By Jennifer Popplewell •
Published: 06 Nov 2023 • 23:23
A Human Library
Credit: VIRGINIA MADON/OTTAWA PUBLIC LIBRARY
HUMAN BEINGS are naturally social creatures. Since our beginning we have always lived in groups and searched for connection with each other in some form.
Modern day society has made us a little more isolated than our starry souls would probably like. The age of the iPhone sees humans walking around in their own little bubble, thinking they have everything they need at their fingertips, but being, well, alone.
Social media manages to fill this loneliness quite some, perhaps that is why it is so popular. However, these platforms also bring many more problems along with them, often inciting hate and prejudice, with false facts and the ‘herd mentality’ effect.
Under this flesh prison we call our body, we are all filled with red blood and white(ish) bones. We all want to love and be loved, we all relish a cool drink and often gaze at the stars. The fundamental essence of what it is to be human is shared between each and every one of us, yet the world seems to be, and always has been, in a general chaos of war and hatred.
The Human Library understood that much of this so-called hatred was actually just a misunderstanding of one another, a lack of information, an ignorance. We were all made from the same ‘one’, therefore surely by bringing back that one connection we could ‘get to know’ each other again.
The Human Library is an international organisation and movement that was first founded in Copenhagen, Denmark, in the year 2000 by brothers Ronni and Dany Abergel. Their primary goal was to address people’s prejudices by helping them to talk to those they would not normally meet in their everyday lives. To achieve this, they presented their idea of a ‘Human Library’, a place of lending people rather than books.
On their website, The Human Library, or “Menneskebiblioteket” as it is called in Danish, explains that they are, ‘in the true sense of the word, a library of people. We host events where readers can borrow human beings serving as open books and have conversations they would not normally have access to. Every human book from our bookshelf, represents a group in our society that is often subjected to prejudice, stigmatisation or discrimination because of their lifestyle, diagnosis, belief, disability, social status, ethnic origin etc..’
Euro Weekly News spoke to Afzal Ahmed, a retired electrician, aged 74, who is originally from Bangladesh but moved to a small village in the North of England 24 years ago. “When I arrived I realised that I was the only dark skinned person living on my street, what they didn’t realise was that I was probably more scared of them than they were of me” he admitted. “I will not play the victim, I did not want to speak to anybody either, I spoke English but no one understood my accent, I was cold, I didn’t like the food or understand their jokes, it was awful, I felt so alone”. When asked by EWN why he still lives in the village, he explained that an unexpected change happened after six months of him living there. “One night when I was coming home late from work I saw an old lady had fallen down, I tried to move her but couldn’t so I ran home and called an ambulance, then went and waited with her for them to arrive. I was trying to keep her talking to take her mind off the pain and so kept asking about her family and favourite foods and all that. When they took her to hospital I went too, and explained to her family what had happened when they later arrived. After that, it all changed, we were friends for life and people started to accept me, now some are like family and this is my home”.
This chance, joint redemption is precisely the concept behind The Human Library, as it states that their events ‘create a place where people who would otherwise never talk, find room for conversation’.
It is a lot harder to hate somebody when you understand them, when you know their favourite colour and what film makes them cry. Connection sparks that beautiful natural human trait of empathy, as we focus on our similarities rather than our differences. Connection is the free and endless remedy that could cure this crazy world.
One person who attended a ‘Human Library’ event is Sunny Myers, aged 31 from Brighton, who had a first hand experience ‘borrowing a person’ at a pop up event at Copenhagen Pride in August of this year. He described the experience as “eye opening” and although he did not want to go into too much detail of the prejudice thoughts he had beforehand, he stated that “afterwards I felt like a new person, even though I was ashamed of my old self I felt so light and lovely and that I understood a completely new level of life”. He continued to say that he “felt like I wanted to go and speak to every person on the street afterwards”, before concluding that his life “has never been the same since”.
The Human Library Organisation is currently active in over 80 countries, and also offers diversity, equity and inclusion training for companies that wish to better incorporate social understanding within their workforce.
For more information on how you can be involved, from becoming a human book, to hosting an event, working as an intern or simply donating to their cause, you can visit their website humanlibrary.org.
As Simba from the Lion King sang it so simply in that old Disney classic, ‘we are one’.
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Jennifer is a proud northerner from Sheffield, England, who is currently living in Spain. She loves swimming in rivers, talking to the stars and eating luxurious chocolate.
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