When Dialogue Isn’t Possible

There are so many great examples in the latest issue of Voices in Dialogue about how Dialogue Education™ is uniquely suited to peace building efforts, from negotiating conflict between divorcing couples to crafting a peace treaty between rebel groups and the military in the Philippines. Dialogue is a powerful tool for achieving authentic and lasting resolution or understanding between adversarial groups. The Public Conversations Project is doing great work in this area. They’ve facilitated successful dialogues with people on all sides of a range of divisive issues, including abortion, the environment, sexual orientation and religion, and economic difference. What strikes me about all of these stories – which are all impressive examples of the power of dialogue to bring about peace and respect – is that the conflicting parties all agreed to come together to engage in the process. Revolution

But what if they didn’t? What happens when dialogue either breaks down or was never possible in the first place? When, for instance, a long-suppressed group of people have finally given up on the possibility of dialogue with their governments. Think Egypt. Think Libya. Or when a movement is so convinced of its correctness that no rational dialogue with those bearing alternative perspectives is even possible. When reason has been overthrown and eliminated from a movement’s vocabulary. Think Nazism. What happens is resistance, revolution, and war. Paulo Freire, in Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1970, Continuum Publishing Corporation) tells us that . . .

Any situation in which some men prevent others from engaging in the process of inquiry is one of violence. The means used are not important; to alienate men from their own decision-making is to change them into objects (p. 73).

And once people have become objects, denied an opportunity to influence their own lives and futures, their need to be liberated through speech will leak out one way or the other. “Liberation,” says Freire, “is a praxis:  the action and reflection of men upon their world in order to transform it (p. 66).” The people these days in Egypt and Libya have taken action upon their world. The resisters during World War II did the same. Would that they’d instead had the chance to engage in a facilitated dialogue. Have you been witness to a breakdown or absence of dialogue? What happened? What did you do?


Thank you to author Joan Dempsey for this post!

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