ImageIt’s been a training-heavy week for me this week! I love learning new things so it’s great to be able to participate in so many different programmes and courses. Today was day one of a training course about mentoring young people that I’m attending in preparation for some voluntary mentoring I’ll be undertaking later this year.

It was a really enjoyable, interactive day, with plenty of activities and group work so that I got the benefit of learning from other participants’ thoughts and experiences, not just from the taught content delivered by the trainer. It was great to meet a range of different people with a variety of skills and experiences, all there because of their desire to volunteer to help support young people from vulnerable and disadvantaged backgrounds.

The element that I benefitted from most was the time we spent putting ourselves into the shoes of the young people, trying to understand how the world appears from their point of view. It was really interesting once we started to come to some realisations about the negative behaviours that adults perceive from young people, and how they could often be a reaction to the sorts of behaviours that they perceive from adults.

I think it’s true to say that young people in general tend to get a raw deal these days in terms of their reputation – newspapers etc. seem to start from the base assumption that they’re lazy, out to cause trouble and roaming the streets in gangs like pack animals, and any young people doing some good with their lives are positioned as the exception to the rule.

That’s a really unfair picture to paint and – even worse than that – the more that this view is propagated throughout media and society, the more that young people themselves will start to believe it. Perception, as they say, is reality. Before long, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy and young people will start to think: everyone has this negative view of us… we may as well live up to it! Not helpful.

So today has reinforced for me just how important it is to not judge a book by its cover or to assume that we know what makes someone tick or why they behave or respond in a certain way. Instead, we should all find time to walk a mile in their shoes: think about the external influences on them and how we would react if they were applied to us. Maybe, just maybe, that will bring us some increased understanding of that person and help us to connect with them more effectively on an individual level, rather than making assumptions based on the group they fall into.

After all, it is never a pleasant feeling when we feel that we are being judged by others based solely on generalisations about our race, gender, sexuality, age, disability or any other aspect of our own personal book’s cover. So let’s don that individual’s proverbial shoes and get marching that metaphorical mile!