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There is Only One Cure for Division

I love the energy of the current wave championing equality for black people. If I peer through the baiting, the defensiveness, the “I am right and you are wrong” rhetoric (coming from all sides), I can see and feel the power and the hope for a more equal, loving way of being and my hope is it doesn’t end with racial equality, that the energy gains momentum to also address inequality and disbalance in other dimensions of our society – climate, class, gender disability and more (especially climate). Without an inhabitable climate we do not have the luxury of having other problems.

Everything we eat, drink and wear, every building we inhabit, the ground beneath our feet, every thought and feeling we have sprouts from the decaying matter of history. A history inseparable from racism, exploitation and prejudice.

If we are to build a future, free from prejudice and exploitation, I can’t see that attempts to erase history will significantly help us, but the way we tell the story of history would surely help. As far as the future goes, I am not opposed to the radical approach of dismantling our institutions and starting afresh: states, nations, financial hierarchies, currency, social media algorithms and lots more. We can never guarantee that we won’t repeat the same mistakes, but so far, half-measures have clearly fallen short of achieving sufficient and authentic change. History has taught us this.

If we are to do this we must be very cautious. It could so easily become counter-productive. I do not believe that forcefulness, guilt, shame and virtue signalling are particularly useful tools to use here. These tools alienate the very people we want to reach the most.

When people have to explain that Black Lives Matter (BLM) does not mean that non-black lives don’t matter, this indicates to me that the message is not getting through. After all, the meaning of your communication is not what you intend to say, it is the response you get.

At the moment I see too many token gestures made by corporations, celebrities and influencers, aligning themselves with BLM for, let’s face it, little more than a boost to their brand image. I see white people going out of their way to signal that they are not racist, myself included, because if you are not with us, you are against us. All of us, following the steps, going through the motions, whether we believe in what we are saying, or not.

Sure, not all celebrities are entirely disingenuous, many white people are comfortable that they are not racist and there are plenty of CEOs with genuine intentions, but compelled reform is no reform at all. The danger with this is that our true feelings become further buried. At the moment we are not asked to BE well intentioned, only that we appear well intentioned and these superficial gestures are perpetuated by our social reward system.

The way this wave appears to be unfolding seems all too familiar. I feel like I’ve seen a story like this before, that hijacks our amygdala, occupying our consciousness for just long enough for the ruling class to get their stuff done, without interference, then back to business as usual. This is a tried and tested method for influencing human behaviour and in this story, another big, but significantly different story is just around the corner. Soon we will all but have forgotten about George Floyd and BLM, just as we all but forgot about the coronavirus for a while and we all but forgot about Brexit before that.

So the way the message and the prominence of BLM is communicated, like with any other movement, is not so much controlled by BLM. It is distributed by the mainstream media and the big social media platforms and controlled by the ruling class.

The cure for division is blindingly obvious: CONNECTION! Experiencing ourselves as part of the whole, being conscious of what brings us together over what separates us. It is slow and soft, meaningful connection to meaningful connection, embracing and holding dear our similarities above our differences, catalyzing genuine empathy and compassion.

So what can we practically do to achieve this connection? I don’t have all the answers, I only know what is in my sphere of experience, but there are many examples among us that are growing in popularity: meditation, spirituality, therapy, counseling, coaching, yoga, tai chi, psychedelic medicine and quiet contemplation, for example. All of these practices, when taken seriously, have the potential to help us nurture our transcendent ability, to help us genuinely feel the pain and the joy of others, bring us together and develop our compassion and empathy. They help us to see the world as a complete system, of which we are one constituent part, with the capacity to positively influence the whole.

So yes, changing the structure of our institutions is important, but we can’t do that without closing the gap, connecting with the people who are fundamentally different to us. Left with right, conservative supporters with labour supporters, democrats with republicans, climate change deniers with climate change believers, genders with different genders, black with white.

Jonny delivering a Public Speaking workshop at QPR football club

Change Feels Good & QPR FC – Public Speaking for confident communication

Jonny delivering a Change Feels Good workshop at QPR football club
Jonny delivering a Change Feels Good workshop at QPR football club

We ran a public speaking and communication workshop for some young people from the Queens Park Rangers in the Community Trust in order to build confidence in communication. The participants gained buckets of confidence and some useful skills to present, inspire, influence and engage people. Check out the video, photos and quotes of the day.

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Perhaps you would like me to run a Public Speaking workshop for you, or in your workplace. Perhaps you would like one-to-one coaching. Either way visit our contact page and get in touch.

Many thanks to the young people for being such great participants. I hope you continue to take your communication to the next level! Thank you to Megan and the QPR in the Community Trust team for being such excellent hosts and doing such great work generally. Thanks also to Martin Baker for his Expert photography skills (check out his art here).

Don’t let anything silly like the rules get in the way of your message!

Toastmasters is considered by many to be the standard option to develop public speaking and presentation skills. I’ve been to toastmasters (and similar) meetings and it was not uncommon for speakers to get ripped to shreds over a word repeated too many times, or not knowing what to do with their hands, for example. It was obvious to me that in many speakers there was a feeling of discomfort lying beneath the uneasy gestures and repetition, which was frequently overlooked. The feedback given would presuppose that the speaker were capable of controlling their own INVOLUNTARY behaviours (gestures and repetitions, for example), whilst intoxicated by a cocktail of adrenaline and cortisol (stress hormones). It was clear to me that, unlike my experiences of Toastmasters, I would coach speakers to manage their stress hormones first and let the behaviours flow. No more picking over repeated words, nervous twitches, stammers, stutters, gestures too big or too small. I began addressing those underlying feelings of nervousness and anxiety directly. I didn’t encourage my clients or participants to ignore those feelings, or even remove them, I helped them to use these feelings as resources, to own them, to express them.

There seemed to be a rule book about public speaking and presenting that was blinkered and flawed, so I (metaphorically) ripped it up! I didn’t dictate any conventions, or rules for speaking, I said “anything goes, as long as you create the impact you are after“. Jim Morrison, one of the greatest performers of an age of great performers, famously performed an entire set with his back to the audience. Page 1 of any performance rule book says “always face your audience”. However, Morrison was able to create impact by defying this rule! Of course this doesn’t mean that you can’t create impact by following the rules, just don’t let anything silly like the rules get in the way of your message!

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