Australian experts in promoting agreements where there is conflict speak of the Convention: “Dialogue is for the brave”

Communities devastated by toxic fumes by some companies in India have managed to get up and start a fruitful dialogue process with companies, substantially improving their quality of life.

In Australia, members of Aboriginal peoples, whose human rights have been violated in the past, have also succeeded in starting a dialogue with the same authority they have faced.

In both cases the dialogue did not occur intuitively or by chance. Rather, it was accompanied by experts who have been teaching communities, businesses and governments the theory and practice of dialogue for decades.

Anthony Kelly se has served in the dialogue field for 40 years. He has taught development practice at the University of Queensland for 25 years visited Chile in 2008 and knows a good part of our country. He retired in 2015 and today his disciple Pam Bourke follows in his footsteps, training in several countries, both companies and communities and since 2016, he teaches in a Diploma at the Catholic University.

Both intellectuals spoke with The counter to share their teachings and experiences in order to contribute to our Constituent process.

Anthony, the Constituents will face the arduous task of reaching a consensus to be able to write a new Constitution that represents us all. How is it possible for dialogue to occur when there are such divergent positions?

– First we have to define what dialogue is. People believe that if you don’t agree on something in particular, dialogue is impossible. However, the most important thing in any dialogue process is to maintain a relationship, even if we have radical differences. It is through this relationship that dialogue can be generated and eventually reach agreements. Sometimes we can begin to agree that we do not have an agreement. Although it is hard to believe, that can be the beginning of a relationship based on respect. Otherwise, it is impossible to even start talking.

– You have vast experience in teaching about how to dialogue in different cultures. In your opinion, what is the most important thing in the dialogue?

-I think it is useful to start by mentioning the four principles of dialogue that have been generated, for the most part, in developing countries, since the 19th century.

The first principle was elaborated by the Indian Nobel Prize Rabindranath Tagore and invites us to see the world through the eyes of the other person, when we begin to dialogue. In other words, we shed everything and are really able to listen to the person in front of us.

The second principle was stated by the Austrian Jewish philosopher Martin Buber who elaborated the theory of the three movements of the dialogue. The first movement is when we present ourselves to a person. The second movement occurs when that person responds to our first movement and, finally, the third movement occurs when the me and the you give rise to the we.

We receive the third principle from the Brazilian educator Paulo Freire, who deepened the use of keywords or heuristics. Freire realized that the way we describe the universe often conditions us to act or not act in one way or another. For this reason, when listening to a person’s speech, Freire advises focusing on words that contain a positive resource.

The fourth and last principle is not attributed to any particular person, but received the contribution of several post authors Freirians.

Going a step further, it is proposed to offer alternatives to the person’s speech by asking for permission to change the way their story is told. For example, we go from the general to the specific or the verb tense is modified from the past, to the present and then to the future, etc.

In your experience, is it possible that dialogue can be used beyond community engagement, where you have taught for decades?

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-On several occasions, one of them in the north of Chile, at the end of the dialogue workshop and receiving the final comments from the participants, a person said that if he had had the course before, it was very likely that he would not have separated from his partner. The reason is that he realized that he had never managed to reach the third movement in the dialogue with his former spouse. Other participants have shared similar experiences in Chile and abroad regarding dialogue with their children, with their co-workers, with the communities and this can be extrapolated to all levels of society. Dialogue is inherent to the human being and defines us as such, even though it can often acquire a confrontational nature.

Many people who work in companies and government agencies have commented that the dialogue has been very helpful in learning how to forge more stable relationships within their organizations, with their colleagues, managers, and staff. Internal dialogue is also essential, if organizations are to work in a coordinated manner in order to respond to the great challenges posed, for example, by the pandemic and the Constituent process to draft a new Constitution for Chile.

-How to advance to the third movement, which involves speaking from a we?

-For our western culture it is not easy to enter the third movement. When a dialogue occurs and a person says something to me, I have two options: I can listen and inquire carefully about what is said to me or I can only pay attention to my own interpretation of what is said and my own agenda. When I really listen and inquire about what is being said to me, it is quickly possible to get to the third movement and generate a link. Otherwise, each one remains on their own ground, without achieving a common space.

As in the case of Anthony, Pam Bourke He has worked with various communities and, many times, under quite demanding conditions where there is a deep division.

