On 24th June 2016, a date that will no doubt go down in the history of British politics as one of the most shocking days, the UK (well, England more specifically) voted to leave the EU in a referendum that saw the country split and severed—48.1% to 51.9%. Like most of the younger generation in this country (approx 75%), I unequivocally wanted to remain.
But actually, the media debate and views I heard around the issue of Brexit made me more disappointed than the result itself. I’m disappointed at the state of our country and our society—not because of immigration or the EU as Brexiteers might have had people believe, but because of the people, because of society. What I want is our society to be better, happier, nicer for all. And each of us is responsible for making that happen.
In 2015, me and my husband left the UK to travel the world for a year—to experience other countries, cultures, and societies—from the third world to the first world. We were lucky to spend time in countries where we experienced, first-hand, better and nicer societies than ours. We volunteered in Vanuatu, a third world country that is considered one of the happiest in the world. Despite having very little money or clothing, and virtually no TVs, PlayStations, iPhones, and all that materialistic crap we feel makes our lives better, they have an inherently more caring and happier society than we do. They value each other and the important things in life.
In contrast, we spent time in the wealthy USA, and witnessed one of the most selfish, insular, uncaring, and materialistic societies. Gaunt, freezing homeless people crying on 5th Avenue utterly ignored by those walking past with hands too full of designer bags to rummage in their pockets for some change. It became abundantly clear that a “great” society doesn’t relate to wealth; it relates to people and how they treat each other, to what is valued in society.
After a year, we returned to find that the UK—our home—had gotten worse. There had been more austerity measures, strikes, more cuts to public services, and more pressure on those who are worst off in society. There was a national dissatisfaction rumbling, and for a renowned nation of complainers—somehow, even more complaining! And in the face of this economic downturn, I observed that large parts of society had become more selfish and less caring. Instead of doing more to help others, they complained more.
Some loud voices in the Brexit debate conned a lot of people into believing these issues were a result of the EU and immigration, and that the country would magically “become Great Britain again” if we Brexited. Whatever happens economically and politically as a result of Brexit, and however you feel about the outcome, contrary to what Disney would have you believe, nothing happens by magic.
We are all, as individuals and collectively, responsible for this society and this country. And we all have a part to play in making this society better and in making Britain “great”. This starts with realising that would really make this country better is people taking care of others, putting others before themselves, and being more loving to their fellow humans (and animals for that matter).
It doesn’t matter how much money you have in your pocket—you can always do something to make this country better for other people. Whether it’s something tiny or something bigger, we all need to do our bit and be more altruistic. So here are a few ways you can start today…
- Hold the door open for the person behind you
- Say please and thank you, and be genuine about it
- Smile and say hello to those you don’t know
- Give up your seat on the bus or train to someone who needs it more than you do
- Instead of buying more possessions you don’t need, give the money to charity
- Instead of watching TV, volunteer some of your spare time to a cause
- Give the things you don’t need to a charity or local refuge
- Plant flowers in your town or city’s public spaces
- Put your litter, or any litter you walk, past in a bin
- Buy a homeless person a drink and spend some time talking to them
- Intervene if you see someone being insulted or attacked
- Offer your personal support to those who need it
- Write a blog giving free advice on your area of expertise
- Volunteer as a student mentor, a business mentor, or a buddy for young people in need
- Ask your local town or city council what projects you can get involved in to make your town or city better
- Offer your spare room for free to couchsurfers
- Pay for the person’s coffee who is behind you in the queue
- Help someone pack up their shopping bags at the till
- Rather than taking things to the tip, advertise them on freecycle or Shpock as free
So post-Brexit, you may be elated or you may be disappointed. Either way, you need to commit to personally doing your bit to make this country a better place for others, create a nicer place to live for us all, work towards a more altruistic society, and make Britain truly great.