By Sean Bellamy, co-founder of Sands School and an Ashoka Foundation Change Leader
Europe is becoming more divided. Europeans identify themselves in more rigid ways based, not on their common humanity, but on narrow concepts of both nationality or religion.
The challenge we face, if Europe is to evolve as both an inclusive and tolerant society, is to find ways to help people understand their shared identity while honoring their unique histories and cultures.
Understanding how humans construct their sense of self within their local and extended communities must be at the heart of the research. How do we know who we are? What institutions play a part in shaping our identities? And how flexible are these identities?
For If we understand this, then we have a chance to connect rather than disconnect a progressively more diverse Europe. And the possibility of disconnection and conflict continues to rise. Already, technology replaces us, wealth divides us, politics separates us and ethnicity alienates us.
With impending climate catastrophe looming, do we not want a more not less unified Europe, ready to embrace challenge and integrate new citizens and for this to happen we need to understand how education, family and community shape who we are and the role that media and public institutions can play in helping people explore their common identity.
If research can reveal how people may aspire to see themselves as part of a common but diverse culture, and view others from different backgrounds as ‘us’ rather than ‘them’, Europe has a chance to tap into the potential of cooperation not division. POEM is attempting to decode the complex, unwritten formula that connects identity, memory and culture and then influence institutions to reimagine Europe. Europe is only an idea and a dream of cooperation. And as such, new ideas can shape the dream.
The expertise to share this work exists already and a language that honours the research, but that can also reach out and speak to diverse communities and varied institutions, language that touches both hearts and minds may evolve out of the POEM programme and the synthesis of the two may help Europe reimagine itself.
A library allows us to live the life of others, a museum to empathise with another’s past, a law court to show us that justice is a universal aspiration and a hundred schools scattered across Europe can become just one school when the children and adults realise all the things they share in common.
Maybe POEM is an attempt to explain the following; Europe has been shaped by its history, by collective trauma, by economic imperatives, by brutal need and technological evolution. These effects are invisibly integrated into who we are and continue to shape European culture. If we become conscious of the design, reveal the invisible and clarify the mechanisms that shape identity, decode the mystery of culture and memory, then we can create a future rich in empathy and understanding.
This, I understand and this I would want to be part of.