By Flora Maile Felix
I’ve been lucky to have grown up with very diverse surroundings. My friends often had different cultural backgrounds and I had the privilege to see lots of different places. As I entered the Diploma Programme (DP) in Vienna, I found myself among a group of people with experiences like my own, and everyone had the expectation that their perspective might be quite different from the person sitting next to them in class
Even though we had come from different backgrounds and therefore had diverging views on certain issues, we had the ability to listen to each other and respect our different stands even though we sometimes had very heated discussions. This ability was strengthened during the Diploma Programme, especially as we dealt with controversial topics and opinions in class from time to time.
I am very thankful to have been able to further develop this skill during the DP. Being able to understand that other people might have a different position than mine due to their background made me rethink a lot of my opinions. As we are living in a more and more globalised world, everything is growing closer together and we will inevitably face many different opposing stands and opinions. Some of these opinions are indeed controversial, some of them might seem shocking at first— and some of them are. But to come together, we need to repeatedly think about the many different backgrounds and experiences that other people have compared to our own.
When I think critically about how my own positions became my positions, I come to the conclusion that a different background might have led to a very different story. For example, as I grew up it became clear that I would attend university after I finished my high school degree—and I assumed that others around me held the same expectation to continue their education.
More recently, as I talked to people whose experiences and views created a much different story than my own, some with struggles along the way, I started revising my positions on education. What about students who chose to drop out of school? What circumstances led to this decision? What about those who might not be able to afford university fees? Or what about others who don´t have access to higher education, due to their gender, religion, geography or social status?
“We can grow by listening to what others experienced and how those experiences shaped their points of view.”
This ability is important to creating a more peaceful world. If we never consider these different backgrounds, our conclusions will never become solutions — but rather contain the potential to cause further conflict and misunderstanding. I am convinced that if we are able to look at conflicts not only from different points of view, but also consider the backgrounds of those involved, we will be able to solve conflicts more effectively and peacefully. In my opinion, our goal should be to give everyone the skills they need to do this. We live in a fast-moving world, causing more of these types of encounters every day.
Putting a more international emphasis on education is the best way to give people this critical skill. Not only do we need to bring people together from different social backgrounds (which is already a goal of the current Austrian educational system) but also people from different cultural backgrounds. We can learn so much by listening to other people and trying to understand why they have certain opinions. We can grow by listening to what others experienced and how those experiences shaped their points of view. We should focus on bringing together people from different backgrounds in order to understand that we can deal with the “problem” of facing different opinions and points of view.
“Respecting other peoples´ opinions goes hand in hand with respecting those people themselves.”
As I write this, I still think that we need to stick to some set of fundamental values. Yes, there are also unacceptable opinions. Especially as I come from Austria, I am thinking of the horror of the Shoa here for example. Sir Karl Popper once wrote “We should therefore claim, in the name of tolerance, the right to not tolerate the intolerant”. Considering all I wrote before, I am convinced that he is right. My understanding of respecting other peoples´ opinions goes hand in hand with respecting those people themselves. These are among the valuable lessons from my time as an IB student.
Flora Maile Felix graduated from Campus Wien West in Vienna, Austria with an IB diploma in 2017. She now studies law at the University of Vienna and joins us this year as a 2018 alumni contributor to share her experience as a recent graduate.