness. Those who voted leave need to understand why remainers voted remain and why they are so angry now. It isn't helpful to tell remainers to get over it and move on. And both sides need to listen to those who didn't vote at all.

We don't have to agree. We don't even have to agree to disagree. But what we do have to do is keep talking and keep listening to each other. However, and here's the kicker, we have to work to understand the other person's point of view even if they are not trying to understand ours. It matters more that we understand them than that they understand us. Because understanding others gives you power - power to help, power to support and power to grow.

In our sector, we are supporting people who are dealing with some of the most serious issues that face human beings, animals or the environment. We listen to them and do our best to serve them. We know how to manage difference and include conflicting perspectives. We look for common ground. So doing the same with people who have differing views about the EU shouldn't really be that hard for us.

We need to ask ourselves if the price of our politics is worth the permanent termination of a relationship because we are shocked about how someone voted. This doesn't mean we stop campaigning for what we believe in. But what we don't do is walk away. We listen hard to why others think we are wrong and they are right.

Because when we listen, we learn. And when we learn, we give ourselves the power to change our world.

Debra Allcock Tyler is chief executive of the Directory of Social Change

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