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The Re-focusing and Main-streaming of Dignity and Respect

into Education for Peace and Human Rights

 

Sung Yong Park (Ph.D,/Representative

Nonviolent Peaceforce Corea

 

Our tragic reality

 

Oppression and control is showing a very strong power in every single corner of adults’ and teenagers’ daily life. These operate in the all levels of belief, emotion and institution, and become a reality in our family, schools, local communities and in cyber-space. Offensive speech and behavior such criticism, ignorance, insults and the violent correspondence against conflicts interact as wounds, separation, depression, anger, attacks; the result is a vicious circle in which we injure other people and ourselves.


If there are events that shocked the Korean education reality after 2010, those would be the school bullying that became a big issue after the suicide of a middle school student in Daegu, December, 2011 and the sinking of Seawol ship last April which caused the death of about 300 students. In case of Seawol ship's sinking, despite the fact that passengers had the chance to be saved for and hour and a half, despite the fact that a life boat and a helicopter arrived, the tragical catastrophe of being unable to escape because of the instruction announcement “Stay still” shows us the reality of control and oppression. Furthermore, it has become a messenger to show the failure of the nation’s common system of safety and education system is now unbearably collapsable. The fact that the air we breathe, language we speak and listen to is filled with control and oppression arouses a reflection towards our miserable reality, as well as confusion and despair.


Although we may be living in a high-tec era of techniques and information, we experience ‘brutality with the face of civilization;’ Dissolving families, students who find it difficult to adapt to school, people and minorities whom is out of the range of social care and safety. The higher we go in the high-rise building of power and efficiency the bigger the shadow of dark oppression, control and violence grows. The identity of this shadow is ‘treating each other as no-person.’


Our tragical reality’s core problem of ‘treating each other as no-person(unimportant human beings)’ has built its own epistemology, ethical practice, and institutional system and binds our society. Power(influence, status, economic power, honor) shows its might of what we should see, how we should act, what system we should make and maintain. The 'no-persons' are the ones who cannot perform any role in this magnetic field of power, this being so, their pain and reality are neither heard nor realized. Not only that they are unheard and unrealized, they are not able to be in an active relationship. These no-persons are "Otherizing" rather as ‘inferior’ or ‘dangerous’ beings, labeled as objects in need of regulation and correction.


The moment they become "otherizing", the attitude and behavior towards the Others becomes rationalized. Through the logic of ‘us verses them,’ looking down and excluding the people included in ‘them’ are understood as natural and normal. At this point, when the relationship towards ‘them’ are twisted or severed, they fall into ‘unimportant beings’ and disappears from our interest. Therefore if someone mentions a person whom is already out of our interest, we feel uncomfortable.


If peace educators, human right activists or restorative practitioner mention these uncomfortable matters, that itself could be partly a kind thing, however, it doesn’t approach the people as a ‘normal’ matter. That is only occurred in the margin of society, and is denied to approach the center. Some elites may be touched in some measure by ‘them’ doing kind work, but there is an existing logic between themselves; let ‘them’ peace educators do the job only around the margin, and keep the power among ‘us’ who stay in the center. Confirming, telling each other “Life is reality. It isn’t a romantic event.”

 

 

Refocusing on dignity and respect in daily life

 

Where should we start again to restore the vicious Circle of the repetition of this mournful reality? As for this point, a clear common basis is provided by peace education, human right education, and the restorative discipline. That is thorough cognition and practice of the dignity of every creation and human beings, and respecting it. Dignity is a realization of a live being’s original worth and value, Respect is an act of response and an ethical behavior towards the original worth.


My insistence is that we go over the existing discourses of liberation education such as right and responsibility fighting for, accuse and anger about injustice, moral 'must-do' and world literacy as a way of resistance, and attain toward liberation education for the deeper essential. It might mean an affirmative educational approach based on a fundamental experience of life called dignity and respect.


Figuratively speaking, let us suppose that we are living in a dark cellar. In order to remove the smell, we need to know how to. We then think that we must know how to get rid of molds, and to avoid rats and other insects. These awareness of needs each exhausts us, takes the joy of life, and lets us think that the place we live is always a tough and dangerous place. How about letting the sunlight and wind in that dark cellar? There may be some harmful insects, but do we not live more easily, enjoy life more, and feel that our living space is comfortable and safe comparing to the way of living that was mentioned before?


If we say that the dark cellar is our tragic reality, the things that must do search for a way to let the sense of dignity and respect come into our daily life and space, just the way we tried to let the sun and wind in. This would be a way of a more effective result. In fact, the symptoms of misery that we experience, - being hurt, separation/isolation, criticism, anger, hatred, violence and institutional injustice- if we look at them, is not the point made by the lack of dignity and respect?


The lack of dignity and respect causes a habitual reaction that evokes pain, and the memory of pain causes us to build more pain through the 3F's- Fight, Flight, Frozen, which harms or distorts the relationship. When one feels that the value of dignity is threatened or unappreciated, anyone would feel emotions such as anxiety, humilation, shame, fear. Furthermore, in this situation it makes one do anything in order to stop or avoid those feelings without letting them think of the damage the results would cause. Rationality stops to function; one cannot achieve what they expected, and they face a more difficult situation.


