‘Peace be with you’
Six-time Nobel Peace Prize nominee Steinar Bryn led a peace-promoting dialogue workshop to roughly 50 attendees following his lecture in the Back Alley last Friday.
For 20 years, Bryn has facilitated more than 300 dialogue sessions between some of the most war-torn countries in Europe and around the world through his work with the Nansen Center in Lillehammer, Norway.
The Nansen Center creates spaces for divided and conflicting communities to engage in relationship-building dialogue. Besides being head of the Nansen Dialogue Network, Bryn lectures at different colleges throughout the U.S., particularly the seven Lutheran universities affiliated with Norway’s Peace Scholar program, about the power of dialogue as an agent for peace.
“Dialogue is a way of communicating that doesn’t focus on the positions,” Bryn said. “It’s a way of communicating how people reached those positions. We try to understand why we disagree. What is the journey that you have had in life?”
On Friday, Bryn shared his journey of promoting dialogue, which began in 1974.
Reflecting on his twenty-year-old self, Bryn said, “I really felt we [Norway] understood the world better than most people and particularly better than Americans.”
It wasn’t until Bryn invited a hungry and tired American hitchhiker to his home that his perception changed.
“We were fighting, we really were fighting, and I couldn’t get rid of him,” Bryn said. “He stayed for a week. And I kept saying ‘You Americans, you Americans, you Americans…’”
Amidst Bryn’s criticisms and frustration toward America, the hitchhiker finally asked, “How do you know all these things about us?”
The question left Bryn speechless.
“I realized how stupid I was,” Bryn said to the audience, “Think about it. How do you judge somebody else for what they did? How much do you know about why they did it? How much do you know about their life history, their journey, their travel through life that brought them to that point?”
Dialogue, Bryn said, answers these questions and creates a path towards understanding and peace.
“When people start to communicate with understanding, they often say ‘I realize where you’re coming from. I realize that had I been in your shoes, I probably would have done similar things,’” Bryn said. “‘Change becomes positive now that I understand you better because I am changing my perception of you.’”
People do not need to argue for understanding to take place, Bryn said, but, instead, they must show respect, actively listen and ask good questions.
Following his lecture, Bryn led a dialogue simulation to give the audience an opportunity to practice peaceful communicating themselves. The topic: the U.S. presidential election.
“It’s a little bit meaningless for me to talk about dialogue in divided societies far away when you actually feel the division in Sioux Falls,” Bryn said.
AU Peace Scholar connection
Each summer, Bryn hosts similar week-long dialogue workshops at the Peace Scholar’s Program in Norway, which he is heavily involved in.
Senior Jasmin Fossheim, a Peace Scholar last summer, participated in a dialogue session facilitated by Bryn along with other students representing 98 different countries.
“It was intense,” Fossheim said. “There were some things said that I still dwell on today. It was very heavy, and it was something we had to chew on for the rest of the summer. It was incredible.”
She said the experience helped her realize that people are more alike than different.
“It’s very easy to get wrapped in history, circumstances and stereotypes,” Fossheim said. “If you’re able to look at everyone around you as human beings who have people they love, struggles just like you do … then you are better able to understand where conflicts may be coming from. … The people you are in conflict with are not the enemy, they are human beings.”
Upon returning from Norway, Fosheim, along with fellow Peace Scholar Rahiwa Mussa, began leading the Augustana Peace Club as a way to continue promoting peace in the Augustana community.
Bryn said he hopes students will get involved and continue to promote dialogue.
“I hope they get inspired,” Bryn said. “I hope they will create dialogue spaces where they will continue the dialogue among themselves in the years to come and wherever they go.”