I spent the past week teaching the future generation of leaders at the Kosovo Leadership Academy located in Mitrovica, Kosovo. The school opened in 2015 and in addition to teaching cognitive skills, it infuses lessons of character, leadership, and personal development for students grades 6 through 11.
One of the lessons we shared encompassed an element of critical thinking and a challenge for students to think in a metacognitive fashion. We dove deep into self-awareness and the real probability that others may have a viewpoint or perspective vastly different than their own. It was an especially powerful teaching experience for me to conduct this class in another country with a group of students who have childhood, educational, and life experiences different than my upbringing.
I was struck by the fact that although we bring forward our own bias, assumptions and blind spots as a result of our innate coding and unique familial and cultural perspectives, there are many areas where we seamlessly connect. As I shared lessons on leadership, personality, friendship, setting goals, and followership, I watched closely to see how the universal truths landed.
Whenever a redirect to the front of the class was in order, the teacher would say, “Learn It” and the class would respond, “Live It”. It was a simple yet effective reminder that everything we process to learn, must be applied in our daily lives. While we need to be in a state of situational awareness so that we do not fall prey to false assumptions and biases, we should also strive to find the underlying threads of timeless truths that unite us all. Recognizing bias is great; overcoming bias is tremendous.
Truth stands on its own legs. Contexts and application may change, but that doesn’t change truth; it changes how we “Live It”. We are all products of what’s been poured into our proverbial bucket of life. In watching the students process this fact and heighten their own self-awareness I could see the light bulbs flashing above their heads. None of us is ever purely objective, however, that doesn’t negate the fact that there are universal truths we should all seek to incorporate into our lives. Cleaning the lenses of our own glasses removes the smudges left by bias.
Bias can be a huge crutch to lean upon. We have to be unlearning as much as we are learning and that is a constant evolution of hearing and doing. I have often dismissed poor actions or miscommunications as a product of two or more individuals speaking different "languages.” I see now that I was doing humanity a grave disservice. Leadership entails working with one another to hear and process divergent viewpoints from all sides. Until that happens, we are not learning and we are certainly not living. We are ignoring, silencing, or vilifying.
I was honored to personally witness the cultivation of a fresh new generation of leaders in Kosovo and to work alongside the parents, teachers, and volunteers who are working to bring awareness and unity through education and development. I am excited to return many times in the future so I can watch these young people tamp out their biases and learn to speak the universal language of character.