Freedom of Speech

“If either of you say ‘I told you so’ I will…”

“Slap you.”

“Yes! Slap you.”

The above dialogue was directed from adults to two young people. And by that I mean children. Eight years old at the most. Banter, I thought, until a little one lagging behind must have said the offending phrase and an adult turned round and growled the name of the child warningly.

It even scared me a little.

I latched onto the hope that it was simply playful banter. Especially when the other grown up spotted the sale corner and ushered the young people in to have a look.

“Gather in, out the way of other people.”

I strolled past, hopeful for the children, when an exclamation of “Awesome!” from one of the children gained the following from an adult:

“If you say awesome one more time, I will slap you.”

What are these young people allowed to say?? I know that was literally a two minute conversation in the wide savannah of the children’s lives but it got me thinking.

I know, right? Dangerous.

However, I thought nonetheless.

“Children should be seen and not heard.”

“Children have the right to speak up.”

“We need to build confidence in children.”

“Children’s opinions don’t matter.”

What are we teaching our children? With such a mix of messages, how on earth can we expect them to know what we expect of them?

Freedom of speech is all well and good – but how do we expect a generation to grow up and stand up for what they believe in if we hush them regardless of what they say?

On the other hand, with the Scottish Government passing bills on Offensive Behaviour at football games and being able to imprison people for up to five years for the things they say at a football game, where will it end?

I must say, at this point that I fully support the Scottish Government’s attempts to stop sectarian behaviour and violence surrounding football – it is truly a contemptable fact that individuals will fight and argue over sport and it should not happen under any circumstances.

Coming solely from the angle of free speech; if this is where a bill begins, where will it end? Although the Scottish government website does state that it does not stop individuals peacefully sharing their faith or criminalise jokes about religion (or otherwise) which does protect freedom to some extent. But is this the start of a spiral that begins with football games and ends with strict, complicated rules about what we can and cannot say?

Do we hush up young people when we shouldn’t? Or do we confuse them with our rules?

Our country is in trouble with politics.

But with only about 61% of the UK population turning out to vote at the General Election in 2010 (http://www.ukpolitical.info/2010.htm) I think it is safe to say that British politics is in trouble. Particularly concerning our young people as only 44% of those aged 18-24 decided to vote. Could it be (tenuous as it may sound) that our hushing of young people encourages the growth of a non-voting generation? If children are suffocated in their sharing of opinions, does that grow a desire to shift away from the same in their adult years?

I know there are many reasons around why voters choose not to vote, but I would argue that we have to grow an open space to share opinions, expore viewpoints and make informed decisions from a young age. Thus allowing them to grow in confidence and being equipped to share their opinions and genuinely feel as if their views do count in this world.

Not slapping our children when they speak would definitely be a good start.

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Communication

“Have you ripped your vest?”

“How?”

“You’ve got a hole in the back of it.”

“I’ve got a hole in the back of my vest?”

“Aye.”

When conversations are longer than they need to be, it always makes me giggle. Above is a genuine conversation between two people I shared a train with one day. I love listening to conversations that go around the houses- although I do admit that taking part in them can be really frustrating, especially when you are trying to get somewhere! But it makes me think- in everyday conversation we can all go around the houses before ending up at our destination.

But change that to text language, which is on the rise as the favoured prose of young people, and its a very different story. “missd U 2day, call l8r”. Short, sharp and straight to the point.

I wonder where language is in all this; and where it will be. In many ways, we are writing more than we ever did through the joys of Twitter, Facebook, texts, emails and even blogs like this one.

But what language are we using? Our language changes – it always has; that’s what makes it alive- and we all move with the times. Microsoft Word, for example, insists on correcting me for putting a ‘u’ in ‘colour’ and an ‘s’ in ‘prioritise’. And so Americanisms encroach on our English. But text language will soon take over too and we will find speed will become increasingly more important than flair.

We may even lose those beautiful silent letters so stolen from our Latin and French ancestors.

We may be writing more, which is great. But at what cost?

Normality Bites

It was a funny old day.

From questions posed to me such as “Can I lift you up by your head?” to a statement directed to a cat of “You can stay but you have to share.”

What on earth do you do with a day like that?!

It should perhaps fall into the deep well of Forgotten but some mundane, everyday things are too good to be sunk in such a way.

Did I just say ‘everyday’?

Well, everyday for me but (I imagine) not quite so everyday for everyone.

Isn’t it odd how we get used to the weirdest things?

Or how we don’t get offended when a young person announces: “You’re not getting anything from Santa ‘cos you’re ugly, smelly and a spoilsport.”

Ouch.

What is normal to me is not so normal to another. People talk of offices and cubicles and horrible commutes and the 9-5 grind fueled by coffee and gossip.

A totally alien notion to my mind.

Normality to me consists of working with hundreds of young people, living with three cats, working alongside a crazy team amd avoiding being lifted up by my head.

What is normality? I’m sure we all know that here is no such thing. One day I can be answering a phone call from Hitachi; the next trying to help a young person through their darkest hour; and shortly afterward, bouncing a ball in a youth club and gleefully shouting “Doing!” with each spring.

Or maybe its the person that makes the normal a little bit weird.

Maybe we all do normal things and live normal lives but it is the way we act in a specific setting that sets the ‘weird’ gauge quivering.

