Researchers

MindthePRGap_Twitter_Banner_TextMind the PR Gap is a new initiative that aims to bring together research and practice in the field of public relations. It is open to PR practitioners, academics, researchers and students.

As I’m involved with the event taking place on Wednesday 12 July 2017 at Birmingham City University, this post is partly promotional. With tickets at £10, it will be a great opportunity to look at some critical issues. More details here:http://mindtheprgap.com/.

Topics for the inaugural Mind the PR Gap event include developing an academic-practitioner PR research agenda, update on the Global Capabilities framework, employability and a series of talking points with action plans that are being finalised.

Besides my own role in the employability session, what I’m most interested in is positioning research as a common denominator between PR practice, academia and scholarship.

Here are five reasons why I think that viewing ourselves as researchers is important, as it encourages us to:

  1. Demonstrate commitment to building knowledge and understanding
  2. Underpin our work with an informed evidence base – and linkage to scholarship
  3. Remain open to innovation and continuous improvement
  4. Develop competencies in critical thinking and problem solving
  5. Apply reflexivity as a professional practice

Far too often there is a failure to foreground the importance of research. For instance, the recent endeavours to change evaluation practices in public relations championed by AMEC, do not overtly indicate how research is required to inform objectives that in turn support measurement and evaluation.

In this regard, the work by Jim Macnamara is a welcome focus on creating an ‘architecture of listening’ in organisations.

Further, it is a weakness in the PR occupation that many practitioners – and too often the occupation’s professional bodies – make assertions and sweeping generalisations that are totally unsubstantiated or supported by research that frankly lacks rigour.

From my perspective of having studied career strategies in public relations in my PhD, I am particularly disappointed to see a tendency to present career advice based on little more than anecdote, individual experience or personal opinion.

Indeed this seems to be the norm in relation to careers, rather than an exception. A recent post published on the CIPR Influence blog is just the latest example.

Its argument that “talent comes second to character in public relations” is lacking on so many levels. From a career studies perspective, it is laughable to see emphasis on the “right attitude”, which is presented as an inherent and somewhat fixed personal trait. Indeed, based on her own research, Professor Anne Gregory has criticised work that lists the personal qualities required by public relations practitioners as “lacking precision”.

The idea that individual characteristics are inherent and unchanging was evident in the career studies field over a century ago. Initially such concepts were developed to help young job-seekers find a lifelong career, not to judge them. We no longer accept that career decisions made in early adulthood are irreversible. Yet other concepts dating from the twentieth century continue to be part of everyday career thinking. This is surprising given that they were derived from studies of the experiences of US males in white-collar corporate roles. Career thinking, Mad Men style!

To then tie fixed trait theory to ethics, trust and respect without any evidence is redolent of the types of attitude that can be found in the historical records of the CIPR held at the History of Advertising Trust in Norfolk.

The historical context reveals tensions and divisions between who was deemed to be the right sort of chap to work in public relations. Those in central and local government looked down on those employed in industry. Consultants were excluded if they worked in divisions of advertising agencies.

Women in PR were commonly discriminated against. In the 1950s/60s, not only were they viewed as dolly-birds but they were expected to have secretarial skills unlike their male colleagues, according to Dr. Jacquie L’Etang’s published research. She also found intergenerational tensions, echoed in my own research into female career experiences in the 1970s/80s, where one participant recalled dismissively that:

“a whole lot of young girls getting into PR roles ran around with Filofaxes and champagne glasses.”

Discrimination is just one of the problems arising from an emphasis on character as a proposed criteria for recruitment, let alone as a marker of ethical behaviour.

Judging character in this way commonly relies on indirect inferences and conjecture. The ‘right attitudes’ seem to be defined as characteristics held by those doing the assessment and hence only people like them match this ‘standard’.

It also leads to absolutist approaches that seek to include some people and exclude others. It creates a narrow cultural base of righteousness, and indeed, suggests a limited understanding of the nature of ethical decision-making. In comparison, Dr. Jo Fawkes’ (one of the speakers at #MindthePRGap) has written extensively on value based ethics.

