Convivencia: Finding Common Ground

Convivencia is a Spanish term that means coexistence and living together and “has come to be associated with the complex interplay between religious, social, and cultural practices of Muslims, Christians, and Jews.”

I learned about this Middle Ages-era term at a staff learning event my colleagues and I organized in early May featuring a keynote by the Innovation Fellow at the Bloomberg Centre for Public Innovation at John Hopkins University.

Our event was about how public libraries defend democratic values and our speaker said that libraries are public spaces where people from all backgrounds can co-exist together.

I don’t often blog about my work – as I value work-life separation – but I see this in my and my colleagues’ daily work and I feel proud of this.

In 2010, I worked on one of my favourite projects – helping organize our city’s first Human Library event, which allowed people to borrow a “human book” for a 30-minute conversation in the library.

This article provides a good overview of what we did and why we did it.

In a nutshell, the idea began in Copenhagen as a way to bring people together to combat prejudice in an effort to reduce youth violence.

You may have seen this meme below on social media. This photo is from our event – not Denmark – and my colleagues and I are amused how it pops up around the world all these years later! 😊

The man in blue at the back is a journalist, the woman in black in the middle is a disability advocate and the man in front is a Tibetan monk.

It’s so cool actress Jamie Lee Curtis posted this.

We also had human books talking about living in homelessness, being formerly incarcerated, living with a mental illness, and one of my favourites, a 99-year-old war veteran.

I was reminded of this project when Facebook user FASD Warriors NL posted about participating in a recent Human Library event in her community.

Now more than ever, in a world that has become so divided, we need to bring people together – to invite them to walk in someone else’s shoes, to challenge assumptions, to find common ground.

Last Sunday, I joined four colleagues for a community outreach event in the West end.

It was part of Pride’s efforts to raise awareness beyond the downtown core, in communities where 2SLGBTQ+ visibility is vital but underrepresented.

We showcased library books representing 2SLGBTQ+ voices and stories – many of which are banned or challenged in other parts of the world; cough, cough, looking at you Florida and Texas.

We gave out pronoun pins and handouts discussing gender-affirming resources for parents of gender diverse children.

We invited visitors to our booth to write about something they are proud of and as you can see from their responses on the photo above, the personal stories are incredibly moving.

The event organizers also arranged a drag show (pictured at top) and an amazing ballroom performance.

It was a small event – we were one of 5 booths and less than 200 attended. As I told my colleagues, the metric of success is not quantity but quality.

One of my most heartwarming conversations was with a young South Asian man who thanked us for being there, because 2SLGBTQ+ topics are very taboo in the conservative community.

The first Pride in our City only consisted of a small group of people and it has grown into an annual event celebrated by over a million people.

Seeds were planted in the community that day that will bear fruit in the coming years.

As a parent of a child with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, helping advocate and find common ground with those who will interact with T is important.

FASD is still a little-known disability that is often associated with negative stereotypes – and stigma and shame.

I recently blogged about being confronted by a parent during daycare pickup about a situation that happened between T and his two children.

I held my ground respectfully and used the opportunity to advocate for T – and shared his disability and how it affects him.

I tried to find common ground – which is two parents who want our kids to be happy and safe.

I think my message soaked in, because our kids are still playing together, despite him saying he would request they be separated.

What more could I ask for?

Last Sunday, after coming home from working the community event, T and the hubby were working in the garden.

The hubby said that T did a great job with helping him plant flowers in the garden.

We reap what we sow. When we seek to build common ground, I believe the flowers we seed will bloom brighter than hate.

46 thoughts on “Convivencia: Finding Common Ground

    1. Thanks Faith! I know LGBTQ topics are taboo in many parts of Africa and I wonder if such a program would resonate in these communities. I do strongly believe that youth know better and help advance progress. And that’s why school teachers such as yourself play such a vital role in bringing change. Wishing you a nice weekend!

      1. I’m so glad to hear that Faith! And thanks for also opening my mind and eyes up to reality versus what we only read and hear about through other eyes!

