Robert will be speaking at 'Black Dog & Stigma: Panel Discussion;
at Norwich Cathedral
Friday 22 July - 7pm - 10.54pm - Free to Attend.
Sticks and Stones, a relating blog
When I was a child, my grandmother used to tell me that ‘sticks and stones could break my bones, but words could never hurt me.’ Sweet though she was, later experience has taught me that words can be very hurtful indeed.
Like my bright kids, I grew up feeling different, but not really understanding why. I was bullied at school and perhaps as a consequence, developed a passion for championing those who others choose to exclude.
A family history of poor mental health, alcoholism and suicide shaped my character. For a time last year, I came close to what my GP euphemistically describes as ‘checking out’. But I’m still here, more determined than ever to make the world a better place.
In 2008 I wrote a book about stigma. It was Lottery funded and formed part of the national Mind ‘Time to Change’ campaign. In it I profiled the lives of local people who’d been subject to prejudice.
All lived locally but none knew each other. You know it’s sad to think that the person you bump into in a crowded shop could be wrestling with stigma, prejudice and the inner turmoil prompted by the cruelty of others. Remember next time you feel indignant that the person you’re confronting may have survived a genocide. Yes, there really are Rwandan survivors of that recent horror living in our city.
I recently organised an RSA debate on mental health and found myself subject to verbal attack from a protest group offended that I’d left them off my list of speakers. Their emails were hard hitting and very personal. Not only was my character under attack, but my mental health too.
On the night of the debate I was able to confront them face to face. I found them very different in reality, to the picture their words had painted in my mind. I could sense their feelings of frustration and anxiety at what they saw as an unfair system. They were fighting what they saw as injustice. I often do just the same.
I offered them a drink and invited them in. They listened to the debate and asked some very pertinent questions. Afterwards they thanked me. If only all conflict could be resolved so amicably.
One idea that emerged from the debate was the importance of safe space. The venue I chose for the event, St Michael at Plea is itself a historic place of sanctuary. Today, I see traffic wardens lunching there at the Revelation café. It’s a place where they can feel safe too!
Norwich Cathedral is a place where I like to sit and reflect. Recently I sat in Julian of Norwich’s cell for a few moments of peace to prepare myself for a meeting nearby. I’m not a Christian, but I do value the way religious buildings provide moments of respite from the demands of day to day life.
Yes, sticks and stone can break bones, but they can also build some fine places too!