to explore without boundaries

One moment sticks out. At some point in conversation, someone called someone else out on a particularly controversial opinion. Brad called our attention to this part of the conversation, noting how crucial it was for us to be able to respond honestly to each other’s points. I guess one thing I’ll have to work on is being less sensitive – while I know how valuable objective dialogue can be, I also often feel threatened when someone challenges my opinion, sometimes retreating into a shell, afraid to share anything further. I guess that’s one of my goals for Niswarth: to be able to grow a slightly thicker skin and participate in discussion without being fazed or taking comments personally without distancing myself emotionally and missing out on a learning experience.

A lot of our orientations have focused on learning to interact with each other in this way – learning to dialogue. Ms. Tousignant will pose a broad, open-ended question and let us go at it for a couple of minutes – sculpting our opinions through presenting them in conjunction or contrast with those of the rest of the group. And so we’ll discuss – a lot of the time our conversations will become disjointed, where nobody really knows what to say, until someone finally volunteers, and then suddenly the conversation’s been commandeered, everyone’s perched on the edge of their seat anxiously attempting to force their input into the conversation, cutting each other off accidentally.

This type of engagement has, particularly over the course of this year, become one of my favorite and least favorite things to do all at once. Favorite, because there’s something so engaging about considering a topic just out of your grasp, and attempting to nail it down through teamwork, pushing each other in directions you couldn’t manage by yourself. Least favorite, because often it can be more frustrating than fulfilling. On Wednesday Ms. Tousignant cut us off before we could really get started, let alone come to any sort of conclusion. Frequently we’ll lapse ourselves out with the topic still in a tangle, disgruntled and resigned to giving up, as most of these topics don’t have clear answers (while, being human, we want a clear conclusion).

But I suppose that lack of a clear resolution is productive in and of itself – we’re learning to question, to explore without boundaries. That said, initially it’s frustrating. Discussion is also a difficult balance; it’s easy to slip into focusing only on what you want to say next, so easy to stop listening and absorbing but instead slip into unproductive self-centeredness. I’m really looking forwards to watching how the tone and content of our discussions shifts over the course of the trip. Participating in discussion strangely mirrors a lot of the experiences it seems we’ll have, from finding the balance between processing input and introspecting to attempting to find that perfect objective balance of engaging personally but not becoming forever tied to your words or expectations. We’ll see. --Lily