Resilience and Relationships in School
07 May 2007

Next week I'm due to help lead a two-day Discover the Other workshop for about 100 year-nine students in the Australian International Academy, one of Melbourne's leading Muslim schools. We did a workshop there a few months back for a smaller number of kids, so this is a sign that they have appreciated what we offered.

Discover the Other is a program of workshops that I helped develop a couple of years ago, which focus on offering tools for building better relationships. The starting premise is that we are all different, that we find differences hard, but that by 'discovering the other' our lives are enriched. The program is built around four 'keys to relationships': Stepping out of your comfort zone – overcoming our initial fears of 'the other', Listening – not just talking or projecting our own thoughts onto others, Focusing on 'what is right' not 'who is right' – because our great big egos keep confusing things, and finally, Starting with yourself – because if anything needs to change, this is where it has to start.

This time the school has asked for us to specifically focus on 'resilience'. The Muslim community in Australia is under a lot of pressure and many students find themselves in a hard place. (My impression is that young Australians in general face a lot of pressure – the 'lucky country' has one of the highest youth suicide rates in the world. But that will have to be the subject of another blog entry). So I find myself thinking about this theme and how we can offer the best value in our workshop.

We are going to start by looking at identity – having a deep sense of knowing who you are and what your values and aspirations are. Then we are going to move on to building relationships. My own memories of school are of how hard it can be to show vulnerability and risk being ridiculed. A large part of resilience is about getting the right support. If we can help kids learn that it is OK to be vulnerable with each other and to ask for support then I think we will have done something good.

If anyone has any suggestions then please let me know. I'll let you know how it goes!


Hi Mike,
I'd love to know more about your programme especially being involved a bit in the French programme of Peace education in schools.
I'm a trained HR consultant and focus on cross-cultural conflicts.
As far as my experience goes understanding how the other 'functions' is important for acceptation of a different identity.Our 'western' identification of the factors of identity as uniquenes,coherence, continuity and self-image aimed at the psychological autonomy of the idividual might not apply in other cultures. There the concept of interdependance might lead to an 'outsourcing' ( or projection) of the above mentioned criteria on other people ( members of the family, priest or even ghosts etc.) and with that expectations and concepts very different from ours.
For multi-cultured kids there might even be different layers that are concerned- ie concepts and beliefs depending on situation and environment.
In my experience prejudice and lack of esteem can grow simply out of different beliefs being based on different cultures. For example I've seen two people accusing each other to be gay simply because they came from different cultural beliefs and as such had a behaviour that wouldn't fit in the other's concept.

Would love to exchange more on that
Daniele de Lutzel
Daniele de Lutzel, 07 May 2007

Thanks Daniele,

Yes, there are lots of traps that we can fall into through judging other peoples behaviours through the lens of my own cultural assumptions. I like to tell the story (found in Peter Senge's The Fifth Discipline) of the woman whose co-workers assumed was cold and unsociable because she didn't respond to greetings and turned down invitations to socialize after work. In fact the real reason was that the woman had a hearing disability.

This is why we focus a lot on developing listening skills in the workshop, and part of that is recognizing our own internal filters - both personal and cultural. I use the analogy of making the holes in the filters bigger = raising awareness/consciousness. And the best way to raise consciousness is to be in the habit of listening in silence.

But we also recognize that we can never become experts on other people and other cultures, and that in our ignorance we will make mistakes and possibly cause offense. So another thing we try to do in a multicultural world is to normalize those mistakes, to make it OK and a part of the learning process. When we step outside our comfort zones (whatever they may be) we become vulnerable and other people outside their comfort zones are vulnerable as well. So we need a lot of love, humility and big sense of humour to deal with the mistakes that we will make.
Mike Lowe, 07 May 2007

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