  1. Living library is such an incredible idea! Love it! You and you hubby and T are creators of positive change and I love it. Using Ts experience with those kids to advocate and educate about FASD, BRAVO! LOVE IT!

    1. Thanks Rebecca. So much of advocacy is being open, transparent and vulnerable. We’ve been blessed with the experience of others before us – like yourself – and happy to share our story if it helps others too.

  2. This is such a beautiful and important message you share here Ab. I’d not heard of human libraries before but what a brilliant idea. You’re right to say we need that dialogue/discourse now more than ever. Thank you for being part of the good fight Ab. Wishing you, T and the hubby the very best 🙏

  3. Happy Pride Month! I love libraries too. They’re now saying that libraries are the most democratic institution now that political institutions are falling apart

    1. Thanks Claire and happy Pride Month to you too. I agree that politics are so divided right now and democracy seems to be under attack!

      PS. Is your blog site down? I haven’t seen an update from you in a while and also can’t access the site either through WordPress or typing your url on a browser.

  4. What a wonderful concept behind the Human Library event. Why am I not surprised to hear the idea began in Copenhagen!? Those Scandinavians seem to have life and happiness figured out. I couldn’t agree more about the need to connect and come together. Good for you for actually trying to do something about it in your community though. Enjoy the rest of your weekend. Linda

    1. Thanks Linda. It was a lot of fun. If we were to do this again, I’d imagine some of the human books could include social media influencers, world travellers, etc. Life itself is the greatest inspiration.

      And yes, so glad the weekend is here. I did a six-day stretch of work, starting with the event last Sunday, and I’m just looking forward to relaxing this weekend. 😆

      Have a good one too!

  5. WOW! From planting the seeds as a metaphor, to the human library, to the incredible insight. I am WOW’d by this important essay. Thank you for always teaching me new things in such a beautiful way…

    1. Thanks Vickie. One of the highlights of this project was my colleague and I being invited to present at a conference in Buffalo, NY! We ended up having a lunchtime walk by the US side of Niagara Falls! We may have been just within distance of each other back then and not know it!

  6. I’ve never heard of Human Library, but I really love the idea. For my first job, I worked in a company where I could be classified as a minority in terms of race and religion, and that experience really opened my eyes! I learned that there are so many misconceptions people have about others, and these persist because many rarely try to reach out to those who are different. When the political divide in Indonesia turned really ugly in the last general elections, I couldn’t help but imagine of my daily interactions. The nasi uduk (a type of Indonesian breakfast) vendor I usually go to might be voting for X, but his vegetable supplier might be supporting Y, and the guy who delivers the produce to the market might be an X supporter, and the farmer himself might be voting for Y. We can’t live as if we didn’t need each other. And because we need each other, we need to learn to listen to one another, not judge.

    1. Thanks for sharing that Bama. I think politics the last while has turned so ugly – and this is politics around the world. It’s become less about having a platform but more doing everything they can to divide and destroy the perceived other side.

      You said it best that in society the truth is that we all come different backgrounds, beliefs, etc. and we have to all learn to coexist with these varying values and beliefs. I think it’s doable and possible but there are great forces doing everything they can to make us believe otherwise.

  7. I heard about the Human Library and love the idea! Your little event in that conservative community will go a long way (but not all the way to Florida, unfortunately…). Sarnia is pretty conservative but there is a drag story time at a local bookstore and a lot of pride events, which I see as an oasis in the desert. Also, your grass is so green!

    1. Thanks Margie. It is amazing that Sarnia is hosting the drag Queen storytime. You likely have seen all the controversy and protests in the US and Canada over drag queens. It’s just astounding. Way to go Sarnia and your local bookstore for being a beacon of light!

      The green grass is all the hubby’s work. I have my areas of responsibilities. Gardening ain’t one of them. 😆🤣

  8. I LOVE LOVE LOVE the concept of the “Human Library” and “human books”!!! We need one in every community! I’m so disheartened today about the increase in every form of bigotry just in the last year or few years and … I simply cannot understand it. Perhaps the Human Library is the solution … get people talking to others who are different in one way or another, let them begin to understand one another and realize that at the core, we are all the same! Well … most of us. Great post and I’ve bookmarked the Human Library article for future reference!

