Heart to Heart on Brexit

QUESTION. ‘Serge, can you comment on the whole Brexit situation?

Well, it ‘s crazy times, isn’t it. This leaving the EU which we’ve been part of for so many years, has resulted in Cameron falling on his sword, a rebellion against Jeremy Corbyn and the possible splitting up of the Labour party, together with our seeing some rather ugly racism rear its head in England. As Lord Hazeltine said on the late-night news: ‘We are facing the greatest constitutional crisis the country has had since the great war.’

For me, who wanted England to stay part of the EU, this break feels such an abrupt one. It’s as if a partner whom you had felt secure with – even though there were always a few ripples of unrest – suddenly tells you that they want a divorce and that life will be much better for you without them. You don’t realise how important and secure-making the relationship was until it is no more. And now everything is up in the air. None of us know, least of all our politicians, where anyone or anything stands and what our ‘exiting’ really involves.

Well, I don’t want to discuss the ins and outs of Brexit. Rather, I want to look at how we deal with crisis, for this is what we are all facing and we’re all affected in one way or another. What will it to do our status abroad? Will our businesses be affected and our pensions? What will happen to the economy, the euro, the pound, etc, etc? What about England’s future? The one thing true at this time is that there’s a hell of a lot of insecurity in the air.

A political or an economic or a social crisis – and this crisis is all three, and I’d also call it a spiritual crisis – is always a personal crisis, which the Chinese have a great word for. Crisis for them is translated as a ‘dangerous opportunity,’ and I think this is exactly what we face. For crises, if they don’t destroy us – and some of them certainly can, although I don’t think this one is quite of that league – can also have the capacity to expand us, if that is, we have the courage to face them and not deny them and take time trying to see what they have to teach or reveal to us. As a psychotherapist, I work with a lot of people going through crises, which are generally around themes of loss – loss of a loved one, loss of one’s job, loss of health, etc – and once I’ve helped them deal with the shock effect and our tendency to want to deny things that are unpleasant (most crises hit us out of the blue – we aren’t expecting them), I try to make them see that there is always a positive side.

Often, then, a crisis can be a blessing in disguise. Could this be one? Could all the heartache and anger and confusion and uncertainty in the air today, be pointing us in a new, positive direction? I would like to hope so, if that is, we can all invest our energy into positively musing what could be – what could potentially lie ahead – as opposed to lamenting what we feel we’ve lost.

There’s a great line in the poem Morte d’Arthur by Alfred Lord Tennyson. ‘The old order changeth yielding place to new’ and certainly the ‘old order’ is changing in England. And very quickly. It is no longer a question of left versus right. Things are becoming much, much subtler. Indeed, our world as a whole in the last decade has become much more transparent, and today many more of us are much more wise to the fact that not only are many of our politicians not giving us what we want but also that many of our institutions are becoming increasingly dysfunctional. This in America, has certainly been responsible for the rise of the two ‘populist Washington outsiders’, Trump and Bernie Sanders.

The truth is that there is a lot wrong with how the EU operates today. It started with a wonderful vision but has got bogged down over the decades with the result that much of its original fire and enthusiasm has become compromised. Basically, the EU needs to evolve. Just like the UN (see its abysmal failure to deal with Syria), it needs to move to a higher level, become more integrated, more open, more functional, more able to deal with the needs of parts in the light of what is required for the larger European community, thinking also of what is best for the world as a whole. My perception is that for too long, European countries have tried to address their difficulties by trying to paper them over and not address their deep causes, and this crisis is not going to be solved this way and so is bringing many things to a head and is also causing many other European countries to look at themselves and their relationship with the EU from a new perspective. (Most crises have an ‘intelligent purpose’ hidden inside them if we can only pull it out!)Serious world problems like inequality, corruption, racism, terrorism, injustice, the problem with immigrants – they all need examining more closely and the ‘gift’ of this crisis is that it is opening up many cans of worms that had previously been conveniently covered over. To use another analogy, lots of different cats are currently being let out of lots of bags and this is forcing us to see a) that certain problems can no longer be overlooked, and b) that many of our old ways of dealing with them are no longer working.

Basically, the game needs to change.

In my early thirties, I went through a huge crisis in my personal life. I had a serious illness, a woman I loved left me and I lost a lot of money through some big mistake being made. These things all happened at the same time and this triple whammy initially absolutely floored me and I was full of anger and denial, blaming everyone and everything for what I saw as a ‘big injustice’ that had suddenly descended upon me. I felt quite a victim. However, I had the luck of having a wise friend who helped me see that my dark cloud had a silver lining and that my crisis had a deeper purpose to it. I saw that I needed to evolve as a human being. I realised to my horror that I was full of arrogance, fear, intolerance, prejudice, small-mindedness etc and that these aspects of me were standing in the way of my being a real person and needed to ‘die off’ to allow a more resilient or ‘fuller’ me to come into being, and that in reducing me ( at one level), i.e., knocking the wind out of my sails, my crisis was actually helping expand me at another level – helping me become a bit more human! Although this transition took time and was not without its challenges, I look back on that year as being one of the most important ones of my life as it pointed me in a whole new direction. I think that if my life hadn’t fallen apart, it would have gone on in its old tracks which were not satisfactory. I wouldn’t knowingly have derailed myself as I was stuck in my comfort zone – and, folks, we all hate and resist change. I needed a big crisis to come from outside and turn me upside down and inside out!

I would like to suggest that the radical derailing we are currently all experiencing in this Brexit crisis, can be a similar gift. There’s another Chinese aphorism that goes: ‘Unless you change direction, you are bound to end up where you are headed’ and as I see it, a space is starting to open up both within our country and within Europe that can possibly move us all in a new direction. I would like to feel this could be a blessing in disguise both for England and the EU and maybe somewhere down the line, we will unite together again in a much stronger and much more integrated spirit.

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