A boy in Luton was deeply impacted by the Guidelines for Dialogue.
Birjeet* was one of 8 students from a local secondary school who took part in a Transforming Dialogue Course at his school. His teacher had selected him to take part because he had a tendency to shout down others’ points of view and approach differences in perspective argumentatively as he defended his beliefs, rooted in the Sikh faith.
During the course, the group looked at different guidelines for dialogue.
Firstly he was quite impacted by Do not tell others what they believe; let them tell you. He often felt angry when others assumed he was a Muslim, simply because he was Asian.
Then he was impacted by Do not judge people here by what some people of their faith or community do. Again he felt the brunt of people’s prejudices against Muslims as soon as another terrorist attack hit the news because people assumed he was Muslim. He began to understand how it felt to be Muslim in the wake of these events and the damage it does to judge individuals by the actions of others whose group you are (or are perceived to be) part of.
But mostly he was impacted by Listen to what everyone has to say and Do not force people to agree with your views. He began to see that it wasn’t about being right or convincing others they were wrong. The value of dialogue was in the interaction with the other, learning to see it from the point of view of the other, and accepting them for who they were.
His teacher was amazed to see the change in Birjeet’s behaviour in the classroom. She noticed that he was listening to other’s points of view, even when he disagreed. He had moreover learnt the skill of drawing out their point of view further by asking questions, not in order to shout them down, but in order to understand where someone else was coming from.
At the end of the course, when we asked the students if and how they had been impacted by taking part in the course, he humbly said: “I have come to understand that it’s not okay to respond in certain ways. I have learnt to respect others even if I don’t agree with and I can now voice my own opinion in a more appropriate way … without arguing.”
*Not his real name