I am reminded of the Channel 4 programme, The Trial: A Murder in the Family. Despite being reminded that assessment of guilt or innocence should be based on evidence, jury members were influenced by legal spin, personal experience, bias and whether or not the defendant reflected certain behaviour, body language or personality traits that they as individuals deem appropriate.

To return to the Mind the PR Gap initiative, I’d like to see this mark a shift to recognising ourselves as researchers regardless of whether we identify most as academics or practitioners.

A continuum between pure academic practice at one end and functional research at the other is, for me, a loop where the middle is of most interest. This encourages practitioners to draw more on robust academic research. Likewise, it helps academic researchers to realise the potential of their work to connect directly to practice and practitioners.

More research that connects those working in academia and those working in practice would improve our scholarship base, and reduce the reliance on ‘gut feel’ and anecdote.

If you’ve not already booked a place at the Mind the PR Gap event, please check your diaries and come along if you can (http://mindtheprgap.com/). We will also be using social media before, during and after the event. Please follow or like at:


References:
Fawkes, J., 2015. Public relations ethics and professionalism. Abingdon: Routledge.
Gregory. A., 2009. The competencies of senior communicators in the UK National Health Service. Journal of communication in healthcare, 2 (3), 282–293.
L’Etang, J., 2015. “It’s always been a sexless trade”; “It’s clean work”; “There’s very little velvet curtain”, Journal of communication management, 19 (4), 354–370.
Macnamara, J. 2015. Creating an ‘architecture of listening’ in organizations. Available from: http://www.uts.edu.au/about/faculty-arts-and-social-sciences/what-we-do/research/reports/creating-architecture-listening
Yaxley, H., 2013. Career experiences of women in British public relations (1970–1989). Public relations review, 39 (2), 156–165.

Grief

overhandknot

Nine years ago I experienced the depths of grief when my dad died. The words of the blogpost “A private tragedy” that I wrote then remind me of the immediate pain.

I generally don’t acknowledge this “stop all the clocks” moment, when a solid knot was tied in the thread of my life. But I recognise my grief in a sentence by Seamus Perry in discussing Auden’s poem that:

Often the true immensity of love is learned through realising the enormity of its absence.

For me, there’s a silence in grief. Words fail us – and those we encounter in the days, weeks, months and years that follow. Yet we need words to help us reconstruct what we’ve lost. To make sense of our love and hopes and their absence. We are tied to the knot of our loss and words help us continue, with a strand of what’s missing woven into our pastpresentfuturedness.

Talk about loss and grief is having its moment in April 2017. I’m sure it is helpful to hear those who may appear to have everything sharing their experiences of what have been public personal tragedies.

Such expressions helped to inform the Languages of Grief model designed to illuminate the perspective of the bereaved and “the pain of the griever”.

Language of Grief

I think this framework would be helpful for those in public relations whose work involves communications concerning death and loss. This includes those working in the emergency services, charity sector and in crisis management situations, for example.

The Languages of Grief model includes four modes of expression:

  • Verbal responses (written or oral)
  • Nonverbal responses (silent or reflective)
  • Physical responses (somatic or expressions)
  • Physical activities (rituals or objects)

And four types of language:

  • Narrative (storytelling)
  • Symbolism (representation)
  • Metaphor (figurative)
  • Analysis (concretising)

As professionals we should be aware of these dimensions and how they combine to create “distinctive approaches” for communications. The model also considers the importance of being a “skilled listener” by including contingent factors that help us determine the most appropriate response. I contend that empathetic listening needs to be a more central component of public relations strategic practice.

Three types of contingent factors are proposed:

  • Internal factors (personal experiences, emotions and expressions)
  • Interpersonal factors (social support and set of expectations)
  • External factors (the nature of the loss and cultural expectations including authoritative discourse and power relationships)

In public relations practice or scholarship, I’ve seen little consideration of the importance of languages of grief. I suggest that research could reveal the habitus of professionalised speaking by public relations communicators. Also, I propose that attending to the elements of the model would help to develop a more appropriate response framework that reflects the polyphony of human grief encountered within public relations work.

