As I sit and write this blog, the summer break seems a long time ago. I relish the summer for the time it allows me to unwind, read books, newspapers, listen to the radio; to reflect and indeed breathe deeply and calmly.
But this summer I found it more difficult to unwind as my sources of calm were anything but! All forms of media seemed to highlight the increasingly entrenched positions people were beginning to take on every issue. People seem more divided than ever, more polarised and less willing to consider the opposing view – it was as if their way, was the right way, their view was the right view, their knowledge was the truth, and an opposing view was fake news. Whether it was Brexit, climate change, Trump or even Taratino’s new movie, the response seems to be so binary – you are either for it or against it – there is nothing in between. There is no room for ambivalence, no time to ponder, no real attempt to see or more importantly understand alternative perspectives.
Too often we think we have to have a view, we have to have an opinion; and that it has to be right because it is ours.
I put this to the girls at our first whole school assembly. I believe that actually not knowing something, being uncertain about an issue, not immediately knowing the answer, or being aware that in many things there is no right answer was a good thing. It leads to very productive questioning. It leads us to be open, to listen to alternative perspectives, to look at the evidence, to investigate the assumptions and not jump to holding an entrenched position.
I feel strongly that if we can’t see alternative perspectives there is no common ground and without common ground conversations cannot take place. Being ambivalent and seeing different perspectives, allows us to walk in someone else’s zone in order to learn more. Seeing different perspectives provides the bridge between two sides, it enables us to meet in the middle – it is what allows a democracy to flourish and a dictatorship to fail. Instead of that childlike split of good vs bad, love vs hate, right vs wrong – we move to one that recognises that an idea can have good and bad points, we can love and hate someone at the same time, and in doing so we can tolerate people, accept and celebrate differences.
I gave them the example of Nelson Mandela who spent many years negotiating with people who had imprisoned him for 28 years, trying to understand their fears, being open and seeing their perspectives and in doing so was able to break down the forced segregation of whites and blacks, leading to the first democratic election in South Africa.
In this volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world, mastering this learner attribute has never been more important. Our girls need to be open-minded and not have entrenched views; they need to build that bridge across common ground and in doing so become modern democratic human beings.
As I looked across the Assembly Hall I reminded them that this is where it starts…