Learning in Difference
It has been six weeks since we began our Rotary Peace Fellows’ journey and I would like to reflect on what it means to learn in an environment of difference. I talk about difference rather than about diversity. Difference acknowledges that ‘diversity’ is actually different across many dimensions. While diversity can paint a simplistic, rosy picture, difference is more of a middle path term. Difference reminds us of both the joys and the difficulties of meeting, spending time, working and learning with different people. As a group, we speak so many different languages, have different nationalities and citizenships, come from different disciplines, have different communication preferences and styles, have different faiths, as well as skills, strengths, weak points and blind spots. These make our class a thrilling space to inhabit. These same differences mean that we are constantly in a learning environment that is multi-cultural, multi-disciplinary, and multi-lingual – I could go on. It is a space that lends itself to creativity and lets us step outside our comfort zone.
I think this wide array of differences is one of the strongest points of the Rotary Peace Fellows Program as a learning experience. It requires effort from us to create a space where communication and understanding can flow. What does this mean in the day-to-day of our classes and other activities? First, we are called to listen. In our classes we have learnt about deep listening, the considerate and open exercise of listening until the end, having the discipline to let silence happen, without interrupting the other person’s train of thought. It is harder than it sounds, because the tendency and the temptation to respond quickly can be strong. It is a call to be compassionate with those who speak to us. Second, we must speak in ‘international English’ free of the jargon and informal terms we use in our familiar disciplinary or cultural environments. Those from specialist backgrounds are practicing this constantly. Third, we need to maintain an open and curious attitude, but balance it with respect for the boundaries of what others may be able to share or explain. This is a fine line to walk. But we have seen some of the rewards of this in our class. There are many more skills that we are practicing or acquiring to make this a rich space. So, aside from all the very relevant content we receive and the exercises we do, we also get to practice a wide range of skills that are necessary to build peace. I am grateful for the opportunity to learn this way and to contribute to building this learning experience.
Diana Arbelaez Ruiz – Australia/Colombia
Rotary Peace Fellow – Class 28