I feel we should also study the biopsychosocial aspects of grief, loss and trauma as part of the recent discussion within public relations around mental health issues.

biopsychosocial

The work of McCoyd and Walter is a useful starting point. They explain how a biopsychosocial perspective helps us consider the biological impacts of loss and grief as well as psychological experiences and social contexts. I argue there are interconnected physical and mental health consequences for public relations practitioners who are involved in stressful situations that may be described using Hughes’ sociological concept as emotional dirty work.

When public relations practitioners are employed as spokespeople they are enacting a role that may suppress their own ability to express emotion in traumatic situations.

Likewise, the culture of public relations work may not allow room for discussion of personal difficulties such as coping with loss. The concept of ‘disenfranchised grief‘ concerns the expected norms of response within a given culture where support of others may be lacking or withheld.

The occupation also needs to allow room for attending to physical health which can be compromised under the pressure of long-hours, an intense working environment and the “emotional labour performed within the job“.

Given the relatively young age of many practitioners working in public relations, there is a responsibility for employers, educators and professional bodies to offer support mechanisms and address any structural causes of unhealthy grief and stress.

Similarly in an ageing society, organisations need to recognise the impact of ambiguous and nonfinite or chronic grief, where loss is uncertain – such as with those affected by Alzheimer’s. Likewise, coping with financial or other problems following the death of a parent or partner add fear to grief. There are many such issues that seem to be of particular relevance to those specialising in the field of internal communications/relations, for instance.

My own research into careers in public relations has identified issues concerning employment volatility particular in the consultancy sector. Further modern careers lack the stability and reassurance provided by the traditional linear corporate trajectory. Expectations that individuals will be entrepreneurial, nomadic, boundaryless and personally responsible for their professional development in an age of decreasing career volition can be immensely stressful. This has potential for a significant biopsychosocial effect on individuals that cumulatively can impact the wider occupation.

There are many strands of grief that affect us as individuals and in our work as professional communicators. We can look to scholarship to understand and improve the frameworks of communications in traumatic situations as well as developing better understanding and approaches to accommodate those who are experiencing biopsychosocial difficulties within, and indeed, because of, the occupation’s working environment.

If you find yourself in need of support to cope with bereavement or other forms of loss and grief, do seek professional help. For example, you could contact Cruse Bereavement Care, the Samaritans, or a charity such as Marie Curie that provides online help. Most importantly, find someone to talk with and don’t go through grief or feelings of loss alone.


References:
Corless, I.B., Limbo, R., Bousson, R.S., Wrenn, R.L., Head, D., Lickiss, N. and Wass, H. 2014. Languages of Grief: a model for understanding the expressions of the bereaved. Health Psychology and Behavioral Medicine. 2(1): 132-143. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4345827/

McCoyd, J.L.M. and Walter, C.A. 2016. Grief and loss across the lifespan: a biopsychosocial perspective, 2nd edition. New York: Springer Publishing. Sample chapters available from: http://lghttp.48653.nexcesscdn.net/80223CF/springer-static/media/samplechapters/9780826120281/9780826120281_chapter.pdf

Other links are provided to sources in the post.

Image: Shinkichi Tajiri, Overhand Knot (1995)

Submission

iPad Wallpaper - 02

When we talk about submitting an assignment or other piece of work, this verb is often viewed as a process, the action of uploading or physically presenting something for assessment.

That’s what I’ve done this week with my PhD thesis. But in doing so, I started thinking about the concept of submission.

We’ve come to think of submission as weakness. We perhaps picture a dog rolling on its back to show its belly to a more dominant Alpha male in the pack. Or a defeated lion slinking off after losing a fight. Does submission means walking away from arguments or losing out in negotiations? Submission is for losers? Losers who are subjugated by winners?.

