“The fastest way to lose an argument is to lose your temper.”
When we look back at this turbulent time some years hence, I suspect history will pinpoint last Wednesday evening as the turning point for Brexit. Until that time, there was a determined and controlled approach to overcome opposition to the negotiated Withdrawal Agreement: but then Theresa threw her proverbial toys out of the pram, and everything changed.
There's no doubting her commitment and resolve, but a prime minister can't win friends and influence people by angry diktat - especially in a hung parliament.
Whether in business, politics or personal relationships, keeping one’s cool at times of stress is seriously important. So, as we contemplate the possibility that within a few days there could be a change of Prime Minister, our commentary looks at the merits of keeping calm when the pressure is on.
Like many pieces of classical writing, that wonderful poem ‘If’ by Rudyard Kipling needs gender updating, but it nevertheless contains some seriously important truths for today’s world:
‘If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream - and not make dreams your master;
If you can think - and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build them up with worn-out tools:
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: 'Hold on!'
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings - nor lose the common touch,
if neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And - which is more - you'll be a Man, my son!’
Last week I attended a lunchtime seminar on the subject of Health: body, soul & spirit, looking at the way our state of mind impacts our health. This is, I understand, a connection broadly recognised in general practice, and one of the presentation slides, which were all prepared from a Christian standpoint, was particularly significant:
For the soul:
- Forgiveness - Ephesians 4:8
- is not forgetting
- is not reconciliation
- is the cancelling of a debt
- covers the multitude of sins - 1 Peter 4:8
- a heart at peace gives life to the body - Proverbs 14:30
- a cheerful heart is good medicine - Proverbs 17:22
The references shown above are from books of the Bible.
The focus of the talk was on the self, and the way that the impact of physical ailments can be so much reduced by healthy state of mind, which is not entirely disconnected from the miracle of faith healing.
But these attributes are also central to building trust in relationships by keeping anger in check. So much focus on modern life is on the self that it’s easy to become cynical about other people’s motives: indeed, in this commentary (on 11th March) we’ve written about the way generations have become estranged from each other, and how young people have become more insecure as a result.
As Psychology Today sets out on its website, ‘You talk over each other, or you only think about what you can say next to win the argument. In the end, you both lose, because no one is listening’.
As the slide references above show, there is another way of living which embodies a generosity of spirit: that, even when things are tough, keeps on thinking the best of others, keeps on listening, keeps on going, keeps on sharing.
So when, notwithstanding her early years as a vicar’s daughter, Theresa stood in the doorway at Number 10 and denounced her fellow parliamentarians, it felt like the tide had turned. Perhaps in the immense pressure she has been under, her patience may have broken – it’s only human to do so. However she also appears to have forgotten her role in creating a hung parliament in the first place: if she hadn’t called that opportunist 2017 election in the first place, the current discussion would just have been within the governing Conservative party.
But, most of all, her comments appeared designed to wound the very people whose support she so much needed. As a result, we are now even more at the mercy of events, and which of the four main potential Brexit outcomes wins through is now anyone’s guess (see the pie-chart for a current view).
Time has, indeed, run out. As we said last week, the last vestige of negotiating power with the EU Commission has gone, and there is a dawning fear among many (reflected in the pie-chart) that the United Kingdom will be left in a half-life existence in its relationship with the EU: unable to negotiate foreign trade agreements, and subject to EU regulations, over which we will have no influence: but with, of course, open borders for both Ireland and full members of the European Union. Meanwhile, the current bullying pressure being exerted on Switzerland by the EU (ref. Telegraph Business section 19th March ‘Switzerland holding out against EU ultimatum – Brussels moves to shut down the ‘Swiss model’ once and for all’) is clear evidence of how uncomfortable such a half-life can be.
And, all the time, the spectre of Eurozone disintegration, caused by its massive democratic deficit, approaches, which is of course the real elephant in the room.
That’s why we need the calm of diplomacy at this time, and we’re fortunate that one of the contenders who could pick up the baton from Theresa when she chooses to release it (as, until this coming December, it is her choice) is the Right Honourable Member for Aylesbury (pictured here at left with Gavin Oldham), endowed not only with Kipling-like fortitude but also his deep knowledge of Europe.