Look, Listen, and Learn

Biking on a trail going along the Baltic Sea Coast, I had to put away my thoughts and fears that were affecting my everyday life and embrace the unknown. I had never been up to the Baltic Sea for a long time, and the area I was visiting- Flensburg, Sondernburg, northern Germany, and southern Denmark- was untouched until I got off the train at the station and explored the region that I hadn’t seen before. The first thing I did was get to know the people up there, the culture, and the surroundings. I looked, I listened, and I learned. It started with a trip down the beaten and rutted trail that snaked its way through the forest, after crossing the wooden bridge into Denmark north of Wassersleben. The various jumps up and down the hill, the sound the wind breezing in from the sea, and the multiple shades of green and brown are all that occupies me opens up new doors to the things I’ve never heard and seen before. However, the dangers have to be figured into the equation: The trail was rutted, rocky, and really run down. It had pine trees placed in and along the road, and the down hill ride was filled with the unknown. I looked, I listened, and I learned.  By the time I ended up in Sondernhafen (Danish is Sondernhav) enjoying Europe’s finest hotdog and Danish ice cream at Anne’s Hot Dog stand, I had mastered 15 km of rugged terrain and gathered some images that were worth taking with me. I tried some Danish delicatessen, listened to the good humor of the Danes and learned about the long-standing relationship that they had with the Germans, that consisting of love and hate, trials and tribulations, toil and tears, and division and unity. Both sides had their differences that had to be settled through military conflict- among other things the war of 1864 between the then Prussians and the Danish kingdom which included a lop-sided Prussian victory at Dubel (near Sondernburg). There was of course the battle over Flensburg and who possesses it as both sides laid claim to it until 1951 when it was considered a border town for both the Danes and the Germans. This was in addition to World War II and Hitler’s quest for breathing room. But today- they live in peaceful co-existence for one reason and one reason only: because they looked, they listened, and they learned. They looked at the benefits of coexistence, they listened to each other, and they listened to each other.

Leaving that as is for another time, I took this experience with me and re-entered reality- a reality that is filled with multicultural diversity but it is the target of xenophobia, cleansing, and pure hatred. This multicultural diversity does not necessarily have to do with the place of origin or ethnical, religious, or cultural backgrounds. It can also focus on family tradition, socio-economical backgrounds, and even the preference of a certain group disregarding politics, themes worth talking about, or even sexuality.  Each of us has its own set of values, thinking, and ideal world that we feel comfortable with. The problem with that is we are being sounded out, played down, browned off by factors that don’t want us to be who we are, let alone share our views with others. Through the actions of these factors, consisting of harassment, intimidation, and even verbal or physical assaults on our identities,  we are vulnerable to a change that is against our nature mainly because the factors don’t look at us, listen to us, and learn from us. It is no wonder why so many people take their own lives and those with them- because they feel that they don’t belong to society and need to express their frustration to the rest of society.

When I read about an 18 year old taking his own life because he was gay and therefore was cyber-bullied, or a 17 year old storming a school to pelt others with bullets before providing his own head with one, it makes me ask myself, why are these people doing this. Like us, they had a right to live and share their experiences with others without being ashamed of it. But the people who bullied them to a point of suicide did this because they were afraid of seeing them in their world. These are the people who are careless because they don’t look at the people for who they are, listen to them and how their lives developed the way they were, and learn from that experience and perhaps can relate to them. By being wreckless, ignorant and fearful, what happens to the victim actually comes back to haunt them. It’s like travelling along that rutted path through the forest, that I mentioned earlier- the careless and faster you bike, the more likely that you will create a very nasty fall that will cause injuries (some serious pending on the degree).  If you look at the incidents that has happened over the past decade: Littleton in 1999, Erfurt in 2002, Cold Springs in 2005, Red Lake Falls in 2007, Virginia Tech in 2008, Ansbach and Winnenden in 2009, and now a slew of suicides that has been happening over the last six months, including the aforementioned cyberbullying that resulted in a suicide in Massachusetts, they all follow the same pattern.

So why don’t we all be careful with what we say or do with other people? Is it necessary to be wreckless and take action without thinking of the consequences? And what is wrong with embracing other people and cultures? It’s free and priceless. You learn more about them and make yourself a better person at the same time. You become more popular to the community because of your openess, tolerance, and acceptance of other people and their views on life. And the most valuable experience from all this is you may end up befriending the person whom you wanted to bully to begin with.  It’s very easy to do. One just has to look, listen, and learn.

I would like to close with some food for thought, looking at this topic from a historian’s point of view. If you look at the picture at the end of this entry, you’ll see a fort that was built at Dubel in 1864 as a fortress to fend off the advancing Prussians and protect neighboring Sondernburg. While the defense was not successful and the Danes lost the war, both sides 87 years later realized that there was no point in wasting lives and resources not only in fighting each other but also erecting memorials comemorating the battles, so they took the cheapest and easiest way out and built a bridge connecting the two cultures and embraced each other. They didn’t care about their backgrounds or their differences, and it’s understandable why. We spend more money, resources, and nerves on conflicts and the memorials commemorating them than we do when we spend the few precious free minutes of our lives to say hi to another person and get to know him/her. And the benefits of just a few minutes to learn from the person far outweigh that of ignoring or even bullyiing them. So instead of spending that money on defending ourselves against people who don’t fit in society why not build a bridge for them and do what we should be doing in the first place- look, listen, and learn.

And the file closes with the pics worth taking with you. Until next time, folks.

Photo taken by Jason Smith in May, 2010

Fort Dubel near Sondernburg- the source of the conflict between the Danes and the Germans in 1864 and the symbol of division and the fear.

SOLUTION: BUILD A BRIDGE AND OPEN UP!

Photo taken by Jason Smith in May, 2010

FAQ: This bridge, built in 1926 did serve as a symbol of unity between Germany and Denmark. Up until the Schengen Agreement in 1995, the bridge was guarded by the patrolmen on both sides, who maintained peace free of conflict, and people had to present their passports before crossing. Since then people can bike across freely and the patrolmen’s house on the Danish side is all that remains.

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