In our latest social cohesion project, letters of kindness and knowledge are being shared between young Australians of different cultures and faith traditions (including non-believers). It seems a time in Australia when we could do with a dose of knowledgeable kindness. These young people’s words are being exchanged at a time when Australia is again fighting a war in the Middle East. While here at home, public acts of hostility, abuse and violence against young Australian Muslim women are increasing; everyday racism against Aboriginal Australians remains widespread; and this year has also seen alarming acts of violence against Jewish Australians. Now more than ever, it seems significant to hear the perspectives of young people and to facilitate exchanges of kindness and knowledge.
This project sought to create opportunities for young people enduring hardship to make contributions to one another by sharing their hard-won knowledge and stories of survival or endurance. At the same time, this process can contribute towards social cohesion or ‘social healing’: ‘… an intermediary phenomenon located between micro-level individual healing and wider collective reconciliation.’ (Ledarch & Lederach, 2010, p. 6)
The letters included here have been shared between young Muslim Australians in Adelaide; young people living in a psychiatric in-patient unit in Sydney; young people in the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne; and students of Wadja Wadja High School from Woorabinda Aboriginal community.
Because the initial letters from young Muslims are ‘richly textured’ (or richly described), it means that when they were shared with other young people who have endured quite different hardships, it was highly likely that some aspect of their respective storylines would intersect. This in turn provides opportunities for resonance: opportunities for the storylines of quite different young people to be brought into relationships of harmony. This musical metaphor of ‘harmony’ is used deliberately here. Within pieces of music, harmony is created through the relationship between different melody lines: there can be no harmony if there is only one melody line. During the creation of the letters and responses in this project, the hope was not to create similarity, or to deny difference, but instead to create opportunities for resonance between different young people’s stories of survival skills and hard-won knowledge.
When the letters were shared between groups, there were opportunities for resonance between the storylines of diverse groups of young people. This form of resonance contributes to a heightened sense of ‘communitas’: a particular form of connectedness that preserves individual distinctiveness (Turner, 1969, 1979). In our experience, creating contexts in which different groups can share storylines that relate to ways of overcoming hardship, increases the possibility of the storylines of these different groups to be brought into relationships of harmony, and therefore increases the possibilities of social cohesion (Denborough, 2011).
It is now hoped that these letters may be shared more widely; that you may share them with your families, friends, workplaces, and with other groups of young people. If so, we would be interested to receive your responses, reflections and/or letters in return. As these ‘letters of kindness and knowledge’ continue to circulate, we hope this will continue to dissolve racism and foster respect.
This social cohesion project was supported by Multicultural SA and the Scanlon Foundation. Thanks!
Letters of kindness and knowledge