The word submission derives from the Latin, submittere. Its meaning relates to presenting for judgement.

Submission means asking others to assess us and our work. Presenting to people with the authority to judge – who are qualified to come to an informed decision.

There is a responsibility in such judging. This is not about being vindictive or seeking to humiliate as we often see with television talent shows.

When we submit to such assessment we are hoping for a fair hearing. We view those who are expert in making decisions as having opinions that are worth listening to. We trust them.

As such, it is a mark of achievement to receive a favourable outcome from our submission.

The same is true of the dog on its back. It is asking the other dog for permission – to use its power wisely, to be merciful in judgement. In fact, to go further the dominant dog is being asked to take responsibility for the dog that has submitted. To take account of the implications of its judgement.

As well as having my PhD thesis submission assessed, I have been asked to review the 2016-17 Behindthespin #bestPRblogs by Richard Bailey. I have the responsibility of selecting a winner from a shortlist of exceptional young PR bloggers. Moreover, as the first female judge of the four year old initiative, I seem to have an additional responsibility. There’s an implication that my assessment may differ from the previous male judges.

Yes, I bring a feminist perspective to my review of the submissions, but the only thing that affects my decision is the quality of the blogs. Not my gender or that of the shortlisted bloggers. That’s not to say that gender is not a factor in the quality of the blog posts, as I would expect the writers’ personalities to be evident in their work. I favour insight, integrity, intelligence and imagination. Those are gender neutral characteristics, but flavoured by individual identity.

My view is that in submitting their work for consideration, these talented students are not demonstrating weakness. I trust their strength of character will be evident in the work they present as their public face through their blogs. They are responsible for the submission they have constructed. I take responsibility for judging this fairly. Likewise, I take full responsibility for the work that I have submitted .

In life we are constantly submitting ourselves for others to judge. At the same time, we pass judgement all of the time.

In doing so we have a responsibility for ourselves as well as others. Or rather, others have a responsibility for themselves as well as us.

Of course, there are some things to which we should not submit. Many times when we should stand up and talk back rather than be judged in a way that is unacceptable. In such cases people may think that it is a sign of toughness to be able to take criticism. But it is not.

True character is evident in the things that we will not put up with. Whether that relates to when people judge others or when they judge us. Submission is not weakness. When enough is enough, the bravest are those who reject the opinions and behaviours of those who are unfit to stand in judgement.

This week I’ve experienced the lightness that follows from submitting your work for judgement. I’ve also witnessed the relief that results from walking away when others are not worthy of making judgements. Either way, submission is strength not weakness.

Women

fearless-girl-hed-2017

International Women’s Day – March 8. A day. One day a year to celebrate women. To commemorate the ongoing struggle for women’s rights. For equality.

This is not some new public relations idea. Women have been marching and demanding a voice for over a century. Making the world see them. Making men see them. The men who have the power need to see women. To realise the world is better when shared.

In the early 1900s, the modern workplace was formed. It was “increasingly constructed in a male idiom” (Simonton 2006:261). Masculine structures were hierarchical, yet women claimed a place in them – it was “the arrival of women in the offices which was the beginning of the real social revolution” (Sampson 1995:53).

This revolution was a communicative one – the recently invented telephone and typewriter became women’s weapons of power. And their shackles. These empowering technologies were deemed particularly suited to the skills of women (Simonton 1998). Condemning both woman and machine to the lower floors. Often hidden from view in the telephone exchanges and typing pools.

But it was in the factories where the real subjugation of working women took place. Still takes place.

The London match girls went on strike in 1888 challenging their working conditions and treatment. Their activism generated publicity and political action. The Uprising of the 20,000, the New York shirtwaist strike of 1909, stood up for immigrant working women in the garment industry. Invisible women taking to the streets to demand change. These stories have been repeated over the decades, across the world.

Matches and shirts – small things. We depend on small things.

Equality is important. Having the power to change inequalities and inequities is important. When you don’t have power from being an ‘important person’ (as women often don’t) then power can be found in the combined efforts of many, many individuals.

