We must dialogue

August 6, 2010

In most conversations, we talk at each other, often without even really hearing what the other party has to say. As others speak, we are already preparing in our head how we are going to respond. This sort of conversation is often sufficient to get us through the day – we pick up on the content that is relevant to ourselves, the parts with which we already agree, and let the rest slide by.

However, when we get into conflict or encounter individuals different from ourselves, our usual approach to conversing will lead us to dehumanize each other. Typically, if we are having a disagreement, we work hard to convince the other party of our position, without making an effort to understand their perspective or attempting to discover common ground. We take our beliefs as a given and do not let ourselves question the assumptions on which our views are based. We will quickly become stuck in intractable conflicts with this approach, as each party refuses to recognize the validity of the other party’s perspective.

In order to move beyond the “us vs. them” mentality, beyond dehumanizing people different from ourselves, beyond the concept of “the other,” we must make intentional efforts to engage with each other differently. We must dialogue.

In dialogue, we enter into conversation with the intent of understanding each other better, understanding ourselves better, and being understood. Together, we uncover and explore the assumptions and experiences that lead to our different perspectives. We listen attentively to each other’s words, and speak openly and honestly. We do not use rhetoric to try to convince others of our position, but instead share personal experiences that influence our current beliefs.

To dialogue, we must be willing to change. It requires us to put ourselves in a place of vulnerability. We may question previously held beliefs. We must be interested in valuing relationship above closely guarded views of “right” and “wrong.”

In order to create a world in which we can each reach our full human potential, where we live with our differences without feeling threatened, and where we resolve conflicts through non-violent means, we must be willing to enter into dialogue with each other.

I am particularly inspired by the work of Libby and Len Traubman, who founded the Jewish-Palestinian Living Room Dialogues in San Mateo, CA, 17 years ago, and continue to do inspiring work with dialogue.

For a more in-depth exploration of the dialogue process, I recommend an excellent essay at BeyondIntractability.org. Here is an excerpt:

In dialogue, participants explore the presuppositions, beliefs, and feelings that shape their interactions; they discover how hidden values and intentions control people’s behavior and contribute to communication successes and failures. For example, it begins to become clear why a group avoids certain issues, or why it insists, against all reason, on defending certain positions. Participants can collectively observe how unnoticed cultural differences often clash, without their realizing what is happening.[18] These observations help participants to determine what is blocking effective communication.[19]

However, this can happen only if people are able to listen to each other without prejudice and without trying to influence one another. Because its broad goal is to increase understanding about parties’ concerns, fears, and needs, dialogue centers on inquiry and reflection. Participants refrain from assuming that they already know the thoughts, feelings, and intentions of the other.[20] Instead, they assume that the other is speaking honestly from experience, and listen closely. This process of deep listening and reflection typically slows down the speed at which parties converse. The slower interchange enables individuals to observe the conversation while it is actually occurring, so that they become more aware of both the content of the communication process and the structures that govern it. They gain insight into the “assumptions and unspoken implications of what is being expressed along with that which is being avoided.”[21] Each participant can examine the preconceptions and prejudices that lie behind his or her opinions and feelings, and then share these insights with one another. Participants not only expose ideas to one another’s scrutiny, but also open themselves up to the possibility that their ideas will be changed. This means that they try to appreciate what the other side is saying and keep their ears open, even when they do not like what they hear.[22] To be fully open to new ideas, participants must be ready to abandon their old ideas in the face of new and better ones. They must be willing to change their minds and emerge from the dialogue as altered people. If they instead strive to convey their own points of view and defend their positions, genuine dialogue will not be possible.[23]


Organization of the week: Institute for the Study of Conflict Transformation

March 10, 2010

Continuing with my mediation theme, the organization for this week is the Institute for the Study of Conflict Transformation. This non-profit organization is based specifically on the transformative framework of conflict as discussed in the book The Promise of Mediation, which I reviewed last week. It was founded “to study and promote the understanding of conflict processes and intervention from the transformative framework.” They conduct a variety of activities to further this mission:

  • Conducting research;
  • Developing publications;
  • Developing and disseminating educational and training materials, resources and programs;
  • Presenting education and training programs for educational institutions, agencies, corporations and other public or private organizations;
  • Organizing conferences, workshops, and seminars; and
  • Developing a network of researchers, mediators, trainers, and teachers who understand and promote the transformative framework for conflict intervention.

Unfortunately, they do not currently have any upcoming events; everything on their events page is in the past. In general, the website does not seem to be kept up-to-date very well, which is too bad, since it serves an important purpose. This organization is the only one I have found so far that is officially and explicitly about mediation as envisioned in The Promise of Mediation.

