We all suffer - How to address suffering affective

We all suffer – How to address suffering affective

Some days ago, I discovered the podcast Social Distance by The Atlantic. This podcast captures conversations between the preventive medicine physician and staff writer at The Atlantik Dr James Hamblin and the executive producer of podcasts for The Atlantic Katherine Wells about different aspects of the current 2020 COVID-19 crisis. Often they are joimed by a topic expert to discuss with and learn from.

One of the first episodes I listened to was episode 21 ‘You’re Doing Great’ in which James and Katherine are joined by Lori Gottlieb, a contributing writer at The Atlantic and a psychotherapist. She recently wrote a column about losing her father in the mids of a pandemic. Their conversation evolved around grief during these uncertain times at large but also very personal. 

One statement by Gottlieb resonated with me:

“Grief is the pain of loss. And it doesn’t have to be a death. It’s any kind of loss that causes you pain. People are minimizing certain losses because they feel like they aren’t valid. You’re missing your college graduation, for example. That’s a loss, and you grieve that. But it’s not the loss of a life, for example, or the loss of a job. As I always say: There’s no hierarchy of pain. There’s no hierarchy of grief. Grief is grief and loss is loss.” 

It reminded me of the many times friends apologised for sharing a problem with me. In the bare face of the death of my father, the struggles with a flatmate over the dishes or the disappointing date seem too small, too unimportant to bother me. How could they feel bad about the favourite t-shirt from that live-changing concert 15 years ago getting ruined in the laundry while I was grieving one of the most important people in my life? How could a sprained ankle that ended the participation in a dance tournament when my heart was breaking over never again seeing the man who raised me?

Similar to Gottlieb, I believe that there is no right or wrong grief, pain or suffering – no bigger or smaller. How could working towards this one dance tournament for over a year sacrificing time with family and friends being ruined just a day before it not count as a loss? Same goes for the shirt, which is so much more than a simple and replaceable textile. It is the token of the memory of the last concert they went to with their university best friend before she moved to the other side of the world.

That might sound ridiculous to you.

To help you better understand this seeming riddle, I would like to introduce to the concept of subjective vs objective suffering to you. 

In this blog post, I am referring to a concept I was taught by a disability activist some years ago. Unfortunately, we fall out of touch and to my shame, I cannot recall her name to correctly cite her here in recognition of her emotional labour. I am aware that these terms ate used similarly within Buddhist teachings and medical philosophy. Nevertheless, I have not done enough research to correctly include them here.

Let’s explain the concept of subjective vs objective suffering with an example. For that, I would like to introduce Alma and Bettel. Alma is a wheelchair user depending on assistance in many of her daily activities. Bettel struggles with chronic back pain and takes pain killers frequently. 

Looking at those two people without knowing anything else, who would you think struggles more going through life? Most of us would say, Alma, as most of our infrastructure is not accessible for wheelchair users and their life is impacted by countless stereotypes and stigma. If both would enter a room at the same time, Alma would always be identified as “different” and “in need of assistance”. In navigating or capitalist, sexist, ableist and racist society, people with visible disabilities and illnesses would encounter more discrimination and oppression – e.g. higher objective suffering.

But if we zoom into the actual daily life of these two people, we would see that Alma actually is the executive director for a nonprofit organisation, frequently travels the world and lives in a house fully adjusted to their needs. Bettel’s pain got so bad that they are on sick leave for over two months from their minimum wage job. The medication they are taking is highly addictive and harms their stomach and liver. Some days the pain is so bad they cannot get out of bed, which isolates them more and more. 

Again, who would you think struggles more going through life? Saying Alma does not feel right anymore, but how could we choose Bettel? It feels wrong to ignore all the societal and systemic factors that Alma as a wheelchair user has to fight against. But it also feels terrible to not count the real physical, psychological and financial hardship that Bettel experiences despite her societal and systemic privileges as a person passing as able-bodied.

That is where subjective suffering comes into play. Subjective suffering looks at to which degree an individuals’ life is negatively impacted through the intersection of their unique lived experience. Acknowledging Bettel’s daily pain and struggle to the degree they negatively affect their life within the framework of subjective suffering does negate the real systemic oppression Alma experiences.

Going back to my apologising friends at the beginning: Your at first sight trivial appearing everyday issues, due not get devalued because my father died. The monstrosity of experiencing grief for a parent does not mean you cannot get upset because the bus did not come, and you will be late for the coffee with a friend. 

If we encounter each other in an affectionate way in which we really see one another with all our weaknesses, we can avoid falling back into oppression Olympics where we measure each other’s struggles in better or worse terms. The pure fondness of affections allows us to be there for others facing racism in the same way we can help out a friend who needs a couch to crash on after a bad breakout. It also allows softness for your own struggles. You can cry over the loss of a pet in the same way you are raging about the endangerment of women* in refugee camps. Our lives and experiences are big enough to give space to both – subjective and objective suffering.

