A “picture is worth a thousand words” is an English language-idiom. It refers to the notion that a complex idea can be conveyed with just a single still image.
The image below, beautifully illustrates the powerful conversations that took place recently when working with around 70 young people from across Scotland. The artist who drew this, apart from being extremely talented was clearly attentive. Her ability to capture my words, the responses from the young people and the mood of the day was simply epic.
So, what does the image communicate? For me there are a number of key areas that are captured, almost frozen in time in a blaze of colour that tells the story of the engagement and involvement of every young person in the room.
We discussed their role as leaders and after some persuasion the young people recognised their ability to be the leaders of today, not simply of tomorrow.
In many ways this can be evidenced through the one official statistic that you will see on the image. Over the last 10 years the number of young people convicted of carrying a knife has dropped by 81%. Whilst this in part will be down to a range of factors, it communicates that knife carrying isn’t the norm for our young people. It communicates their leadership.
We need to communicate more of this type of news.
You will see the focus on personal values, which again point to the fact that Scotland’s young people share some pretty healthy and inspiring values. The desire to be loved and to love, the need to live an honest life with integrity all sit alongside a wish to be authentic in their lives, to be the person they truly want to be.
Living up to personal values may be easy for some but we know there are many challenges faced. For young people, the challenge come from their peers, however it’s clear that young people do not live in a vacuum. For many young people, especially our young boys there are mixed and unhealthy messages coming from adults in their lives. What does it mean to be a man, was a topic of discussion and one, that at times appeared confusing for some.
Having moral courage to stand up for what you believe in is what’s needed. This is leadership. A sprinkling of knowledge together with some reassurance is often what is needed for people to act. The group discussions presented every individual in that room with the reassurance that they will need to stand up for their values.
Reassurance that their values and beliefs are shared. Reassurance that what they know already is the truth. Reassurance is key. If we keep reporting the negatives we erode this reassurance. More positive news please.=
From the start, the audience were aware, that at some point in the day they would be placed into a role as a bystander to a challenging situation. So, for me it was important we spent some time exploring the bystander effect. There is so much evidence out there as to its impact. I just presented some of that, supporting the young people to explore the reality, that it’s often group dynamics that impacts on a person who wants to help but ends up not. My view is that by doing so, the presenting of the evidence supports them in future situations where they are at risk of becoming a passive bystander. My mantra is that it’s sometimes hard to un-see something once you have seen it.
The title of the day was “Don’t be a bystander, be a friend”. I use this term simply because it starts to suggest, that as friends there are ways we can both support and/or challenge our friends.
What do friends do for each other? They have each-others back, they look out for each other or they get help when a friend is either in trouble or doing something that could get them in trouble. Friends are simply there for each other. I know in many cases individuals still do nothing, even when a friend is in need.
By exploring the role of the bystanders and discussing their options when faced with challenging situations we can help friends be the friends they want to be. The reality we know isn’t as simple as that. People are scared, they don’t want to put themselves in the spotlight and become victims themselves. Discussing the many challenges, provides further reassurance to young people.
By sharing these concerns, even practicing asking for help, can overcome the barriers to intervention.
The afternoon was spent practicing what we had previously discussed. We looked at some challenging situations involving knife carrying and its links to bullying as well as the issue of sexting. Both of these issues, we know impact negatively on young people. As well as mental and physical health it’s clear that poor relationships impact on learning. No significant learning will take place without a significant relationship. If, for this reason alone, schools create opportunities to discuss these issues, that’s fine by me.
Further reassurance was provided during these realistic and challenging scenarios. Being able to openly talk about how you feel on a subject shows courage. That’s leadership in action. Furthermore, seeing that friends and other young people share your beliefs and understanding provides reassurance.
On the day that Scotland’s Rugby team did us proud, you can be equally proud of the young people who participated in this day. Their passion to be the difference the world needs was on display throughout.
As I say above, a picture paints a thousand words.