Four years on - an Unhappy Birthday or a fresh start?
"I've Come to Wish You an Unhappy Birthday" sang The Smiths in '87. And now thirty years on, it's difficult not to feel a sense of foreboding as we wake this morning to celebrate four years as Eighteen Rabbit Fair Trade. It seems like only yesterday that our first lovely customers stepped over the threshold and - to our astonishment! - bought something. It feels like we've come a long way since then. And the world has changed a lot too.
2016 seems to have brough unwelcome and uncomfortable shifts in what we had come to accept as normal life. Bowie, Brexit and now Trump. At every turn there seems to be a chasm between the arguments - facts and figures, debates, even, heaven forbid, "experts" - and the actual result. We're told that Brexit will be bad for Britain - we do it anyway. We see Trump coming out with statements and conduct that would have been unthinkable in any other Presidential race - he wins anyway. "Why do people keep getting it wrong?" we ask ourselves.
I'll freely admit that I have been guilty of this. After the EU refurendum, my first reaction was that the public deserved whatever it got. If they were stupid enough to vote for something so obviously damaging, I reasoned, then good luck to them. For whatever reason, last night's election result has made me realise more sharply than ever how wrong this thinking is.
If we dismiss those who voted for Brexit, or Trump, as simpletons who need to be "educated," we are not only displaying breathtaking arrogance, we are also reinforcing the very mindset that caused the situation in the first place. We lock ourselves in echo chambers where we only hear our own views - "Why would anyone disagree with me when I'm so obviously right? All my friends say so!" It then becomes easy to dismiss those who disagree with us as a lunatic fringe - racists, bigots, gun-totin' rednecks. A small number will fit into those categories. The vast majority have simply had enough.
The truth is that people are suffering. The world is more unfair than it has ever been, even here in the UK and USA. It would be nice to think that people would rise up against the financial and corporate systems that trap them in poverty but that hasn't been an option on any ballot I remember. It is therefore natural, understandable, and perhaps even admirable that people choose to lash out at soft targets when they get the chance. People are not stupid. They can probably see that there's not much difference between Milliband and Cameron. Or - disgusting rhetoric aside - between Trump and Clinton.
So what now? How to combat what looks like an inexorable slide into lowest common denominator mob rule? Newton's Third Law of Motion states that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. There are worse places to start. In the UK we can help to build systems of support that reinforce the truth that there is more that unites us than divides us. Volunteer in your community. Join a local campaign group. Help your church group to reach out to the people most at need. By creating an alternative vision to the hatred and the division, you can build a healthier society. No-one else is going to do it.
We started Eighteen Rabbit four years ago today to try to make the world a fairer place. Our work gives us an insight into the creativity, industriousness and ambition of people all across the globe. By bringing people together, rather than dividing them, we can make sure that the UK is an example of best practice in fairness and equality, rather than a small-minded, closed and selfish nation. Ultimately, we are greater than the sum of our parts. If we reject fear, reject hatred, reject division, then like Pandora before us we might find that all we are left with is hope. And hope is what we need right now.