Thank you for taking the time out of you day. I hope it is helpful for you in navigating these uncertain times. Let me know what you think by leaving me a comment below. If you want me to reflect on another theory or concept reach out. Also, it would help me out if you like and share this post with our fellow trainer friends!

Love and appreciation,



Let’s do it non-formal – Toastmaster Tuesday

In June 2018, I wrote a blog post introducing you to non-formal education. Everyday. I am falling more and more in love with this approach, its methods and setting and its practitioner. So it comes to no one’s surprise that I would dedicate one of my Toastmasters speeches to this topic. Check out below how much passion for education meeting a young hedgehog can evoke.

img_0979‘Let’s do it non-formal – My love for education’

When I was about six years old, my father constructed a glass house in front of our kitchen. One evening, he finished digging the fundament and left it without a cover overnight, so the forecasted rain would condense the soil. The next morning, we found a small surprise in one of the deeper spots of the diggings.

A young hedgehog had fallen into the ditch. It had to have been searching the churned earth for insects and worms. After its fall, it found itself trapped as the walls of the hole were too high for it to find its way out.

I remember how my father took his gloves and carefully picked up the small animal. He told me that I could gently pet the hedgehog if I would only stroke its spines from the front to the back. This way, they would not hurt me.

Dear fellow Toastmasters, guests and friends, this story is not just a charming anecdote from my childhood. In fact, it was a moment of learning.

I learned that hedgehogs search for food at night – that if touched correctly their spines would not hurt – that you should not leave diggings without a cover because you never know who could stumble inside – and most importantly I learned compassion for those smaller than me.

In education science, these occasions of learning are considered as informal education – colloquial known as learning by doing. This form of education occurs unplanned and gets neither assessed nor monitored. It is not restricted to a set environment but happens – like in my story – in everyday life.

On the other end of the spectrum, there is formal education. This happens in a clearly described setting with a person holding the authority over a pre-defined set of knowledge which has to be received by the learner. The learners are kept to an institutional standard and assessed by their ability to reach the criteria of this standard without consideration for individual circumstances. Therefore, formal education focuses on the outcomes, not the process, which makes the participation mandatory.

Does this sound familiar to anybody?

Indeed, we are all familiar with formal education as we all were taught by teachers in subjects, we could not choose, at schools, we were obliged to go to while being evaluated by an educational standard written in curricular that did not consider our individual strengths and needs.

Today, I want to introduce you to a third, lesser-known concept of education, which is really dear to my heart – non-formal education. Many would describe it as a sweet spot where formal and informal education meet. Do you remember the compassion I learnt as a child in contact with the hedgehog? It would be possible to explain compassion in formal education, but only informal education helped me to feel what compassion is. For me, it means liberation of the learner – and liberation of the facilitator of the learning.

So let’s look at some characteristics that make learning non-formal. As in formal education, the process is planned and structured by some kind of facilitator. Even though the content is preselected, participation is voluntary. This means, the learner actively chooses to join the learning process. There is no assessment of the outcomes and the learners’ abilities and knowledge. So non-formal education is clearly process-oriented. Typical occasions for this way of learning are workshops and seminars, especially in youth work – or – this Toastmasters club meeting.

For me, the magic of non-formal education lays in its process. It gives the space to participants to acknowledge their own expertise, connect it to those of fellow learners,  and create together unique solutions, which can only occur at that precise moment with those exact people. The most valuable takeaway is precisely this moment of self-awareness and growth. Non-formal education creates connections beyond the conventional separation of class, race, gender, religion and enables thinking outside the boundaries of fear, logic and the restrictions of the learning environment. Once set in motion, the facilitator becomes part of this ever-changing and evolving learning system and, through the chosen methods, guides the participants to their own, unconscious milestones.

I witnessed this myself as a facilitator on many occasions. I saw it in Fatma, who found the bravery to speak up despite her traditional upbringing – in Carl, who left the limits of his disability behind him and embraced his passions – in Mikael, who saw beyond the playfulness of the methods and understood that his opinions can hurt someone else – and in Lena, who did not say a word in a week-long training but carried something she heard with her, that changed her life a year later. She ran for a national office and got elected.

I acknowledge the value of informal and formal education. Nevertheless, I wish that both would be approached in a more non-formal manner. I firmly believe we are missing out on these moments of actual change.

So, when it comes to education, I say – LET’S DO IT NON-FORMAL! Thank you.


So what do you think? Should we make our education systems more non-formal? Leave your comments below!

Also, it would help me out if you like and share this post with our fellow trainer friends!

