By Charles Fowler
One thing that’s become clear from our experience of the Covid crisis is that we must find a way to reach across the bitter divisions that divide so many of us around the world.
Memories of those heart-warming experiences in the early days of the crisis when we joined in applauding health workers, helped elderly or infirm neighbours, sewed masks, or delivered food and essentials to those in need, seem to have faded. The old battle cries are being heard once more. Us against Them.
Trump vs Biden in the United States, Leavers vs Remainers in the UK, the Yellow Vests on the streets again in France. Divisions everywhere. Turkey. The Middle East. The Caucasus. Hong Kong. Wherever you look, those deep divisions are still there, still stirring up hostility and hatred.
It isn’t hard to get us all fired up again. It is so easy for us to see those with opposing views to ours as the other side, the enemy. We shut our eyes and ears to what they are saying and focus instead on trying to shout them down. We never doubt that we’re on the right side. In our little bubbles of carefully curated news and views, our righteousness is constantly reinforced. The other side is wrong, wicked, threatening, maybe even dangerous. No point in talking to them. Shut them out.
But where is this all going to end? We can’t change anyone’s mind by shouting and being angry with them. This is no way to build back better. Divided societies won’t build a better world.
The only way forward is to genuinely connect with each other. That doesn’t mean we ignore our differences and disagreements, but rather that we appreciate what we have in common. That is where values come in.
All around the world, if you ask people what personal values are most important to them, the same words keep recurring. Caring, compassion, honesty, truth, respect, trust – wherever we are, whether it’s the United States, Canada, Brazil, Australia, France, Italy, the UK, South Africa, Nigeria, UAE, or Singapore, research shows that the same values are near the top of most people’s lists, everywhere. Whichever side of the divide we are on, we share more or less the same values (for example, there is a 90% overlap in the values and attitudes of Leavers and Remainers according to a recent study).
And yet we obstinately persist in labelling all those on the other side of our various divides as not just wrong, but “bad” as well. We believe that we have “good values” – compassion, honesty, and the rest – but they don’t. Their values are bad. I’m not exaggerating – research shows this is really how most of us think.
As a result of this wildly inaccurate perception of our fellow citizens, we don’t put into action the values we say we have. We don’t trust those on the other side of the divide. We don’t respect them, and very often we don’t have compassion for them.
We are going to have to do better if we are going to build back better.
So let’s start to turn it around. Nobody is going to do it for us. We need to change the way we think and the way we act, each of us, individually. We don’t have to make a big plan, we don’t have to tear down our society and start again from scratch. We just have to begin to open our minds and our hearts to others. Even if we don’t agree with their opinions.
Let’s trust them. Let’s accept that even those opinions we don’t agree with are usually held honestly and sincerely. Let’s get back to the spirit of those early days of the epidemic and put our compassionate values into action, steadily and consistently each day. We will see how the power of our example can begin to change the world.
And let’s start now. After all, it is World Values Day tomorrow.
CHARLES FOWLER chairs the Human Values Foundation, which uses positive values to promote young people’s social and emotional development, helps run the UK Values Alliance, and is project partner of the Collaborating Centre for Values-based Practice for Health and Social Care at Oxford University. He is closely involved in the organising and co-ordinating of World Values Day.