Place for Hope will soon launch its new 5-year strategy, entitled: Choosing Peace in times of fear and division. It is a title that sets our work distinctly within the times in which we live, in the wake of a pandemic that has not only affected all our lives but has highlighted and exacerbated deep fracture lines in our world and heightened fears for the future.
An important part of choosing peace is through dialogue. Dialogue is so different from other forms of discourse, particularly debate or other combative forms of communication that have become the norm today, especially in the public sphere. Those forms of communication are often aimed at winning an argument, gaining what we want, or convincing the other to change their belief, opinion, or idea.
Dialogue on the other hand is a powerful and generous tool for us as we endeavour to live out our faith as peacemakers and reconcilers. As Susan H Allen identified, dialogue does several important things: “It furthers understanding of diverse and often opposing viewpoints, it develops shared analysis, and it paves the way for future actions toward peace.” These things are important in all aspects of our lives, whether in our personal relationships or in our church, community or professional lives. Dialogue allows us to hold space for mutual recognition of one another as people of value and worth (created by God), for exchange of deeper meanings and crucially, for gaining new understanding.
Dialogue, to achieve these aims, requires us to enter it with some inner preparation. Firstly, it requires a sense of humility – that we don’t know everything and will always have something to learn. This in turn requires us to have the courage and willingness to change – not necessarily changing our beliefs or ideas, but rather growing in our understanding of why we and others hold different beliefs or views.
There are skills for good dialogue that can be learned and practiced over a lifetime, but all of us can (and indeed do) engage in dialogue even without training. Key is to share with others your own thoughts, beliefs and feelings with honesty and respect and to listen with empathy as others do the same. To truly listen, we need to do so not with the aim of responding but with the genuine desire to understand and in turn, any questions we ask need to be aimed not at demeaning the person or their words, but rather to further clarify and deepen that understanding. It can also be helpful to be aware of some of the barriers we may have that prevent good dialogue, such as: rehearsing our response whilst someone else is speaking, judging the other, filtering what is being shared, assuming we are right, and knowing those things that might trigger a negative response in ourselves. Holding the space for forging new understandings means suspending judgement for a period to explore and truly understand the why (the hopes & needs) underpinning someone holding a particular belief or position. Dialogue whether between two people or in groups, does not mean that all ideas are of equal merit but it does require us to understand why another may hold them and respect them as an individual on their own journey, even if we disagree passionately with their views.
In doing so dialogue enables both parties to go beyond the superficial and competitive level of discourse to give us a deeper sense of understanding from which we can together generate creative ways forward that previously may not have even been imagined. This can transform not only the conflict but also all those involved.
Dialogue takes courage and hope – courage to open ourselves up to changed understandings and growth, and hope – that through dialogue, our relationships and the future can be better than we previously imagined. I pray that we will all allow God to fill us with the courage and hope to engage in genuine dialogue with those we agree with as well as those we disagree with. It is into that gracious space that God invites us all each day.
Reach out to those you fear.
Touch the heart of complexity.
Imagine beyond what is seen.
Risk vulnerability one step at a time.
~ John Paul Lederach
Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to know more about further training in dialogue and other peacemaking skills.