Love and appreciation,


Photo by Liudmyla Denysiuk on Unsplash

Why you should do it non-formal – An introduction to Non-Formal Education

Every time someone introduces me as a trainer and uses the word ‘informal education’, I cringe. Every time a participant complains in the daily debrief about the lack of presentations and immediate solution, I sigh. Every time a client wishes a formal set up for the training and shows me an agenda full of speakers, I want to hold up a big sign “Non-formal education trainer here!”

There is a lot of confusion about the term non-formal education. Therefore, the assumptions and the expectations of the clients and participants don’t often match with the training I facilitate and the methods and approaches I practice. That impact very negatively their capacity to indeed witness and experience the potential and real benefits provided by those learning tools.

img_1008Did you see how I used to facilitate learning at the end of the last paragraph instead of to teach? That was a conscious choice as the words “to teach” and “teacher” are connected to a different form of education – formal education. The concept of formal education is universally known as we all were students taught by teachers in subjects we could not choose at schools we were obliged to go. This one sentence summarises pretty directly what is widely understood as formal education, but let me walk you through the different aspects bit by bit.

First, formal education always happened in a clearly described setting. There is the teacher who holds the knowledge authority and the student who receives that knowledge. The knowledge is defined through curricular and other regulating aspects.

Second, formal education learning is always held to a clear pre-defined standard and assessed based on the individual capacity of meeting the criteria of that standard. The focus of this educative method is, therefore, the outcome more than the learning itself. It globally does not factor in the individual circumstances of students.

Third, formal education to a certain degree is mandatory. In almost all countries of the world, the school attendance up to at least primary school is compulsory for all children. This factor does not mean that voluntary higher education, such as a university, does not fall into the concept of formal education. Once you are registered to enter higher education presence and participation are as mandatory as in primary school.

At the beginning of this post, I mentioned another form of education – informal education. This form of learning can be described as learning by doing or learning through experience. It is often presented as the opposite to formal education as it is unplanned and not assessed nor monitored. It does not have a defined space but happens in everyday life. One typical example is, that when you as a child put your hand on the hot oven, you learned that it hurts to touch the hot oven. In some theories and definition also socialisation itself is considered informal learning as your family did not have a set curriculum in mind but shaped your behaviour through their own actions and norms.

So these two are pretty clear, right? So what is non-formal education? Let’s look at some official definitions.

“Education that is institutionalized, intentional and planned by an education provider. The defining characteristic of non-formal education is that it is an addition, alternative and/or a complement to formal education […]. It caters for people of all ages, but does not necessarily apply a continuous pathway-structure; […]. Non-formal education mostly leads to qualifications that are not recognized as formal qualifications […] or to no qualifications at all. […]” (UNESCO)

The UNESCO defines non-formal education through the lens of formal education. It sees it more as an offer alongside formal learning opportunities and as a tool for life-long learning. It considers it as a less efficient form of education, notably in term of outcomes.

“Non formal learning is purposive but voluntary learning that takes place in a diverse range of environments […] for which teaching/training and learning is not necessarily their sole or main activity. These environments […] may be temporarly, and the activities […] that take place may be staffed by professional learning facilitators […] or by volunteers […]. The activities and courses are planned, […] rarely […] assess learning outcomes […] in conventionally visible ways.” (Youthpass)

For the Youthpass the primary focus is on the voluntariness of the participation in non-formal education and informal of the setting. Nevertheless, it is structured and planned.

“Non-formal learning takes place outside formal learning environments but within some kind of organisational framework. It arises from the learner’s conscious decision to master a particular activity, skill or area of knowledge and is thus the result of intentional effort. But it need not follow a formal syllabus or be governed by external accreditation and assessment. Non-formal learning typically takes place in community settings […].” (Council of Europe)

In the Council of Europe’s definition, the focus is apparently on the learner itself. She consciously decides to participate in the learning process and put effort into the creation of a result.

All three definitions clearly place non-formal education outside the formal educational system. Nevertheless all state a planned and structured approach through some sort of facilitator. In two of them, the voluntary participation is a defining aspect. Further, the assessment of the learning outcomes is absent in all of them.

img_0657-1For me non-formal education is the space in which participants acknowledge their own expertise, learn how to connect it with their fellow learners and create solutions together. The most valuable takeaway in this process is the moment of self-awareness and growth. The methods I select are aiming to facilitate this process. It is not about me as a facilitator or my opinions. Therefore I believe a non-formal educator/trainer/facilitator does not need to be an expert on the topic of the session. She just needs to know how to create an experience that kickstarts the process and a frame to guide it in its natural flow. Therefore, it is necessary to continually adjust the planned learning journey to the needs and aims of the learner.

So now we know what I understand as non-formal education. Thank you for sticking with me through this long post. But before I let you go, I briefly want to speak about when and where we can use non-formal education.

