I’m writing this on June 24th. I woke up this morning to the news that the UK had voted to leave the European Union. Anyone who follows my social media feeds will know that I voted to remain, and I am feeling pretty confused, upset and very worried about what this might mean for the future of this country. Clearly not everyone will share my views (over half the country it would seem!), and I am not sure I want to do a blog about the referendum, but one thing did occur to me that seemed worthy of comment.
Or rather, the lack of it.
I could not help but notice that the majority of senior politicians from all parties (with a few notable exceptions) were strongly advocating that we should remain in the European Union. In addition, leading experts in finance and economics were highlighting what they saw as the risks of a leave vote. It seemed to me that many of our elected representatives were not listened to, were not trusted. During the referendum campaign Michael Gove famously said that “the people of this country have had enough of experts”, and it would seem that this resonated, and was possibly true. This is a scary thought. That we are electing individuals to make decisions on our behalf, and then not trusting them to do that with our best interests at heart, and also that non-elected experts are not being believed.
As a doctor I have also experienced this. Think only of the MMR vaccine – I have had patents clearly not prepared to trust my advice about its safety and benefit. I have also had many conversations with patient about changing drugs where they will not believe or trust me when I tell them that a cheaper drug is not necessarily a worse drug.
Where there is lack of trust, things start going wrong. Where there is lack of trust we become fearful. Where there is lack of trust we pull up the drawbridge and start building walls. Where there is lack of trust we look inwards instead of out towards others.
Stephen Covey has written a book entirely about how he sees the power of trust aiding businesses, speeding up negotiations and smoothing the way for good things to happen. My job as a commissioner relies on collaboration and cross-organisational working. My job as a GP relies on collaboration and cross-organisational working. We can’t do that effectively without trusting each other. Working on relationships and developing trust is vitally important. It is so often overlooked, and so often seen as the ‘soft and fluffy’ stuff rather than the difficult and important stuff. I once heard Chris Ham of the Kings Fund say that “The soft stuff is the hard stuff.” This is undoubtedly true, and not only is it hard, it is important. I would say that nothing is more important.
Without trust, we struggle to build relationships. Without relationships, we struggle to do anything.
This short blog, therefore, is about the need to build relationships, and the need to trust each other. If we instead decide to throw up walls and barricade ourselves behind them, we can look forward to a life of isolation and fear. I mentioned Stephen Covey earlier. His father wrote the very famous book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. If you have never read it, I would recommend it. In the book Covey talks about the need to achieve independence, but that a greater goal beyond that was interdependence. We can achieve so much more together. I’m not sure people really get that. We are so wrapped up in the need to stand up on our own two feet that we forget that there is only so much we can do as an individual, and (deliberately repeating myself) so much more we can do together.
My message today, as the UK embarks upon a new and more distant relationship with our European neighbours is that we should spend time on our relationships. That we should work on understanding each other, warts and all. And that we should work on mutual trust, because that, ultimately, is what makes things happen.
Follow Jonathan on Twitter @DrJonGriffiths