For example, let me assume that there was a conflict within a family due to house chores, or that a heated argument had started in an academic discussion, or among two people in a pub who each had a different view of politics. When dignity and respect is lost, three elements within these conflicts would get worse. First, they would not be remotely close to the clear understanding of the talking subject. More than focusing on the subject, they would be more into criticising the other’s character they would leave the actual topic. Second, the relationship between the two aggravates. Because of the language of criticism, the relationship they have does not seem to be important anymore; it vanishes from the prospect of cognition. Third, self-worth collapses. Arguments gives both pessimistic judgement of the other’s identity as well as pessimistic influence to one own’s identity.


The degenerated influence of these three are the situations that happens when the understanding of dignity of human beings is lost and when the respect for interaction is lost. Conversation in daily life, lessons and learning in education are the factors that makes the following three sound. First, how can a learning community discern what is important to them, and how can they approach the chosen issue with clear understanding? Second, how can we build a relationship based on trust, ‘thinking with’ and ‘do with’ each other about the important issue? Third, how could one’s identity proceed to learning and growing through the relationships with others and the issue that is being dealt?


In this prospective, dignity and respect does not only build friendly relationships, but also acts as a center role of reinforcing the rational operation of understanding. Without dignity and respect, our cold intelligence falls to a objective, instrumental tool; it breaks the life exercise that depended on interrelationship and identity, and abstracts it so that we cannot listen to the inner voice of our soul, and become blind of other’s pain as well. We lose our general sense of ‘what is actually happening’ as well as the ability to empathize with another, which results in an objective, instrumental downfall of others. This is the cause of the pitiful reality we experience.

 

 

Routinizing dignity and respect, grafting to teaching/learning

 

There are a few reasons why dignity and respect is described as a main topic, and why it is being reflected in ethics subjects, peace education, human rights education and restorative discipline. First, until now dignity and respect as the sunshine and wind have not been properly thought as core-subject in these educational dimension by the light of education of ‘resistance and criticism’ against the dark cellar. Second, even though these core subject is delivered, they just become intellectual, abstract subjects, but are not embodied in the process of delivering-speaking, listening, thinking, deciding, acting-. The third reason is that it is only learned and delivered in curriculum schedules; it has not soaked into the daily scenes of education that it cannot be experienced in a living reality.


Despite the fact that dignity and respect is an old topic, the reason why these needs to become a core-subject in peace education, human rights education and restorative discipline is that a reality of life has the characteristics of interdependence and interconnection, so without the fundamental empathy and behavior of dignity and respect we cannot completely connect with that reality and comes within the reason of not being able to comprehend the reality. Knowing means more than a mere intellectual thing, it is joining as a whole being, and in order for that participation be a conversation, and to contribute to the wholeness of reality, without being an invasion, offense, or occupation, it is difficult for other things to come into the truth of happenings and objects except for dignity and respect. In the name of peace, human rights and restorative practice, how many assertion did we make, and we should reflect whether the attitude of the educator when approaching the learner is not actually the way of force, violation, or ruling.


If the proverb ‘There are no ways to peace. Peace is the way,’ is true, it is also the true that without dignity and respect, peace would not be a living reality. Because if reality’s nature is communal, and if the observer and the object of observation is to be connected within the awareness of reality, dignity and respect are necessary. Therefore, dignity and respect have not only mere ethical characteristics, it is also a request of reality itself, according to its epistemic ontological nature.


Parker Palmer, a quaker education philosopher said that if we agree that teaching/learning is to procure a ‘safe space the truth can be communicated,’ dignity and respect themselves will arouse the soul’s inner sincerity of truth, allows true communication, and provides a safe space where no one intrudes the psychological territory of another. The ‘inner teacher’ which he explained that is within everyone will go beyond the border line called the classroom, and help to act in every single field of daily life.


Dignity and respect is formed in the basis on the epistemology of the heart, which allows to receive and talk of objects, events, relationship and circumstances soundly and to progress further to a new possibility. It is not merely about the connection of the object of what it is. Furthermore, the mistakes, errors, damage, deviation that happens in our life occurs to ambiguity, finitude of every human life and the vulnerability of human beings. These actually permits the opportunity to individual learning and community growth through healing, restoration, reconciliation and voluntary reunion, if dignity and respect are secured.

 

 

Realizing dignity and respect in classrooms and daily life

 

What we need for dignity and respect to be realized in our daily life is to apply it to the 4 elements thoughts, feelings, needs, actions- that arouses when we encounter and react to objects and events. Here we practice actions based on compassionate listening, honest speaking, and mutual needs-based actions. Because these 3 elements is, in fact, the center of every action we take.


