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However, and often enough, in periods of tension—economic crises, wars, revolutions, civic upheavals, and the like—these meanings break down. Or rather they seem to break down. They do not really break down, because they were actually never there to begin with. Only the illusion of shared meaning was there. When we are not pushed by circumstances to go much deeper than the pleasantries exchanged at a cocktail party, there is no reason to think that meanings diverge. When, however, we are forced to acknowledge different meanings, we generally feel a strong sense of betrayal, as the other no longer hews to our sense of meaning and purpose.

Experience, however, is a mode of assimilating the world wholly different from cognitive knowledge; it is both more practical and more contingent, more powerful and less general, capable of moving us in new directions as it appeals to our emotions as well as our intellect. While knowledge can be falsified, experience cannot, though of course the generalizations we make from it certainly can, and often need be. However, when it comes to the problem of living with difference, cognitive knowledge cannot even begin to approach the importance of experience—precisely, that is, of experiencing the presence of the other in all its depth, complexity, ambiguity, discomfort, uncertainty, and uncanniness.

Th is is the value gained by the suspension of judgment. What is created at the end of the two-week program is an opening of possibilities and the emergence of new spaces and modes of interaction. Paradoxically, by recognizing differences, we can often make connections that 36 Th e Story of Practice are lost by denying them. An ideology of sameness and relative homogeneity traps us into continually maintaining a false reality. On the other hand, acceptance of difference frees us from investing vast amounts of time and energy in what is essentially a pretense.

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