During almost three decades of working in human services, I have seen the term building bridges gain popularity.
Its a great metaphor. Bridges exist in all countries and transcend cultural barriers. The image of a bridge doesn’t require explanation. The image speaks the intent. We are crossing over, transcending the distance between us, l am leaving my side of the banks and arriving at yours.
It isn’t surprising that both the visual image and the language of bridge building has become an effective analogy for getting along with our neighbor, resolving issues and walking into new territory together.
A few years ago I came across a symbol that captivated my attention and spoke to my ‘inner bridge-builder’ with a clear message that bridge building, no matter how well intended, has its origins in the dual paradigms of separation and differences.
The symbol that stetched my perception is called a Mandorla. The word is Italian for Almond and that is the shape that is created when two circles over lap.
When we are developing a process that involves building a bridge, we are starting from a point of separation, figuring out how to transcend the distance between and seeking to unite two distinctly separated sides. With the Mandorla we can see that as two whole and complete circles retain their unique identity, there is a space where those two circles meet, where we are already connected.
This is the place where we can celebrate that as human beings we all share commonalities, we are already connected.
We breathe the same air, we have the same needs for food, shelter and warmth. As human beings we share a mutal need for love, belonging, purpose and a need for meaningful stories and sense of place in the world.
These are core human needs that form the foundation of families and communities across the planet, regardless of the different cultural, economic or political circumstances of where we live in the place we call home.
If I am running a workshop with young offenders in juvenile detention or visiting a rural Aboriginal Community for a womens camp, the Mandorla affirms our connection. I never enter into their community or communal space wondering how I can build a bridge between us instead I show them my Mandorla poster (see below) and ask if we can spend a bit of time looking at where we are connected.
Once we get past the obvious we are all humans, a whole range of possible shared experiences and commonalities come forth. ‘You are left handed like I am’ or “I like camping.. do you?’
As we explore our commonalities we also look at how the space outside of the Mandorla, that large expanse of the two separate circles, is the place where we learn from one another, a place where our differences are recognised within the place of our connection and not as somewhere we need to get to by crossing the bridge of our differences.
I created a poster for the ART of Change program to show my interpretation of the Mandorla. I always show the poster with the wildly enthusiastic expectation that when people learn about the possibilities of Mandorla for the first time they too will have an ah-ha! moment and realise that the time we spend thinking about, talking about & building bridges is time taken away from sitting in the Mandorla of our connection & sharing in the joy of learning & growing together through one another’s Stories.
I came up with another way of expressing the Mandorla and it goes like this:
We are all the same within, regardless of which of the skins we are in!