One of the problems with contemporary society as I see it is the desire to slap labels on people, categorise everybody and then draw assumptions founded on generalised perceptions. We all do it, whether we are conscious of it or not, and much of my work in involved with highlighting some of the absurdities which ensue.
For this reason, I believe that encounters at a one-to-one level with individuals from different backgrounds are vital and important for the general well-being of the world we live in. This week in Leeds I have been fortunate to share in a couple of opportunities to meet with people where I’ve had to put aside assumptions and preconceptions, and not surprisingly, it has all given me a lot of food for thought.
In the first meeting, a group of Jews met with a group of Muslims, with secular and Christian facilitators and observers. I arrived late, and walked into a wonderfully happy atmosphere of laughter and shared stories. In a sense, you might ask why this shouldn’t be so? After all, the participants were there voluntarily, and so were a self-selecting group of individuals predisposed to want to meet “the other side”. But still, in an age where we still remain ready to demonise, it is easier to remain within the known, and keep distance from the unknown, and assume that’s the case for everyone else. It’s not, of course, and I think it is important that people know these human encounters take place, not just in Leeds, but all over the world, and all the time.
What this group discovered was how much in common they shared; not least their readiness to meet the ‘other’ and start to break through barriers of fear, caution, even prejudice. Every participant shared an openness of mind, and a willingness to explore assumptions. It was heart-warming and encouraging. Some may say it’s not enough, it can’t help in the big scheme of things. I don’t about that, but I do know a start has to be made somewhere, and I’m a firm believer in ripple effects.