Since I learned to ski 20 years ago, it has been my main passion in life. I’ve quit jobs to go skiing, got heavily into debt pursuing a dream of being a ski instructor, and spent more money than I care to think about on kit, holidays, and training. And in the process I have made a lot of friends.
But during the Brexit campaign, I discovered an even greater passion – for democracy, debate, ideas and free speech. I was completely unable to ignore the anti-Brexit arguments I saw on my Facebook feed, which labeled Brexiteers as racist and ignorant while dismissing the democracy argument as spurious and unimportant. I engaged in vehement arguments with anybody who posted anything derogatory about the Brexit campaign, and I shared anything I could find that supported my view that the EU is a threat to our democracy and our sovereignty and that as such, we are better off out.
It almost immediately became apparent that I was virtually alone among my group of Facebook friends (many of whom are other skiers) in holding this view. Friends stopped following and responding to my posts, and some even unfriended me. It was an uncomfortable experience, which made me seriously question my position – these are all people I like and respect, and if they all found my views abhorrent, then what did that say about me?
But still I found myself determined to fight my corner. If my friends found my views abhorrent, the only thing I could do was to clarify my position, to ensure that I was being judged on exactly what I believe rather than assumptions my friends may be making about my beliefs based on views expressed by other members of the Brexit campaign. I found myself spending hours on the internet, trawling news sites and fact-checking sites, Googling to find information to support or challenge my arguments, and kept up the assault on any pro-Remain / anti-Brexit arguments with which I disagreed. It was exhausting, and exhilarating, and it completely consumed my attention.
It also reawakened a long-forgotten passion for writing, and while it took me a few months to find the time and pluck up the courage to do something about it, it’s what ultimately led me to set up this blog. And I’m loving the experience – writing this blog gives me the motivation to take the time to properly research the issues that capture my attention, and figuring out how to express my arguments in words that will appeal to my readers is a wonderful challenge.
I’ve also joined, and started properly engaging with, Twitter – which is turning into an experience in itself. There are some very witty people on Twitter – along with many ordinary people and a few nutters – and the breadth of opinions and information available is exactly what I need right now. I’ve spent years working in banking and IT, which has been wonderful in terms of intellectual challenge and financial gain (apart from anything else, it paid for all the skiing), but the constraints of working in a corporate environment, and the nature of the roles I have had, have given me very little opportunity to explore the creative side of my personality. Taking the time to explore my creativity, incredibly, is enabling me to focus on the many jumbled ideas which have a tendency to rush around inside my head and which previously I never used to feel I could grasp. It’s an odd sensation, one which is difficult to describe, but I used to find myself reading a book, or watching television, or lying in bed, and suddenly would be struck by an idea or concept that was just at the corner of my consciousness, and that I sensed was important to explore, but I was always unable to pin down what it was. That hasn’t happened in a while, and I suspect the reality was that my mind was so occupied with thoughts of my day job, that when an idea would pop into my head about a wider issue of politics, society, media, friendship or any other subject in which I am interested, I would be unable to focus on the idea for long enough to pinpoint what had prompted it, or even what it was. Having the time, and the focus, to explore the various issues that are important to me, is calming my thoughts and enabling me to crystalise my views.
As I write this, I am watching the stats for my site creep up as the blog I wrote yesterday about muslim grooming gangs is being regularly liked and retweeted. It is humbling, and exhilarating, to know that one of my posts is being read by an audience who do not know me and who had never previously heard of my site. The gravity of the underlying subject matter, and my firm belief that this is an issue that is too little understood, and too little discussed, reinforces my satisfaction at seeing that my post is finding an audience, and hopefully encouraging wider understanding and debate.
Those of us who live in the UK and in other democratic societies, are extremely fortunate. The freedom we have to speak our minds and to engage in debate is a gift that we should never take for granted. In discovering and indulging my passion for democracy, and debate, it feels that the entire direction of my life is being altered, and while I recognise how hyperbolic that sounds, it does not begin to do justice to how it feels. When you find yourself unable to stop doing what you are doing, that is when you have really found your passion.