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Learning from each other

by Leslie Simmons

Niall serves up some hot toddies.
Yesterday was our "Sunday Funday" – traveling across the Irish countryside to the Giant’s Causeway, the Bushmills Distillery and the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge.

Crossing on the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge
All three places we visited had their own stories and history in Northern Ireland. Just like the people we have met and those who have come to talk with our class.

I’m not one for tourist events. But Sunday’s bus trip from DerryCity Tours was rich with great stories and information provided to us by Garvin, our tour guide. Garvin is a man of great pride in his city of Derry “Stroke” Londonderry – in how far it’s come and how far it’ll go. Not only did he discuss the past with passion, he discussed the future of Derry/Londonderry pointing out that it’s the City of Culture for 2013 and that old space once occupied by one side is being transformed into a space for everyone.

Garvin our tour guide.
He’s not alone. The people we have met have pride coming out of their pores. Though the peace process is a fragile one, the citizens of this city are working on it.

That brings me to today – which I will call our “serious” day.

We had two guests from The Junction, a community relations organization in Derry/Londonderry working to build peace in the area. Maureen Hetherington is the coordinator of the organization, and Eamonn Baker, works as a facilitator in the peace-building process.

Maureen and Eamonn came to talk with us about the work they do and to open our minds to some of the ways they work with people – many of whom are former enemies coming together.

Maureen and Eamonn
There are so many layers and identities, Baker told us today, and each participant has to work and listen without judgment.

“Their truth is sacred,” he said.

Truth is an important part of the process. And it made me think about journalism and the work I did as a reporter. You’re taught there are two sides to every story. But in reality, there are multiple sides to one story.

It is the similar here. Take Bloody Sunday, for example. There are many people who witnessed the violence and were involved in what took place. Each has their own version and perception of the events that day – their own truth. But rarely does either side get to sit down and listen to another’s version of the truth. The Junction facilitates that opportunity. None of the participants are telling the story wrong. They are just telling their truth.

Recognizing another person's truth and having empathy for what they experienced helps break down the silo walls and move people toward a better understanding of each other, The Troubles and toward peace.

“When we live in our own silos, we can’t build peace,” Eamonn said.

My story
Our group was able to experience some of this process by participating in a very simple exercise: We made bracelets. These weren’t just ordinary bracelets. They told our story – our truth. And the group’s job was to just listen to us tell our story. Through that process, we were able to get a better understanding of each other and what makes us tick. And it also was a way for us to see our connections to one another. Many of us shared similar feelings and experiences. I not only learned about my fellow classmates, but also about myself and the events that I experienced in my life that create my truth.

Eamonn asked us to imagine participating in a group exercise like that with people who were your sworn enemies. When these members of the Derry/Londonderry community come together, they listen without judgment and learn from each other. There is empathy there. And the silo walls start to break down.

I’ll end this post with an anonymous quote emailed to me today by Charlie McMenamin – who spoke to our class last week. 

“We don't want to live in the past, but we do need to learn to live comfortably with it. It takes energy to try to hold shut the door to the past. Coming to terms with mistakes we have made, making amends, forgiving ourselves, and forgiving others releases this energy so we can use it for living more fully now, in the present. Allowing the door to the past to swing open in its own time gives us access to the good memories that we were also repressing.”
Giant's Causeway

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