Women are activists, agitators and social reformers for change. I believe this work is both an antecedent to modern PR practice and an integral part of it.

Activism is directed beyond the rights of women. For causes that may be unseen and for voices that are often unheard. For children and animals. For the homeless and vulnerable. For the planet and peace. For bodies, minds and souls. For access and control. Activism isn’t solely for women, by women or about women. It is inclusive power.

On International Women’s Day, female humans become visible, talked about, celebrated.

Yet we are here every day. We may not be equal in numbers in positions of power – as politicians, industry leaders, judges, and so forth. But look around and you’ll see women.

Women do much of life’s dirty work. We dominate in shadow work – unpaid and unseen jobs. We are invisible workers and virtual workers.

This should not be devalued but celebrated.

It is not the top of institutions that truly matters. Yes, women need to be there – but not to be representatives or as a balancing calculation. That’s not how men are seen in such roles.

All women matter. No matter our role as workers or without work. As people with a voice and power or without.

We do the important jobs and the little jobs. We are everywhere.


Image: ‘The Fearless Girl’ by artist Kristen Visbal installed by State Street Global Advisors. Branded art as activism. Photo by Federica Valabrega.


Some of my other relevant writing:

Yaxley, H., 2012. Exploring the origins of careers in public relations. Public relations review. 38 (3), 399–407. [Above referenced sources are cited from this paper]

Yaxley, H., 2013. Career experiences of women in British public relations (1970–1989). Public Relations Review, 39 (2), 156–165.

Yaxley, H., 2013. Dissent PR – the women’s perspective: From suffragettes to slutwalks. Dissent and public relations seminar series, October-December 2012. Bournemouth University. Available from: https://research.bournemouth.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/Dissent-and-public-relations-Bournemouth-University.pdf.

Yaxley, H., 2016. How to reach special publics – the woman publics. Available from: http://www.prconversations.com/2016/03/how-to-reach-special-publics-the-woman-publics/

America

ellis-island

I first went to Ellis Island in New York in 1980. This was my first time in America – United States of…

The last time I travelled to the US was in April 2001 when I stayed in New York with my mother to celebrate my 40th birthday. The one place that I really wanted to see again was Ellis Island.

By then, the gateway for millions of immigrants had started a journey of restoration, thanks to public generosity in response to an appeal launched by President Ronald Reagan in 1982. The Island of Hope, Island of Tears is a modern educational resource, now known as the Ellis Island National Museum of Immigration.

From my second visit, I remember the mix of people representing the myriad of races and nationalities that comprise the history of US immigration. Barely a week earlier, the American Family Immigration History Centre had opened up arrival records to everyone.

We watched with fascination the reactions of young and old visitors as they discovered details of their relatives on the new electronic database recording details of 22 million immigrants, passengers and crew members who had been processed through Ellis Island between 1892 and 1924.

I’d been to the US several times in the intervening years but the first and last of my visits are the most memorable.

When I started University in 1979, my room was next to an American spending a year in England. She lived in New Jersey and studied at Boston University. We became friends and she invited me to visit her family and the University. My parents managed to find the money for my airfare believing that this would possibly be my only chance to visit America.

I experienced a country that was both inspiring and depressing in equal measure. I remember huge shopping malls, noisy television gameshows, the thickness of McDonalds’ milkshakes and themed restaurants. I recall being bombarded by questions by people who were fascinated to meet someone British. They wanted to hear news of the Iranian hostages.

Their interest spoke to the concerns of a nation in a presidential election year that Ronald Reagan would win on a promise of restoring confidence, with a slogan of Let’s Make America Great Again.

After spending a few days with my friend at BU, I returned alone to New Jersey by train. This meant making a change in New York, at Grand Central Station. I was 19 years old and New York public transport had a somewhat gritty reputation. I was bewildered by the crowds of people rushing purposefully around me as I stood with my small blue suitcase like Paddington Bear trying to locate my connection.

