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Why can’t we get along?

In a world where we are encouraged to think differently, surely we need even more than ever to think equally?

You know me, I was a copper for 30 years.  On many occasions throughout my police service I began to question the incidents I dealt with.  The problem for me, was that the system didn’t really support me to look for answers.  It simply wanted results.  Furthermore, the public who I served expected results.  Again, no time for questions like why and what.  The question was simply who.

Over the past few years I’ve been given the space to reflect on the past and put into place responses that have helped answer the questions that the ‘Inner Graham’ had been asking.  Firstly, I’ve been able to support people to find ways to intervene in situations, well before a point of crisis takes place.  I remember becoming frustrated at the number of people who simply said to me “I knew something was going to happen”.  Understanding why people don’t intervene has helped shape my focus in my post-police years.

Back then, another question I kept asking myself was “Why can’t we simply get on?”.

Back in 1987, I was posted to work in a part of Edinburgh known as Leith.  If you have ever read Irvin Welsh’s book ‘Trainspotting’ or indeed have ever watched Danny Boyle’s film adaption of the book, the pages of the book and the scenes in the film became my daily reality.

The ever-present signs of Heroin addiction were everywhere; Addicts walking quickly up and down streets heading to their dealer for the next fix.  The 1980’s introduced me to the willingness of some people to exploit others for their own selfish gain.

Violence, was just another outcome in these Trainspotting days, and I was right in the middle of it.  The violence was often quick, very visible and between people who had grown up and lived together.  Victims and perpetrators were friends and family members.

Victims sometimes became perpetrators, sometimes they didn’t, ending up on the mortuary slab before they could return the favour.

The violence I encountered in my early policing career was often committed by individuals, who used violence as the tool to exploit a difference.  The difference may have been around sexuality, religion and gender.  Even a different look, was often, the trigger for the violence.

Out-with the police I asked these questions.  With front row seats to the war in the former Yugoslavia I remember watching on television as thousands of men and boys were marched into a Bosnian forest.  As we know now, more than 8000 were murdered, simply because they were different.

Whether on the streets of Leith or in Srebrenica where does this hatred come from?

Mary Gordon who founded the ‘Roots of empathy’ organisation said that, “We will not have the capacity to solve intractable social problems unless we have a citizenry that is capable of understanding multiple perspectives and acting on them”.  Aristotle said, “Education of the head without education of the heart, is no education at all” and Nelson Mandela said, “No one is born hating another person because of the colour of their skin or their background, or religion.  People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love”.  In many ways education is prevention, and I don’t simply mean the maths, more what Aristotle was thinking.

All of the above quotes, present many answers to the questions I asked myself all of those years ago.

Think Equal, the brain child of film director Leslee Udwin is a programme that for me starts to provide solutions to violence and many of our social problems.  Whilst, on its own, it doesn’t provide a complete solution it is a curriculum that supports the early years and commits itself to social equality, gender equality, racial and religious equality, human rights and global citizenship.

Placing the child at the centre of the learning it provides them with knowledge, encourages and empowers them in assuming responsibilities as citizens and becoming ‘up-standers’ who oppose injustice.

The programme itself provides a wealth of resources designed to foster empathy and the development of social and emotional skills in the early childhood setting.  Current neuro-science defines the optimal time for the developing brain as being between the ages of 3 and 5.  It is on this age-group that Think Equal is focused.  The brain’s plasticity during this period is key to supporting the shaping of attitudes and behaviour.

Having recently been introduced to the wonderful Leslee Udwin I now find myself finding some answers and solutions to the questions I raised above.  I’m no educator but I’m someone who has witnessed both the good and the bad in society.

The potential for Think Equal to emotionally and socially develop our young children excites me.  The Scottish Violence Reduction, credited with reducing levels of violence in Scotland, suggests “Violence is preventable, not inevitable”.

How we shape conversations will bring about the changes we need in our world.  The current conversation in Scotland around Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) suggests resilience is key to countering the ghosts from the nursery.  Think Equal in my view has potential to be the counter-balance that many children need in their lives.  In an often, confusing world children and young people need the knowledge that will support them throughout their lives.  They also need the reassurance that these conversations will bring.

For more information on Think Equal see www.thinkequal.com

Don’t believe me see what educator Sir Ken Robinson has to say about Think Equal  https://vimeo.com/194147721

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