The art of self-reflection: “Everyone talks about changing the world. No one talks about changing themselves.”

Tali Padan


Director of Mellem Education

Previously a trainer on Holocaust Education at the Anne Frank Trust and House

M.A. in Intercultural Conflict Management


“Success is freedom from the need to be successful.”

It all started from volunteering.

“Hi, I’m Tali. Like Taliban.” The whole group grins and the atmosphere becomes relaxed. You instantly notice there’s something special with that curly-haired lady that is smiling at the seminar participants. After that introduction, you just cannot wait to find out more of the external trainer invited for EFIL’s “Shaping identities – shaping societies” seminar. A week that would soon prove mind-boggling, mentally exhausting and above all, eye-opening and rewarding in the end thanks to the Betzavta self-reflection method used by Ms Padan. Wow, this lady is one you do need to meet.

So how did this Israeli-American, now Copenhagen-settled trainer, with a degree in computer sciences and two Masters both in Digital Media and Intercultural Conflict Management end up leaving New York and the potentially prosperous future to instead start up her own company; to train people all over Europe and US on topics such as human rights, intercultural communication and conflict management?

“I started volunteering at a female jail in the US during my studies. And started asking questions such as how can we take away these peoples’ freedom?”

Her interests changed after the experience, and she started pursuing a life where she could choose her own path without restrictions. To find freedom and help others do the same. As someone at the seminar pointed out, that must have been a shock to the parents cherishing the academic achievements. Yet Ms Padan says it’s been more than worth it.

Once arriving to Europe, Ms Padan completed her M.A. on Intercultural Conflict Management in Berlin and then became a trainer at Anne Frank Trust both in the UK and the Netherlands covering topics such as the Holocaust and discrimination. She soon got inspired by the practice of self-reflection and Betzavta, a methodology started in the Adam Institute in Israel, which looks at how democracy works in a small group. It became time to start her own company, Mellem Education, in Denmark.

“It was hard to find this type of training that creates a link between personal with political, so I felt I would just do it myself. I just naturally started organizing groups to try it out, and people came and very much benefited from the experience.” Ms Padan explained starting the company was not that difficult, and she has survived completely without paid advertising “It was a natural flow, growth by word of mouth. I now get what I need financially, and love the variety the job offers.”

I became curious finding out what’s the first step in starting your own company. Being a business student myself, should I maybe consider the life of an entrepreneur?

“Reflect on why you want to do it. Is building up your name and becoming famous your motivation? What is the contribution you want to make?”

Before the seminar I had hardly ever paid attention to self-reflection and long-term societal contribution, just like many of my peers, so Ms Padan kindly explained further;

“Beyond education, as knowledge and skills, reflection is just as important. You have to unlearn just as much as you learn. Education, or culture, is also a limitation – because it teaches you things you don’t question.”

“And then you start to believe that this is who you are – your identity, your social group, your culture, your opinions, your career. Then we see, from looking at our society today, that what we don’t question unknowingly takes away our natural freedom and peace. We draw a border between ‘my culture’ and ‘your culture’ or more personally – my ‘work life’ and my ‘social life’. I wanted to provide people a way to practice this type of reflection, so that we don’t continue the unquestioned habit of dividing ourselves based on our beliefs. These divisions in ourselves project out into the world, and then we grieve over a divided and conflicting society. But we are so conflicted in ourselves, it’s no wonder much of the world is in such a state. Being an entrepreneur for me was simply a tool to provide this kind of learning and unlearning to those who wished.”

The importance of helping your society

In addition to trainings, Ms Padan is now starting up a project in Copenhagen called Salaam Shalom. It is a part of several initiatives from all over Europe that intend to break barriers and conflict between the Jewish and Muslim communities. By organizing debates and discussion with religious leaders from both sides, and incorporating views from the growing refugee community, the project is an excellent example of peace-building in action. “We organize events on solidarity, and by that it becomes easier for the people and also for the media to stop showing the communities as enemies.” And it’s not just the discussions. In the future the aim is to organize informal events such as film screenings and poetry slams. Ms Padan continues; “There’s definitely a need for a project like Salaam Shalom. For some people it is enough just to sit down with someone new, and having the Rabbi speak to an Imam can be a source of inspiration for the community members.”

An important aspect of volunteering, and life in general, is the balance between the internal and external contribution you make. Ms Padan tries to explain the philosophy behind her trainings and the importance of becoming aware of how much the internal and external reflect on each other;

“Sometimes people want to fix the world, but really what they want is to fix themselves. The funny thing is – nothing is broken. It’s another belief that we have a hard time unlearning.”

She explains that this kind of full acceptance of oneself is also a contribution to a peaceful world and concludes with one of her favourite quotes,

“Don’t try to change the world. Love the world. That is the change.”

2 thoughts on “The art of self-reflection: “Everyone talks about changing the world. No one talks about changing themselves.”

  1. A really interesting post. This certainly resonates with me. After my 3 years as a volunteer teacher in Tanzania I really felt the internal contribution the experience gave me far outweighed any small contribution I made. It certainly left me with a love for the world and of course education. And look where that brought me!

    Glad to see you so inspired too!

    Liked by 1 person

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