A man wearing a suit came up to me and asked where I was headed. He gave me his briefcase and took my luggage. Quickly he took me to the right platform and disappeared into the crowds. The good side of New Yorkers.

This memory of a fleeting moment makes me think of the disorientation of those arriving in a strange country. Of trying to find your way and being unsure who to trust.

The Ellis Island that I’d visited a week or so earlier taking a ferry from New Jersey had conveyed this feeling through its haunting decay. Standing in open halls amongst the remnants of furniture, paperwork and peeling paintwork, I could feel the ghosts of millions of hopeful adults and children seeking a new life.

Shuffling in lines after an ardurous journey. Climbing the stairs of separation. Fearful of a cough or other indication of illness that would attract a chalk mark and an immediate return voyage. Surrounded by noises and smells of different cultures. Holding fast to precious dreams of the wonders that America may offer to those willing to work hard for a new future. The respite it would provide to these huddled masses.

A sense of the powerful decay of Ellis Island that I witnessed in 1980 can be gained from the stunning photographs of the Hospital Laundry building which completed its restoration last year.

Of course, immigration remains a global issue and January 2017 will be marked in history for President Trump’s suspension of the US refugee programme and plans for ‘extreme vetting’ of immigrants.

America – particular the US – has a long history of immigration, as does Britain. Regardless of your position on the issue today, we all ought to empathise with the feelings that drive people to relocate – whether in hope or fear. Nothing has ever communicated that to me more strongly than my first – and in a different way, my more recent – visit to Ellis Island.


Image: HR-ART.NET see: https://www.saveellisisland.org

Personality

chameleon-abstract-378557_640

Everyone is different. Everyone is the same.

As professional communicators, should public relations practitioners focus on individual differences, segmenting people into chunks by age, gender, geographical location? Or categorise by attitude – friend or foe? Perhaps by behaviour – which way did you vote? Are you with us or against?

Stephen Waddington directs PR practitioners towards using data and algorithms, which can be useful. But it can also be our modern day equivalent of reading head bumps for understanding who we are and what we do.

He rightly indicates the ethical dilemmas raised by Derina Holtzhausen. I’m likewise concerned by the implications of people being increasingly divided into multiple, fragmented publics even as we share the same space.

This tension is inherent in my PhD study of career strategies in public relations.

Public relations as an occupation promotes an individualistic model of careers, reflected in practitioner surveys and academic studies that mention attracting a certain “breed of person” and recruiting those with a “good” or “right personality”. Reference to personality is found historically, in respect of contemporary practice, in relation to ethics and within gender studies literature.

A focus on traits rather than competencies can be found in job adverts, anecdotal career advice and silly “personality type” clickbait articles (including this one on the CIPR site “for switched on public relations professionals”: The top five personality types of PR people).

Personality profiling is not just for fun. Historical and contemporary studies of public relations have found that women in particular find their personalty is linked to appearance, and both viewed as “intrinsic” to their ability to do a job. Of course as any misogynistic troll proves, this is an issue way beyond PR though.

In career studies terms, this thinking reflects theories based on matching concepts and personality typologies that emerged in the early 20th century. They speak to the idea of congruence between a person’s characteristics and the requirements of a job or occupation. Despite initial intentions for such approaches to support individual career choice, they soon became used by military and big business as a winnowing process.

Profiling emphasises structural norms of  personality. Yet segmenting public relations practitioners on such superficial grounds when hiring and promoting is problematic for a number of reasons, including:

1. Trivialisation: Emphasising the importance of having a “bright, enthusiastic personality” gets in the way of presenting public relations practitioners as qualified strategic management advisers.

2. Occupational closure: Selecting by personality can lead to recruitment and retention on basis of homophily; recruiting “people like us”.

3. Discrimination: Judgements made on basis of personality may reflect prejudice about the types of people suited to work in, or progress within, public relations; and discriminate against those who don’t fit this notion of ideal fit.

