Thankfully, many people seem are searching for and focusing on the upside of Britain's decision.
I wanted to encourage the search for the silver lining and use it as means to highlight a salient lesson about language and conflict.
The vote may have been inspired by economic fatigue and fear of refugees, but the upsides could be many.
These are the five:
1. Small nations in the E.U. may now have a stronger voice.
2. Ireland might find a way to reunify.
3. Scotland may proclaim "free at last"
4. If the EU really tanks -- losing both liberty and prosperity -- Britain might have regained its strength and might be able to join the U.S. in making sure the region thrives.
5. Problems in the economic structure in the E.U. might be worked out so others remain.
There may be more.
You know, the League of Nations created after World War I by President Woodrow Wilson did not prevent World War II. So the symbolic coming together of the EU might not be so important.
What Brixit Means: Language & Conflict
When looking at world events from a narrative perspective, we want to pause and look at the meaning we are ascribing to events.
World leaders will now be speaking at length telling us what this change means. That's their job, let's watch how they do it. Remember, their agendas impact the meaning they ascribe may be to advance certain interests.
Be on watch.
Also remember, as a wise professor once told me "No one who teaches you knows what will happen."
We have no idea the millions of individual changes and events this transformation may prompt. The future is not yet written. So when listening to talking heads-- including my own -- please take the time to consider (for yourself) what this might mean.
If we focus on the possible upsides, then we will more likely secure that outcome.
Anyone who has ever left a bad relationship knows the difference between focusing on the losses and focusing on the possibilities of a new beginning. No one knows the long-term effects of this. They might tell you they do, but they really are just guessing.
When asked if the French revolution was a success, Chinese revolutionary Zhou Enlai 1898-1976 is quoted to have said,
"It's too soon to tell."
As for Brixit, it is too soon to tell...And much of that answer will depend on how we respond now.
As I wrote this, a female blue jay landed by my window and screamed the whole time. I cannot tell if she whole hardheartedly agreed or disagreed with my points. She might be mad at me or her husband, it's hard to tell. She seems to be yelling at us both. I will delay ascribing meaning to her tirade.
People have asked me for the transcript of my graduation speech. Below the video below, you will now see the transcript as well. The speech is only a little over three minutes long.
Thanks for all your support and for letting me share with you some of what hundreds of hours with Holocaust survivors during the past five years has taught me.
Before coming to George Mason University’s School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution (S-CAR), I lived in France worked in advertising and pursued a master’s degree in International Affairs at the American University of Paris. I wrote my thesis on the French National Railway’s role in the WWII transport of deportees to death camps and the contemporary conflict in the United States over whether the company had done enough to make amends.
After graduation, I wanted more and only S-CAR specialized in both post-conflict studies and what the field calls narrative. Narrative approaches to conflict consider how the stories we tell about conflicts impacts how our conflicts unfold.
So, I boxed up my apartment in Paris and moved to Arlington.
The problem was, I had not been admitted to the doctoral program.
I had not even applied.
Thank goodness the school eventually admitted me. I had no plan B.
SCAR over-delivered, teaching me new ways to think about conflict and introducing me to astonishing group of colleagues and faculty. I wrote a dissertation about those French trains and now the dissertation is becoming a widely accessible book.
It was the 80 Holocaust survivors interviewed for my dissertation who taught me how to live. I want to share two of these lessons today.
What the survivors taught me is that no small act is too little and that no action of compassion is ever too late.
Two brief stories demonstrate this.
Rosette Goldstein, who I saw again last month in Florida, recalls the first day she had to wear the yellow star to school.
A star that marked her Judaism and served as the beginning of the physical separation of the Jews from the Non-Jews throughout Europe.
Just 8 years old, Rosette recalls the ridicule from her classmates.
She also recalls the words of her teacher, who risked her job when she stood up before the whole class and said,
“Stop this! These children are our friends. Our country has gone mad, but we will not.”
Her words have never left Rosette.
It is never too little.
It was Daniel – who I just saw in Paris two weeks ago, with whom I learned the second lesson:
it is never too late.
During my many meetings with Daniel, I learned that he felt largely estranged from the brother with whom he survived first Auschwitz and then a series of death marches to Austria.
Just 12 and 14 at the time, the boys had been rounded up together, deported together and imprisoned together.
They have consecutive tattoos on their forarms.
Through a series of events – which I am now writing about in my book – they found themselves separated after the war—only coming together briefly, but never living together again.
Now 85 and 87, the brothers rarely saw each other.
“My brother didn’t come when I had my heart surgery” Daniel laments.
“I was a burden to him during the war,” Daniel says. ‘I think that’s why he doesn’t want to see me,”
Samuel explains the reason for their estrangement differently.
Once Daniel converted to Catholicism and had six children, Samuel says, “I pulled back to give him space.”
Hearing these explanations separately – I helped them start a new dialogue with one another.
The war took their parents but it does not need to rob them of each other.
We have been at this for over two years now.
On April 30 of this year, we all met in Strasbourg on the French-German border.
And They began a new chapter of their relationship.
“Your story’s not over,” I told Daniel after his reunion with Samuel.
“You’re right,” he said “The story is not over.”
Two days later Daniel called me to say we performed a “petit miracle” – a small miracle.
His brother was transformed and so was his wife.
Now they just miss their sister who refused to come to the reunion or speak about the war.
So, I sent her the pictures just to say we were thinking of her.
This week she responded, inviting me to her house. She is ready to speak. I will now work on uniting the three of them.
When watching the news, we can feel like we’re trying to stare down a Tsunami. The conflict and pain seems endless.
We likely will not stop much of it.
But what we do choose to do – no matter how small or how late matters…
We can always enrich the lives of those around us
Thank goodness I pursued a doctorate in Conflict Analysis & Resolution in spite of the many voices (internal and external) telling me to keep my jet setting corporate job.
Corporate life can be terrifically exciting -- travel opened my mind to the world. Doing business with the world's biggest advertisers and media companies prepared me to research and speak about how we can engage market actors (corporations) in peace building.
In my doctoral work, I bought business and conflict resolution together. Maintaining optimism while studying genocide prevention and post-conflict work, however can be challenging. Anyone interrupting cycles of fear, revenge and violence works against unspeakable odds.
Peace efforts are constantly being interrupted by suicide bombers, warlords, and greed.
My graduation speech, below, speaks to the feelings of hopelessness any sane person can feel.
Five years of research instilled in me a nugget of wisdom for those wanting to contribute and feel overwhelmed by the need around us.
This wisdom emerged from hundreds of hours spent Holocaust survivors as part of my doctoral work. I also spoke with survivors of the 1965 genocide in Indonesia and refugees from Rwanda, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Syria -- all seeking a way forward. The 9/11 kids who belong to a group called Tuesday's Children echoed many of the same messages.
We can always honor the dead. For the living -- our contributions and caring are never too little and never too late. Excuse the slightly crinkly video with my 3 minute speech speaking to this point.