I really like engaging with people over Facebook and Twitter, and reaching out on my website here. I’ve never seen it as a replacement for communicating in other ways but it’s another tool and I enjoy it.
The problem is that it’s 100% written and I’m severely dyslexic. I’ve explained this in comments and discussions too right from the start and I’ve noticed that very kind people who follow my pages often explain my spelling and grammar challenges to people who write things about it. It always makes me smile when I see that because it’s not about politics it’s about civility and us all looking out for each other as human beings and local residents.
On Twitter it’s harder to get to know people, especially as my profile has raised as I’ve been more involved in the biggest challenges facing us and getting stuck in to debates on TV and the media.
Most people are kind when I get things wrong, and often really funny in response to my mistakes. But there’s always a small group of people who, for whatever reason, can be really personal and just plain nasty in their response to a simple spelling mistake.
I spend a lot of time trying to understand what life is like for other people, to empathise and understand what makes people respond in the ways they do. So I don’t think it’s entirely unfair to ask others to do the same for me.
In order to do that I have to explain and help people understand. So this time last week I wrote a series of Tweets explaining my dyslexia to help people understand what it’s like for me, the impact it’s had on my life since I was a kid, and how I deal with it now as an adult and MP. My intention was to leave the Tweets there so I could paste links to anyone who wrote something disrespectful in the future in the hope of civilising the discussion.
When I woke up the next day things had really taken off. I was stunned. Thousands of people had engaged with the Tweets which had been seen by two million people. I was invited only radio and tv programmes to talk about it. I was stunned.
But most amazing of all was people’s response. I was totally inundated with messages, from our community, the country, and right around the world. Messages via email and social media and through the post, the offices in parliament and Hove were flooded! All of us who work on ‘team Hove and Portslade’ were so moved by it. Some of the messages were touching, others hilarious, and a few were heartbreaking.
It was a very busy week last week with everything going on in parliament, but very late one night I sat in my office into the middle of the night going through a massive pile of correspondence. What people were writing clearly had a lot of personal meaning to those who took the time to write and I owed it to them to read and absorb each story.
I heard from a surgeon who always gets in to work early as her colleagues are judgemental and doesn’t want them to know it taker her longer to read case files. A senior civil servant who takes piles of work home every night for fear of being judged and has never told a single person about his struggles. A youngster from India who said my description of my dyslexia described his situation perfectly, but he endures daily humiliation as his school doesn’t offer extra support. I had people giving me tips and advice and doctors offering to come and give me an updated assessment. It was all a little overwhelming.
When I was last assessed I was told I had the writing and comprehension age of 8 years and three months. That in certain areas I was in the bottom one percentile, in others the top one. Like many dyslexics, certain mental capabilities are broken down into extremes.
I had a lot of affection for my school and teachers growing up, but I hated education. Having to return to secondary school at the age of 25 was the most humiliating experience of my life, but it also gave me a mission in life and politics too.
I have no idea why some people link spelling with innate intelligence, and I have no idea why a simple spelling error is grounds for others to launch an incredibly personal attack. For those of us in public life who try our best to remain uncynical and emotionally accessible, it can be very wounding.
When you look at the people being driven out of politics at the moment, those standing down as MP’s, there’s a great number of them who are moderate, non-tribal, and have been able to connect with political opponents in order to find ways forward whilst still disagreeing with them respectfully in others.
There is no doubt in my mind that empathetic people are being driven out of politics and being put off getting into politics in the first place. What’s bitterly sad about this is when you look at the hole our politics has got itself into, we’re not getting out unless we have people with empathy leading the way.
These are themes I’m really keen to talk about in addition to the big issues you need me to get stuck-in on. So this weekend I took part in a profile piece for the Telegraph where I could talk about it. I hope there’ll be more opportunities to do so in the future too.
I’ve enclosed a copy of the interview to avoid their paywall! There’s a link to it here too: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/…/dont-know-trendy-able-spell-…/
And BBC coverage here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-50206103
And here are my tweets: https://twitter.com/peterkyle/status/1188591222413234176
I know these are issues that affect a lot of people. It’s been one of the most amazing experiences to know that my own story has touched, connected, or resonated with others. If there’s a kid out there who hears about it and realises that if I can make it to being an MP then they can overcome their own daily challenges and fulfil their potential too, then my mission is complete!