A role play about how to listen, a Welcome to Country, and five parallel roundtable conversations were some of the ingredients for a trust-building workshop at Griffith University, Brisbane, on 14 December 2019. Organised by IofC Australia with partner organisation Together for Humanity and co-host BEMAC, a Queensland multicultural arts body, the event brought 25 participants together for an evening of personal stories, and the space to both speak and be heard.
The event had a threefold purpose:
- to strengthen our capacity to address the truth of our past and present,
- to learn to walk together with integrity to a future where peace and healing are our gifts to the world and
- to celebrate our diverse origins and become a community in which everyone is free to be and to give their best.
Facilitator Ronit Baras, Queensland Director of Together for Humanity, an educational organization to foster interfaith and intercultural understanding, introduced the story sharing with questions about trust to help participants address any inhibitions about sharing their stories in small groups. She posed the questions of ‘what does trust mean to you?’ and ‘what needs to happen for you to feel trust?’
Two participants, Adele and Alan Hamilton, presented a role play that demonstrated ‘distracted listening’, followed by another that showed ‘empathic listening.’ In a five-minute session, Lawler modelled sharing her personal story, including turning points in her life. Participants then formed five small groups for roundtable conversations.
The groups were diverse, with about 15 different cultural or ethnic groups represented among participants. ‘While the purpose was to help foster understanding of our differences - cultural or otherwise - people actually experience what unites them,’ said IofCA event organizer Barbara Lawler. She observed that the afternoon had been a valuable opportunity to focus on life experiences that were common to participants.
Participants’ feedback afterwards included comments that the event ‘reminded me of how extraordinary humans are’ and ‘reinforced positive experience of cultural diversity.’ One said that ‘listening to people’s stories without interfering, can respect their lives,’ and another commended the ‘very honest and very candid sharing.’
Lawler noted that several of the facilitators had previously facilitated Peace Circles with the IofC program Creators of Peace. She suggested that the way IofC conducts story-sharing is unique in the depth of honesty that it evokes, and achieves ‘a kind of satisfying empathy.’
The story-sharing event builds on work done by IofCA and partners in 2019 through Australians Sharing a New Story (ASANS). The initial round of story sharing took place in Blacktown, NSW, at a three-day community event. The organizing team in Brisbane plans to hold four more events in 2020: two workshops for story sharing, and two seminars with invited speakers.