In my summer holidays I learnt…

We all know the drill. First day back to school, especially primary, and you would be set a task revolving around either what you did in the school holidays. Teacher’s were keen to find out about new experiences that you may have had, especially if they were unusual and would use those as a platform to share learning with the rest of the class. This week’s post is my summer holiday reflection and an overnight visit to London Zoo.

They have built some new lodges in the zoo, near the Asiatic Lions. I have long been grappling with the existence of zoos. I loved them as a child and have a fond memory of a visit to London Zoo aged 9 or 10. I recall spending a long period of time watching the penguins at Lubetkin’s award winning penguin pool. Built in the 1930’s, at the time it was a groundbreaking and innovative design. The architect drew on the knowledge of penguin experts at the time and it went on to inspire many other enclosures across the world. It now lies empty, retained as a listed building, but no longer used for its original purpose due to modern day knowledge of the negative impact on animals welfare.

Lubetkin’s Penguin Pool

It is this issue that has been the cause of my love/hate relationship with zoos. An inner turmoil of the concept of captivity for wild animals being anything but negative, especially in relation to providing entertainment. I harboured a sense of guilt and begrudged taking my children to zoos when they were younger. Then a few years ago we visited Port Lympne wildlife reserve and it began to open my eyes to utilising those experiences to build support and investment for conservation in the wild.

Penguin Beach

Returning to our overnight visit, as part of the package you receive a number of tours. These tours are the real focus of my blog this week. The thing is they could have skirted over the Lubetkin pool, not drawn any attention to it. Instead it became an important part of the narrative. They explained how it was an example of how animal welfare approaches were improving. They demonstrated humility and a degree of vulnerability in acknowledging that they not only got it wrong then, but that they may be getting things wrong now and their work needs to be governed by a willingness to learn from the past and an openness to new ideas for the future. Across those three tours they transformed my perspective on the work they do and it was driven by an honesty about the past. For me that made the experience feel more authentic and it increased my perception of the zoos integrity. In those talks the hosts and Zoological Society for London became one.

Though it has gone quiet in recent weeks it made me think about the questions raised about colonial, disability and LGBTQ+ history. About the stories that have gone untold and unheard for too long. As a society we won;t always get things right. Let’s talk about where things have been wrong in the past and be open about the fact the future may well question the way things are now…

Breaking news…

I had written a post for this week. It was a piece about London Zoo based on a trip with my family and framed around what I learnt on the school holidays. It was a lighter touch piece as I am having a much needed break from work and am using that time to recharge.

However, with the events taking place in Afghanistan, and the sobering reflections and debates both within the House of Parliament and outside, it felt that this was the most important conversation to be had. At a time where I need to recharge I simply cannot do the situation justice. I promise I will return to the topic of refugees in the future…

Another year older…

In A Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy a group of hyper-intelligent, pan-dimensional beings create a super computer called Deep Thought to find the “Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, The Universe, and Everything“. The answer produced is 42 (more on that later). So as I have just reached that age milestone I wondered if I might be bestowed with some existential wisdom… (I wasn’t). However, thinking about the bizarre maths from Douglas Adams classic reaffirmed my belief that the solution we are looking for lies in multiplication and not division.

Super computer ‘Deep Thought’ hard at work…

At the root of the discord that we have seen in recent years, starting with Brexit, has been division and poliarised opinion. In the past I have unfairly bracketed all people with views at the opposite end of the spectrum to mine in the same camp. I have steered clear of unhelpful debates, have ignored barbed comments and provocations. I have protected myself in a safe social media haven with like minded individuals and in doing so I have been too narrow minded.

Watching this week as a group of anti-vaxxers stormed the wrong building I asked myself different questions. This only happened when I caught myself enjoying the delicious irony of (what I believe to be) misinformed individuals using inaccurate information to launch a protest. Instead I began to ask myself questions such as ‘why do these people believe so strongly that vaccination is wrong’? Do they all believe coronavirus is a conspiracy or a hoax? If they do how have they reached that conclusion and would I be better served seeking first to understand their viewpoint(s) rather than immediately placing them in a single, negative, homogeneous bucket?

It reminded me of a brilliant presentation I saw from Ruth Ibegbuna following the Brexit vote as she launched her Roots project. She was drawn to understanding not only why people chose to vote the way they did on both sides but also to bring those different perspectives together for rational, open discussion. We need to understand why we are where we are before we can agree where we collectively want to get to. I am aware that there has been influence applied from different quarters from media to prominent public figures to politics. My fear is that if we continue to shout at each other we will only grow further apart. The rifts in our society are real and we all have to play a role in healing them. he first step is being willing to listen with an open mind. To listen to understand.

This is what I am committing to do over the upcoming year and you may well notice a shift in emphasis on this blog space as I look to understand and learn from differing perspectives. However, the motivation will remain consistent how do we move from where we are now to a more equitable and harmonious society?

So back to Hitchhikers… Douglas Adams was asked many times why he chose the number 42. There were lots of complex fan theories that were proposed some relating to binary code and others to how light refracts through water to create a rainbow. Adams rejected them all.

The answer to this is very simple. It was a joke. It had to be a number, an ordinary, smallish number, and I chose that one. Binary representations, base thirteen, Tibetan monks are all complete nonsense. I sat at my desk, stared into the garden and thought ’42 will do’ I typed it out. End of story.

Douglas Adams, November 1993

Maybe the answer to our societal challenges is a simple one in its premise. Our situation is not a joke but could we reach swifter consensus if we talked. Meaningfully, deeply and calmly. #ImNotTired

Walking the walk

It is far easier to declare that you stand in solidarity with a cause or an issue than it is to actually take action, stand up and be counted. That was certainly felt at TalkSPORT HQ this week when a caller made a racist remark and neither of the presenters properly called it out or challenged it. The moment illustrated for me why it is critically important that if you intend to be an ally that you invest the time, effort and energy into self development so you are ready when the moment you need to challenge discriminatory behaviour arrives. What troubles me about the incident is that surely one of the key areas of development for the presenters has to be how to recognise a discriminatory comment and how to respond. It is startling that a radio station, that regularly invites callers to dial in, hadn’t done their homework.

For those of you that missed it, a caller discussing the potential transfer of Harry Kane from Tottenham, made an anti-semitic slur against the chairman Daniel Levy. The video below clearly indicates that the presenters were stunned by the comment but rather than call it out they moved the conversation on. I am certain that if the caller had made a racist remark about a Black or Brown footballer, manager or owner they would have responded in the moment. TalkSPORT have since apologised to Tottenham and Daniel Levy and I genuinely hope this will lead to in depth training of the on air team.

What is really sad is that it doesn’t take too much to work to prepare yourself for these kinds of situations. On radio especially, you have the ability to challenge the caller and then end the call if they do not retract / apologise for the remark. I have mentioned in previous blogs preparing a stock response you can have ready for when you are in this kind of situation. It would have been very simple for either Perry Groves or Jordan Jarrett Bryan to end the call and say “That type of racist comment is unacceptable on our show and I’d like to apologise to any listeners who have been offended by that”.

TalkSPORT have highlighted that they were able to cut the slur from radio broadcast but it made it through on the live stream online. Whilst this is a potentially positive step to prevent hateful comments from broadcast I sincerely hope it doesn’t mean that staff development gets ignored. The cynic in me wonders whether the edit was driven more by the comment or the lack of action by the presenters? If we are really going to make progress on anti-racism censorship is not enough. In fact, I think more positive impact would have been made by the presenters calling it out in the moment than by edits and apologies. #ImNotTired

Tottenham Chairman Daniel Levy