A Forum for the Open Exchange of Ideas
By Robin Playe
There is one thing that I’ve come to realize following my attendance at the Global Citizens Youth Summit in Boston, and that is that everyone is capable of greatness. However, the first step in achieving greatness is taking initiative and action, one of the simplest yet scariest of tasks. Thus, we, my working group at GCYS, came up with an idea to enable people in our direct environment to find and unleash their true potential. We created a club, which we currently call the Institute for Global Changemakers, that will operate in the different schools that we four founders attend.
The idea is simple: to create an environment where discussions and different opinions are encouraged and resources are provided for students to enable them to take initiative. One of the best aspects of GCYS was how easy it was to express different opinions, and what this did to the overall atmosphere of the experience. Sometimes, simply talking about different points of view even made people realize that they were actually all talking about the same thing, except in different words. When my group came together to discuss what our group should be, we expressed something that we all saw happening in our schools: the worry of not being able to speak up due to the ripples that expressing our opinions might create.
Thus came the idea for IGC, a space where judgment is suspended, or rather, where we set aside taking our judgments as simple truths, and instead truly listen to other opinions. To achieve this, one of the club’s focuses is to use the Harkness discussion method to bring about different opinion when exchanging ideas about a topic. The main principles of the Harkness discussion method are the following: you cannot say “I disagree” to an idea, but instead have to say “I would like to offer a different point of view”. A Harkness discussion is also not monitored or controlled by the teacher or facilitator. The students monitor themselves. The teacher or facilitator simply takes notes of how the conversation goes. Finally, everyone is to talk the same amount of time. This rule is also not enforced by the teacher or facilitator, but instead, by the students themselves.
All of these aspects of the Harkness discussion make for an ideal environment, where students become detached from the normal atmosphere of having to watch what they say at all times, out of fear that their opinions will not be well-received. Once all students are given a voice, the real magic happens. I will always remember the first time I set foot at Irving House, the place where all GCYS Ambassadors have stayed. I arrived in the basement, and saw a group of people sitting around a round table, discussing. However, as soon as I arrived near them, they opened the circle, and immediately let me join the discussion, without any awkward moment of silence. Already, without any workshops or activity having begun, I already felt like I was learning, and most importantly, I felt open. Open and welcomed.
This moment is really what best summarizes my time at GCYS. My opinion, like everyone’s, was always taken into account, and mattered. My voice was necessary to keep the conversation moving forward. This is why, when I passed the security at Logan Airport, a wave of emotion suddenly came to me. The physical barrier that now separated me from this wonderful group of people was crossed. The simple fact that everyone was so open and accepting to opinions was something that can be rare, even in today’s world, and I wanted to find a way to recreate it.
I truly do believe that many people in this world are capable of greatness. More than we actually imagine. That is why, on top of the Harkness discussions, one of the aims of the IGC clubs is to provide students with local - as well as international - resources, and networks to execute the projects that they want to see come to life. Since the four of us on the team live in three different countries, in geographically far-flung parts of the world, the clubs will share resources and contacts.
From my experience living in France and the US, listening is highly underrated in our culture. I realized how, in many situations, I was eager to speak to get my point across, and almost forgot that listening is also one of the most important parts of a discussion. Only when we started to listen, listen, listen, can we discover all the incredible ideas people around us are generating.
Global Citizens Initiative is a non-profit organization empowering young global citizens from all sectors of society to be lifelong leaders of positive change. GCI runs a year-long program in social entrepreneurship to provide high school students from around the world with the mindset, skills and resources necessary to be effective and ethical leaders. For more information visit GCI's website at globalci.org.