Ewan Aitken: We must heal rifts with our neighbours after EU vote

Voters will go to the polls across the UK today. Picture: Scott Louden
Voters will go to the polls across the UK today. Picture: Scott Louden
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Whatever the outcome of today’s EU vote, we must rebuild the fractured relationships with our neighbours, says Ewan Aitken

In 1624, the Poet John Donne wrote these famous words:

No man is an island,

Entire of itself,

Every man is a piece of the continent,

A part of the main.

If a clod be washed away by the sea,

Europe is the less.

As well as if a promontory were.

As well as if a manor of thy friend’s

Or of thine own were:

Any man’s death diminishes me,

Because I am involved in mankind,

And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;

It tolls for thee.

This profound poem reminds us of three crucial things as we vote today; we are inherently connected as human beings, even to those we will never meet; what we do will impact others whether we wish that to be the case or not and our human fulfillment, our search for meaning, is found in the quality and depth of our relationships. We are not autonomous beings. We are relational; built to be connected to each other.

Its not for me to tell you how to vote; though I would strongly encourage you to vote whatever box your cross will go in. One of the key principles of the democracy upon which our nation is built is that the voice of the people matters but if the voice is only half the people, as John Donne would say; we are all diminished.

Whatever the outcome of today’s vote, Donne’s view of the inherent connectedness between us all should drive us to rebuild the fractured relationships that are the consequence of an at times undignified and offensive campaign. Democracy may mean we have the right to be both offensive and be offended but these things do not come without cost.

Relationships will need to be healed personally, politically, locally and nationally. As John Donne says, our actions matter. We need to be in right relationship with our neighbour and the stranger, with those with whom we agree and those with whom we disagree so we can be fully ourselves.

Cyrenians believe that all of our work with those excluded from family, home, work of community is the result of relationship breakdown of one sort or another. Exclusion is a description of broken relationships. Our leaders have told us what they think. We, today, have the opportunity to respond via the ballot box. That is the basis of the democratic relationship between people and power.

For that not to be broken, we need our leaders to respond to the result of todays vote by first showing they are willing to heal the relationships the campaign has hurt; otherwise it will not just be for them but for all of us that the bell tolls.

• Ewan Aitken is Chief Executive Officer of the Edinburgh Cyrenians