The approach of non-formal education is universal and can (and should) be used wherever learning happens. Most of the tools of the formal education only benefit a small part of the learners, and the focus on standardised outcomes does not give the individual development of one learner the validation it deserves. Therefore, I advocate for the introduction of non-formal education within our school system, university and even the corporate work world. How far could innovation go, if we were able to harvest the expertise of each and every one in the room!

I hope this journey into a more theoretical background did not just give you some insights into your own learning but also inspires you to discover the world of non-formal education further. As always leave your comments and questions below and I would really appreciate if you like and share this post!

Love and appreciation,


How the heck do you do this? – Start of the ‘How to plan a Training’ series

Ever wondered how the trainer of the workshop you are sitting in right now came up with the methods she is using? Or do you know the overwhelming feeling that can overtake you as a facilitator when you get a new topic and do not know where to start?

img_0977-2I know both feeling quite well! Over time I developed a method to plan each of my training.

In this upcoming series of blog posts, I want to give you some insights into this planning process. I will show you how to get to all the information you need to get started, walk you through the steps to design a holistic learning journey for the participants and choose the methods that ensure the wished outcomes.

Of course, I will not dump all this information on you in just one post! The first part of this series will give you a general overview of the different steps, along side some tips and tricks.

My planning process consists of four main stages. Everything begins with the topic or theme of the training. From there, I develop the training objectives and learning outcomes. The second step is to take the objectives and create a learning journey for the participants. Out of this roadmap, I identify the thematic building blocks; to finally choose the concrete methods that are the backbone of the training.

But let’s start at the beginning!


From the topic to the training objectives and

For me, this first phase is the most client or host intensive step of all four. You will want to take as much time as needed with your partner to break down the topic as precisely as possible. Do not let them escape with: ‘The training shall be about feminism.’ If they did not formulate them themselves, you should help to define the objectives and to set learning outcomes as tangible as possible.IMG_0976

Besides the thematic information, it is crucial in this step that you get as much information as possible regarding participants, time and place of the training and the background of your partners themselves, like general aims and objectives of organisation or company. A training for five participants looks entirely different from one for fifty. Also, it is necessary to know the age group and background of the participants.

Try to put yourself as soon as possible in the shoes of the participants. While you are discussing the objectives and outcomes with your partners, always try to imagine the participants’ expectation alongside. There is a ton of methods on how to define objectives. It will be the subject of a detailed post later.


From the objectives to the design of a learning journey

This step is all about the participants and their experience during the training! It is important to create an experience as smooth as possible, where the predatory effortIMG_0989
is not visible to the participants. Therefore I always aim to find a narrative for the training, a story the group will build together. To do so, you need to identify how the
objectives build up on each other and what is important to experience before you open another aspect. It might be necessary to go back to the objectives at that point to adjust them.

Like in every good story always make sure there are no loose ends, and everything serves a purpose. The participants do not to see the connections immediately each time, but a final Aha-moment is crucial. We will come back to this in a later post of this series.

Pro-tip: If I have to plan a training over several days, I choose a topic for each day.


From the learning journey to the thematic building blocks

After outlining the learning journey for the participants, focus on the topic and thematic of the training. I start with identifying thematic clusters along the way and structure the informative material accordingly. List the key terms and concepts thatIMG_0976 need to be established and the skills that need to be developed or extended.

Sometimes you might discover that the logical connections between the individual blocks do not work. In this cases, you need to go back and revise the design of the learning journey. The clearer and more natural the structure is the fewer surprises you will end up having during the facilitation. This whole step will be covered in more depth in the fourth part of this series.


From the building blocks to the selection of methods

Now the fun part begins!! I love to go through methods and pick the diamonds for
each training I facilitate! Sometimes, I finally find the right spot for the new methods IMG_0990I wanted to try for so long! What a sweet feeling

But, as with everything nice, there is the backlash as well! To minimise the risks, you should review your first selection of methods and ask yourself some questions. What
learning types do the methods address? What personally types? Do they work naturally with the rest of the session ?? Do they achieve the objectives and generate the learning outcome? But also, will the participants and you have fun? Is there enough time and space for down time? And, are you brave enough with your selection? 😉 We will speak about this in all extend in the fifth and last part of this series. I am already excited!!

Pro tip: Because I never know how exactly the group and the on the spot mood of each session will be, I always bring some Plan B methods alongside to the training!


So there they are my four steps on how to tackle any training. They are like four hats I put on. I start with the hat of the client or host and define what the aims of the img_0976training are and what information is needed. Then I put on the hat of the participants and ask myself what will be the experience during the training. With the topic hat in the third step, I discover what information and which skill is need when. And finally with my favourite hat – the hat of the methods – I choose which method will serve the participants and their learning the best.

How about you? How do you tackle a new training, workshop or session? Let me know in the comments below. Which of the four steps would be your favourite?!

Let’s facilitate Change together!