Intensive Staff Training for Muslims, Druze, Christians, and Secular Atheists – By Didi Ananda Devapriya
Intensive Neohumanist Training in Lebanon
Since 2013, I have been travelling regularly to Lebanon to offer Neohumanist training, consultation, documentation and support to the AMURTEL Lebanon projects started to address the Syrian refugee crisis. The projects have continued to develop innovative services that support helping young marginalized refugee children to integrate successfully into school, as well as giving youth and women the confidence and practical skills they need to enhance their livelihoods. In October 2021, I led an intensive week of staff training in Chouf, including workshops, team buildings, and yoga sessions with all of the 70 people on staff for five days.
There were specific workshops on writing therapeutic stories, Neohumanism and practical classroom management, as well as sessions for team building to improve communication and trust, not only with the social workers and educators, but with the whole team, including also drivers, cooks and cleaners. In addition, I facilitated two strategic planning sessions for the management team. Participants clarified strengths and best practices and realigned their mission for maximum impact as certain funding phases end and others possibilities for growth and development open up.
Gaining a Broader View of Neohumanism
One of the highlights was a workshop on Neohumanism, in which I offered the participants the opportunity to gain a broader perspective on the principles and aims of Neohumanist philosophy. A clearer understanding can then lead to innovative and flexible applications to methodology, whether in the educational or social service-oriented projects.
Lebanon’s Generational Intergroup Tensions
In a country with such deep collective wounds from generational conflicts and tensions between so many different religious and ethnic groups, it can be challenging to find common ground, especially when approaching the subject of spirituality. It tends to be a subject that can easily trigger religious sentiments that unfortunately most often have led to divisiveness and even bloodshed in Lebanon rather than unity.
Neohumanism: a Broad Platform for Unity in Diversity
It was a unique opportunity to present Neohumanism before a very diverse group, that included Muslims, Druze, Christians, Secular Atheists, Palestinians, Lebanese, Syrians and more. I explained that Neohumanism is a broad platform for finding a common ground and language to address the spiritual dimension and needs of human beings, that even those embedded in a secular paradigm can relate to. Indeed, it is becoming more apparent that in order to address some of the global issues facing humanity, such as the climate crisis, pandemics, etc. we need to be able to cultivate awareness of our interconnection to all of life and our responsibilities towards the planet and people, which are spiritual qualities.
Advantages and Disadvantages of the Secular Paradigm
While the scientific, secular paradigm freed many societies from the intellectually suffocating influences of religious dogmas by separating state and church from education and governance, in doing so, most often the spiritual dimension of life was relegated to the purely personal sphere. Relativism has allowed us
to develop a type of tolerance for diversity, yet one that avoids the challenge of seeking truths that can unite us. The brilliance of Shrii P.R. Sarkar’s social analysis of human sentiments is that it provides neutral language to talk about not only divisive phenomenon, but also transcendental experience.
Devotional sentiment: a cross-cultural, universal experience
I explained how different sentiments create individual and group identities that can lead to in-group / out-group dynamics that then fuel intergroup conflicts. The participants identified examples of geo-sentiments, for example whether they identified more with Beirut or with Chouf, and if they felt some common bond with others from the same area. As they similarly explored socio-sentiments, I underlined that socio-sentiments are a natural part of our human psychology, stemming from our needs for belonging, identity, bonding and safety. The socio-sentiments cannot be avoided. However, rather than remaining confined within a safe comfort zone of people that we perceive to be similar to us, Neohumanism challenges us to keep expanding our identity in order to be able to feel that sense of connection and oneness with all human beings, and ultimately all other created beings as well.
I also described the cross-cultural existence of transcendental experiences related to cultivating a very subtle type of sentiment known in Neohumanist philosophy as devotional sentiment. The proposition was that focusing on the universal aspects of something that can be experienced within and has been documented throughout the ages and cultures, in both theistic and non-theistic traditions may be an easier and more productive pathway towards creating consensus on spirituality than trying to reach an agreement about the nature, name, form and existence or non-existence of a Divine Entity. Indeed, already scientific research is being carried out that substantiates the neurobiology of certain transcendental experiences in meditation and prayer. Thus, there is evidence cross-culturally, of transcendental experiences not only in theistic religions but even in atheistic traditions, and by secular science.
This broad approach was well-received by the participants. They gained a fresh perspective and understanding on some of the causes of intergenerational group conflicts, that they experience personally in Lebanon. Even more importantly, they discussed pathways towards a better future, through the educational and social services they provide.