About the author: Cherline Bazile is our summer intern through the Future Leaders Programme. She a student at Harvard University and experiences with our small team the world of active citizenship and community empowerment.
On May 21 I went to an event on Adhocracy held by Synathina at the Onassis Cultural Center in Athens. Prior to the start of the event I walked by different exhibitions that depicted the way different members of society took apart conventions to design fresh solutions or provide thought-provoking commentary on power dynamics in our society. According to a caption near one of the exhibits, adhocracy changes “…the system by changing the way we value, produce and distribute things, and the way we interact and affect the environment….” And so in the name of adhocracy, 10 city officials and 10 leaders from civil society organizations tried to holistically come to solutions to the divide between citizens and the municipality.
The two groups occupied a side of the space and sat at one of two tables on each side. Dark shelves blocked the municipality and civil actors from seeing each other, though they could hear what the other had to say. I sat at on the side of civil agents, clueless to what the workshop entailed. They began introductions. When they got to me, I searched for some indicator of what was going on until a woman next to me whispered in English, Introduce yourself. This is when I started to panic. I couldn’t understand Greek and had little knowledge of Athens’ civil society to contribute. And yet here I was watching as the members of my group scribbled down problems between civil agents and municipality on a large piece of paper. It was all Greek to me. So I latched onto their spoken words–a desperate hope that somehow with exposure, my brain would grasp the sounds and then the meaning within them.
And then something strange happened: I started to understand. It wasn’t the magical clarity that I had hoped for when I first strained to catch the words. Rather, I stopped feeling self conscious about the language barrier and focused instead on the expressions on their faces, their body language, and what was said in the dynamics. I noticed that even when the shelves were removed and the groups were encouraged to collaborate, the city officials did not talk to public sector leaders outside of the arbitrary structure of the workshop. Members from both groups yelled over each other, belittled ideas, interrupted the moderator who was supposed to facilitate communication. And even though they could speak the same language, they did not understand each other.
Holding a workshop to discuss alternate ways to bridge the gap between civil society and the municipality facilitated dialogue and brought the two groups together to find solutions to perceived problems. But for meaningful dialogue to occur, we must learn to step outside of ourselves. That is where the real listening happens