Understanding Ourselves and Others - Skill Building Workshop Updates
By: Harry Liu
YouthBridge-NY is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to improve the atmosphere of respect and diversity in New York City. YouthBridge-NY instills its core values in high school students from around the city by teaching and training them about leadership, respect, and culture.
Every month Fellows attend a Skill-building Workshop to discuss the issues that are present in society and to learn new skills that can help form them into future leaders. In each workshop, Fellows work together in a variety of activities that highlight specific issues pertaining to diversity and different aspects of society that members of YouthBridge-NY will proactively work to improve.
Culture is really a lens which we view the world in. Often times different times cultures are immediately labeled by individuals as “different”. Today, there are many cultural barriers such as ethnocentrism, prejudice, stereotyping, and discrimination. The goal of the first Skill Building meeting was for Fellows to gain a better understanding of the cultures in our society and how they interact with each other.
The skill-building meeting on September 12 started off with Fellows re-introducing themselves briefly. We looked at several optical illusions where two possible images could be seen. In one case, half of us saw a young woman and half of us saw an old woman. There was no right answer because we were all right. Although this was just a picture, there are many scenarios where people have opposing viewpoints. In reality, it is just a matter of interpretation and perspective. The following activity involved identifying the traits that each student though best described themselves. I was speechless at the accuracy of the activity. The best teams are the ones that incorporate individuals with a variety of personalities. My favorite activity of the session was the “Culture activity”. The Fellows and Bridgers were each handed a different colored slip faced down. We all had to look at the paper without letting others see it. The paper described our culture for the role playing exercise. For the next few minutes, we had to act exactly like the description on the paper. It was an eye opening experience. I tried to greet another individual by clapping and they stuck out their left hand trying to shake mine. Others saw my purple slip and ignored my greetings. In some cases, I was the person who ignored others. It was easiest to identify those who were also given the same color paper. Finally, when the activity stopped, we told each other how we felt when people didn’t understand our culture. The final activity, the “Iceberg Model” identified different characteristics of individuals, some of which could be easily seen by just looking at a person and some could not.
The meeting had a profound impact on the way I view other individuals. Each activity focused on breaking the various cultural barriers that exist. We have to realize that New York is a culturally diverse city and we have to become more conscious of the many different cultures that exist and the ways that they interact. Our values have a big impact on the perception of other cultures and we have to be more aware of how we treat other cultures.
For the following skill-building workshop, Fellows focused on conflict mediation. Ruby-Beth Buitekant, a counselor from the Crown Heights Community Mediation Center, did a presentation on conflict mediation. Fellows were asked to write a word relating to conflict for each letter of the alphabet. The word that stood out the most was “unnecessary”. Many conflicts can be avoided and they don’t yield a positive impact. Through activities, the Fellows learned what caused conflicts, how to interpret body language or identify conflicts, and how to apply new techniques for resolving conflicts.