let's call the whole thing off
I initially had the bright idea of writing about Brexit, but then I could not think of something I actually wanted to do less, so I thought I would write instead about the almost impossible task of engaging with somebody who sits at the other end of the political spectrum. Debate might be seen as noble root to reasoned discussion, but actually, it can just be bloody exhausting.
A couple of months ago I was standing in the Eurotunnel, my car loaded up with donations for Help Refugees in Calais. My car was the only one in the section that wasn’t a Porsche, and all around me were men going to what I can only assume was some kind of Porsche convention. The man next to me glanced over and smiled, he asked if I was moving house. When I told him what I was doing, however, he began to lecture me. And so, began a debate that lasted the entire crossing from England to France, and showed to me, in stark reality, the exact reason it is almost impossible to unite the two ends of our current political spectrum.
You see, I thought we were having a conversation, but I realise now that we weren’t. All he wanted to do was to tell me his view, and for me to agree with him. Not for us to weigh up our differing opinions, but for him to belittle me, make me see the ‘error of my ways’, reveal that I was mistaken, stupid and didn’t know what I was talking about.
He told me I didn’t understand, and so I gave him statistics and the findings of recent reports. He told me I hadn’t seen the impact on our public services, and so I told him I completed my university training at NHS hospitals. He told me I didn’t know what it was like to work a low-paid job under threat, and so I told him about my many minimum-wage, zero-hours jobs. He said I couldn’t understand what it was like to live in a community which includes immigrants, I told him I lived in Brixton. None of this was good enough.
And so, we continued. Not at my request, might I add. Every time I would go to put my headphones back in, he would state “you have your opinions and I have mine”. I would smile and nod, and we would survive 15 seconds of silence before he would start again with “The thing is though…” and we would be off: A nauseating carousel of misinformation, racist opinion and an accusatory tone being fired my way.
I won’t write most of it because it doesn’t need any more of a platform than it already gets, but needless to say every ill that exists (and has always existed) in our society was laid at the feet of families living in a tent in Northern France. Economic collapse. Robbery. Murder. Overpopulation. Job insecurity. Rape. All of these things were blamed on refugees. And much as I tried to argue my point, it became obvious that in a tunnel full of cars, each worth more than double the average annual salary of our country, there was a distinct poverty of empathy.
And that is why debating this stuff is exhausting and draining and often futile - because this whole story boils down to the fact that a man going to a Porsche convention tried to make me feel guilty for taking baby clothes to a refugee camp. And he genuinely thought he was in the right.
“I don’t understand it”, he finally finished, when I explained that some of these people had entrusted their lives, and their children’s lives, and all of their savings to somebody they didn’t even know, purely because the prospect of leaving was better than that of staying.
“I hope you never do”, was all I could reply.