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In memory of Jo Cox - respect for democratic values

In memory of Jo Cox - respect for democratic values

Originally written June 17, 2016. Published October 18, 2017.

Respect for Jo Cox, the British politician murdered in June 2016, is what originally prompted this post. I grieve for her family and friends, as this is a horrific loss. But I also grieve for something much larger – what her death may reflect. The words below are as relevant now as they were then.

What I’d like to hear from our politicians is something like this below, in exchange with one another. We need it now, as a matter of urgency – not as a valedictory speech when they retire.

"Dear Politician with opposite views to my own

For a moment, let’s put aside the usual way we relate to each other. In light of recent events, I’ve come to realise that there is a lot more at stake. When we cut through all of the noise and kerfuffle, politics is about the contest of ideas. And behind ideas stand people and their stories.

Your views may differ markedly from mine, but I wanted to thank you and your colleagues for standing opposite me. What we are doing here is something that has taken human beings centuries to develop. It stands on some basic ideas that we forget at our collective peril.

Five key ideas

The first of these is in the belief that human beings have the ability to work towards their goals. Second is the realization that even for brilliant humans, we tend to get much more done when we work together. Third is in recognizing that none of us as individuals are always right. None of us know everything there is to know, and other people are going to have different perspectives. Fourth - in order to make lasting progress, we must accept that not everything will always go our own way. My most important point is that unless we respect different opinions, we will revert to the law of the jungle. We all know the misery and violence which that approach promises. This set of ideas help to reinforce one another, regardless of what we choose to call them.

Why these ideas have value

These ideas have lifted us well beyond the starvation and disease most human beings suffered until recent history. They have allowed human beings to collectively reach their full potential in any number of fields. Our common code of civilized behaviour helps to ensure that future generations prosper. They will be able to build upon our ancestors’ hard work, and upon our hard work, around the world.

Guarding the flame

But today, these ideas are under pressure due to the immense changes our societies are going through. Nowadays, many people, for one reason or another, feel that these ideas are distant from them. Maybe they once believed in these ideals, but did not receive support from others when they needed help. As a result, people follow various agendas that promise to relieve their pain, and to restore their self-respect and pride.

The threats to these ideas are showing up in various ways. This is why I think it is so important that all citizens value and discuss the ideas I mentioned before. Not just us as politicians, but by everyone, at every level, and not just as a once-off. What does it mean to be someone who believes in the political or social equality of all people? Is it enough to just say so, and to expect that these ideas will somehow look after themselves?

Thank you for your efforts

So, opposition politician, today I’d like to thank you for your efforts in standing up for what you believe in. I want to thank you for your years of effort, and the personal sacrifices you have made to do it. I know full well the pressures that come with the job, and the strain it can put on family relationships.

I appreciate the effort your team have put into trying to strike a balance between equality and opportunity. This includes the long hours of trying to find solutions to problems that all of us can live with. Thank you for challenging our ideas, and for reminding us that we don’t have a monopoly on solutions or wisdom. I appreciate the competition of our ideas, within the realms of the five concepts I outlined above. We often find a better outcome together than we would have done without such competition.

Let’s promote those five ideas

More than anything else, I thank you for your commitment to, and respect for, the democratic process. I thank you for respecting my right to air my opinions in a free and open manner. I also appreciate your support of our system of government. It allows all politicians to campaign upon our plans for the future, and for the people to pass judgement. Finally, I thank you for graciously accepting political victory or defeat in a peaceful and civilized manner. The will of the people is more important than either of us as individuals.

Let’s work to repair people’s trust in our political system, starting with how we talk about the issues. Let’s think about how we can ensure everyone feels heard and respected as human beings. And let’s talk about the importance of those five ideas all our lives, both within politics – and beyond it.”

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