By Jack Ewing
Picture Source: Gordonstoun Twitter page
Common sense, common ground and a common purpose are sorely missing from our dialogue in today’s often tribal political setting. An event going on over the next few days at a school in Moray is aiming to change that.
‘Learning to Listen’ is a three-day event taking place at Gordonstoun School in Moray which invites students from across Scotland to take part in the event which aims to help develop better listening and understanding skills. The schools former pupils include Prince Charles and Prince Phillip.
James Smith, who runs the dialogue society at Gordonstoun, told me about the importance of friendly dialogue in our current climate. He also has a master’s degree in Peace and Conflict.
He told me: “Dialogue is not about winning an argument, it’s about listening to the other point of view. You need to have empathy so that you reach an outcome that is the best outcome for everyone, rather than being obsessed with scoring points or making sure that you win”.
The dialogue which forms our debate today tends to be very tribal and confrontational which puts plenty of younger people off the political process as a result. This is the issue that the organisers of this event are aiming to address. The Dialogue Society at Gordonstoun, which is run by James, has been teaching the art of dialogue at the school for several years. This practice has now been opened up to other schools with the aim of generating a wider change.
James, who previously worked for the UN as a peacekeeper in Haiti, also stressed the importance of this event being about dialogue rather than debate.
He told me: “We try to avoid the word debate because debate is about winning an argument whereas dialogue is different.
Lisa Kerr, Principal of Gordonstoun, explained why this event was so important to this particular school.
She told the Press Association: “As a school founded by a Jew who fled Germany under the persecution of the Nazis, and which has always welcomed students from diverse backgrounds, we strongly believe that it is possible for people with different perspectives to reach a common understanding”.
“We have been teaching dialogue to our own students for several years now through the Gordonstoun Dialogue Society, but we are very keen to share this practice more widely and are delighted that schools from across the country are joining us for these three days of Learning to Listen.”
Although these skills are being taught to school kids, teachers are also involved in the learning process. While it is important for the younger generation to pick up the art of respectful and open dialogue, this is a time for everyone to ‘Learn to Listen’.
“I think what we can see from the Brexit debate is that we are in need of some of these skills. So, the idea of this event is to try and make sure the next generation have those skills. Alongside the pupils who have come today, teachers have also come from each school in order to take some of the learning back to the next generation,” James concluded.
You can get the full audio interview here.