Compassionate listening is to hold off my judgements and interpretations and welcome the Other's speaking through empathy and hospitality with my whole existence. It is to accept the other’s speakingwhether the other is an object, an event, a relationship, or a human- without judgement or resistance, in order to let the latent meaning and intent hidden beneath the apparent surface of words speak up in our hearts. Especially when someone else speaks of criticism, do not judge by the identity of the listener, defer judgement and understand it as a different expression of the inner feeling and the need of realizing inside the speaker. This also includes attentive listening putting off one’s one reaction, while guessing the other’s feelings, needs and intention. (Welcoming, deferring, attentive listening)


Honest speaking is to connect the intelligence that exchanges information and judges right or wrong with our heart and to let us speak through the soul. This includes knowing what kinds of intention and need that you wish to realize, and speaking of what it feels like when you try to speak. Speaking through the soul means not the usual language act we use as judgements of a objective fact of truth, it means building up disciplines combining the meaning(good) and the feelings of affection(beauty) besides of the truth(truth). Furthermore, the meaning of ‘honest’ is not the form of my words going over to the listener, it is using the I-statement which expresses the truth of one’s inner side. (Speaking through the soul combining the truth, good and beauty, using the I-statement)


Mutual needs-based action means the decision of mutual agreement of the ways to fulfill the truths and moving it to action when we discover the things we truly want through speaking and listening these are the needs and values that we wish to realize-. This would also mean putting efforts into fulfilling what you would like to make happen in the future rather than disclosing the validity of the right and wrong of past memories. In addition, this does not mean following the opinion of the person who is more right, it means allowing collective wisdom, that has appeared through the real needs of both ways, to lead you. (fulfilling needs and values as much as possible, choose through mutual agreement, be led by joint wisdom)


If speaking, listening, conversation may be led by the 3 ways mentioned above, dignity and respect will draw near as a live existence. And another possibility that allows these ways of speaking is to apply a circle process to a class and educational guidance.


The method of the circle process serves a very important role reinforcing the weak relationships with dignity and respect, recovering the broken relationships, and not only restoring the community, but answering wholly to reality the topic of studying, whole existence of appropriate relationship among students, and between students and teachers-. A circle does not mean a mere literal circle shape. It invites other values such as equality, sociality, connection, consensus, sharing, empathy, spontaneity, contribution, performance liability, empowerment, participational leadership through dignity and respect.


Through various ways Circles flexibly deal with problem situations, crisis, challenging issues, building a community and more through methods of ‘thinking with’ and ‘do with’ every participation, The types of Circles this writer has applied are the Check-in/Check-out Circle, the Planning Circle, the Conversation/ Understanding Circle, the Community Growth Circle, the Self-government Conference Circle, the Problem-solving Circle, the Support/Learning Circle, the Celebration/Mourning Circle, Restorative Circle, AVP/HIPP Circle and the Trust Circle and more.


What this writer experienced is that though without any particular mention of dignity and respect, the participators realized the preciousness of themselves and others on their own, did not invade the others’ psychological space, enjoy the gift given by difference and diversity, developed a relationship of trust, care and socializing instead of self shielding, and witnesses the wonder of bringing a result more than expected through their wisdom in the process of Circle-progressing.


Especially the uniqueness of the problem solving Circle and the Restorative Circle is that it shifts the problem situation and conflict to reconciliation of the hurt or offender, and uses this as an opportunity to learn and develop. For the people who had enemy-images that spoke following the principle of dignity and respect in this Circle met turning points of unexpected trust and cooperation; the percentage of drawing a mutual satisfying result is up to 85%. In learning, support/conversation/understanding Circle uses colleagues as resources and the person directly involved would deal with it in a way of empowerment towards challenging situations, problem situation and crisis. In fact, this writer had not yet observed a more efficient method that experiences dignity and respect, that witnesses its surprising results. In this circle process that fulfills the value of dignity and respect, there happens some important things: identity embracement, safety, empathy, acknowledgement, fairness, trust, independence, a sense of community, responsibility, non-violent responds towards conflict, communal cooperative decision making develops in a fast and continuous pace.

 

 

Conclusion

 

As the main point of education such as peace education, human rights and restorative discipline, democratic citizen education and so on, dignity and respect is an old topic. However the reason why it is mentioned again is because the nature of our human identity wants it, because it is a urgent call from our present period of tragic reality, and also because it is the core point of how to reach to the reality in way of education. Especially in the current cultural situation of domination and oppression, particularly to overcome this, dignity and respect needs to take it’s seat as the most important topic once again.


Dignity and respect is not simply only for trust relationship. This is because it is the main point of approaching reality, self-identity, and the nature of human conversation, and these are the core elements of our learning and development. Now, in the re-focusing of dignity and respect in classes and in daily life, the possible fulfillments are to apply it in speaking, listening, stepping further to a new possibility in daily life, materializing it through Circles, dissolve domination and pressure, make a path to build a desirable society we dreamed of. For this, I hope dignity and respect would become the kernel of our consciousness and souls and lead us further.

 

 

 

(The writer is a non-violent activist, a trainer of ‘AVP(Alternatives to Violence Project,’ ‘HIPP(Help Increase Peace Program,’ ‘NVC(Nonviolent Communication),’ ‘NVC-based Mediation,’ ‘Restorative Circle’ and practitioner of 'Gardening of People's Heart'[Korean sister model of Parker Palmer 'Courage to Teach'])

 

Presentation: 2014 IDEC (International Democratic Education Conference) 7.18. Haanbuk Elementary School

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