Blog post #16: “Unseen need”: Spaces for reflection [Kitchen Table Conversations, Part I]

Below some thoughts I needed to get out of my head after a spontaneous kitchen table conversation with my housemate towards the end of last year.

Coming home from a quite long day in the office. Dealing with data analysis right now. Again. Figuring out how we learn. How key competencies in sustainability were developed in project-based learning settings.

Coming home. Quite hungry. Looking forward to my fresh local green salad with beets, millet and other delights. Thinking of food. Thinking of first-needs-satisfaction. Meeting my “caterpillar”* housemate. Nothing less than how I picture the future “realistically” 30 years ahead, is the question I am asked. Uff. The light dinner talk, I see! Not that I never think ahead. In contrast. However, I am more on the desirable-future-vision-path and how I can make it happen together with others.

The point made was: Maybe there needs to be another big clash/ crisis/ catastrophe that people start changing.


Well – how do we humans learn?

The words crisis, conflict, discomfort, dissonance, frustration, disorienting dilemmas – all known terms in learning theories. Yes – they bear great potential for transformation. In my first article, we talk about the effects of smoldering conflicts. Not only don´t they contribute to learning [change], they withdraw emotional energy from things we actually would like to engage in – if circumstances were different.

Don´t we read about enough crises on a daily basis? There are plenty of reasons that could disrupt our daily lives if we hadn´t turned numb, as also Arjen Wals wrote.

We do not question (enough) why these crises happen. We do not reflect. We rush. We consume one bad news after the other, falling into apathy, not seeing a way out. How can we?! – if we do not halt and reflect, coming down to the roots of problems instead of keep fighting or being angry with symptoms. Interestingly, normally what you apply if short-sighted: You use lenses or glasses to see clear again.

New narratives, as postulated by George Monbiot and others earlier, can be these lenses. Why do we hesitate in putting them on? Who would say no to glasses if they improve your sight, allowing you to see each single leaf on a tree? (Indeed the magic experience I made after years of being already fascinated by trees as such). How come we are so reluctant to take on solution-glasses? Yes, maybe because we are still too comfortable with status quo (as I was with my life without glasses – I did not know the difference).

How can needed learning [transformative] processes be fostered? Supported? So that we learn to see that alternatives are not only possible but do already exist.

What proved useful in my case studies and what learning theories, such as by Kolb and Kolb (2005), support: Reflection is key. Having one experience after the other does not automatically lead to learning if I “have no time” to do something with it.

Spaces for reflection, for joint and individual reflection, need to be actively created. My PhD research showed the importance of a learning community – of people to share feelings and thoughts with – and also the importance to constructively deal with conflicts. This starts with the recognition that there is one. [In our article we write “inner conflict occurs when an individual’s worldview or perspective is challenged by a divergent experience. Inner conflicts often express themselves in discomfort, frustration or perplexity on how to respond or react.” – (Konrad et al. 2020, p. 85)]

When I think of certain health or education institutions – built with kitchens unpleasant to be in, with no spaces to sit down together around a nice meal or even without – where do people interact?
In most of the homes I know, the kitchen is a meeting place for exchange, to live, to laugh, to recharge, to jointly reflect. In institutions which ideally promote health and/or education, emancipation, self-directedness, being a healthy & awakened human – such physical places are undermined. Too less attention is paid to the careful design of such places. And we are wondering why there is no change?

What we steal from ourselves by withdrawing individually behind screens are joint forces needed to bring about change. If we do not talk, engage, meet – just absorb: just pieces of knowledge and bad moods may retain. What we need are physical, personal encounters, active interactions.

We found that learning through and from (inner and outer) conflicts can lead to the development of interpersonal competence.  If there is time, space and willingness to do so.

Are you willing? Do you have time? Do you have space?

Who should be willing if not you, out of yourself? You have the same 24 hours as I have. What may differ is how we spend our time – and this has to do with priorities. What are yours?

And yes, there might be no spaces provided for us. But it can be me to start actively creating one.

If we always wait for others to do the first step, or if we continue to think our wise thoughts alone in our rooms – where and how shall spaces for shared reflection and following action evolve?

Motivated and inspired regards from a kitchen table at which world problems do not lead to apathy but spark the wish to be part of the solution instead of the problem.

Thanks caterpillar*. Good having you around.

Who provokes you? Who makes you reflect? And where do your reflections go, consolidate? Are your thoughts, worries, ideas, visions shared?

Believe it or not – this might be a start.

Reflection? Space? – Yep! Here: Forest-walk-delight for individual reflection time.


Kolb, A.Y. and Kolb, D.A. (2005), “Learning styles and learning spaces: enhancing experiential learning in higher education”, Academy of Management Learning and Education, Vol. 2, pp. 193-212.

Konrad,T.; Wiek, A.; Barth, M. (2020), “Embracing Conflicts for interpersonal competence development in project-based sustainability courses”, International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, Vol. 21, No. 1, pp. 76-96.

* Why Caterpillar?

I feel grateful for living together with a young person who reminds me so much of my own Master study beginnings: Full of energy, ready to change the world, trying to figure out how. Getting active here and there, together with a learning community. Unstoppable. Not shying away from the tough questions. Always something happening. – I have already expressed my gratitude for having encountered my tribe while studying. There lies power in community. And, engaging in the question I was asked and the conversations that followed: There lies power in reflection.

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