Understanding is key to learning to live together

This article was published on the AFS Perspectives Blog.

The city that never sleeps, New York is famous as one of the world’s best known melting pots of culture. Between May and October last year there was an art exhibition installed at New York’s Brooklyn Bridge Park, which is neither right in the city center nor a famous art gallery site. It took me awhile to get to this open public space, but this journey was also metaphorically perfectly suited for this exhibition.

The artist Martin Creed’s work was simple, direct, and open for interpretations. It reminded me of giant commercial neon signs, but there was a difference. The goal of the exhibition wasn’t to sell a product, but rather to inspire people to think and take action. The word “Understanding”, was the focus point of the exhibition. “Spelled out in ten–foot–tall letters mounted on a 50–foot–long steel I–beam, Understanding rotates 360 degrees, constantly shifting perspective on the work. The beam spins at varying speeds, the rhythm determined by a computerized program designed by the artist.” [source]

The space around the main installation allowed visitors to sit and hang out. I was very curious about this exhibition, so during the summer I grabbed a book and went to see it. When I arrived to my destination on a Sunday afternoon, a huge word, Understanding, was rotating under the very bright sun and there were two young people, probably from different cultures and backgrounds, sitting and talking to each other. It was a very good moment and scene for a photographer to capture it. I looked at these two young people for a short time, captured the moment in my memory, and then joined the scene as a new character with my book.

We all have heard terrible news from all around the world, and politics became a part of daily live for some of us, even if they were not directly related to where we live and the people we know. In all of this craziness and mess we were actually missing this word, understanding, and some time to digest all the news we receive with the right background information. We interact with people from different settings, and even though sometimes we do not notice it, reaching an understanding is not very easy, especially in unclear circumstances. It takes some time and effort. Without understanding each other we can not learn from each other, we can not have effective communication, and most importantly we can not manage to live together. Learning to live together is one of the most important things that we need to achieve and without understanding each other we won’t be able to reach our goal.

The good news is that there are tools out there to help us get a better understanding before making our judgements. Just like Martin Creed’s work was open for interpretations, all of our daily interactions are also open for them. What we need are the right tools and a little “thinking” time before making our judgement. Two of these tools, the D.I.V.E. Model and O.D.I.S exercise, are described in one of Intercultural Learning for AFSers and Friends documents called “Tools to Suspend Judgment”. Both of these practical tools are very helpful for effective and appropriate communication, and help you in make a good decision and not jump to conclusions in unclear or strange circumstances. Using tools like these two, making them a part of our lives, and sharing them with other people can increase the level of understanding between different individuals around the world.

“AFS was founded with the understanding that there is a pressing need for cultures to overcome conflicts and to build a more just and peaceful world. Today, the need to achieve peaceful solutions to conflicts between cultures is still an urgent matter and AFS is part of the solution.” [source: AFS Educational Goals]

Take a role in #AFSeffect, develop, use and share your knowledge with others and help them to improve themselves too! Let’s try to understand each other and become a part of the solution rather than the conflict.

See more about the exhibition here.