Talk In A Tent

How can we resolve conflict?

Yes, you may mock but I think talking in tents might just do the trick. If you want to tackle hatreds, tensions and extremism, a tent is the place to do it.

I first came across the idea after reading an article by Michael Binyon about the use of a Bedouin tent in London. He describes the use of a tent as a unique space and platform for inter-faith dialogue and spiritual discussion.

The tent is in the grounds of St Ethelburga’s Centre for Reconciliation and Peace, and is described as “a magical and unique space set in a beautiful courtyard garden. Woven from goats hair, and built on principles of sacred geometry, it is a harmonious space where people can meet as equals. It is perfect for dialogue, workshops, meetings and away days.”

St Ethelburga’s Church was destroyed by an IRA bomb in 1993.

I love what St Ethelburga’s have done. Their Bedouin Tent is used to discuss every issue under the sun that divides us: religious extremism, acid attacks, gang culture, Islamophobia, racial tensions, sexual morality, anti-Semitism, poverty and education. It is dedicated to peace-making and reconciliation and represents a ‘liminal space‘ outside of most people’s experience.

As Craig (2016) notes,

“It’s a place for chatting, listening, hearing, learning and just simply ‘being’.”

Since it was opened in 2006, the Bedouin tent has seen thousands of people argue, debate and discuss inside. It has also shown that it works by bring people together. As Michael Binyon describes in his 2009 article for The Times, ‘The tent where ideas are canvassed and passions lulled’,

People come in the tent angry and confrontational. They argue and negotiate, sometimes shout and sometimes break down. But gradually the tent works its magic. It encloses an intimate space. It calms. It forces people to listen. It prompts admissions, concessions and confidences.”

The tent is a beautiful construction made in Saudia Arabia. Inside there are sofas and cushions, elegant folds of material and even stained glass windows. This is a cosy and calm place, quiet and dignified. It feels like a religious place but it has no religious imagery because it isn’t intended to be a religious place – spiritual perhaps.

The intimacy of the space allows people to explore their differences in a completely non-threatening space where people swap thoughts and speak what’s on their mind. It encourages actively listening and introspection. It builds communities through personal narratives. St Ethelburga’s say,

Many times at St Ethelburga’s we have witnessed the profound impact that well-communicated personal story can have on others.  We noticed that stories have the power to build bridges between people where discussion and dialogue sometimes fail.

Can this work in school?

Okay, schools can’t afford to go and buy a Bedouin tent but they can create safe and calm spaces for circle time that are different from classrooms.

Trying to resolve conflicts and have open discussions in a classroom doesn’t always work because of the nature of the space. Not all classrooms lend themselves well to discussions, especially for small group meetings.

I love the idea of Mike Fairclough has for his school – they have a Mongolian yurt for circle time. It is this type of thinking that shows we can be far more creative for children and give them more exciting places to discuss and debate.

Okay so a Mongolian yurt might be out of the question too but a tent is within budget and you can buy these quite cheaply, even huge ones!

By talking in a tented space we can alter the dynamics of dialogue and bring a new perspective to how we think simply by altering the context of our conversation. Taking an issue away from the classroom and into a dedicated space for reflection and contemplation enables children to talk to each other and see themselves as others see them.

The intimacy of a tent can help foster learning conversations, help children see each other and the world differently and bring differences together.

One thing they should not be used for and that is a time-out room or used as a penalty. Tents are for bring people together not for seclusion. Tents integrate not segregate.

Circle time in a tent can follow the example of St Ethelburga’s tent and bring together people of different ideas and faiths to talk and reach a better understanding.

Every school should have a permanent tent space and they can call it St Ethelburga’s.

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