Paul Taylor: The importance of acceptance

fulneck school
Historic: Fulneck School, Pudsey

Fulneck School principal Paul Taylor continues his occasional column, arguing “tolerance” is fine in so far as it goes, but “acceptance” takes you a step further.

fulneck school principal Paul Taylor
Paul Taylor

Last month, the BBC sent a survey to 1,068 elite sportswomen in 39 different sports. It covered many different topics, including how much they earn, the level of coaching they receive, whether they have witnessed sexism or racism in their sports and whether they felt the media covered men and women’s sport differently.

Two questions particularly caught my eye. 30% of respondents had been trolled on social media and 77% were conscious of their body image. I suspect there was a great deal of overlap here given the personal comments made by nasty, cowardly and anonymous users of social media. The figures have worsened markedly since the last survey in 2015.

Most people, quite rightly, would find this kind of behaviour threatening if not frightening. Welsh rugby player Elinor Snowsill describes it as harassment. She says: ”It’s such a strong word but if that person was constantly coming up and reacting to everything you did in real life, it would feel a bit odd.”

Of course, it doesn’t just happen to famous people. There will be many of us, me included recently, who have been the victim of unwanted and untrue attention. Whether we like to admit it or not, we all know it hurts.

One of the worst examples is that of Leeds’ own Nicola Adams, the 2012 Olympic Boxing champion, who has suffered vile racist and homophobic attacks on social media as well as comments attacking her and her partner for being a biracial couple. Even her physique comes in for criticism. And this is happening in 2020.

If you know anything about Nicola Adams, it won’t surprise you that she and Ella have fought back already. They made a video recently to highlight the kinds of comments that are often made about them and how it impacts on their lives. Both are clearly strong-willed individuals and made the video in an attempt to educate the trolls and help other victims. It’s sad to think they had to do that.

In PSHE lessons this year, our pupils will be looking at traditional British values. I don’t particularly like that label – the values we should aspire to are universal not particularly British. Anyway, one of the key values is “tolerance”. A mature democracy like ours has promoted tolerance of alternative or minority views unless they are promoting hatred. Still, I don’t particularly like that term either.

Tolerance, to me, suggests that, whilst I might not like or approve of somebody or their actions, I’ll put up with it but I’d rather change it. I don’t think that’s good enough. We have to teach pupils the idea of “tolerance” but I want them to consider whether “acceptance” is a better idea.

“Tolerance” is fine in so far as it goes, but “acceptance” takes you a step further. You can tolerate something without accepting it, but not the other way round.

One day you might need to talk to your parents about something that you worry might be unwelcome news – your decision to be a teacher not a lawyer, your choice of partner or your sexual identity. You won’t want that news to be tolerated, you will want it to be accepted.

I’m not a psychologist, but I do think that it must be very hard to be completely at peace with yourself if you are walking round with bigotry and hatred on your mind. Carrying round such a negative mindset must have an impact on your mental well-being.

I mention this because over the last couple of years we have talked a lot at Fulneck School about our three values of “Work hard, be kind and be useful”. In fact, there is a fourth that I want to start to introduce to our pupils over the coming weeks: “Go well”.

I have said before to our parents that my two biggest worries for them are child obesity rates and the increase in mental health problems. Through a range of activities, physical and academic, we want to make sure that our children know how to look after themselves in body and mind. We want them to be able to recognise when they might have a problem and be able to take proactive steps in putting things right. This is one reason why we place emphasis on fitness and sport. It’s why we devote tutor time to mental well-being. It’s why I hope they will never get involved in trolling anyone.

Today’s thought for the week comes from poet and playwright Oscar Wilde: “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.”

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