Thinking and Speaking

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Matti Colley, Project Assistant at Think2Speak pens their first blog piece  sharing their thoughts on communication and the developing programmes that fit with T2S's vision for a more inclusive, youth empowered Britain.

What unites us as human beings is an urge for happiness which at heart is a yearning for union. ~ Sharon Salzberg

This is my first blog post for Think2Speak and as such it was always going to be the hardest one to craft. You never know whether anyone will pay attention to the content you are creating (we all lead increasingly busy lives after all) and it feels as if you're always feeling tense about whether you'll offend someone you've not yet had the pleasure of meeting in person. In Think2Speak’s line of work, this may be when one of the team happens to mention that Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) is too hetero-normative (pro tip: it really is) or that faith schools should be mandated to teach about Gender (identity, roles and stereotyping) as part of their RSE curriculum. T2S was set up with the intention of encouraging people to have the confidence to communicate with each other more about topics that we may come across in our everyday lives: everything from students transitioning from one gender to another to how to reduce youth homelessness and ensure homeless youngsters have access to high-quality education materials to give them a chance of progressing onto further or higher education.

It's unfortunate to see social commentators, activists and teachers alike proclaiming in blogs and newspaper articles that the world is becoming a more fractured, more combative place. Stereotyping seems to be the order of the day and people cling to their various labels, holding on for dear life for fear of being “othered” by those that should actually know better and act with kindness. T2S argues that respect for people's lived-in experiences and identities is vital and people should feel empowered to make life decisions with confidence. A major part of facilitating such empowerment processes is to allow people to discuss life topics with passion and compassion which we think involves teaching students at primary and secondary level critical thinking and emotional resilience skills. Articulating our thoughts in an engaging and fearless way is an art to be cultivated. Yet we have often have people around us who are more than willing to declare that there have to be topics that have to be “off limits” often out of fear of offending the sensibilities of others. Professionals can also be afraid of allowing frank discussions of “controversial” topics such as abortion or suicide into the curriculum for fear of being disciplined by senior management usually as a result of complaints from home. How can young people be empowered to talk about difficult topics if they internalize the fear of discussion that they come across in all spheres of their lives?

Commentators tend to blame the rise of social media for the emergence of more intense combative behaviour which is said to be adversely affecting our emotional wellbeing: Matt Haig in a September article for The Guardian quotes from Jonathan Taplin's book Move Fast and Break Things, highlighting social media's “Colosseum culture[1]”, where people throw one another into the lion's den of hyper-scrutiny for the entertainment of others, knowing full well those who bully and harass tend to shield themselves from the same level of critique by operating through anonymous accounts.

It's certainly true social media can be an extremely harsh place at times. T2S backs calls to educate young people about how to be responsible social media account users; the Children's Commissioner, Anne Longfield, in her recent report Life in Likes has argued that digital literacy and online resilience lessons should become compulsory for Year 5 and 6 students, with an emphasis on the “emotional side of social media” to combat children and young people's reliance on likes on Facebook or Instagram to validate them socially.

However, T2S also realises the positive benefits of young people engaging on social media. The sexual health charity Brook, in conjunction with the National Crime Agency's CEOP command published the Digital Romance report, found that “whilst 61% of respondents aged between 14 and 25 were uncomfortable with the way someone they knew was treating them online, 34% had been confident enough to intervene to prevent harmful behaviour” on a number of occasions[2]. Encouraging peer-to-peer support engagement online is essential to improving social media experiences of young people.

The prevalence of negative stereotyping in print media has also fostered a divisive tone, currently we are seeing this on a daily basis in relation to discussions about gender (identity, roles and expression). Social media tends to act as a reflective mirror for insecurity and fears and leads to people being more candid about their views but more of us should be brave enough and have the skills to challenge vitriol and bigotry whenever we encounter it. TS2 argues one way to do that is to celebrate our diverse lived-in experiences and share our ideas for the future in a positive, confident manner without having to make recourse to vicious commentary or ignoring those who may happen to have a different view on life to ourselves.

You may be wondering what we mean by “confident communication”. Confidence comes from competence. So if you do your research on a difficult or thought-provoking topic or be prepared to listen to what your peers (e.g. in different organisations within your industry) are saying, you will be safe in the knowledge that the facts, figures or opinions you are trying to convey have been informed by being aware of context.

Confident communication also involves using language that is clear, specific and succinct. Clarity is a virtue, vagueness is a vice. Why spend 3 pages full of jargon trying to get across the importance of RSE for primary school students to critics when you can hook your intended audience with three or four key ideas expressed in a bullet point? Such skills take practice but are well worth developing and reviewing for effectiveness periodically.

T2S is working hard to showcase best practice in youth empowerment projects by focusing on developing emotional resilience, critical thinking and confident oral and written communication skills. We have adopted an intersectional, diversity driven approach to our own work, one that grounds itself in our mission statement.

We work with young people across Lincolnshire and beyond, helping students develop emotional resilience skills and supporting teachers and other professionals to facilitate practical, stimulating Personal, Social, Health and Economic Education (PSHE), Social, Emotional and Mental Health (SEMH) and RSE lessons. We are fortunate to have a truly inspiring HIV and AIDS awareness advocate in our founder and CEO, Lizzie Jordan, who continues to develop programmes that fit with T2S's vision for a more inclusive, youth empowered Britain.

Check back next week for the next T2S blogpost. In the meantime, why not keep up to date with what the T2S team is doing by liking us on Facebook, having a cheeky glance at our Instagram page or following us on Twitter @Think2Speak using the links below!

Matti 

[1] https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/sep/06/social-media-good-evidence-platforms-insecurities-health

[2] https://www.brook.org.uk/data/DR_REPORT_FINAL.pdf