Every time I go home from university, one thing I look forward to is dinner with my family. Not just because I get to see my family and eat real food not made by a student, but because sitting around a table eating, with nothing else to do but talk, often leads to complex and animated discussions. My dad and I particularly hold strong opinions on various subjects which can sometimes diverge and become passionate debates. It’s all in good faith though as we love to challenge each other! In these discussions we can be completely honest about our views and develop our understanding on wide-ranging subjects: from the place of women in religion, to life in outer space and to gender identity development.
It was here in Leeds, when I was eating dinner and scrolling absentmindedly through YouTube (like we all do!), that I came across a channel which has quickly become one of my favourites. It’s called Jubilee, and the content revolves around creating a dialogue between people from different walks of life. They strive to develop understanding and promote compassion amongst individuals who may never have appreciated the complexity of a debate or opinions which differ to their own. The videos by no means cover all aspects of every issue they address, nor do they always reach a shared conclusion or agreement between participants, but that is not the goal of the conversations they inspire. They aim to bring people together to find some kind of common ground in communities which can seem completely divided.
I highly recommend giving the videos on the channel a browse. To give you an idea of what you might discover, I’d like to share some of what I personally believe is their most interesting content. One series of videos invites those with identities or beliefs that, on the surface may seem the same, to come together. For example, all teen mothers or all Trump-supporters, Muslims or even paparazzi are brought together. These groups discuss issues relating to their identity and explore the wide spectrum of their beliefs together. As an outsider, who perhaps views some of these groups through learned stereotypes, this series has allowed me to appreciate the individuality of people for their unique experiences and the foundations for how they choose to live their lives.
Another Jubilee series brings people together individuals including Instagram and runway models, sex-workers and Christian pastors, cops and ex-felons, death-penalty advocates and those opposed to the death penalty. These participants are then prompted into discussion with statements allowing them to debate and understand each individual perspective, however similar or dissimilar they appear to be.
A favourite video of this series for me is an episode which brings together six people, three advocates for cosmetic surgery and three advocates for natural beauty. These six individuals were of different ages, genders, professions and ethnicities but succeeded in engaging in a completely honest, open and extremely personal conversation on beauty in modern society. The prompt “I wish I could change something about my appearance” sparked inspiring answers which made a real impact on me. Though some of the people involved advocated for cosmetic surgery and others didn’t, they all had a sensitive and open discussion on self-acceptance and self-hatred, mental health and the pressure on women to preserve physical youth. Although some answers were heart-breaking, they had positive outcomes because it allowed participants to connect through a shared understanding of the societal pressure to gain acceptance and approval.
The next prompt evoked a response from the participants which surprised me. I believed those advocating natural beauty would disagree that “cosmetic surgery can empower you.” Yet all six participants, from both sides of the debate, agreed on this. They all believed society places too much pressure on women to look a certain way and their beliefs surrounding the power of cosmetic surgery connected to personal mental health struggles and triggers regarding self-confidence. One participant, a cosmetic surgeon, discussed how surgery can be life changing. For instance, enabling a survivor of abuse to move on from a traumatic physical injury, a perspective I had never considered.
Although this particular discussion on cosmetic surgery remained calm and harmonious, others can take a different tone. Some participants become overwhelmed, angry, confused and even tearful due to the personal and emotional nature of these discussions. I believe this itself is a motivation to watch these videos. They are such vital and important discussions about the world we live in today and shying away from controversial topics can sometimes only cause more harm than good. I will state though that the producers of Jubilee work to ensure the discussions remain civil and respectful, their aim is not to provoke confrontation, but compassion between people who may not have appreciated or understood opinions opposed to their own before.
As a Christian mixed-race woman, issues concerning religion, gender rights and racial equality are of the most immediate interest to me with the impact they have on my personal life and the conversations I have been involved in surrounding them. However, through Jubilee, I have become interested in topics on which I have very little knowledge, for example a discussion between Palestinians and Israelis. I cannot claim I am now an expert on the topic or even completely understand it after watching only this video, but it offered a thought-provoking introduction to the human side of what has been a devastating conflict for many. These human experiences and personal stories are what the makers of Jubilee aim to capture. They seek to remind the participants and viewers of the real, normal people at the heart of headline topics which can seem impersonal and distant to our own lives.
I believe these significant discussions on topics like religion, politics and abortion are extremely important in a society that often feels as though a line has been drawn between those of contradictory views. A line which cannot be crossed for fear of misunderstood opinions or even conflict. When I have held conversations, even informal debates, on subjects I am passionate about, I often find a respectful discussion with someone who holds a different view to my own can challenge me to develop my beliefs, encouraging me to consider an alternative viewpoint.
The producers of Jubilee state their aim is to inspire dialogue and empathy, believing in the power of empathy for human good. They take the focus away from just ideologies, traditions and stereotypes to look at the complexity of humans. Each video leaves an impact on me, whether I feel encouraged, inspired or frustrated each one is significant. We live in an extremely diverse world and it is natural and normal to hold opposing views. Jubilee’s most important aim is to educate, inspiring respect for people different to ourselves, allowing for healthy co-existence.
I realise these topics are not the lightest, easiest subjects to digest, but some of the social experiments do actually leave me laughing along with the participants and it beats the otherwise mindless YouTube watching I often catch myself doing! If you have even 10 minutes spare whilst you’re eating dinner or on the bus, there is certainly a video to suit your interests. You never know, but branching into an unknown topic could inspire a new passion within you!
Words by Sarah Goswami.
Edited by Zoe Glasspool.