Last Friday, on October 7, the Kick-off of the “Reflective House” at Fontys University of Arts took place, with guest speaker Caecilia van Pisken. The general idea for the Reflective House is to develop and facilitate a space in our institution where students, teachers, and researchers can come together and exchange ideas, share thoughts on issues, questions, develop projects and discuss topics that matter to them – especially those outside of curricula. The only delineation is that this happens within an inquiring attitude: through asking questions, thinking and working together on them, rather than starting with solutions, or coming up with what we already know.
The initiative for this specific evening was sparked in conversation with Eva Knechtl from the team internationalisation, regarding questions how we as an arts institution can engage with the world around us, specifically in urgent situations such as the war in Ukraine and the refugee crisis. This idea, originating in thoughts on social engagement and conflict situations, gave us an excellent opportunity to invite Caecilia van Pisken, who has a background in UN conflict missions, and is working on UN Sustainable Development Goal #16: Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions. It was inspiring to hear her speak about her work and her wealth of experiences.
It is quite a difficult task to summarise Peski’s work in a few words: While reading her CV, I was struck by the sheer amount of different kinds of work that she has done, so here just a few bits: Caecilia is a commander in the Dutch Royal Navy, a military veteran, and an authority in the fields of peace and security, civil-military interaction, democratisation and elections, justice and equality. As a UN representative, she addressed the UN General Assembly with her statement “Women, Peace, Security.” Within the UN Sustainable Development Goals, Caecilia works in particular on Goal #16: Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions.
Among the stories she shared with us, I was particularly intrigued by Caecilia’s description of what makes good peace negotiators, a topic that would deserve a full lecture in itself: The ability to make real contact with the other person, ofter under enormous pressure and multi-layered tensions. One must be able to listen exceptionally well and to empathise how it is like to be the other person. Typically, through lots of training and interactions with a considerable variety of other people, peace negotiators are able to ask the other person: What’s your story?