Blog: Role Modelling by Shane O’Reilly

27 April 2020

Niddrie Mill PS pupils at the PUSH Gender Lab, Jan 2017 - photo by Geraldine Heaney
Niddrie Mill PS pupils at the PUSH Gender Lab, Jan 2017 - photo by Geraldine Heaney

By Shane O’Reilly, Gender Lab Participant

I’m thinking about how quickly every society on the planet changed their routines and sacrificed their fundamental human practices in order to stop the spread of Covid-19. How quickly the world implemented social distancing. How people have complied with government and WHO directives to lock themselves into their homes. All of this to save the lives of people we know, and strangers that we don’t. All of this to save our species from decimation.

And I think about the young people in our society who are also complying. I think about the days after social distancing was implemented in Ireland, and the natural impulses that the children in my life had to interact with me. To brush off me, take my hand or show me something. And the role their parents and guardians played in changing that behaviour. The essential role modelling that took place in order for these children to understand these new and important social practices.

And I think about the small flinch that the children made, initially. Or the mini-rebellion that they staged. The rejection of this abnormal activity. Their impulse to physically connect with the other people in their lives being more important than the instruction of their parents, initially.

And I think about how that initial impulse or rebellion has been quashed now. And how these children, at the beginning of their journey in life and their understanding of physical interaction and intimacy, are learning behaviours that will have to be ferociously unlearned. Instincts and impulses that we will all have to reverse.

Then I think about my weeks spent in Edinburgh with artists from all over Europe as part of the PUSH Gender and Sexuality Lab in 2017. I think about the conversations and confessions that took place, the insight that we all offered and observed into the lives of humans that had met road blocks or negative role modelling in the courses of their childhoods. And how those periods echoed through our lives, and reverberate within us still. I think about our discussions about gender, sexuality, freedom, confidence, identity, joy, representation, ululation, celebration and love and how each of these elements of a life need positive physical engagements with other people.

And I think again about role modelling, and what we can do for children at the moment. I think about how we can show children how beautiful touch is with our families and partners. We can talk to children about the positive power of a kiss or a hug. We can tell them that physical connection with other people is essential to our species. And that to succeed in the suppression of this virus, we must be adamant that it doesn’t succeed in supressing our fundamental need to touch. We can remind our children that this period of distancing is temporary, and undesirable. That we will return to a society in which we do embrace, hold, kiss, touch and connect. And we can make them excited for how beautiful that will be.

You can read more about Shane here.