Meet your prejudice
Employees of WISTA Management GmbH met people who share their experiences with prejudice and social exclusion
For its work in site development and business promotion, WISTA Management GmbH (WISTA) relies on a diverse team, coexistence and tolerance, and the individual development of its staff. This process is supported by the association “Lebendige Bibliothek e.V.” (“Living Library”).
“My name is Gerhard, and I am illiterate.” This is how 64-year-old Gerhard Prange starts his conversation with four people he has never met before. He tells them a story of a life full of difficulties: His parents, too, could not read or write, and there was no support for him at school so soon after the war. He quit an apprenticeship and started working in cleaning. Prange came to terms with his fate, covered things up, led a kind of double life—a huge challenge that led him to alcoholism.
On this particular afternoon, Gerhard Prange is one of three so-called “living books” from the “Living Library”, who share their experiences with prejudice and social exclusion with WISTA staff. Other “books” from the Berlin-based association, founded in 2008 and modelled on a Danish youth initiative against violence, have included people that have been discriminated against based on their skin colour, disability, sexual orientation, religion, homelessness, or disease.
They speak publicly at events of the “Living Library” but can also be “borrowed” for a personal conversation at schools or other groups. In this way, they offer the possibility to gain insights into a life and perspective that is different from one’s own.
For Bessie Fischer-Bohn, these conversations are “a beautiful way to turn the abstract terms ‘appreciation’ and ‘respect’ into something that can be felt and understood. Being touched in this way creates long-term change of people’s attitudes and behaviours.” The head of Human Resources / Organisation / Quality Management has set out to firmly anchor tolerance and openness in the everyday operations at WISTA. She and her team host regular workshops in which staff can actively contribute to projects on company culture and sustainability. “We work on innovative and forward-looking projects, and this is only possible with a team that has the same goals and values and has the means to develop in the best-possible way. I am proud to see how we are developing one step at a time,” says Fischer-Bohn.
WISTA will continue visiting the “Living Library” in the years to come because the participants were so impressed by the moving conversations and the opportunity to clean out the junk drawers in their own minds. Gerhard Prange, for example, does not match any of the clichés that might be associated with illiterate people. He is quite eloquent, has an impressive general knowledge as well as an incredibly life-affirming attitude. But it took his coming-out and a battle against alcoholism to give him the strength to go back to school. For a few years now, Prange has been learning to read and write twice a week—a world that has been kept from him until now. “Some day,” says Prange hopefully, “I want to write my daughter a whole letter.”
Peggy Mory for POTENZIAL
- WISTA Management GmbH (wista.de)
- Die Lebendige Bibliothek (“Living Library”, lebendige-bibliothek.org)