Talking Touchy Subjects

Apologies for the missing week(s) but work got a bit mental.  I’m part of a fairly small team that’s having its issues, so a lot of stuff that isn’t really my job is falling onto me to sort.  Because life isn’t hectic enough!  I hope everyone’s had a good Easter and is seeing the UK Contingent’s count down videos.  We’re at less than 100 Days until the Jamboree starts!  I don’t know about anyone else, but the excitement is really ramping up!  To really add to my excitement, I appear to be one of the first IST to get my contingent kit through!

Checking the cap fits!

This is a slightly more serious post than some of the others, but it’s something I think is worth talking, about.  I’ve been constructing this post in my head since I visited Unit 30 back in January.  Some of the material I’ll be talking about is a little sensitive and I was trying to find the best way of explaining and expressing myself without it becoming too heavy.  I’ve kinda-sorta touched on this a wee while ago when I was talking about stereotypes.  This is not a political broadcast, and whilst my Facebook friends will know which sides of various referendums I’ve come down on, and indeed what colour the party membership card in my wallet is, that’s not really what I’m talking about.

I’ll preface this by saying (again) that the Jamboree site will be a melting pot of cultures and nationalities.  There was, last time I looked, nearly 40,000 people attending the event from over 150 countries.  People attend these events because they want to learn about the world they live in through the people they meet.

Map of Countries sending contingents to the Jamboree. All those in WOSM Purple are going!

This sometimes leads to situations where you ask questions, or are indeed asked questions, that whilst well-meant can be “sensitive”.

Not necessarily sensitive in a State Secret sense (though do be careful who you tell what you may or may not do for a living…), but sensitive in the sense of a touchy subject.

Because I like to relate what I’m saying to things that have happened, way back in 2014 (was it really that long ago?) I was living and working in the North West of England.  I was the token Scot in a very English workplace.  This was also in the immediate run up towards the Scottish Independence Referendum, or if you insist  on playing things down with silly abbreviations, #indyref.

For me, it was something I had a lot of interaction with, from things my friends and family were sharing of Facebook to being accosted on the street (by both sides I’ll add) when I went home.  Amongst my friends and family it was discussed in depth with different viewpoints being debated.

To my friends and work-colleagues in Lancashire, the whole thing was a mystery.  It was on the News.  It was something so distant and alien that was happening right on their doorstep.  And I, as the person with the funny accent, was asked most of them, and did my best to answer using the information I had.

How does this relate to the Jamboree?

We are ambassadors for our countries and our cultures to the rest of the world.

The Swiss acting as ambassadors!

I can almost guarantee that uncomfortable subjects will be raised at some point.  Whether it be talking to Americans about Donald Trump or Gun Control, or perhaps someone asking you about “Brexit”.

“Brexit” falls into the same category as “#indyref”, or “#indyref2”, where it’s on the news around the world, but it’s a distant thing.  People do have questions, and these events, whilst not a political summit, do give them the opportunity to ask about them.

I’m not suggesting for a moment that we avoid these topics of conversation, in fact we should embrace them and talk about these things, but we need to be careful how we approach them.

I touched on this in my stereotyping post, I have never been to the USA, and I am curious about how life actually is there.  Is the representation of “Small Town America” as seen on various TV shows even remotely accurate.  I want to be able to ask people about their lives, their cultures – is Country Music really as massive as it’s made out to be?  (Yes.  Haven’t you seen “Nashville”?).  I am genuinely curious in American people’s views of Donald Trump and his administration.  I’m hopeful the Jamboree will help me get a better view on some of these things.  But we need to think about how we address these potentially sensitive topics.

Attempting to make some form of joke about an American mass shooting probably isn’t the best way to start a discussion on America’s gun culture.  Especially with people you might not know particularly well.  It wouldn’t be a massive stretch to be talking to a friend or family member of a victim.

Referring to the sitting president of the USA as a “Wotsit”, again, probably not a way of getting a balanced discussion.

Whatever your stance on “Brexit”, most of the rest of the world probably don’t care about little details, but want to gain an understanding of what it is and why it happened.

Again, to use an anecdote to describe my point.  I’m an atheist, but I’m fascinated by people’s belief systems.  It’s very much a “not for me” type thing, but I fundamentally believe that by understanding how other people view the world we can find a common ground.  So when I get the opportunity to go to a Jamboree or Moot, I always spend a couple of hours at the Faiths and Beliefs Zone.  Mainly because they tend to have a stash of the best biscuits and I occasionally get a badge, but also to speak to people from different faiths and beliefs.

From a Cub sleepover, but the point stands

I could go in like a bull in a china shop and scream my personal view at everyone.  Likewise, I could be accosted from the moment I walk in, and told that I’ll “burn in hell” or whatever the equivalent may be for not believing in a specific religion.

But this wouldn’t be being respectful of other people – which is something I, and indeed we all have promised to do as Scouts/Guides.  So I visit and I keep my personal views to myself.  Those manning the Faiths and Beliefs zone are equally respectful of my belief or lack therein of.  We engage with people of different faiths and find out that we actually have a lot in common.  Often a love of custard creams (or the local equivalent) and free badges.  I go away with a better understanding of the world around me, some inner peace and a bag of free swag, often but not limited to badges and pamphlets.

There may, however, be events where the subject matter is uncomfortable or even downright offensive.

This is not okay.

There is a whole section in the Adult “Safe from Harm” training about this, so please have a look (if you’re an adult) and make sure you’re familiar with it.

My personal advice, based on previous events (usual disclaimer about me not being a real expert) is a little bit like the new British Transport Police Slogan.  If you travel by train even occasionally you’ve probably heard it.  If not:

See it. Say it. Sorted.

Basically, if you become uncomfortable during a conversation, if it’s a subject you’re not keen on discussing or that crosses a line, then say so.  It’s absolutely okay to tell someone you’re not comfortable talking about something or being a part of a conversation on a certain topic.  Walk away if you need to and it’s safe to do so.   If you’re a participant, speak to a friend, speak to a Leader, or speak to the Listening Ear team.  If you’re IST, speak to a friend or buddy, speak to the Listening Ear Team.  The Listening Ear Team are a fantastic bunch of folk who are there to make your Jamboree as enjoyable as possible.  The few of them I know would bend over backwards to help you if you need it.  Whether it’s just a need for a chat with someone not in your immediate friends group (they have the second best biscuits on site!) or you do have an issue, look them out.

You should be having the time of your life at the Jamboree and if a topic of conversation is making you uncomfortable, or you’re not enjoying a discussion.  This is not okay.

The Jamboree is an opportunity not just to play on the biggest bouldering walls in North America, or to ride the longest collection of zip-lines in the world but to meet people from across the planet and gain a better understanding of the world.  The Jamboree has very much been sold on high-adrenaline, high-adventure, but the cultural stuff, or meeting people from countries you may never have heard of is still a massive part, and communicating with them in a mutually respectful manner is an absolute must!

Till next time,


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