July 16, 2013

Conflict Studies

Hey Team,

I wanted to tell you about a class I took Spring Semester that I haven't got around to telling you about yet. It was the most powerful class I'd ever attended at the University of Utah. I'm tearing up just thinking about it.

Now, you are thinking to yourself, "Jana, we all know you cry all the time, like a walking, talking weeping willow. You weep over puppies being reunited with soldiers coming or anything soft and cuddly like that."

But team, I am here to tell you, this class was the closest thing to therapy I have ever encountered, let alone at a University level with amazing minds. I wasn't expecting it in the least. But it was the greatest way to end my last full-time student semester of 12 or more credits.

Now to begin, my professor, Leonard Hawes, was legit. As in, he dressed the part of an amazing professor, with the cool clear glasses on his face, carried the leather messenger bag, super tall and animated, and he felt more like a student and friend than a professor. It seemed all my other young professors at the U were always so worried about being the "cool" professor that everyone liked, or the seasoned professors that would only teach their viewpoint and not accept what others were throwing out. That's one major blessing of the University of Utah. You were taught methods of how to approach problems and issues, through different lenses, you weren't taught to think like everyone else. Being different and a loner was celebrated, and I still appreciate that immensely.

Leonard was so open and accepting to what happened in the classroom it was almost jarring. He prepared a few questions or thoughts everyday from our readings, or his philosophical mind, and then just let it flow. In most other classes, it was the method of professor asking a question, and usually only accepting one answer, or lecturing without drawing breath for an hour and a half.

But in Dialogue and Conflict Studies, we were put into a circle so we could see each other speak. We were sharing our experiences and lives in a truly vulnerable and safe space. On the very first day, Leonard told us about his divorce from his first marriage. He spoke of the mistakes he made, and how it took him over 5 years to gather the courage to have a conversation about it with his ex-wife. In that moment, the magic began. For the rest of the semester, it never stopped happening. Sure, some days were less interesting than others, but it was just so unique and wonderful from any other class that I can recall.

One time we were speaking about forgiveness as a class, and Leonard brought up Kinyarwanda, a film from Sundance I was lucky enough to see the exact same day as him. The film was about the Rwandan Genocide, and how a young woman has the courage to forgive the boy who killed her parents. When I mentioned I had seen it as well,  and how powerful the experience was, I started getting emotional and crying just recalling it from memory. I spoke of how amazing the story was, and how the character was willing to forgive something almost unforgivable. But looking at my own life, it was so easier to hold onto things that hurt me for a long time, no matter what the degree of pain was, large or small.

Leonard then introduced me to the idea of ontology of film, and how it can easily connect us to the human experience and especially each other. So this professor, who didn't even know I had studied film for the past few years, now helped me discover why I loved it so much. This form of art connects audiences and people in a way that few things can. Through pain, through joy, and everything that a film can portray to you, and the connections you make to your own life. Now that was a beautiful moment in my education.

I apologized for crying to the class, but Leonard said I didn't need to. He said I had a bright heart, and I think it was the most wonderful compliment I had ever been paid in my entire 23 years.

If you ever get a chance, take this class. True magic happened for myself, and for each and every student who attended. Some simple but powerful questions or advice that I've wanted to share are the following:

Always speak for yourself

Ask for what you want

Allow yourself to be vulnerable in any situation, because that's when magic happens

What would it be like if you had what you want?

What have you done or said to get what you want?

Have you done more than daydream?

What haven't you been willing to do to get what you want?

Our final project for the class was to have a taped conversation with someone close to us in our lives, like it was our last conversation ever.

If there is someone in your life who you have lost touch with, or just need to hash some things out with, I'd recommend this method. We did record the conversation with the other parties knowledge, and then transcribed the conversation. You notice more patterns and habits when it's out on paper.

Amazing things happened for me, and for each of the students in the class.

Here's to magic.


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