Monday, 18 February 2013

Secretly worry people don’t like you?

Ever walked into a party and immediately felt judged? Or a meeting? Or a conference? Or a gathering of someone else’s friends.

As you looked around the room, you somehow knew everyone was thinking about you, “What are they doing here. They shouldn’t be here, they’re far too …”

“far too old”

“too young”

“too posh”

“too poor”

“too badly dressed”

Which is the one you hear people think?

Ever wondered how you know thats what people are thinking? Here’s the thing. You don’t. You think you do, but actually you don’t. Because they’re probably not thinking this negative thing about you – they probably haven’t even noticed you to be honest.

In fact probably only one person is thinking this negative thing about you. And that’s … You.

Pyschologists call this projection. This is how it works. You walk into a room, and feel that everyone looks better dressed and seems better spoken than you. You feel inadequate and think “I’m not classy enough to be here.” But your brain doesn’t like you thinking this negative thing about yourself. So instead it projects this negative view onto everyone else.

Rather than accepting that you think you’re not classy enough to be there, your brain decides to believe that everyone else is thinking this. The great thing about this is that then you can disagree with them, reassure yourself that you are perfectly classy and then judge everyone for being so judgemental. You might feel unwelcome but you’re reassured that you’re perfectly classy.

The one trouble with projection is that it makes you less likely to trust people different from you.

In Divided Britain, projection matters. It means that if we want people of different ages, incomes and ethnicities to trust each other more, we can’t just organise a short meeting or party. We need new institutions that bring people together on an ongoing basis. We need to redesign schools and nurseries so that people mix and meet repetitively. Or at least long enough to realise that those negative thoughts are not the other group judging you. They’re your own brain tricking you.

Friday, 15 February 2013

Five myths about Divided Britain

The Challenge Network exists to bring people together across lines of difference. We exist to turn Divided Britain into United Britain where people trust each other again.

As I talk to people about what we do, these are the top five myths I encounter.

1. This is just a problem in a small number of places, like Bradford
No - levels of trust of others have fallen right across Britain over the last fifty years - not just where there are obvious racial tensions.

2. Divided Britain means racial divisions
No - it's just as much about a lack of trust across generations and income brackets.

3. It's not that big a problem
No. Divided Britain is very real -our schools are more segregated than anywhere in Europe. And very serious: our divisions are making us the least trusting place in europe*. Low trust countries have lower well-being, weaker societies, less effective labour markets and weaker governments. This matters.

4. It will sort itself out
It won't. Levels of trust will continue to fall unless we start mixing across these divides. At present we are
mixing less and less even as we become more and more diverse.

5. Nothing can be done
Wrong. Levels of trust rise when people have meaningful interactions with others. We can design youth programmes, schools, housing allocation, child care provision to make this natural and easy. The UK can become a high-trust country again. Its up to us.

* New Economics Foundation, 'National Accounts of Well-being'

Thursday, 14 February 2013

'A Divided Village raises a Divided Child'

There is a famous African proverb, "It takes a village to raise a child".

At The Challenge Network, we believe that the opposite is also true, "A divided village raises a divided child."

The social divisions in Britain - whether by income, age or ethnicity - create a divided village. We already have the most segregated schools in the rich world* and less trust in those in their neighbourhood than people in any country in Europe.**

And this divided village raises a divided child. How divided? UNICEF*** rates the UK the worst place in the rich world to grow up. 20% less children here have 'kind and helpful' peers - childhood friendships tend to reflect adult ones; 20% less children here believe they can get a high-skilled jobs - our social divisions cut many children off accessing these skills.

Divided Britain matters. Not just for us, but for our children too.

* New Economics Foundation, "National Accounts of Well-being", 2007
** OECD, "Education at a Glance"
*** UNICEF, "Childhood well-being in the rich world", 2007