This last week I was part of an intensive student programme in Finland looking at issues of diversity, inclusion and social cohesion. The programme covered topics including religion and sexual orientation and some of the debates got rather heated. One of the strengths of the group was that generally, even after full-on disagreement, people were able to stay friends and hang out at the bar together. Most of the tutors were promoting more liberal ideas of tolerance and inclusion and some seemed frustrated at times as to whether even intensive experiences could change entrenched attitudes and long held prejudices.
I tried to say how I didn’t think people changed their attitudes overnight. Particularly when beliefs have been established over a long period and reinforced by family and religious teaching, I think it’s hard to abandon these principles, even when they contradict the values of your chosen profession such as social work. I hope the increased respect for differing views and the positive challenges might stay with the students for a long time, and influence their future lives and practice.
The trip caused me to rethink some of my own ethical objections to travelling by aeroplane. I had such a fantastic time seeing new places and meeting new people and it reminded me how much I enjoy travelling. If my job offers opportunities for exploring new countries during summer schools and conferences I feel more inclined to grasp these, and hopefully contribute something while enjoying the journey. However, I know that short haul flights are some of the worst for the environment. It’s easy enough to avoid flying when you have little opportunity and can’t afford it anyway.
My visit to Tallinn in Estonia was an added bonus, and we travelled by ferry which is perhaps more environmentally sound. I loved exploring the old town which is rather like Prague, but then I spent the afternoon on the beach when I could have seen more of the poverty in the surrounding area. My excuse was that my feet were tired and I wanted to accompany another colleague who loves the beach. I say I don’t just want to be a tourist – but I probably missed the chance to understand more of the real life for some people in Estonia who live in houses without windows. I can hope that the craftsperson who made the lovely hat I bought was paid well. I didn’t find out though.
Chatting to my new friend on the beach we came round to the topic of me being single and how I’ve struggled to meet the right Christian man. She asked me why he had to be a Christian – surely someone else with good principles would be equally suitable. I found myself explaining that actually, my faith is very important and should be the most important thing in my life. I said I wanted to meet a man who would encourage me to be a stronger Christian, and who I could similarly encourage. And if sticking to these principles means I stay single, then I guess I’ll live with that. Especially if it frees me up for more fantastic travel opportunities. That said, I’m sure I could juggle both somehow…