Mayvin_Brexit EU referendum Europe European

Brexit: listen to the unheard voice of discomfort

Mayvin Director James Traeger shares his thoughts on Brexit.

For a moment I panicked. I stood with the spoon in my hand, standing over the salad I was preparing for my daughter’s graduation celebrations this evening, and I froze. It occurred to me that I was ten years old when we joined the EEC.

I can remember the atmosphere of that poll, a similarly febrile environment to the one we’ve just experienced with this referendum (only with an outcome noticeably at odds of course). One picks up the mood more than the detail as a child. I realise now that, at ten, in a way, my identity had been defined. The course was set. I was now a European, a citizen of a new kind of trans-national institution.

I remember handling the specially minted 50 pence coin, with its circle of hands, with a kind of wonder. And here I was, forty-odd years later, wondering if this now meant that the path I had been on since that time, one of my own increasing European-ness, had come to a dead end. I was very fearful, very uncomfortable, in that moment.

But then it occurred to me, as I was washing up the very same spoon; ‘Hold on! Why should your European-ness be threatened?’ Out loud to myself I found myself saying; ‘It is stronger than that’. There is no reason why I should feel diminished in this, or that my path has been blocked. The whole point of my European identity is that it is supra-national. It doesn’t matter where I live. I could be in London, or Paris or China – I will always feel increasingly and proudly European. And do you know what? I trust Europeans, including those who reside inside the EU, to honour that identity too, even if the country I live in doesn’t honour it. That is part of the European ideal. Besides, I can always go and live in Scotland.

Meanwhile, something else has been gnawing at me, which has now surfaced into plain thought. In Organisational Development, we talk about the importance of acknowledging the unheard voices. It is our role as OD practitioners to look out for those voices, to notice how they express themselves (in looks, postures, gossip and graffiti more often than in plain words). If you don’t, those that are unheard will likely stall any change process you try. So of course I feel like my needs haven’t been met by the result of this poll, but it does occur to me that there must be a whole cohort of people, maybe not the whole 52% who voted out, but a good many of them, who have, over the years since I burnished my coin, simply felt unheard, un-listened to, their feelings of growing discomfort unacknowledged.

Perhaps these were the people who felt slightly put out by being surrounded by a kind of otherness, the very otherness I grew up basking in? I notice my discomfort in even saying that. That’s interesting. Perhaps they were made to feel bad about it? And was I one of those who inadvertently contributed to their dis-ease, by dismissing its right to exist? And now, again, following a kind of OD principle, I am made to feel the discomfort in the system, and the more it is denied, the greater the backwash.

I am feeling that backwash now. We all are, in one way or another. So the next move an OD person will be wise to make, is to listen. Long and hard.