The empathy gap: why don’t you meet people who think differently to you?

This article by Douglas Alexander in The Guardian begins:

“People often ask me, “Do you miss being an MP?” My answer is always a bit of a curate’s egg. I certainly miss being in government – where you can make change happen. But I don’t miss Westminster – even before the latest depressing revelations – it often felt to me like Hogwarts gone wrong.

But what I miss most of all is working in the constituency. For almost two decades my weekly routine involved hours of meetings with whoever wanted to talk to their local MP. In community halls and supermarket cafeterias I would listen, learn, and do what I could to help. Their stories, over the years, shaped my sense of the world. In that community, where I’d grown up, it was natural and normal for me to meet people from a wide range of backgrounds. It was a real gift.

MPs are often dismissed as “out of touch” but over the last couple of years – in “the real world” – I’ve seen just how many people live, work and socialise in ways that mean they rarely encounter people who are not like them. Think of all the remain supporters after the referendum expressing incredulity at the result, and then confessing: “But I’ve never met anyone who voted to leave.” Or the council leader after the Grenfell fire who admitted she’d never been inside a council tower block flat. When did living parallel lives, rarely really engaging with people who aren’t like us, become the norm for so many of us?

Of course there has always been difference, and indeed division, in our country. But the sense – that so many of us feel – that despite being more connected than ever we are living among strangers, has grown in recent years. Over these past months I’ve travelled the length and breadth of the country to make a programme for BBC Radio 4, exploring how we came to be so divided and what we can do – as a society and as individuals – to bridge those divisions …”

You can read more here.

And you listen here to the BBC Radio 4 programme: “A Culture of Encounter”.

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