A first for me today; working with younglings. Ages 11 – 13.
Boisterous as puppies, one young comedian appended a ‘Kick Me!’ label to my back. Turns out that doesn’t just happen in the Simpsons. Said comedian informed me his name was Dickhead. So Dickhead’s what I called him, perfectly straight-faced, throughout my session. His friend was Mister Hairy Arse. He offered to prove it. We decided that probably wouldn’t add value to the class.
What am I doing, you may ask, in a room full of rapscallions..? Well, I was Appreciating them* with the eventual aim of reinforcing in them an appreciation of themselves, one another and their community.
They live in an area of Southend not famed for its salubriousness. In fact, the youngsters, when asked, described their community as ‘a Shit-Hole’ peopled by ‘scum’. And the most disturbing thing is that, by dint of living there, they worry that they too; might be scum.
But these young people, if we can harness the energy of their ever-texting thumbs, have the power to change all that. For it’s but a social construction. Enough people tell you you’re scum – then you’ll be inclined to believe it, and perhaps act accordingly. For what else could you be? Scum never amount to anything. Do they? Enough people believe that their community is a dung-heap, then why make efforts to make it nice – others will only trash it anyway, right?
To alter reality, we start by altering how we describe reality. If we shift focus to look for the good things; as if by magic, we’ll start seeing them everywhere. As my co-host said today ‘if you look for “blue cars” you’ll be amazed how many blue cars there are.’
So today, we talked about self-esteem, we talked about what everyone loves to do, and we talked about what everyone would wish for. People talked about loving to play football and wanting the space (dog-poo free!) to play. They talked about wanting people to get along. They talked about wanting to live somewhere nice. They also wanted to sleep more and have lots more money. In other words, what young people want out of life is what everyone wants out of life.
The plan is, over the next five weeks, to focus on the things they want from their community – and to start them believing they can make those wants real. Attitudes won’t change straight away, but every conversation changes something. My fervent hope is that, if they can stick it out with me (and it’s my job to stay interesting) they might feel a little happier to live where they do, and a lot more hopeful about their futures.
I’ve sent them off this week to look for the smallest good things. To notice if someone gives them a compliment, to notice if someone puts rubbish in a bin, or cleans up after their dog. I’d like them to notice if people help one another – especially in the snow. In short, I’d like them to notice that their neighbourhood is made up not of scum, but of regular people – who sometimes do good things.
In return, they’ll teach me much about how to engage young people. I confess I’ve had easier gigs! I covered about half of what I’d planned – and consider it a triumph that I made it that far. All hail to the teachers – I feel I’ve had the teensiest insight into what a marvelous job you do in inspiring young minds!
(* Appreciative Inquiry. It’s a thing I do and the paradigm by which I (try to) live. It doesn’t have any truck with ‘problems’, it tramples on ‘barriers’ and it gets full-on She-Hulk against ‘weaknesses’.)