Before you read this blog you need to make a decision. You need to decide whether you want to read an explicit statement made by a six-year-old boy. Because, as you will see, words can hurt and they do.
A few weeks ago, a colleague from the Tim Parry Johnathan Ball Peace Foundation was delivering one of our programmes. During the programme she spent time talking with young children, those at key stage one, starting out on their education, how people are always different from each other. She showed some material that demonstrated this, where people had built physical walls to divide different communities. And, she asked the children what they would do if they met somebody who is different to them – that is someone who could be considered as the other.
The answer a six-year-old boy gave was – and here you need to decide whether to read on or not and whether you can deal with the next statement – “I would blow their hand off with a grenade.”
Just pause for a moment. Just reflect. This was a six-year-old, not in some inner-city school as stereotypes may dictate, but in a leafy suburb in a well-to-do area
The lesson moved on to look at why and how such of a view was being formed and this may not surprise you.
Our world of modern technology, including gaming and social media, and access to the World Wide Web, has brought unprecedented information to many people, including young children. When questioned further, we found another major surprise. That is the number of children who are watching television programmes that we would normally class as being after the watershed.
The fact that six-year-olds are watching programs like BBC’s Bodyguard, one of the biggest TV experiences of the year, and experiencing prolonged and explicit violence, including terrorism, aspects of violent extremism and simulated sex involving fictional senior politicians, is something we all need to pause and think about. With so much information available, the sheer number of words and, often words that cause harm, that are reaching children is phenomenal.
The ability of young children to absorb such information and words, the process them all, and apply critical thinking to deal with such material, is being sorely tested. The impact on their knowledge and wisdom is not fully quantified, but for some could it be the start of a path that may lead to radicalisation and even violent extremism. I refer you to the solution our six-year-old gave. Playful naivety or something that could lead to something far more sinister?
We, at the Peace Foundation, believe that words matter, and over the past few weeks we have been working with survivors of terror and violent conflict to understand the impact words used by the media and those in public life, has on them, and also the impact the words are having on those that may use violence to harm others. It is a frightening and daunting picture. And we have to act.
Eight survivors of terrorism have worked with the Peace Foundation to produce a series of films, that hear from people who have been affected by terrorist attacks ranging from the Manchester 2017 attack to the Bataclan attack in Paris.
In the short films, we hear about their direct and indirect experiences with the media and their desire to promote a strong message that #WordsMatter.
We need all of the media to follow these examples. It isn’t just about reporting on terrorism, recent weeks has seen a fishing dispute parodied as ‘war on the high seas,’ and a politician using emotive terms such as ‘suicide vests and detonators.’ Our language is rich and descriptive and often uses analogy or metaphor, but we must guard against the inappropriate use of words.
If we are to defeat violent extremists, then we have to take away extremists’ legitimacy and undermine any shred of credibility they think they have, by showing respect to those impacted, and responsibility in reporting and accepting that #WordsMatter.”
#WordsMatter consists of eight survivors of incidents including London 7/7, Bataclan Paris, Manchester and London Westminster Bridge, talking about their experiences of the media, press and public figures speaking and reporting after events, and calling upon them to show responsibility in the way they report and commentate about terrorism.
#WordsMatter is a campaign promoted by the Tim Parry Johnathan Ball Peace Foundation – a charity and non-governmental organisation working in the prevention of violent extremism in schools and colleges and the resolution of violent conflict through the development of peace building in communities. The Foundation is the operator of the National Survivors Assistance Network, providing health & wellbeing, social and welfare support to all those affected by terrorism in Great Britain and in promoting reconciliation on our islands post conflict in Northern Ireland – ‘the troubles.’
Watch the #WordsMatter films at:
Anna Harwood | incident | Bataclan, Paris – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R1BYA2ZQTUk
Graham Foulkes | incident | London 7/7 – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3manRkD6_ok
Travis Frain | incident | London Westminster Bridge – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CO0JU6bdUPE
Figen Murray | incident | Manchester Arena – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lidSHlEas6I
Cath Hill | incident | Manchester Arena – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jL13thS3cOM
Justine Merton-Scott | incident | Bataclan, Paris – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cEqwbGzHla4
Azuma Wundowa | incident | London 7/7 – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ogmAE0XAeRM
Zoe Alexander | incident | Bataclan, Paris – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uoJdSUoDPfQ
Use #WordsMatter to join the conversation & tag @peacecentre
Nick Taylor, CEO – Tim Parry Johnathan Ball Peace Foundation