FSU Jena conference recap: Creating a more inclusive society
Us vs. the others? Why do we actually think in such categories? Who defines who is ‘us’ or ‘the others’?
Such questions were raised during the conference hosted by the Melton Foundation at Friedrich Schiller University (FSU) in Jena, Germany on June 17 and 18. With the conference, FSU Melton Fellows created a space for diverse communities to meet, to get to know each other and to exchange stories.
But what does it take to break this type of divisive thinking that breaks people into categories? First, we need to understand social psychological dynamics, to which participants were introduced by Larissa Nägler and Stefanie Hechler of FSU’s Social Psychology Department. They presented similarities between groups that normally don’t follow the same norms and morals, such as extremists on both the left and right ends of the political spectrum. They say there are few bad people, but a lot of bad circumstances – understanding these circumstances can help us encourage group processes that facilitate understanding and reconciliation.
Discussions in society are going on about how “they” have to integrate themselves into “our” culture, that “they” need to learn “our” language and that “they” have to follow “our” rules and would be better off abandoning their own cultural rituals. This is exactly what makes Dr. Luisa Conti (Intercultural Communication & Economics, FSU) very angry. According to her, the discussion in changing societies should not be about culture: the discussion is rather about power and privilege. She called on the audience to help deconstruct existing “fictions” – the dominant discourse that leads to the oppression of certain groups of people.
“We have to take the dynamic and plural nature of our identities into consideration,” Dr. Conti said.
As Pedro Poblete Lasserre (Senior Fellow) told his own migration story, he also reflected upon power dynamics. He invited the audience to reflect upon their own privileges and oppressions. His advice is: Shut up an listen. We want to be heard, and so do “the others” – that’s why we need a space to create dialogue, said Christine Carabain from NCDO (Netherlands National Committee for International Cooperation and Sustainable Development) – which is the only way societies can become more inclusive and can develop an understanding of global citizenship.
To engage in dialogue and exchange stories, we must be aware of cultural appropriate language. Frauke Peisker from the nonprofit organization Kindersprachbrücke trains teachers on intercultural sensitivity and helps them use the main tool humans have: Language. In her workshop, she took participants through situations where they themselves realize the power of language.
After listening to such diverse speakers and workshop facilitatos, one can be optimistic: it seems to be possible to create a future together – once people reflect upon their personal privilege, get off their ego trips, and are sensitive to truly listen to the stories of others.