4. Opportunity structure: Public relations becomes seen as an occupation that attracts, and offers opportunities to, certain types of people, which acts as a barrier to enabling greater diversity.

5. Labelling: Some people think, feel and behave differently as a result of personality disorders. It is important to understand mental health issues and how these relate to ability to function in the workplace and wider society. Even light-hearted personality-based labels can stigmatise people who are living with, or who have recovered from, various conditions.

Just because people are different, doesn’t mean that they aren’t also all the same. Just because we are the same, doesn’t mean we aren’t also different.

Focusing only on differences often leads to conflict. Indeed, technologies enable segmented groups to become increasingly divided and potentially dangerously cohesive thanks to the filter bubble of search engine algorithms, social network endorsements and confirmation bias (where people attend to information that is consistent with existing views and avoid contradictory information).

In public relations, we need to be open to difference at the same time as recognising similarities. As an occupation we should be adhesive, enabling different types of people to be able to work and live together.

And, when we talk about personality, as professionals, we should do better than rely on discriminatory euphemisms, outdated profiling techniques, or Cosmopolitan magazine style quizzes.

Listen

Somme 2_0

A century ago, the bloody battle in northern France silenced the hopes, dreams, fears and nightmares of so many young men. Others were so badly affected by their experiences that they never spoke of them again.

On 1 July 1916, 19,240 British soldiers died; many were recent volunteers. Their voices, along with hundreds of thousands more in the coming months, were lost forever.

It wasn’t until two weeks later that the names of the dead and wounded were reported in British newspapers. People began wearing black armbands as a way of acknowledging their loss.

In August, the War Office showed a public information film, The Battle of the Somme – nearly half the population went to the cinema to see the horrific scenes of the realities of war. It reinforced their resolve – as the propagandists intended.

By early November, simple shrines began appearing spontaneously around the country as people mourned their lost ones; as the list of casualties grew hourly in this brutal war.

The Battle of the Somme lasted from 1 July to 18 November 1916. The number of British soldiers dying across the 141 days averaged 893 per day – a total of 127,751 men. There were 419,654 British casualties, 204,253 French and at least 465,000 German. More than one million dead and wounded. Plus 100,000 horses deployed to support the British army; most of their fates unknown.

But raw facts fail to convey the horror.

You can read the human stories – the Telegraph has provided real time updates today.

You should read accounts of those who are moved by walking the battlefields today.

You will see real footage – stark in black and white across the news and online, shared through social media.

You can follow Tweets reporting detailed war diary entries from this day a hundred years ago.

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You will witness the scale of the loss through the 19,240 shroud-clad figures marking every soldier who died on 1 July 1916 – each carrying an individual’s name.

You should reflect on the poetry written by ordinary men.

You can visit the Somme and stand silent in this bleak but beautiful landscape where the lost lives continue to be remembered. Not just today, but every day.

And you must listen.

Listen to the words of long-dead young men, such as 20 year old Second Lieutenant Jocelyn Buxton, killed on the first day of battle:

https://youtu.be/CPetbQs_k0g

Listen to the memories of the ‘silent generation’ who shared rare recollections, recorded by the BBC in the 1960s:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/group/p01tbj6p

Because when history is recorded, it must be remembered through the words of those who were there. When someone is lost, it is their voice that we long to hear again.

We are so busy talking and writing and sharing, that we fail to take the time to listen. Just listen. Properly listen. To those around us. To understand their perspective.

Listening is the only way to understand what others feel, think and experience.

Listening is ephemeral – it is hard to create a lasting trace of voices as they can fade fast in our memories.

Listening lacks the presence of seeing and doing. Yet, we need to be present to do it well.

As you’ve engaged with the visuality of my words, reflect on their sound in your head. My words are not important but the personal space where you listen is.

In their personal space 19,240 young listened to the real horrors of war. 100 years ago today. Before they fell silent.

 


Statistics sources:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/timelines/ztngxsg
http://www.historyextra.com/feature/somme-terrible-learning-curve