Power in Discussion

A guest blog by Martin Sawyer, NREC Board Member.

I was invited to take part as a panellist at a Power In Discussion event in Bedford on Saturday 30th March. The event was titled ‘Healthy Conversations’ and the aim is to create an inclusive environment where the visibility of a number of social issues including; LGBTQ+ matters, community, diversity and inclusion, the mental and physical health, wellbeing, identity and experiences of African- Caribbean communities, can be raised.

The first subject was titled ‘Fit to Talk’. The three panellists, one man and two women, came from very different backgrounds and had very different life experiences.
The first panellist spoke about prostate cancer and how men don’t talk about subjects like this and how this is a particular problem in the African-Caribbean community as the condition disproportionately affects males from this community.
The second panellist explained how young people with learning disabilities don’t have the support networks that enable them to talk about health issues and are therefore not encouraged to access health services for issues like breast cancer screening.
The third panellist detailed the disparity between women from different ethnic communities and their access to the health service for smear tests to identify cervical cancer.
I noticed that each panellist spoke at length, and passionately, about their chosen subject, but each felt that the people that they represented were the least likely to talk about personal health issues. We often hear that young males are the worst and this did get mentioned in the discussion, but I wanted to challenge this view and asked the panellists for their view. It was clear from the discussion which followed that gender is not the defining factor; social background, ethnicity, educational experience, age, and family situation, all play their part to differing degrees, depending on the prevailing issue.
The second discussion was titled ‘Discuss Responsibly’. This was an all male panel, myself representing NREC, a young man who had recently been crowned Mr. Congo, and a representative from the Black Men in Law network.
One of the topics covered was whether it was entirely healthy to have discussions in safe or closed spaces. I felt that it was acceptable to have some discussions within a small, closed group, if the aim was to condense and simplify the results of the discussion for communication to a wider audience. This made me think about my recent experiences; I attended the holocaust memorial lecture and talk at the Northampton Synagogue a few weeks ago and last week I attended the local Palestinian groups talk from a Palestinian human rights lawyer. It struck me that I was the only person attending both those meetings, so am I the only person with a balanced view? Of course not, but both groups face a huge challenge in communicating their point of view to the other.
The biggest part of the discussion focussed on the way television, radio and social media discussions differ from each other. Firstly, everyone was frustrated by how many incorrect and sensationalist statements made on television and radio go unchallenged by interviewers and how this can result in false information being accepted by the viewers and listeners. Secondly social media discussions are perceived as being polarised and because the protagonists are detached from each other there is no room for the nuances of body language and tone to impact on the conversation. The most important outcome from this discussion was that people fail to afford each other respect and are often not prepared to listen to the opposing argument let alone accept any merits that it may have.
We concluded that if you hear something that doesn’t sound right, it probably isn’t. Listen to the argument, respect the persons’ point of view, but challenge it. Likewise, if you have something to say you should be able to say it, but be prepared to be challenged on what you say. Be prepared to question yourself, but always have belief in yourself, you were probably right all along!

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