Indifference is a Privilege: A Plaidoyer for Emotionality

Anna-Leah Gebühr is a final year War Studies student from Germany. She is interested issues of social mobility and education, as well as literature and art. In her free time, you can often find her in cafes around London (with a good hot chocolate) and cooking with her friends.

[Featured Image: A puzzle bearing the European Union flag, with one missing piece. In the space of the missing piece is the Union Jack.]

A response to the Zeit article “Wo Freundschaften den Brexit überdauern”

Some months ago, I read an article in the German newspaper ‘Zeit’ that made me incredibly angry. It wasn’t until I talked to one of my best friends that I thought about writing a response. So here it is. 

The article covered the University’s Women’s Club (an immensely exclusive club based in London) and its basic line of argument was, that women there can talk about Brexit and current political events calmly even if they have different opinions. It strongly suggested that rational discussions and indifference about differences in opinion are an ideal to strive for. It further portrayed the mentioned women as an impeccable model of class, style and rationality, as opposed to the emotionality of parliamentary discussions and the media debate surrounding Brexit.  And it asked, why do only these women seem to be acting rationally?

The simple answer is, we cannot afford to be them. I have already mentioned the essential difference between the members of the University’ Women’s Club and most other people:  Class. While I (and probably most people) would love to be a member in that club, sit in the beautiful dining room over a cup of tea and read in their gorgeous library, the high membership fee and recommendations necessary to join the club are just not available for everyone. The members of the University Women’s Club are well-educated, and privileged not only in wealth, but also in connections, education and opportunities. I have no problem imagining a calm and academic discussion about Brexit in these halls. But Brexit is not an intellectual exercise, it is real life. And its real-life consequences will most certainly not reach the club members, otherwise they might not be so calm.

Because their circumstances are fundamentally different to the saleswomen in South London, who talked to me for over half an hour about the reasons Brexit scare her. She was angry and frustrated, waiting for the outcome of her application to the settled status that just would not come. She has lived in London for over 30 years, and Brexit has the potential to turn her life upside down. ‘Where else should I go?’, she asked me. London is her home and has been for decades. So, I would like to ask everyone: What would you do if you might lose your home? Stay calm and have an academic debate? Or get frustrated, angry and search for a solution? 

People who can afford a yearly membership of about 800 pounds are more likely to have a safety net. Somewhere else they could go, a way to get settled status, a way to get a visa. But not everyone has safety nets.

Brexit means uncertain futures. It means students, that will not be able to stay in or go to the UK due to increased fees and cuts for scholarships and funding. These students will not have access to some of the best universities in the world, not because of their achievements, but because of their backgrounds. People will have to leave their friends that have become family, their universities that have become the centre of their life and the cities they call home.

Brexit means British student cut off from opportunities like Erasmus. And yes, there still will be ways to go abroad during your studies, but at what cost? The accessibility of Erasmus is what makes cultural exchange possible. Cut off from scholarships, studying abroad will become an indicator for financial background. It will be a qualification only to be achieved out of privilege. And we can all imagine how that will translate into the job market.

And students are amongst the people who have it best. Many are not settled into their lives yet and can relocate to a different country more easily. But what about the families, the children and the elderly? What about the vulnerable groups and refugees? They could lose their home again, caught up in the (im)possibilities of a withdrawal agreement.

We have every reason to be emotional about Brexit. It impacts our life. And while the beautiful carpets in the University Women’s Club might shield its members from the sound of chaos outside, the glaring lights of bureaucratic offices will reveal it in all its ugly glory. And parliament will continue in its mission to represent the people, people who are emotional, people who care. 

The article of the ‘Zeit’ is just one expression of the society we live in. We are taught that emotionality makes us vulnerable and shows weakness. We learn that rational decisions are always wiser than emotional ones. But emotions make us who we are. They are not a weakness, but rather the opposite: They show we care. We care about our futures and the people around us. We care to reduce the struggles of people more vulnerable than us. We care about families, students, children and the elderly. We care about hope.

And no one should be able to shame us for these emotions. Indifference is not only a threat to our democracy; it is also a privilege. Not caring and being able to accept other opinions without opposition means that these other opinions do not threatened the very basis of your life, your home or your future. Because if they were, I guarantee you: You would care.  

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