By Sandro Chumashvili, DCI Fellow
Today I will be sharing the experience of an international student who is also a deliberation facilitator. Coming from a totally different country, Georgia, with different societal norms and, most importantly – issues, it was essential for me to establish an emotional connection with the struggles that people face here in order to feel sincere empathy and understanding during the deliberations. This step was crucial for my everyday social life, but today I will only focus on achieving empathy for deliberations.
Humans tend to subconsciously prioritize the problems that they face. When done at a group level, this nudges people towards a better collective understanding and unites them around a common issue. After coming to the US, I have heard about many issues that people face here but would never see back home. For example, racism. Georgia is a primarily white country, and the topic of racism never arose due to the general lack of racial diversity.
Another vast difference is where the issues originate from. I came from the country which has 20% of its territory occupied by Russia and from the country against which Russia has started war most times, also known as Putin’s most hated country. This shows that Georgia’s significant problems emanate from external threats, while the US, having the strongest military in history, is mainly troubled by internal issues. This all forced me to take another look at my opinions that seemed set for me, such as those regarding military budgets. Georgian military budget is miserable considering the external threats, while the US overpays for many services and armaments. So what has been my approach to sympathize with issues I have never experienced myself without losing my own identity?
Diverging from logos to pathos.
As an economics major, I love analyzing numbers and drawing a conclusion as a result of statistical analysis. Still, I have tried to employ my “emotional intelligence” when it comes to person-to-person interactions and be as compassionate and understanding of personal stories as possible. This has allowed me to become more emotionally open to others’ experiences and develop empathy towards situations that sometimes sounded surreal to me due to my background.
I believe this point is vital in all kinds of relations and deliberations, not only when one is becoming accustomed to a new society. Past experiences shape our present actions and views; therefore, just discussing the latter without taking the former under consideration is problematic and takes away the opportunity to understand one’s companion fully. One should not judge another’s path unless they have walked it in the same shoes. This orientation has not only allowed me to understand where others are coming from but has dramatically sharpened my active listening skill.
Every insightful discussion, and especially every deliberation, needs a deep understanding of the past links that have led to a particular contemporary policy, opinion, or movement. In this case, unlike in my first point, logos and pathos are closely intertwined and cannot be separated. Understanding historical background has been crucial for me in developing empathy since it goes further than emotions and plays an important role cognitively as well. This creates an important synthesis of compassion on both rational and emotional levels.
As an international facilitator, these points have allowed me to widen my worldview and be able not only to bring something new to the table but understand what is already present. I firmly believe that deliberation without empathy is like a clock without ticks – useless. Understanding people from two different societies is essential to the critical task of being compassionate to deliberators with different experiences and backgrounds.