By Gina Romero
The dialogues I will be presenting over the coming months are related to activities led by the Latin American and Caribbean Network for Democracy (Redlad.org), that has dialogue as an action line and as a supporting value. As Redlad’s founder and current Executive Director, I have led diverse dialogue activities and processes herefore, the notes included are personal opinions on the institutional experience.
Based on my own experiences, there are multiple objectives that are worth starting a dialogue: i) creat consensus as a starting point for shared actions, ii) build relationships and creat bridges between different social, political and economic actors holders of diverse knowledge to advance inclusion processes and broaden the democratic base, iii) resolve conflicts. All of these are related citizen diplomacy, as I will be explaining posts.
But let me start the generalities by sharing one of my favourite quote about dialogue:
“Dialogue seeks the truth through words. The parties in a dialogue do not seek to defeat the other, but to enlighten the other. It is not a conflict, but a shared inquiry (…) the dialogue allows both parties to come out enriched from their discussion”. (Wagner, 2014. P 20).
The first key to dialogue is precisely the one mentioned above: dialogue should not be used as a weapon of power it does not have winners or losers that is the main difference between dialogue and debate (Wagner, 2014. P.19). If you want to convince the other side that your positions are the most appropriate, or to defeat a person’s ideas, you should organise a debate but if you want to understand another person, dialogue is the best option. Debates are not negative, they are often vital for decision-making (for example, arliaments or ongresses use as a bas formula for interaction) dialogue allows connection with the humanity of the person in front of you beyond their ideas or arguments.
So, the second key to dialogue is the recognition of the humanity of the other person/s. Only when the person in front of you as an equal, is possible to enter into a dialogue. In this sense, the creation of a safe space for dialogue is essential, and a critical element for such a space is listening, listening with all senses, which would be the third key to dialogue. If such a safe space can be created, the first enemy of dialogue is defeated: distrust.
“Dialogue is a process of genuine interaction through which people change thanks to the learning acquired by deep willingness to listen. Each of them strives to include the concerns of others in own perspective, even when disagreement persists. None of the participants renounces their identity, but each one sufficiently recognies the validity of the human claims of the others and consequently acts differently towards the others”(Saunders, in Pruitt, 2008, P. 38).
To enter into a real dialogue, it is necessary to shed certainties and have the ability to open up to the truth, to reality, to the experience of the other person, even if seem completely alien to ours. Therefore, the fourth key to dialogue is a genuine interest and curiosity in the other person/s, their stories, their experiences, their humanity. Any times that we see and hear as we are and not as reality is dialogue tries to make us see and hear what the other person is like, and then . This can only be done with mindfulness, with active listening and with a generous heart, let yourself be touched by the stories of others. It is important to mention that identity is not lost when entering into dialogue, when listening to the other person dialogue does not require lose ourselves in their reality and assume it as our own. Nor does it imply that the other person is lost in ours. This is why there is no power play in dialogue.
Another key to dialogue, especially global or regional dialogues in which you interact with people other cultures, is to recognise cultural differences. I am Colombian, and as a Latina (quasi Caribbean) I am at ease with physical contact. Physically approaching a Latino person in the middle of anexercise is normal and accepted in most cases but people from other backgrounds have a different conception of personal space, so it could be perceived as rude, and even aggressive, to attempt even light physical contact (touch the other person’s shoulder, let alon to hug them). In the same way, entering into dialogue with others implies that we recognise beforehand which gestures, expressions or even words it would be better to avoid in order to guarantee respectful interaction.
As with many other things in life, you only learn to hold a dialogue by participating in. Dialogue, despite being an exercise based on rhetoric and discourse, is an action. And in entries I will presenting different cases of dialogue in citizen diplomacy experiences.
More information on the topic: www.redlad.org
About the author:
Gina Romero is the director of the Latin American and Caribbean Network for democracy and part of the founding groups regarding different civil society organisations of every level (Ocasa (Colombia), Redlad (Americas), the World Youth Movement for Democracy, the Global Youth network for Democracy (global)). She has therefore much experience and knwo-how in topics such as public diplomacy, integrity and networking and many more.
Published on January 14, 2022.
Photo credit: Roberto Huczek