Ahmad Shah Karimi is 30 years old, currently living in Kabul and founder of AYEPO – the „Afghanistan Youth Empowerment and Peacebuilding Organization“. He is driven by an utopia of a world in which people actually are getting to know each other instead of being stuck with their very own (mis-)conceptions of each other. Lena, member of Frühlingserwachen, met Ahmad Shah Karimi in Afghanistan and spoke with him about the power of listening.
„From early childhood we are learning to be competitive, to compare. School is the same: There is always comparison, no matter what we do. Who is better, faster, has more capabilities“, he explains. In his opinion, this constant competition is part of what is causing people not to be closer to each other: „It would be great if children could simply learn who they are, get to know their own skills, develop and nurture them, without comparing with others.“ Everyone could develop his or her skills and contribute to society with what they know best. Without constant competition less walls between people would be built up in the first place. „There is a lot that can divide us if we focus on it“, he explains. Different religions, traditions, locations, families, surroundings: People are tending to focus on what’s dividing them. Projections and prejudice are keeping them from actually getting to know each other and the basic learning from school and work that everything is functioning against and not with each other is supporting this focus of separation. „As long as their is competition, comparision, conflict becomes natural“, he points out.
If he could invent an own school subject – hypothetically – for everyone he would implement a kind of class that allows students to understand themselves better, find their skills, grow them. „Of course, there is skills and techniques that are good to learn, to get good at, that helps us make a living but they don’t help us to get to know oneself.“ That ist why it is important to understand one’s own mind and that everything it creates is more about ourselves than about others.
„Therefore, it is important to actually get to know each other and not stick with our concepts about the other one“, he explains. He is already training exactly that at peace leadership trainings, peace camp, and other trainings and programs with young people from different backgrounds around Afghanistan. „Empathic listening“ he calls one of the approaches. „One of them is talking, without any interruptions or questions, just ten minutes only for his or her story. Everyone else is listening closely, empathically.“
Feedback from the past events have shown that this approach shows great results. „The participants of AYEPO’s programs find it interesting to get to know each other through dialogue and compassionate listening. The spirit of both sharing and listening changes the environment, builds trust among these young people, helps them understand and see each other from a different perspective. They make out similarities between them they had never expected before. One thing he wants to point out: „You cannot force people to love each other.“ At the same time no one could force them to hate each other. Through methods like empathic listening people could develop an understanding for each other and with it, a respectful way to treat each other, a togetherness that does not build walls out of prejudice but is based on the knowledge that we all have things in common, even if we might look very different on first sight.