In reflections about the last eight weeks, I’ve found myself sounding like a broken record.
Well, I’ve talked endlessly about how much I’ve learned. No, really. I cannot imagine exactly how many times I’ve mentioned that I’ve learned something or learned a lot from this experience.
(Proof: this reflection I recorded for the end-of-program celebration we had.)
But saying that I’ve learned a lot really does encompass what I’ve taken these last eight weeks to be about.
To be clear, I don’t mean to use “learning” to mean some kind of route memorization of information.
When I say that I’ve learned a lot, I mean to say that I’ve been extensively engaged in conversations that were (are?) way above my head, so much so that all I could do at the time was sit in the space and try my best to grasp as many pieces of the conversation as I could.
During one particularly salient seminar we had, we talked about the limitations of pinning all of our hopes for social change on empathy and storytelling. This was crazy. To me, this was unheard of. In all the circles that I had been exposed to, the common thread was narrative and storytelling. More specifically, I had accepted that it was important to bring life to perhaps abstract issues by using stories, by tapping into people’s empathy. I had told myself before that the world’s issues would be solved if people just tried to picture themselves in each other’s shoes.
What had become such a commonsense understanding for me was being challenged. Not to say that storytelling and empathy had no value, but that storytelling and empathy by themselves as some sort of panacea was a theory with some limitations. Limitations of which were important to note, to think about, and to use as a foundation to brainstorm alternative ways to change the world.
When I say that I’ve learned a lot, I mean to say that I did a lot of things for the first time. I experienced a lot and was exposed to a lot in just the span of eight weeks. Furthermore, many of these things I did, experiences I gained, and things I was exposed to were far beyond what I would have ever imagined for myself.
For example, although I’m reluctant to characterize myself as shy, I’ve been rather quick to say that I’m an introvert. I practically never go out of my way to talk to strangers in any setting without a good reason. And even with a good reason, I always look for alternatives so I can avoid interacting with people I don’t know. Also, there’s something about not knowing what to say or what to talk about that makes me a little anxious.
Still, every now and then during those last eight weeks, you could find me in some park in one of the New York boroughs, going up to nannies to talk to them about their rights as nannies in New York and about NDWA, to ask them for their information so that we could keep in contact with them, to listen to their stories and opinions about domestic work and other relevant experiences.
(Proof: this photo taken during one of the outreach sessions!)
I just shared a couple snippets of my summer to get across the ways in which I’ve learned – in the full sense of that word. But how could I completely articulate the immersive experience that I just came out of? All I can say is that I realized how much learning there still is. In that learning, there is also so much self-growth and self-discovery and discovery in general that is to be done.
However, this kind of learning and discovery doesn’t happen by itself.
It requires action. It requires not only staying open to your perspectives and understandings of the world being challenged, but also open to changing those perspectives and understandings. More than that, it requires the act of seeking out new experiences to learn from. It requires a kind of attentiveness that keeps a person thinking and analyzing – even if all the thinking goes against their commonsense. Sometimes, it’s not even commonsense that is challenged, but ideas built on time, training, indoctrination, etc.
So how would I sum up eight weeks in eight words? Oh, that’s hard. But I’ll say these last eight weeks have been about
challenging deeply held ideas; making space for learning.
Well, it would be something more or less along those lines.