What can we learn from children?

Join me for 3 minutes to explore what happens to our curiosity while we grow up! If you don’t, I’m sure your parents remember your period in life when you constantly asked “Mom, why is this?” “Dad, why is that?” What about now? How do things you don’t understand make you feel? Do you still ask a lot of questions, when you are curious?

Most of the people I know, prefer to talk about topics they are familiar with. They prefer not to raise the attention to their lack of knowledge and experience in other subjects, so to say they don’t want to “look stupid”. Confessions: Many times me included.

So when did we actually stop questioning everything? When did we stop asking why?

Can you recall moments, when children ask “Why?” for the 120234th time, till the adults around tell them kindly but firmly to stop talking. Is this picture familiar from your childhood or from an adult-child interaction you have witnessed?

Truth is, this typical scene happens to most of us for a few months when we are toddlers, and then, well, we eventually stop asking “why?”. We push down this instinct of curiosity, shut our mouth and leave or get in unpleasant mood when facing situations we don’t understand.

Any discussion and interaction between people is just as complex as the human beings’ themselves can be – so intercultural dialogue is all about harmonies and clashes of the “WHY?”s within. But knowing that we stopped asking this little word long time ago, the question is not IF we will end up in an intercultural conflict, but WHEN will it occur.

Do these cultural clashes happen due to lack of curiosity about each other?

Or do they occur because we don’t have the right tools to express our curiosity?

How can we grow as human beings and how can we improve our relationships through these encounters?

My answer is that we should not be afraid of going back to being a child and asking “TELL ME MORE” again and again and all over again. Ask about the history, ask about the background, ask about fears and hopes, about expectations and receiving the reality. Ask “Why is this?” “Why is that?” again, in a way a curious adult can do, to open channels of communication and mutual understanding.

You need to know that I’m the kind of AFSer, who doesn’t need to fly 8 hours or host someone from the other side of the globe for a little intercultural learning – it happens every week with me while having coffee with my grandma or while asking the kid on the street to pick up the trash he just threw away. I keep asking “TELL ME MORE” in all kind of everyday situations.

I don’t want to sound too idealistic, so I need to admit, that this attitude of mine of asking so much, did lead to serious disappointments many times. I did get yelled at on a bus, I was told to mind my own business multiple times. But I also got answers and got little glimpses of lives that I had no idea were around me.

From a youth worker point of view these little encounters taught me that I can design the prettiest looking icebergs and onions, but if my training participants don’t start asking each other like children do with everyone around them, I’m probably doing something wrong. I want the people I guide through learning moments to allow their “WHY?”s clash with others or find their soul mates. I need them to inhale the experiences that form the values, responses and behaviour of the partner in discussion. Because, at the end of the day it is about remaining curious as well as being mindful of others which, as we know, are crucial as first steps to foster intercultural dialogue.

By: Viktória Bedő member of Training on Intercultural Learning Advisory Body (TICLAB) and the European Pool of Trainers (EPOT)