By Gillian Arigho

Do you ever wonder about the conversations you could have, but don’t? How many potential connections we’ve lost out on or laughs not had? Without us realising, who we choose to connect with is often determined by many factors. All around us is an interconnected, ever changing network of communities that make up a society; a larger picture. Between these communities we begin to see divides, both major and minute, that have been constructed by some invisible forces. These forces are what we call “social barriers”.

Social barriers are any differences or obstacles associated with the free communication and connection between groups. Such obstacles can arise due to gender, age, socioeconomic status, religion and ethnicity. What these barriers lead to is the phenomenon of conformity, whereby the social norms and cultural values of an individual morph and align with that of a wider group. In turn, it affects our beliefs, behaviours and who we associate ourselves with. These hurdles usually have an adverse effect on other members of the same society. It gives way to the stereotyping and pigeonholing of other groups and lets negative emotion towards them accumulate. We subconsciously choose to connect to others who remind us of ourselves because the boundaries are clearer and communication is seemingly easier. We reinforce our own beliefs over and over again as a result, gaining no perspective from others and consequently holding a narrow worldview. 

So how do we overcome them? There are many ways each of us can take to help diminish social fragmentation – and communication is at the core of them all. Without getting too philosophical it’s important to note that, because culture and society themselves are man-made concepts, so are the boundaries that form as a result. Therefore, we have the power to at least challenge them, if not change them.

Locating a community or any single connection is the first step, i.e. find someone to have a conversation with. It’s not as daunting as it sounds, I promise. It could take the form of a volunteer position, a college society, a new past time or attending Conversation Salon! Somewhere where the essence of the time spent in that place with those people is to connect. It can be online; there are plenty of forum boards to garner information and ask questions. Facebook groups and Pinterest pages are a great way to break the ice with people who share a common interest with you but could be from any of the four corners of the earth with entirely different experiences. The aim is to further your own perspective through the perspectives of others.

When connecting, be respectful of personal boundaries people may have about certain topics – we’re here to break through social barriers, not plough through comfort zones. Come away from it and think critically of why their boundaries might be there. Be patient with differing opinions; you don’t have to agree with them but you also don’t have to argue. Recognise individuality and differences as a binding force, not a dividing one. Be purposeful and mindful of your language and your tone as there are many nuances in communication that could lead someone to take a different meaning from your message. Create an “Open Door” policy in terms of communication. Individuals will be more forthcoming if you provide a space where they aren’t afraid to have their beliefs and experiences scrutinised. 

Most importantly, be empathetic. Being able to imagine ourselves in someone else’s shoes is the strongest superpower we have. It gives us an insight into who people are, and why they are the way they are. Empathy has been, and always will be, a powerful agent for change.

Each of us has the power to impact something – be it the “bigger picture” or ourselves. Challenge your own opinion and have constructive conversations. We are all on this big blue and green marble together, made of the same substance and having entirely different experiences. Explore the uncharted lands of cultures and individuals you might have deemed worlds away from your own. Enter those conversations with no ulterior motive other than to understand. Open the gates, let the barriers fall, jump the hurdle and simply connect.

Want to see it in action?

Check out Jubilee’s Middle Ground Playlist here below. The premise of these episodes is to gather two groups with opposing beliefs, present them with a series of questions and trust the participants to communicate respectfully with the hope of them finding some common ground.

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