Education for peace and listening

Marina Caireta i Sampere
Educator and coordinator of the Education for Peace programme at the Peace Culture School
Marina Caireta i Sampere

Marina Caireta i Sampere

Six wise Indian scholars wanted to know what an elephant was. Because they were blind, they decided to find out by touch. The first went up to the elephant, stroked his wide, hard back and said: "I see, it's like a wall." The second, touching the tusk, cried: "This is so sharp, round and smooth that the elephant is like a spear." The third touched the twisted trunk and cried: "God save us! The elephant is like a snake." The fourth extended his hand as far as the knee, hugged the leg and said: "The elephant is clearly like a tree." The fifth, who by chance touched an ear, exclaimed: "Even the blindest of men would realise that the elephant is like a fan." The sixth, who touched the wagging tail, said: "The elephant feels like a rope." And so the wise men argued at length. Who was right?

People become involved in conflicts, and we fight to meet our needs; that is legitimate. The challenge lies in doing so non-violently and cooperatively, and seeking an answer to the question "How can the two of us together solve the problem we share?", and overcoming the competitive approach of "How can I solve my problem, despite having to ignore the interests of the other?" That requires a lot of listening.

Like the six blind wise men, when fighting for our needs we often confuse the conflict (the entire elephant) with our perception (a part of the elephant), which is based on our needs, skills and personal experience. Without the ability to listen, we will never recognise the whole elephant.

Those of us involved in peace education (PE) understand that to meet this challenge we must strive to equip ourselves with the resources and skills that make this possible; that is called provention. This process involves several steps: knowledge of ourselves and each other, mutual esteem, trust, communication and cooperation. Communication is the work involved in being able to explain to myself and listen to others, at times of both calm and of tension. Being able to listen actively, i.e. to listen until I understand what the other person means, and especially to make them feel that they have been heard.

But like the six blind men, having an ear to listen is not enough. First, we have internal factors that help or prevent us from hearing: the feeling of a threat or the questioning of the person we often experience in the conflict; the anger that makes us more entrenched in our closed attitude; a culture that focuses us towards a specific vision of the world; a more or less rigid education, and so on. We are possibly unaware of these factors, and we must recognise, accept and change them.

Second, we often talk about listening as something related to our ears. The six wise men argued with their ears but investigated in many other ways. In the field of PE we understand that listening goes far beyond that. Obviously, understanding the words that the other person is saying to us is important, but is not enough. We are in the world to the extent that we have a physical body that gives us a presence and enables us to receive stimuli, to which we respond by expressing ourselves. This continuous process of reception-expression is what we call communication, but this can be verbal or nonverbal, using sight, touch, gesture, smell, etc. It is said that nonverbal communication accounts for 70 percent of the message, compared to 30 percent of the verbal.

And apart from the body, we must be able to listen from our heart. We know the importance of listening to words, but we have been taught little about listening to emotions, and without being able to interpret them it is difficult to transform conflict.

In conclusion, in EP we understand that education for skills in listening requires:

  • Education for provention, as skills for peaceful coexistence.
  • Working on techniques and resources for communication and active listening: techniques like knowing how to paraphrase, recap, ask appropriately, show attention, etc.
  • Develop the various expressive languages to expand communication skills of receptiveness using all the senses and expression using all languages (working using the plastic arts, music, theatre, etc.).
  • Education about the emotions, recognising their importance in conflicts and the importance of being able to identify and express them