Meet János Wagner
Originally a computer scientist, János Wagner has also studied sociology, deliberative studies and community development and now works as a mediator and trainer on Roma inclusion at the Partners Hungary Foundation. His work involves conflict prevention and resolution. What makes his work special is that his organization doesn’t just give abstract advice to areas where conflicts exist, but rather tries to come up with tailored solutions involving all relevant local stakeholders.
The first victory
He doesn’t remember his first victory, but he sees each project or training that is changing people as a victory. It is an incredible feeling when his trainees start to see other people differently than before. This is not an easy thing to do and things don’t always happen this way. One of the most often heard racist tropes is “I am not a racist, but”. It is hard to find the right arguments, when people do not regard their views as racist, when these prejudices pop up automatically. But in the end, it is not that important, because people who are really enthusiastic see it very clearly that it is almost impossible to completely get rid of these attitudes and prejudices. Instead, it is more useful to focus on practical issues and see how the community’s life can be better in the future.
The bumps in the road
János sees defeats as victories waiting to happen, but he knows it well that both of them are parts of the story. . Time and effort put into a cause usually tend to provide for a successful ending. This opens the community to new ideas andleads to solving the conflict.
This is precisely what keeps János going: the positive experiences with the people his organization works with. When he faces anydifficulty, even hopeless or very contradictory situations, he thinks about how he could contribute to find a solution to the problem, how he can make the life of others better with the resources they can offer.
Extremism explained to a 5-year-old
János considers that it is not necessary to explain racism or extremism to little children because they think very differently than adults do. They do not care about any differences; they do not pay attention to these. For the older one, he believes it is useful to explain the social mechanisms that are involved in the creation and propagation of these attitudes. No one is born a racist. People learn these attitudes: to exclude others, especially when one goes through a hard time, it iseasy to blame someone else for the difficulties. But in the long run, it is not good for the society.
We are all born without prejudices, children learn prejudices from parents, teachers or later from the media. Society pushes them to think that there are crucial differences between people, that certain people worth less than others or themselves. The way children are raised is a very important factor. If they grow up in a family that promotes tolerance, diversity and inclusion, it will be completely natural for the child to follow that pattern.
Some thoughts for undecided activists
János believes that when trying to combat extremism, showing personal experiences is the strongest way to influence others. If someone sees another person being bullied or humiliated, it is important to think it through: why could this happen, what can be the reasons, is this acceptable to me? And lastly, what could one do to better understand the phenomena. Empathy is a key issue. Try to imagine how the other person in such a situation feels like.
Young people rarely share their problems with their parents or teachers. They rather turn to each other, to friends and classmates. The smaller the age-gap is, the easier it is to accept advice from others. If you want to change the attitudes of someone, it is better to have a peer who „speaks that person’s language”. What one should do is offer support to these persons through the necessary tools and knowledge.
Challenge your inner activist
Young people should be aware that it often does not take too much effort to change the world a bit. If others take selfies with a graffiti that aims to humiliate a minority group, you can just stay away from them or tell them that you do not find it that funny as they do. It is important to be aware of your opinions and to try to turn off the peer pressure you might feel. If you believe that your friends are following a path that you cannot agree with anymore, try to build connections with people who think like you do.
At a first glance, it might seem that being a member of an extremist group is cool. Therefore, it is very important to have your network of friends where you can discuss these problems, think about the reasons and perhaps do something, if one of your friends is becoming more and more influenced by extremist ideas.