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Most of us have some degree of prejudice or negative notions about individuals or groups we consider a certain “type”. It’s not something we like to admit, but it is an aspect of being human.  We are wired to mistrust or even fear what we don’t know or understand. Yet, being the subject of a stereotype or discriminated against can be very harmful to the impacted individual and society as a whole. So, it’s up to each of us to make an effort to get better informed of the facts.

What if there were a way to make the world a kinder, better place just by listening? What if we could have a sit-down with someone we’ve never met before but who represents a “type” we hold poor assumptions about?  What if we could hear their story; their lived experience?  Would we be surprised?  Would we feel compassion? Would we feel they are more like us than we thought? Would our fear and judgment give way to understanding and acceptance?

In Denmark in 2000, The Human Library Organization (HLO) was conceived by a group of two brothers and their colleagues to put these questions to the test. It set out to see if opinions would change if taboo topics were openly discussed, without condemnation, by those directly experienced in the matter. Created as a project for the Roskilde Festival in Copenhagen, the HLO was a raging success, and the potential for it to benefit other communities could not be ignored.

Don’t Judge a Book by its Cover

Since then, HLO, a non-profit organization, has enabled members of the public to borrow a person — or “human book” —  for 30 minutes to hear their life story.  Just like a book, each story-teller has a title, for example, “Unemployed”, “Refugee”,  “Bipolar”,  “Muslim”, “Recovering Alcoholic” and “Homeless”.  All of the HLO’s “human books” are volunteers. They give their time freely to foster a greater understanding of their lifestyle, circumstances, religion, illness,  or some other aspect of themselves that they are an expert on and which may be negatively viewed by others. This is a dialogue, not a presentation. Difficult questions are expected, appreciated, and answered.

Today, the HLO is active in more than 80 countries on six continents. Not only does it conduct “human book” borrowing sessions, but it has also formed partnerships with several of the world’s major brands to help them with their inclusion and diversity efforts.

To find out more about the HLO visit https://humanlibrary.org and learn how to become a “human book” and how to borrow a “human book” for a potentially life-changing chat through your nearest Human Library.

At Forge Coaching & Consulting, we help individuals and organizations increase their cultural emotional intelligence (EQ).  We offer workshops that help to improve cultural sensitivity and empathy in the workplace. For more information call us at 905 873 8393.

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