A story from one of our Democratic Journeys workshops - June 2018


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At a democratic journeys session at a school in the midlands last week I tried out a new activity called “the google game”. The premise is that participants can google each other by saying their friend’s name and any other word of interest. The person being googled then responds with memories, stories, feelings and associations which emerge for them.

My colleague Kasia and I had practiced this on the train up north. I had googled ‘Kasia and puppies’, and she had googled ‘Rowan and school’. We both ended up recounting a depth of stories which opened up a treasure of dialogue between the two of which would have been left unearthed otherwise. By the time we’d reached our destination, we had a much deeper understanding of who each of us was, some stories which led us to where we are, why we feel the way we do, and how that motivates us to do what we do. We had also spent time looking at each other and making eye contact rather than at the screens in front of us.

In presenting the session to the students, we modelled Kasia googling me and school. I spoke quickly, openly, and with some degree of vulnerability about having gone to 8 different schools growing up. I spoke about going to a school in Morocco where teachers used corporal punishment and how my mother stormed into the headmistress’s office after one incident and could be heard by children and teachers in the courtyard yelling at the head for having allowed us to be hit. I spoke about how my teacher reacted after that, sending me to the back of the queue when the whole class was being hit on the back of the hand with a ruler for being unruly, and then when my turn came, gently tapping me. I spoke about how the other children noticed that and asked questions in the playground.

I then spoke about going to a small international school in Yemen where the school was so small that we had friends from across age groups and where we were friends with our teachers, and how they would sometimes come to our parties. At this point, Kasia interrupts me. She says stop. She clicks and zooms and asks me to speak more about that. ‘Your teachers were your friends?’ she asks. I then focus on that, like in a google search, and I talk about my teachers in Yemen and how fun and interesting they were, and how many of us remain in touch now, how we visit each other and are facebook friends.
I stop and look around the room. I had been speaking for about 3 minutes, in a monologue. The children were staring, and the two teachers in the room were leaning forwards, eyes wide open.


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Drinking tea and playing backgammon with Mrs Gulyas

We then set them off on a task. They could choose what to google, but they were also encouraged to find out why their friends had joined the student council committees they’re in and chosen to campaign on specific issues. Within a minute, we walk around the room and two boys in the Student Welfare Committee are googling each other and ‘bullying’ and sharing their stories of bullying which motivated them to do something about it. Later they decide that they want to increase the amount of support in ‘The Base’, a safe space the school has created for children who are being bullied to access during lunch and breaktime. The boys feel that this space is good but that when children go there they don’t have anyone to talk to about their experiences. They want to change that.

At another table, a group of students in the Environment Committee have googled each other and ‘the environment’. One girl talks about an experience she had in the canteen where she had eaten a banana and gone to look for a bin in which to throw the banana skin. She couldn’t find a compost bin and stood in front of the normal bin with the banana skin in her hand. She described the frustration, helplessness and anger at not having the choice to compost. Her group will be campaigning on introducing segregated waste bins in the school.

I walk over to a third table, and find a group of children giggling away uncontrollably. I notice one of the students giggling. She had been brought to my attention because she was known to be so shy that she had had three friends escort her on the course. Her three friends were not members of the student council but had been welcomed onto the course to facilitate her participation and help her feel more confident. But she hadn’t been googled by one of her friends. She’d been googled by a boy on her committee, the School Services committee, who are looking at the school canteen menu. He’d googld in her name and “food”. She’d started talking about McDonald’s and he had clicked and zoomed their way through burgers, chips, potatoes, jacket potatoes, toppings, until they found themselves talking about her favourite varieties of cheese. They had found this so hilarious, but more importantly, the bond they’d created and the ability to share something of themselves was so rewarding, that her committee ended up voting her, the shy girl with three escorts as campaign manager.

We are all full of stories. We are stories. We are experiences, we are feelings, and we are the relationships and bonds we form by acknowledging these, celebrating them, talking about them, mourning them and sharing them. And it is through this sharing that we learn that we are not alone, that others are as human as we are, and that solidarity brings the strength and confidence to do something for the better.


Rowan Salim

The Google Game is from the Authentic Relating Games Manual version 6.0-ish and was devised by Amy Silverman from the Connection Movement New York. Many thanks to Rahul Sridharan for sharing this with me.


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