    1. Thanks Jill. I thought about you when I saw your Pride Month post. It certainly extends beyond the 2SLGBTQ+ community. So much good can be done if people try to find and work together starting from a common ground. It certainly doesn’t solve all issues and conflicts, I’m not naive to think that, but it can go a long way.

      You can visit to learn more from the founding organization.

      1. You are so right, Ab … most of societal problems could be resolved without violence if we could just talk and listen … truly listen … to others’ views. Now for the funny part … I thought to maybe do a ‘good people’ post built around the Human Library, but something kept nagging at me, so I dug through my archives and LO & BEHOLD … I already did one … or a part of one, anyway! And only about a year ago … you’d think I’d still remember! Here’s a link to that post in case you’re interested: It’s the 3rd story.

      2. That’s so cool to see that post, Jill. I think we became blogger friends a few months after that post so I missed it. And yes, it indeed originated from Copenhagen. And has since sprouted so many flowers across the world such as the one we hosted in our city. A truly wonderful initiative.

      3. I just had to laugh to realize that I had already done that and didn’t even remember! Methinks some of my brain cells have died off along the journey to old age! I’m glad you liked that post … I may do a follow up sometime in the future, for I think it is a wonderful concept!

  9. So cool that photo is from your library event! And those notes on your booth’s board are so touching. I love all the seeds you are planting, Ab. They are growing and blooming – love over hate will surely shine brighter! You are so inspiring!

  10. Well this post is the best thing I’ve read all day. There are so many humans I would love to borrow for 30 minutes- or longer if I could! I have never heard of any of our library systems doing something like this and we have a pretty liberal, open and wide-ranging group of libraries across counties. If it’s not a US thing it needs to be. Now I wonder if my local library system has a suggestions page on the web. I am off to check and plant this idea myself. Thank you!

      1. You can visit to learn more from the originating organization including other participating cities from around the world.

    1. Thanks Deb. I think your neighbors would make good books too. 😆 Jokes aside, the idea really is so simple but so powerful when executed.

      I know there are libraries in the US who’ve done this and I’ve spoken to many libraries who inquired about this (including doing a presentation in Buffalo NY 😆). You can visit to learn more and perhaps speak to your local library about it too.

      Yay for planting seeds too!

  11. I absolutely love this, Ab. My younger sister works at a library and has helped organize similar events. Librarians don’t get paid anywhere near enough, but I can only imagine how rewarding it would be to facilitate something like this and watch people’s faces light up as they catch a glimpse of someone else’s story.

    I attended a leadership camp in college which was built to foster respectful dialogue between people from different backgrounds in order to bring about positive changes in our communities. I had a sheltered childhood, so it was my first experience with people from other cultures or religions, with different sexual identities, etc. It was a truly eye-opening and positive experience for me, and I suspect the borrow a “human book” offers similar benefit to those who participate… building common ground one interaction at a time.

    1. Thank you Erin. And yay for your sister working in a library – one of the best places to work.

      It’s great that you were able to attend the leadership camp. I do believe these opportunities, whether young or old, to connect safely with people from other backgrounds and beliefs are so important. I think so much of the misunderstandings happening in this world today is because it’s so easy to attack the other from a keyboard and computer and distance breeds further hostility and conflict.

      1. Yes, absolutely! While as a naive youth, I was never hostile to anyone different from me, I admittedly didn’t go out of my way to get to talk to someone who was different from me. Getting to know people from different background and with different experiences from us and recognizing that we’re all humans with challenges, emotions, and dreams is really an incredible experience.

        The internet has created some toxic echo chambers that are so focused on the differences that there is no longer any respect or attempts to listen to understand. I truly hope was see a return to that in our lifetime… recognizing our sameness and celebrating the differences.

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