Imagine walking into a public library, picking out a human being, sitting down in a plush chair, and being encouraged to listen to them talk about who they are, how they identify themselves, and what their life has been like.
The individual you choose to talk to could be someone who has had a mental health diagnosis like depression or PTSD, they could be from within a gender minority such as transgender or gender fluid, or they could be a member of a religious community or culture that is unfamiliar to you.
Most likely, they will defy a stereotype that you’re familiar with.
Your role as “reader” is simply to listen and perhaps reflect on the assumptions you have about this person versus what they tell you about themselves.
It’s a fascinating way to combat stigma and a technique that one unusual library in Denmark has been exploring for the past 21 years.
Denmark’s The Human Library says it exists to help create positive conversations that “can challenge stereotypes and prejudices through dialogue,” according to its website.
Instead of books, patrons “check out” human beings.
In a June 1 Instagram post about the library, @upworthy described the organization this way:
“In Denmark, there are libraries where you can “borrow” a person instead of a book to listen to their life story for 30 minutes. The goal is to fight prejudice. Each person has a title like: “unemployed”, “refugee”, “bipolar”, but listening to their story you realize how much you shouldn't “judge a book by its cover”. An innovative and brilliant, active project that exists in fifty countries. An initiative from The Human Library.”
The Human Library experience is interactive and “readers” are encouraged to ask tough questions as a way to go deeper into the individual’s life experiences as well as their own preconceived judgments.
The benefits from the encounters are real and are helping people “unjudge” others one person at a time, especially since continuing to see someone as a “stereotype” after having a personal connection with them is much harder to do.
We’re learning too how powerful these personal connections are to maintaining people’s positive mental health.
For example, the Trevor Project recently found that the experience of being truly seen and accepted by others was one of the primary factors contributing to a reduced rate of suicide attempts among LGBTQ youth.
That’s life-affirming and life-saving.
In today’s fast-paced world, we are all being challenged to examine our biases and consider why they exist. We may not have a “human” library to reference, but we are all surrounded by individuals it would be easy to stereotype.
How can we create more positive conversations with them?
Please help us by sharing this blog post. You never know who might need it.