Organization of the week: Mediate.com

March 2, 2010

I have been thinking about mediation a lot recently (I just finished reading The Promise of Mediation: The Transformative Approach to Conflict, by Robert A. Baruch Bush and Joseph P. Folger, which I will be reviewing in a subsequent post), so for the organization this week I want to highlight Mediate.com. Their tagline is “Everything Mediation.” Although it appears to be run by a for-profit company, I think it is worth mentioning because I come across it frequently in various mediation-related web searches, and it seems to be a good resource.

I find it a bit difficult to easily navigate their website, but there does seem to be a wealth of information on it. There is a large collection of article on all sorts of topics related to mediation; in fact, I think it was in one of these articles that I first came across the term “transformative mediation.” There is also a directory of mediators; individuals can pay for a full listing and extra services, or have a basic listing for free. The site does seem to be targeted towards professional mediators (e.g. those making a living at it, as opposed to volunteer mediators such as myself), but seems useful for anyone interested in mediation.

Organization of the week: Edible Front Range

February 22, 2010

In keeping with the spirit of sustainable and local eating, I want to mention today a resource I have used for finding local food producers in the Boulder, Colorado area: the website for the magazine Edible Front Range. Although I prefer to highlight non-profit, non-commercial organizations, I have found the resources on this website useful, so I think it is worth mentioning. Edible Front Range is a “quarterly magazine that celebrates the abundance of local, seasonal food in Denver, Boulder, Fort Collins, Colorado Springs, Pueblo and towns in between. Through our magazine, website and events, we seek to connect the people who produce, sell and cook local food with those who care enough to seek it out.” I have found the local resource guide particularly useful; it lists farmers producing dairy, egg, produce, honey, meat, and poultry in various regions of the Front Range, including Boulder. The website also contains articles from the printed magazine, recipes, a list of farmer’s markets, local food events, a bulletin board (which looks mostly unused), and blog posts.

Edible Front Range is part of the nationwide Edible Communities, which has magazines for many regions around the country – check it out, there may be one for where you live!

Organization of the week: Slow Food International

February 15, 2010

To continue along the themes of two books I read recently, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, and A Short History of Progress, I want to highlight today the organization Slow Food International. Its goal is “to counteract fast food and fast life, the disappearance of local food traditions and people’s dwindling interest in the food they eat, where it comes from, how it tastes and how our food choices affect the rest of the world. To do that, Slow Food brings together pleasure and responsibility, and makes them inseparable.” Slow Food has several specific ways in which it works towards this goal, including:

All this work is important in promoting a more peaceful and sustainable lifestyle. The Slow Food Manifesto captures this importance. Here is an excerpt, but I highly recommend you read the entire thing:

In the name of productivity, Fast Life has changed our way of being and threatens our environment and our landscapes. So Slow Food is now the only truly progressive answer.

There are branches of Slow Food International in many countries, at both the national and more local levels. You can search for organizations in your country here. I recommend checking out the Slow Food International website, as it contains a wealth of information.

Organization of the week: Shalom Educating For Peace

February 8, 2010

Shalom Educating for Peace is a grassroots non-profit in Rwanda “working for building and sustaining positive peace through education.” They have three parts to their work: peace education, peace research, and creation of a culture of non-violence. On their homepage, they describe themselves as follows:

Shalom seeks to walk alongside individuals, organizations and communities, reminding us of our shared humanity and the necessity of a nonviolent way of life. Working primarily in the Great Lakes region, we meet together with communities to draw out the stories and conversations that would lead to more deeply understanding and accepting one another, and equip people with the skills to interact in a way that brings about reconciliation.

Their specific projects include training youth in peace principles through churches, a weekly community radio program, a BePeace project in partnership with the Peace Academy in Costa Rica, an adult literacy program, and reconciliation and peace through theater and song. It sounds like a wonderful organization in a country that has seen much violence and badly needs peace and reconciliation.

Organization of the week: Mural Arts Program

January 25, 2010

There is a fabulous organization in Philadelphia, PA, called Mural Arts Program. Their mission statement says that they unite “artists and communities through a collaborative process, rooted in the traditions of mural-making, to create art that transforms public spaces and individual lives.” They organize community and school murals, art education programs, restorative justice projects, and other special projects. Their programs bring together people in the community, giving them a common goal to work towards together, with powerful results for the individuals and the community:

The Mural Arts Program includes the community in every step of the mural-making process, from selecting a theme to selecting a muralist, and from collaborating on a design to celebrating the mural’s creation. This way the mural fulfills its intention by becoming a living part of the community long after the project is completed.

We strive to have our mural projects represent collaboration. The mural-making process builds lasting community relationships, bringing together people whose paths might otherwise never have crossed. When diverse community members have joined together to promote the community, the finished mural celebrates their collective creative force.

Community-building, as this program does, is one of the foundations of peace. People who work together on one project are more likely to work together in the future. To conclude, here is a quote about the program from a muralist:

I’ve seen murals bring people together. They don’t solve all of a neighborhood’s problems, but they can bring new life and energy to the people who live there. They can be a catalyst for change.

—Donald Gensler, Muralist