During our time studying here in Norway as Peace Scholars, our first week was spent in Lillehammer at the Nansen Center for Peace and Dialogue. During these five days, we spent time getting to know students from former Yugoslavia and the Ukraine and learning more about their lives in their home countries and the way in which they have been shaped by conflict.
One of the lessons that I learned in Lillehammer was the importance of asking good questions in dialogue. One afternoon, the Peace Scholars spent an hour and a half preparing questions to ask the students from the Balkans and the Ukraine, while the other groups spent that time thinking of questions to ask us and each other. Though we initially thought it might be easy to think of five good questions to ask in an hour and a half, the exercise was much more difficult than we thought. Sometimes, we didn’t even know what we should be asking, and other times we were trying to figure out how best to phrase a question to make it as concise and clear as possible.
While forming the questions taught me the importance of asking good questions, I learned in our dialogue sessions the importance of asking honest questions. The question I remember most was from the Balkans students to the Ukrainian students. The question really only asked, “What is happening in your country?” The response that we received was a fascinating explanation of what they had perceived to have happened in the past few years. In fact, from this basic and unassuming question, I think we learned as much as from any of the others.
From this dialogue session, I learned that sometimes the best questions are the most basic ones. We can often learn the most from others when we ask questions, not because we think we know the answers or because we want to score a point, but because we really want to know what the other person has to say. For me, this idea is just as valid in everyday interaction as it is in structured dialogue sessions. I have been able to get to know many people from many different backgrounds during my time at the International Summer School in Oslo, and I have enjoyed being able to hear more about their lives and how they see the world. In trying to approach conversations like this not only with good questions but also with honest questions, I think that we can learn a lot about the world that we would not have otherwise known. Sometimes, we only have to ask.