I was bullied something chronic at school. An only child with no sense of what was in vogue, happier to listen to Bob Dylan or Simon and Garfunkel than Now albums, on non-uniform days I wore floral dresses instead of jeans (the horror!) I was never in with the cool kids, and for years I shrank, withdrew and generally existed in social isolation. Keeping my head down was far easier than being exposed, open to criticism, ridicule – or worse.
There has followed a slow but even period of emotional growth and enlightenment until today I am more than happy to stick my head above the parapet in defence of what I believe in; I am proud to do so. I am happy to be challenged as it gives me an opportunity to state my case, and fuels a deep-seated need to make up for years of shutting up, putting up, and generally being told what to think.
I am opinionated, and in many ways, strong. Many would have us believe that baring our souls, showing emotion and wearing ones heart on their sleeve is a weakness. For those of us who are public facing in the campaign world its surely far better to play your cards close to your chest, don’t give too much away, don’t expose your true feelings; be aloof.
The fact is there is far too much of this mentality around. Arguably the reason politicians are largely distrusted is because they fail to publicly exhibit any real emotion. Jeremy Corbyn’s public appearances are remembered because he hugged Grenfell survivors and stood shoulder to shoulder with people quietly in crowds, not because he stood back and nodded his head detachedly. A movement has been harnessed in many ways because he has opened a door long shut into a friendlier, more human form of politics.
My political hero Nye Bevan’s speeches were passionate, rousing and sincere. He spoke from the heart; and he created what is probably the most emotive public institution ever – the NHS. Nothing else has been referred to as a ‘national religion’, no other public service commands such fiercely held views, and with good reason. Retaining our NHS is quite literally a matter of life and death, and it is folly to be coy about it. It serves no purpose to be detached.
Wearing your heart on your sleeve can leave you open to criticism, but it also makes you human, and that is a price worth paying. It is a strength to stand up and show the world how you really feel, and it isn’t one that should be sacrificed for fear of mockery. The ones mocking will always do so, and only make themselves look bad. Bullies exist in many forms and we mustn’t dance to their tune; we mustn’t be afraid. When we stand up for what we believe in it needs to be clear to everyone, only then will others be inspired to follow our lead.
The NHS is in crisis and its staff need advocates in all of us. The majority will not speak out for fear of the repercussions, for fear of being hung out to dry. Many do not possess the time or the energy to campaign or to raise issues. In some way or other this crisis affects us all, and we all must lend our collective voices to the throng; we can’t do it in a detached way. There is no interest in listening to unemotional voices, however many their number. When trying to change hearts and minds it has been shown time and again to be personal stories that influence decisions. A single heart-wrenching photograph in the press can often do more than a wealth of statistics and evidence.
In many ways I have come full-circle. Happier in my own skin, (and at 36 already too old to care), I will say what I think, but I understand that baring all emotionally is a leap of faith. I understand that being sucked into the reality of the problems in our NHS is a responsibility, and I know that it is far easier to pretend everything is fine than to read and engage with the horror stories we sadly hear all too often. However, if we are really to change things it is surely a price worth paying. Wearing your heart on your sleeve makes you strong – it makes you useful, it has the power to change minds, and in today’s political chaos it is needed more than ever.