Not everyone can be a Fridtjof Nansen. Most of us won’t sail to the arctic, or convince 52 governments to accept a passport for war refugees named after us, have our deathbeds personally visited by the King of Norway, or have a famous school for peace building built in honor of our humanitarian work, says Rebecka Green, Iowa , USA.
This was a striking premise for our week at the Nansen Dialogue Summer School: most of us will not be one of the Fridtjof Nansen’s of the world. But, we do see ourselves as leaders in our communities, who wish to address conflict in a peaceful way, and put dialogue at the forefront of problem solving. It’s a tall task—taking on some of the most controversial and contentious conflicts in our respective countries. And it means we have to check our egos at the door. But even so, can we ever dream to measure up to Fridtjof Nansen?
In George Eliot’s classic English novel, “Middlemarch,” heroine Dorothea Brooke is a young woman who desires nothing else but to find meaning through societal transformation. By the end of the novel, though married and happy, she is unsatisfied in her contributions to society during her lifetime. In the last paragraph of the novel, Dorothea reflects:
“…the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.”
Throughout our week in Lillehammer, I found myself reflecting often on this passage whenever I felt my ego start to interfere with my ability to be an effective dialogue participant. This issue became most apparent during one of our days in Lillehammer. The group of American Peace Scholars had to discuss answers to questions posed at us by groups from the other countries. Out of six questions we were supposed to answer, one in particular consumed the majority of our time: How do you relate and dialogue with Trump supporters, or if you are a Trump supporter, why?
The vital importance of humility in dialogue
To me, our first mistake was going into the dialogue with the assumption that we all possessed similar liberal ideological and political beliefs. Our second mistake was letting our egos get the better of us. I don’t mean this in a, “my opinions are more important than your opinions” way, but more so a sense that we all thought we had the right way of approaching both the conversation content and execution. This is not incorrect for a dialogue, but it made genuine understanding difficult.
We had barely two days to reflect on what happened before we presented our answers to the larger group. When the time came, the conversation was still tense. We still cried. We still got angry, and saw our own anger and tears reflected in our non-American group members. But there seemed, to me, to be more respect and willingness to understand the other on the multitude of tense issues. We were working on embodying what, for me, is the most important thing to bring to a dialogue: humility.
Humility as a dialogue practitioner and facilitator opens doors to honesty and understanding—it goes hand in hand with recognizing that most of us won’t be nearly as “significant” as someone like Fridtjof Nansen. Leaving one’s ego at the door, or at least giving a serious consideration to putting it in time-out, helps both the “big picture” of dialogue, the “why?” as well as the “how?” of conversation content. These seemingly “unhistoric” acts of peace building contribute to the growing good of the world in ways our ego can overshadow or diminish. One could interpret Eliot’s affirmation of living a “faithfully hidden life” as a life of indifference. But to me, it means a life that is content with serving the growing good of the world without a requisite of global reverence.
I feel sad knowing that Fridtjof Nansen likely died believing he did not accomplish enough in his life. What could that possibly mean for the rest of us? It is an opportunity to lean deeply into crafting the growing good in the world, while understanding that letting the ego take hold of peace building work could have socially and intrinsically destructive consequences. The legacy of Nansen’s life is opportunity to, in the words of John Wesley, to do good, by all the means we can, in all the ways we can, in all the places we can, at all the times we can, to all the people we can, for as long as we ever can.
The Nansen Dialogue Summer School is a collaboration between the University of Oslo Summer School and the Nansen Center for Peace and Dialogue. The seminar offered insights into of how dialogue can be used in everyday life and in conflict situations. The 40 participants of 2018 came from Russia, Ukraine, Croatia, Macedonia, Serbia, Bosnia, Colombia, Kosovo, Montenegro, Albania, Montenegro, USA and Norway.
Rebecka Green is a rising senior at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa where she studies English composition and religion. In her academics, she focuses on religious pluralism, sex and religion, and nationalism in Europe. On campus, she spends her time working with first year international and multicultural students as a Student Outreach Assistant in the Diversity Center, serves as a Representative for Culture and Religion on Luther’s Student Senate, and is a member of Luther’s Diversity Council. She is the co-founder and President of Luther’s Interfaith in Action group, and serves on the school’s hearing board, which mediates and sanctions Title IX and other disciplinary cases.
For more information about next year´s Nansen Dialogue Summer School, write to firstname.lastname@example.org