Gossip, Reputation and the UWC Values

Opinion by Mihail Popa, Red Cross Nordic
Thursday, 9th November 2017

[aesop_content color=”#000000″ background=”#ffffff” component_width=”600px” columns=”1″ position=”none” imgrepeat=”no-repeat” disable_bgshading=”off” floaterposition=”left” floaterdirection=”up” revealfx=”off” overlay_revealfx=”off”]First time I came across the concept of international schools, my mind was flooding with images depicting people wearing funny clothes, waving flags, some known, some unrecognizable, doing all the things different stereotypes describe. Like me, many others had their own premade images in anticipation of their new life among strangers. Most of us now regard such imagery with a drop of amusement. The airport encounters, the first steps in the campus, the classes, all made us well aware of the ridiculousness those images implied. From the very beginning, these images shatter, as we disregard the stereotypes we built our prejudice upon. We learn to share responsibilities, we learn to appreciate each other and we learn to live together. Our differences no longer polarize us. We aren’t that different, that eccentric, and even if we are, that’s fine.
Sounds great, but is it really the case? When facing conflicting opinions, do we deal with them or do we just conceal them? One of the most important pieces of advice given to me by my second year roommate was to look after my reputation. In a community as small as RCN, no event is left unnoticed and no deed is left unjudged. Reputation becomes a cross everyone has to bear, and we, the students, are the ones who hammer the nails into each other’s hands. Your voiced opinions shape your reputation.
Many would say it’s a normal phenomenon, it happens in all communities and so it should. We are subjects to the consequences of our actions and social pressure acts as a force to temperate. We make sure there is an outer force that prevents us from harming others, and prevents others from harming us.
However, this process of passing judgment seems to come in contradiction with the idea of unity in diversity. We seem to refuse to address cultural differences in public forums, in fear of being stigmatized, but when we find ourselves within the comfort of our tight social groups, we start condemning. Religious or political views are a prime example of how this happens.
Take a political stance different from the generally abided, you’re a radical. Come out as gay in a religion and sexuality discussion and you’re a sinner. But you’re only all these things way later, after the discussion was left unchallenged, when people have already gathered around dinner tables. It occurs to me that not many of us realize we started making a reflex out of it. Chit chat quickly slides into personal shaming as quick as “did you hear?”.
How can we all stand as ambassadors for a movement promoting understanding, acceptance and diversity when we, ourselves, act in opposition? It seems to me that the differences no longer polarize us because we are afraid to acknowledge them, afraid of being judged for bringing them up. Is this really, then, how we get to understand each other? Is this how we “accept” each other? Maybe it is time for us to try and discuss our views with one another and to stop pointing fingers before we address these views openly.