Ssshhh…Let’s Take a Beat…

There was something striking about the reaction to this excellent BBC NI story by Robbie Meredith about the brave stance taken by school student Angel Mhande, who spoke up about her personal experience of a specific book being used as a GCSE text.

Angel explained that it’s “really uncomfortable sitting in a classroom where we have to listen to racist slurs and comments” during discussion of John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men.

This insight from Angel needs no more discussion in this piece as, after all, the most important voice is that of the student. And it’s available in full online for anyone to read/ hear.

But the worrying thing about the online response to the story?  Next to no one engaged with the actual experience courageously highlighted for us by Angel or showed any appreciation to Angel for speaking out.

At the time of writing, replies – taking Twitter as an example – were in such a rush to shout an opinion that they forgot to listen. This means they forgot to hear a young person with personal insight speaking about a difficult experience, a basic human communication skills most of us would like to think we possess (not least because many of us are parents).

The interviewee – and this is the vital bit – wasn’t asking for our opinion. She was asking to be heard and for her concerns to be properly considered in full recognition of her experience.

Even aside from the usual dismissive trolls dripping in misogyny and/or racism, the replies broadly tell an appalling story about how we all listen to young people, how we listen to people speaking about a difficult experience and even how we listen to each other full stop.

The breathless rush to add an opinion to everything in 2023, a social media era trend no doubt enabled by media outlets prioritising hours and hours of phone-in noise over the hard work and social value of real news, means important people aren’t being heard.

And we’re potentially at a stage of basic human interaction, empathy and listening skills being reduced to screaming at each other one phone-in call or 280-character rant at a time.

To help break the cycle, and in the words made famous by the superb Blue Lights, let’s “take a beat” when someone is telling us about their personal experience. We might all learn something.

And thank you again to Angel.

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