This is a guest-post from Afis, a student at Mulberry Academy Shoreditch, who recently took part in our Developing Identity Programme that took place at the school.
As a student I had the opportunity to work with the interfaith charity, The Feast, where we did a series of workshops which explored the Guidelines for Dialogue. We focused on how we can have discourse with people of contrasting and opposing beliefs, whilst still being civil and understanding. The Feast workshops have influenced me a lot since, and I will reflect on the impact that the sessions have had on me.
One of the activities that stuck with me was the gingerbread man activity. We had to fill out an outline of a gingerbread man with what we believe we are perceived as vs. what we actually are. I had never actually considered what the difference is between what I am perceived as and what I actually am, and how this can affect my interactions with other people. I never thought about how the way people perceive me would dictate the way that they would act towards me. This made me consider the importance of the way I present myself when encountering new people, as well as the way I present myself when having discourse with the people I already know.
Another activity that stuck with me was the one where we were given stock images of random people and we had to assume their names, what their hobbies are and what they are good and bad at. This activity helped me to see how easy it is for us to assume things about people upon first glance, but then it further showed me how hard it is for us to justify those things and how irrational our first impressions can be. I found myself saying “I don’t know” a lot when I was asked why I gave a person a certain name or hobbies or interests. It made me consider more why people can follow stereotypes or other prejudices when they have no other information to go on. This links to the Guideline “Do not treat someone as a spokesperson for their faith” and this, for me, is the hardest Guideline to follow. It is the one which I have to actively think about the most because our brains are wired to make assumptions and estimations based on the information we already have. We have to actively ensure – when encountering people of different world views or experiences – that we don’t allow ourselves to fall into the stereotypes we tend to create out of comfort.
The other activity that had an impact on me was the iceberg activity where we had a picture of an iceberg. The small part which we could see above the surface was people’s actions and opinions, but all the parts beneath (the majority of the iceberg) are made up of things like the person’s religion and their experiences. This activity struck me because it made me not only consider how other people are more complex than we believe but also how I myself am more complex than I believed. This activity made me consider how people’s actions are based on their experiences and world views. For example someone who recycles may do it because they believe that the earth is the only planet we have and that we must take care of it; or someone who is vegan may do it because they value all life and they believe that animals deserve to be treated with dignity. This activity made me consider how we tend to be unable to afford other people complexities that we afford ourselves and how we need to understand why people act the way they do by conversing with them. That is why it is so important to be able to have the respectful discourse, so that we can strive to understand ourselves and each other.