Badge of Honour
Have you ever been in a situation where you’ve felt conspicuous and out of place? Perhaps you’ve been alone in an empty train carriage when a group of rowdy youths have boarded? Perhaps, to use the old cliché, you’ve found yourself in the wrong pub, wearing the wrong football kit? Or perhaps, you’ve found yourself walking through the wrong part of town at night?
How did you feel in that moment? Hold on to that thought.
A lot of us in the UK have been morbidly addicted to It’s a Sin on C4 recently, a drama that charts the lives of a group of friends through the AIDs pandemic. It reminded me of one occasion when I felt conspicuous. At the peak of that very different pandemic, I very deliberately chose to walk through York one Saturday afternoon wearing a red ribbon. In the scheme of things, it wasn’t particularly brave; but we all have our own barriers to push through and it felt brave to me, particularly as I was alone. You have to remember that, back then, celebrities weren’t wearing red ribbons like they do today; to wear a red ribbon was, to all intents and purposes, to label yourself gay and in those dark days, potentially infected.
The thing I remember about that day, and the powerful lesson I took from it, didn’t relate to the change that occurred in other people when I made my little protest; it was the change that occurred in me.
As far as I remember, I didn’t experience any open hostility; nobody (on that day) shouted names, nobody crossed the road to avoid me. As far as I can reasonably assess, nobody treated me any worse than on any other day.
But I was ready for them if they did!
I can still remember my feelings of preparedness; the heightened awareness of my surroundings, my readiness to respond to any aggression, the tension; the expectation of trouble. And I remember too, the anger I felt towards the world, and towards myself for allowing the world to cause me to feel like that. I felt vulnerable; and I didn’t like it.
I know, absolutely that those feelings affected my behaviour that day. Let’s face it, I probably looked a bit like one of those posturing wild-eyed cats you see some evenings; back arched, teeth bared and hair up (I actually had some then). I often wonder whether people seeing me murmured things to each other like, “He’s got a chip on his shoulder!”?
When I got back to my car, I took my bright fabric badge off.
And that’s when it struck me. I could do that. What I learnt was not about me, but about all the people who can’t, or don’t, remove their badges. For example, my husband’s youngest sister who has learning disabilities and is registered blind, that lone female mechanic in the pitstop team, the taxi driver who’s transitioning to become the woman she’s always been; that one black boy at our school in rural Wiltshire. Just one in 1,000. Can you imagine what that was like in 1978? The irony is that I was terrified of him; he was older than me and always seemed angry and volatile. Now I wonder if I wasn’t a small part of the cause of his anger.
One of my favourite modules in Trainers’ Library is the Land of the Nutritos, written for us by the brilliant Valerie Fawcett. It has had an incredible impact on people, not just because it enables us all to witness, for a moment, what it feels like to be exposed and vulnerable, but perhaps more importantly because it so often seems to create a space in which people feel comfortable to share their own stories.
That’s important for equal opportunities and diversity because legislation can never impact beliefs in the way experiences can. And it’s only by sharing those experiences that we all learn.
And next time you find yourself in the wrong part of town, ask yourself this: Is it the wrong part of town, or is it just a part of town where the badges most people wear are different to yours?
Until next time…
Co-founder and Commercial Director at Glasstap® (www.glasstap.com), the company behind Trainers' Library® (www.trainerslibrary.com) a service relied on by trainers in more than 40 countries, I retain overall responsiblity for the...