Pam also used to visit Chile to teach at the Catholic University diploma on dialogue, once a year, since 2016. But last year, due to the pandemic, during the two weeks that the course lasted, Pam had to get up early in Australia to be present in the classes, although this time, remotely.

-In your experience, how does the dialogue with the communities differ from the political dialogue that will have to take place between the Constituents?

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-The dialogue is for the brave, in any circumstance. This courage not only has to be given on an emotional level, but also on an intellectual level. Therefore, it is very important, when we dialogue, whatever the context in which we find ourselves, that we can be aware of our way of interpreting reality. In this sense, it is worth highlighting the “social logics” that lead people to formulate different judgments about the same social reality.

We can distinguish at least five types of logics that shape the way people interpret their realities. They are neither better nor worse than the others and they are not the only ones that exist.

The first is the “heuristic logic”, Which is that of evocation and includes certain words that provide a focal point that evokes a common understanding and brings people together around shared human realities. For example, “sustainable development” implies a particular way of approaching development practice.

The second is the “binary logic”, Which represents the world between one option or the other. It’s important and useful logic, but it often simplifies reality to just two options, which can lead to division between people.

The third is the “dialogic logic”. It is the logic of the one and the other and appreciates the interaction, harmony and paradox between things, which allows you to understand the most complex reality.

The fourth is the “synthetic logic”, Which is the logic of dialectical transformation that includes the thesis, antithesis and synthesis, further expanding the possibilities of reality.

Finally, we have the fifth logic which is “logic of totality”, Which is a thoughtful and careful process that highlights the past, the here and now and the future, weaving connections between everyone.

Having said this, it is possible to go a step further and address the paradoxical logic, which implies holding two supposedly contradictory concepts, without implying compromising or yielding in pursuit of one or the other. Rather, it corresponds to a dynamic process that requires a constant coming and going, moving between, along, inside and outside of both realities. For example, it is common to see people who advocate for democracy, yet their behavior is authoritarian and controlling. Similarly, it is sometimes the case that peace activists can turn violent in some demonstrations, which begin peacefully. Unless we can clearly see such a paradox and address it, it will be difficult to work on both sides of the tension and people will have the tendency to become fanatics and fundamentalists in search of an orthodoxy, which they see as the only possible way.

-Any final advice for future Constituents Anthony?

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-The dialogue is not a kind of good humor. Rather, it is what defines us as human beings, since, regardless of our culture, we all want to be happy. I have great friends in Chile, a country that I know well and I have no doubts that they will emerge stronger from this process and will be able to find bridges to forge a dialogue, even if they find themselves in radically different positions. It just takes a bit of humility, sweetness, intellectual rigor, and realizing that we have more in common than we think.

-Any final words Pam for future Constituents?

-Social logics help us, first, understand how we interpret reality and then understand others in the same sphere, exercising, as it says David Bohm (1996), the ability to suspend our assumptions and exercise the proprioception of our thoughts.

In general, in political discussion, winning is privileged at all costs and that our opponent loses. The person who does not share our point of view is seen as an enemy or as a competition. In this situation, instead of looking for how to understand and explore the concerns of the other to find a space for connection, we polarize and inflate our differences. This can lead to tribalism and, at its worst, to control based on coercion and violence. In the win / lose process it becomes very difficult to generate a consensus on change. Politics is not confined to politicians. Communities can also become places where people are excluded simply because they think differently.

However, I see signs of hope. During the social explosion there have been wonderful experiments where some NGOs, local governments, universities and neighborhood councils have generated meetings in safe spaces in order to explore how to imagine a future together with their neighbors, colleagues and friends. There has been an opportunity to build connections between groups and organizations to share their ideas and priorities. It is in these moments of crisis where we can create the possibility of coming together and finding a space to live together, where we will probably be surprised to realize how much we share. A structured approach and facilitators that support the dialogue can certainly help make this opportunity more effective by helping people to pay attention, listen with genuine curiosity, put aside our agendas and focus on opportunities and resources that are available to co-create a shared future.

Saul Alinski the great North American community organizer said “if there are only two options, let’s find a third” Finding a third way in a conflict or crisis requires that we listen, put aside our agendas and approach others with humility and curiosity, knowing that we don’t have all the answers. The great heroes and heroines of this great step that Chile will take will be the people who have the courage to facilitate this type of dialogue.

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