Amidst a chaotic weekend at the World Social Forum, PlacetoB hosted our first conversation circle. What started with strangers sharing their stories, ended in an intense and thoughtful discussion about diversity, language and collective struggle.
One of the participants spoke about the discrimination he grew up with in the small village he came from in Jordan. He spoke about how he and his community were treated differently, often poorly, because of the colour of their skin, their last name or the beliefs they were associated with.
He said that he was relieved when he moved to Canada, as he felt that diversity was more widely accepted. Although he has still struggled to find his place, he firmly believes that it is necessary to be open to diverse perspectives.
We took turns sharing personal stories, of times we have faced discrimination, prejudice, exclusion or shame, due to an aspect of ourselves that was considered different. We spoke about the concept of “the other,” and how some spaces, institutions and organizations segregate people, due to difference, rather than focusing on our intersections of common interest.
We posed the questions: What is diversity? Is diversity important in our work? What are some examples of when the acceptance of diverse perspectives has been successful?
The participants spoke about experiences of leaving homelands, building new communities, traveling and the moments we realized the limits of subjective experience.
As a group, we agreed that difference, whether surface or fundamental, were extremely relevant to our struggles for change, peace and resolution. We discussed a diagram of an iceberg, an example often used in conflict resolution efforts.
The diagram highlights the idea that there are aspects of ourselves that are visible, more obvious and often more widely accepted. This could be how we look, how we dress, how we speak. Like the bottom of an iceberg, there are also parts of ourselves that are hidden and which perhaps come out in time. These have to do with our ideas and fundamental beliefs, which are more essential to our idea of self and belonging.
These differences, the ones that help construct our idea of place and purpose, are so sensitive, that they often create tension between groups. It is often possible to trace the root of conflict down to deep fundamental differences in belief.
In addressing how we, as active members in our societies seek solutions, we realized that there is often a stress to remain positive. This objective can be difficult, when also attempting to deal with issues so dear to our identities and world-views. How do we balance being positive and empathetic in our struggles, while also addressing the deeper roots of conflict?
“More than just dialogue, people need to do something together,” said one of the participants. She shared a story about an organization that linked young Israelis with young Palestinians, focusing on creating a space for members of the two communities to share stories.
We wondered, could this act of creating conversation potentially normalize violence and struggle? Rather than create a sense of empathy and urgency? Perhaps beyond conversations, we should engage in activities with one another, going beyond discussion.
We discussed the power of relationship-building. When we develop relationships with people, we learn to link a word, a country, a conflict to a face, a friend, a memory. The impersonal becomes personal and empathy has a place to grow.
How do we take this idea of building relationships, in order to plant seeds of empathy, and centre it in our efforts for social and political change? How do we ensure that we are constantly creating space for diverse voices to be heard and represented in a way that creates equity? How do we find ways to value story-telling and demand cross-cultural consideration?
At this point, our minds were alert, our hearts ignited and we felt inspired to carry forward the lessons shared.
The Conversation continuous circle, today and tomorrow at Place to B’s fireplace, in the Society for Arts and Technology (SAT), from 11:30 to 1:00. All are welcome to join and share Their Stories, Struggles and Solutions.