Building Character Strengths in post-Brexit Britain

I wouldn’t normally describe myself as a particularly vocal person on the subject of politics but I think like many other people at the moment, I am still reeling from the decision to leave the European Union (EU). I was especially shocked at the strength of my reaction to the news of Brexit and towards my fellow compatriots – and even some of the ‘senior’ members of my own family – for voting to leave.

But I would like to think that studying Applied Positive Psychology (MAPP) has taught me to ‘self-regulate’ more quickly and to recognise the importance of dealing with this situation and these emotions as speedily and positively as we can. Whichever way we voted, action is essential if we are to prevent a potentially very divisive split in relationships with family, friends, colleagues, neighbours and communities.

The power of fear and negativity can bring out the worst in all of us. The Archbishop of Canterbury has already spoken out on “an out-welling of poison and hatred” that has occurred since the Brexit result, with racial attacks increasing dramatically. Whilst I applaud the attempt to make clear that Britain is not a nation of racists, I don’t think the ‘wear a safety pin’ to display this perspective is enough: it is in our everyday attitudes and actions that the truth will be made evident.

Core values of the British ‘character’

This division could damage the very heart of our British ‘strength of character’ with core values such as fairness, tolerance and humanity. But it’s not only the public who need to use our strengths to recover and rebuild our character, it’s the politicians too. Arguably they are the ones who have heavily influenced the fear and division across the country and the whole of the UK, with attitudes and actions thus far since the Brexit result that do not make me feel proud to be British.

Perhaps the greatest strengths needed by both politicians and the public today in post-Brexit Britain are honesty and integrity; speaking the truth in a genuine way and with sincerity not pretence, taking responsibility for one’s feeling and reactions. Our politicians need to focus on the strengths of leadership and teamwork to rebuild our economic and psychological resources. We all need judgement to fairly examine issues from all sides and to be able to change our minds in the light of new evidence and courage to accomplish our goals in the face of opposition, external or internal. In exercising perspective and wisdom we can help each other to make sense of what has happened and how we can move forward together as a united not a divided kingdom.

Temperance and humanity, not extremism

We also need the strength of temperance to protect against extreme behaviours and reactions, including prudence – not making choices or saying things that we might regret – and to exercise forgiveness not vengeance. Our humanity embraces the strengths of love, kindness and social intelligence that help us to understand others and form positive relationships which are so important to our psychological and physical health and wellbeing

If we can rebuild even some of these strengths, perhaps post-Brexit Britain could be the start of something better – more hopeful – but the choice and the responsibility is down to all of us, not just the few.

About the author: Maggie Bevington has many years of experience working in conventional and alternative medicine before adding Positive Psychology (MAPP 2014) to her work at Positive Health Plus. She now designs and delivers Upward Spirals workshops and courses which combine Positive Psychology, mindfulness training and Foundations in Health


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