By UNESCO MGIEP
Do not ‘think twice’ before asking a question.

The early 16th century Raphael’s painting on the School of Athens represents an animated mixture of debate, inquiry and dialogue. The depiction of prominent ancient philosophers engaged in a vivacious street conversation accompanied by other curious individuals on the street, shows a bold openness in spaces of dialogue. Re-creation of such spaces of dialogue and inquiry through the 21st century digital platforms serve as a catalyst to integrate diverse minds in addressing varied multicultural issues. The idea of “asking anything” therefore has multifold impacts. A small number of educational institutes today encourage the idea of entertaining questions as it is. As a young student in school or college, I was often asked to ‘think twice’ before asking a question. The relevance of the question was to further undergo the scrutiny of the teacher or the one monitoring the discourse. Most students like myself, remain under the veil of oblivion under the current education system and as for questions on identity, culture and addressing prejudices, it is not just outside the curriculum, it is out of the question.

The institute where I am pursuing my Master’s degree, Symbiosis School of International Studies, first introduced me to the idea of decoding an identity and critically analyzing the specifics of culture and cross- linkages. Most of the key concepts on conflict mitigation through dialogue, peace studies and promotion of human rights and education as a global common are concepts I am now engaging with as part of my formal curriculum. . Through dialogue, debate and discussion, we are  encouraged to address the issue of cultural disparities and analyze notion of the “other”. Dialogue on such issues has brought out several social anxieties on identity and resulted in interesting outcomes where we are asked to  analyze loopholes in the education system and the causes for protracted conflicts. The Ask Me Anything Sessions further boosted my tingling curiosity in the area of culture and education and introduced me to concepts I had not engaged with earlier.

As a student, a member of a family and a social being, there are a host of responsibilities and activities that surround me at all points of time. As a creature of emotion, I tend to react in an altering fashion in most of these situations and the practice of compassion and maintaining a presence of mind at all points of time becomes quite a challenging task. Through the AMA sessions, I learnt that there were many others like me out there who had similar questions to ask and faced comparable modern day dilemmas. I was new to the terminology of “mindfulness” but aware of the idea of mindful presence from certain Buddhist treatise that I had read earlier. However, the concepts of mindfulness, empathy and compassion became clear through the online interactions and shed more light on its effective utility in the present day circumstances. In the process of following the diverse perspectives shared on the same concept by different experts, I learnt how the process of being mindful made me explore an unrecognized part of my identity. The nature of mindful presence occurred a little differently to me and it helped me realize how easily I got anxious or overwhelmed in a given situation. In most of my academic assignments, the endeavor to perform well was reflected in a tendency of following a regular pattern with no growth of logical and critical reasoning. However, as a beginner in the area of assimilating mindfulness in my learning process and as a key to tackle stresses in a compassionate manner, I have witnessed quite a few visible changes.

Mindful awareness helps me to react positively to a situation and isolate the negativities that were an impediment to my honest performance at the academic level. It made me reflect on my earlier prejudices and question the grounds on which I fostered them. The results of introspecting myself through the parameters of debate and dialogue were fascinating and it made me realize how often we tend to pamper ourselves with ideas which lack our critical decision making capacity. The concept of mindfulness therefore introduced me to the overwhelming process of self-inquiry. There is no one way of achieving mindfulness and compassion, it is gradual and requires patience. Mindfulness therefore involves a network of emotions and mainstreaming it through the channel of education shall surely ensure more enlightened young minds.

The AMA sessions further enhanced my understanding of how Emotional Intelligence in education, inter-cultural dialogue and mindfulness has immediate linkages. I realized that these concepts could not be understood in silos and need to be linked with each other to see the larger solutions to the world’s problems. We must therefore converse and encourage more dialogue on these lines. Together in conversation, we can unlock fascinating stories and information. Digital events through the Knowledge Commons platform is therefore a great genesis in creation of viable spaces of dialogue and critical inquiry. Most people today are willing to learn and communicate, all they need is an accessible platform to voice their opinions and raise their concerns. Accessibility and equity therefore stand as two important social facilities which we need to extend to more people for the conversion of apathy to empathy and thereby build on compassion and peace.

-Moumita Mukherjee

Student, Symbiosis School of International Studies

UNESCO MGIEP Campus Ambassador

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