Friday was the end of my second week since taking up the post of Deputy Director; it had been a long and busy week – attending planning meetings for our Arts and Culture programme, strategy sessions with the team, writing funding proposals for new work, in many ways a typical week. By the time I went to sleep that evening though it was becoming clear that the week was anything other than typical.
The coming days are going to be incredibly difficult as details emerge of both victims and perpetrators. Questions and feelings, which I do not want to engage with, will, no doubt, be brought out into the open.
I worry that I will feel overwhelmed by the scale of the tragedy, by the loss and the fear, and that I will want to retreat away from spaces where I might hear things that I find problematic or painful. Instead, I worry that instead I will look for simplistic solutions.
But those simplistic solutions are just that; they do not deal with the complexity that I need to engage with in order to have a full understanding of the experiences of others. For me this is important because if I want to have positive and productive relations with those different to me then I need to be able to hear those things, I do not need to agree with them, but I do need to be able to understand the contexts and authentic experiences of others. This is for me the essence and purpose of dialogue and the work that I do.
Over the next few weeks in particular the challenge for me will be to make sure that there are more spaces, not fewer, in which others are able to engage in effective dialogue. To resist the urge to close down, but rather to find the strength to be open and to hear. That will be no easy task, not least because of the forces that will no doubt try to us apart. The fear, the anger, the deep despair that many feel, these too will make any possibility of societal healing even more of a challenge. However, that is the task that I set myself and that too is the work of 3FF and others as well. I think particularly of friends and partners in France who have spent many years building programmes and organisations committed to creating more tolerant and peaceful societies only to watch their work be set back by the mayhem of the last few days. I think of them and wish them every strength for the journey ahead.
I hope that I am wrong and that the fear and division I expect to come from these events fail to appear; however, even if it does not happen, I believe that we must all work together to ensure that there are more safe spaces in which people feel able to share, for it will only be through creating those opportunities that we are able to strengthen the links between individuals and communities and in doing so, create a society in which all feel safe.
[This article was first published on the 3FF blog, http://www.3ff.org.uk/blog