The power of reconnecting
The new year is a time for resolutions – and a new decade is an opportunity to set our sights even higher. That’s why so many of us have resolved together to make this decade, the 2020s, one of reconnection in our society.
It’s natural for Scouts to be among the first to champion this vision of reconnection. Bringing people together is what Scouts do – and have done for over a century. When Baden-Powell brought 20 young people together at the first experimental Scouts camp on Brownsea Island, Dorset, he was bridging the social divides of his day – young people from different backgrounds realised they had more in common than divided them.
Today, in a world that’s changing faster than ever, there is increasing pressure on young people. Changing technologies bring new freedoms – but online culture can alienate us from each other as much as it connects. We need to help young people develop the character and skills for jobs that may not yet have been invented.
Quite simply, Scouts connects people. It helps them develop those vital skills of empathy, teamwork and active listening. We help young people stand together, speak up and play their part. And the research backs this up too: a 2018 YouGov poll said 9 out of 10 British adults believed Scouts develops empathy. Our own research shows that Scouts are likely to be nearly 10% more effective as communicators and 8% more likely to get along with people of different races, cultures and religion.
Finding ways to make a difference
I have huge confidence in the next generation. As a volunteer for my local group, and in my national role as Chief Executive, I see the strength of young people’s commitment to their communities – wanting to find meaningful ways to make a difference.
Young people are driving our social action campaign, A Million Hands, creating real change on issues that matter to them most, such as homelessness, mental wellbeing and the environment. Scouts are not bystanders; they make change happen and they know it can only happen when they work together.
Scouts has grown by over 160,000 members in the last ten years, precisely because it’s meeting this need: helping them to develop skills to create positive change. We depend too, on tens of thousands of volunteers who give up their time – and need to find more to offer these opportunities to even more young people.
The last few years have shed light on divisions in our cities, towns, and even our own families. We see divisions across social classes, faiths and ethnic groups that have been neglected for too long. But we should not let these divisions define us.
A sense of empathy
Instead, we need to do more to foster our sense of empathy with each other – and what we share too. That is not about having to agree about everything. Disagreement is an important part of our democratic society – as long as it is founded in respect for the views of others too. Whenever we sit down with each other, we can usually find some common ground.
Scouting is empathy in action. It means spending time with people who are different from you, placing yourselves in their shoes, and working to achieve something together. We see this at Scouts meetings every week, up and down the country, as well as at our international jamborees. It’s what’s created a worldwide movement 50 million-strong; what our Chief Scout, Bear Grylls calls ‘an unstoppable force for good.’
National leaders can help set the tone – and find the policies to champion civic engagement. Yet the task of knitting a society together again is a challenge for us all – from simple individual acts to repair one relationship with family or friends, or to make one new connection with a neighbour who we often see but don’t yet know.
The idea of a decade of reconnection offers us all, across many different fields, the chance to highlight that this is fundamentally a society of decency and kindness. It’s about each of us asking what more we can each do to bridge society’s divides.
We can make this a decade of reconnection, but only if we are each willing to step up and play our part, and to foster that sense of empathy to create a shared society, rooted in kindness and compassion.
Previously published as an op-ed in the Sunday Telegraph on 5 January 2020.