So, in my example, bouncing a ball was quite normal.

Commentating was not.

I maintain that being asked if I could be picked up by my head wasn’t normal (it was certainly a new one on me) but I reckon my reply of “No. ‘Cos that is stupid” was fairly normal. Maybe it was the questioner who broke the normality code.

So, assuming that ‘normal’ exists at all, I would argue that perhaps normality is dictated by actions rather than situations.

For example, playing games in a youth facility to entertain young people is pretty normal; explaining to them that they have to smear butter on their face and then stick it in a bowl of Cheerios and count how many stick is perhaps not so normal.

Sometimes, I just bring it all on myself.

 

The Others

Boys are funny creatures. I remember in high one of the so-called “popular” lads taking a shine to me. Now, our group of friends was not what you would call cool: to be honest we couldn’t be bothered with all that popular stuff and much preferred to hang out at our friend’s place, occasionally eating ice-cream and often playing computer games. And constantly eating chips, cheese and coleslaw (a local delicacy and, by all accounts, fatty heaven).

I realise that description has probably left your ears ringing with the word ‘losers’, but you will have to believe me when I say that we weren’t.

Honest.

Anyway, this lad seemed to be giving me a little more attention than normal.

“Oi.”

They did call me by my nickname but it was so wildly unimaginative that I refuse to eternalize it here. But it was not terribly inventive or witty; trust me.

“I really fancy you.”

Not only is my home town famed for its chip shop delicacies, but we are also hopeless romantics.

“Whit?” came my terribly intelligent response.

“I pure fancy you. You’re sexy.”

Now, just to go with the whole ‘loser’ label (I’m sure you still have even it though I asked you not to), I was also a girl who wasn’t used to boys coming on to me. Especially one so brazen.

If I could have alerted Jane Austen, this young man would have been positively locked up with only paper and a quill in which to structure his defence.

In saying that, I had humour and a quick wit.

“Yeah, whatever.”

Ok, so not a particularly sharp wit.

But this lad became insistent and I quickly learnt that something was amiss as his heartfelt confessions of affection were very public. He was always in sight or hearing of one of his pals.

It did cross my mind that this lad actually had genuine feelings and he went home every day after school and weeped gently into his pillow at such heartless dismissal.

But I doubt it.

Besides, I did kind of enjoy the opportunity to publicly deny the popular lad as his declarations became more incessant. It got to the stage where I didn’t even pause in walking by and just threw a sarcastic “right, ok” over my shoulder.

My thoughts has always been that when popular folk were talking about whatever it is popular folk talk about (it saddens me to think that chips, cheese and coleslaw probably wasn’t involved), this lad sat gloating to his friends about how he would get the so-called ‘unpopular’ chick to fall for him – or that she would get all giggly and shy and admiring at such a popular, ‘lovely’ boy showing her affection. He would have fun with that.

Crumbs. If he was chocolate he would eat himself.

I am aware that all this is speculation on my part and always has been.

All my sarcastic comments did was frustrate him as he clearly was not getting the reaction he expected.

Eventually, one day I had enough.

“>enter witty nickname here< I really fancy you.”

(He wasn’t very inventive either).

“Yeah, whatever.”

(And neither was I).

“No, honestly- I really fancy you.”

This time I stopped.

“Sure. Stop being a tube.”

“No, really, I fancy you.”

I told you folks from my neck of the woods are hopeless romantics.

The lad was sitting next to one of his guy pals and he was clearly listening in. Good – I wanted an ‘on high’ witness.

“Oh yeah – and who dared you to say that?”

And there it was – out in the open. What I knew and what he had hidden. Out. The gloves were off.

“No-one! I fancy you.”

You know, they might be popular but they suck at lying. I guess I should respect him on some level for showing loyalty to the sacred popular folk conversations- even if they are severely lacking in fried foods.

“Yeah, whatever,” I slung over my shoulder as I joined my friend.

Ok, I know I could have said something much wittier, but I was a young teenager and I can safely say that I would react much differently now. I hope. I’m proud of myself anyway, don’t take it away from me.

Oddly, instances of public devotion quickly ceased from that quarter. And, double oddly, the lad in question seemed to have a certain respect for me then – even if he still was a numpty sometimes.

YUS! Populars: 0, Others: 1

One of the greatest achievements of my school years. Except for exams and lasting relationships. Obviously.

For someone who genuinely had no interest in being in the popular group, I did enjoy getting one-up on one of the ring leaders; as well as foiling his great plan to embarrass the short, unfashionable one.

There; I said it.

What is popularity anyway? In my experience it is a title often self-given and smothered in make-up, square jaws, gossip and perfectly trimmed hair.

How dull.

Ok, so maybe The Others are a bit more au naturale, unkempt and are more likely to be smothered in chip shop fat. But it is much more fun. I wouldn’t change a moment of my high school days – even though we didn’t have the label that many young people seem to chase.

When you are older, what will popularity get you?

Trouble, upset, betrayal, a hefty bill from Loreal and, if you cave to the pressure, an alcohol problem and an S.T.I.

Or, even worse, leader of the Conservative Party.

So, I call all of you to charge your glass and rise with me in toasting that great tradition that should over-rule all else. A group that has saved more lives and delivered more intervention than the NHS. The group we should all strive to fall into.

To: The Others.