The purpose of the Forum is to train children to be analytical, especially when it concerns what they watch on television, where conflicts are for the most part solved with violence. Lately a flood of reality shows have appeared where couples and family members are at each other's throats with insults and foul language. Because there are so few alternatives, violence as a means to an end becomes the predominant message, which can only lead to dreadfully negative consequences.
We can empower youth, at an early age, to asses and evaluate through discussion, and put the images to good use as examples on how not to solve a problem. It is remarkable how well children respond when you speak to them as equals.
With larger groups the formality of a moderator sets a more formal tone. For older groups research and discuss current affairs.
One of the worst feelings we can have is feeling helpless; it corrupts everything else, and if adults have a hard time dealing with what is going on today imagine our children. A straightforward dialogue and the proper tools to face difficult times are ways to give them the self-confidence to achieve and stay positive.
Though children generally do not follow world events they can feel the hardships of the recession as many families are struggling. Then there are the images of the countless wars around the world transmitted on the television screen, the homeless, the beggars on the streets, the increasing abuse of drugs and alcohol, and random shootings in public places and schools. It is best to be open and explain that the world is going through a dark period in history; it's a cycle. Things do get better but we can't just sit and wait. We can prepare ourselves and our community to survive and grow notwithstanding what happens around us. Sometimes one has to go through hard times to understand what is really important and appreciate what one has.
If we cannot spare youth all the dreary realities we can discuss the problems and instill a sense of observation. To be observant makes life interesting and it can save your life. It is grounding, because a good observer sees things from all angles before making a decision. Be aware at all times.
Epictetus, of the Stoic school of philosophy, wrote a list of ways to face obstacles and be happy. One is, when there's a conflict put yourself in your opponent's head. Why is the person facing you upset? Maybe it was just a bad day where everything went wrong.
I used this consistently in my theatre classes, where students interpreted opposing roles: in a debate at an International School I had a Palestinian student be an Israeli, and an Israeli be the Palestinian.
In an after-school class for young teens I finally told them I wasn't paid enough to deal with their impossible behavior, which shocked them to the core and started an authentic dialogue. It turns out they were all going through family problems, parents who were fighting, getting ready to divorce, just divorced, money problems. We classified in detail the reasons the couples were in conflict, even the most minor, and acted them out.
During one argument I asked a boy to appear as a Hoover salesman. It was comical to see the reaction of the "parents" and gave the group a whole new perspective, detached from the emotional conflict. Suddenly we had the seeds of an idea for a performance where people knock at the door during different arguments: a nosy neighbour, the husband's boss, a code inspector. Two FBI agents chasing after a suspect thought the spaghetti on the wall was brains and blood, and it turns out the Hoover salesman was a private investigator. During one improvisation a girl got so angry she tried to hit her "husband". He ducked and it was the plumber that got smacked instead. We added that of course to the play and slowly the group was able to, collectively, creatively, come to terms with what was happening in their young lives.
Oppressed - Oppressor
One occasionally runs into situations where someone appears to make one's life miserable. Unless you are the one making other's lives miserable. The bullies and con artists will always be there, and we can't be too alert. In life, do we want to be the bully, the victim or the moderator? Ask, why the need to oppress and why do people allow themselves to be victimized?
There can be very good reasons one becomes a victim; as children we don't know any better, we are conditioned and a pattern is established that is stronger each time we are victimized. Even when we start to understand that it's wrong the brain is conditioned to function according to what it knows and will resist change (cognitive behavior). What we have to do is create another healthier pattern, which is accomplished by repetition.
It is a good thing to be generous but one must be careful not to be taken for granted - and that you are not giving just to be liked. Even if one is not supposed to expect anything in return a healthy relationship is one of give and take; you have my back and I have your back. Otherwise you will be taken for a fool.