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Believing is Seeing

By Jenny Horsman

Believing is Seeing

Messages for Victims and Survivors of Crime Week – Part 5 of 7 in series

A Learning and Violence Stance is a place to stand with curiosity, connection and conscious awareness, before the colonial gaze of judgments, diagnoses, labels and standard stories shape and limit our view.


That saying “seeing is believing” suggests that we shouldn’t believe something until we see it. When we shift that old idiom though, and believe instead in the best version of ourselves, and of others, then we may be surprised. One teacher I interviewed long ago told me that when he was finding it impossible to connect with a student, he would tell them he knew they were wonderful, and that he was a pretty decent guy too, who didn’t deserve to be treated “badly,” and ask them what was going on that led them to behave as they did. That belief in the goodness of everyone in the mix allowed a profound shift for many of his students. If we believe in something different from what we are seeing, we just might create the space for something new to come into view.


The institutions some of us work within, or seek to learn from, are structures and systems that constrain and shape each interaction. They are boxes we must force ourselves into if we are going to engage with them. Even when we create more windows and doors, new access points with which to modify or enhance them, the basic box is rarely changed. The challenge, then, for those of us with a role in places of learning and other institutions and systems, is to create as much spaciousness as possible.


It is also useful to acknowledge the limitations of our power to change them substantively or structurally, to ourselves and to others. If we don’t, we leave the students, clients, or consumers of our services to see themselves/ourselves as only wrong, bad, stupid, not good enough to belong, or to deserve support in those spaces. Or we end up blaming ourselves for our “failures.” Either consequence only compounds the violence.


What helps you see what is not yet there to see? What supports you to stretch the limits of the organizations and institutions you inhabit, and to forgive yourself when you hit the hard stops?

About the Author

I am an educational researcher, a white first-generation settler in Canada, a migrant from England by way of Sierra Leone, where I spent nearly four years beginning to unlearn much I had been taught about the world in England. In Sierra Leone I absorbed new awareness of colonialism and white privilege, though I didn’t really understand the significance of those lessons until years later.

For more than thirty years I have been studying the impacts of all forms of violence on learning, and exploring how to support more effective and joyful learning of the things we choose to learn, at any age and in any setting. I first stumbled over the connection between violence we experience and how and what we learn during my doctoral research in the 80s, and later came to understand that what I heard resonated with some of my own childhood experiences.


I have learned a lot over the years, from research, experience, the wisdom of colleagues and students of different races, religions, cultures, and socioeconomic locations from my own, and a wide variety of training and study.

I prefer the language of a Learning and Violence Stance to the commonly used “trauma-informed”, in order to stress this point of view that recognizes the multifaceted nature of violence in society, and the correspondingly complex pressures when any one of us try to support learning, our own or others,’ within colonial institutions and an unjust society founded on violence.

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