Earlier this week, during a detached youthwork session, the group of youthworkers and I met with a small group of young people at the park/skate park bowl. On the street walking to the area I had been encouraging the volunteers to think about the initial moments of chat with young people and to focus solely on what there is there in the moment, and not bring in ‘extra agenda’ items or judgements to the context. One example being the ‘how was school today?’ type chat, anyway, having now encouraged the volunteers to try this, i had to now show a little of how it was done, hopefully the young people would be chatty and cooperative…
So we met with three young people, and had a conversation which covered largely in this order: the bikes, punctures ( the bike had a puncture) , fixing, changing parts, the skatepark and facilities – all the intro type chat… however as the young person spoke and often the last words of his sentences were cues to talk about the next thing – so when he said – “i used to go to college” this was a cue to ask about this, in asking us about whether we were volunteers for the project, he then said about being involved in educational youthwork as he’d struggled at school, keen to tell us of his volunteering; in some ways the conversational game continued – some questions, waiting for cues and clues, shaping questions in a non interrogating manner .. from his school experiences, the volunteering he had done, and what he’d gained from the experience of volunteering, at this point i asked him what he does now, as it seemed as though the volunteering finished. He said he was a Full time father, with 2 under 3, and another on the way. This then led to a conversation about supporting his partner and children, about housing, about coping with responsibility, sometimes needing space away from, and the frustration of feeling like not being able to contribute. Yet there was opportunity to talk about what he liked about being a Dad, seeing his children grow, change and become- at that point there was glint in his eye, a moment of reality and connecting. There was a moment for me too in that time.
Conversation continued, about his desire to work, how he’d paid off loan sharks, how he wanted to be a mechanic, and we ended the chat with the possibility of helping him to access college which he may be able to afford with parental concessions. Yet the end of the conversation, or the action taken was insignificant compared to the journey, and spiritual moment of realisation that the conversation has undertaken.
Its funny in reflection, because, the one moment where i made a judgement or value statement of his actions in the whole of the 25 minute chat, was to ask him “so what are you doing here when your partner is at home, pregnant and with 2 small kids?” in some ways i couldn’t stop myself, but knew that it wasn’t meant in a judgemental way, more of responsibility – he, i think, in the context of the conversation thus far knew i hadn’t meant to judge, though it was the only moment where he became defensive – saying that he needed some space sometimes. ( and i guess that’s true of all of us – yet how easy to judge the BMX guy that he does his space thing there.. not at a football match, the golf course, or work)
As Heather Smith discusses, sometimes a key to the art of conversation is to let the young person lead, to follow, listen and go in the direction they are willing to travel ( Heather Smith 2010), yet how often do we actually stop and listen to young people – how often do we stop and listen to people at all? How often do we have the space to actually let them lead a conversation? How many times in our youthwork do we get the chance to have a 25 minute conversation with one of our young people? – without the distraction of activities, other young people, or feeling like the conversation has to have a fixed ending, shaped by us, the environment or activity we have created. Maybe its true that as the council youthworker once said “what you do on the streets – that’s ‘pure youthwork’”
Yet its not just about being there, its about facilitating the possibility of young person driven and shaped conversation, that starts and continues at their pace, at their direction – so that they dictate the parameters of when they are ready for change, ready for personal disclosure, ready for honesty a moment to give of themselves. It was only after the chat about Fatherhood, that i asked the young person their name – i guess that’s how in the moment i was – was his story more important than factual knowledge about him?
We are often asked about development, about outcomes, yet conversations are moments of and exchange of information, of personal disclosure, honesty and reality where either person is awakened to new thoughts, feelings and values even. An old reality has been intersected by someone who has reflected new reality, new possibilities and hopefully also the process of embedding this change. Sometimes we need to be there on the streets to have conversations where young people are at, at their pace, their time, not ours. Are these a moment of redemption? Has this young person avowed to a change – maybe not – but might his life be different from now on- because of a conversation that started about bikes and punctures, might his compass be set slightly differently set to the possibility of future, … well if his isn’t mine will be.