This is the second part of a 2 part series exploring the role of trust and dialogue. the first part looked at what trust means. Building on the first part of this blog, dialogue is a means and a goal of bridging the trust deficit.
In his Christmas sermon, Pope Francis called for dialogue on the world stage to resolve conflict. This is an important recognition of the role of dialogue as a foundation for resolving conflict as it builds trust.
Dialogue can transform individuals in societies in a way that increases true social cohesion, because it strengthens trust and understanding, and enables real relationships to be built across differences. Dialogue is a two way process of mutual accommodation that can only take place if both “sides” have a deeper understanding of the needs, perspectives, desires, fears, and priorities of the other. It is not just about understanding what the other is saying, but what they really mean.
As the international centre for dialogue (KAICIID) interfaith dialogue manual states, dialogue is more than just a conversation. The goal is not to find a resolution to a problem or settling on a specific action, but the point is to explore and find common ground, leading to solutions or cooperation. This is a particular important tool in diverse societies seeking to incorporate, celebrate and use that diversity. Dialogue becomes an effective approach to strengthening social cohesion within culturally and religiously diverse societies because it allows for people to maintain their various identities while still finding common ground.
Dialogue helps people who are different sides of an argument; those that are marginalised and excluded, to understand that they are not alone in their hopes and fears; nor do people need to be afraid or ashamed to ask difficult questions to seek to understand, to respect and ultimately to accept differences without compromising one’s beliefs or identities.
Dialogue is a powerful tool that can be undertaken in both formal and informal settings. Diaological approaches provides a certain code to undertake informal dialogue. This determines a set of principles to be followed in the interaction with the other. It provides for a quality of interaction that allows for a way of getting involved in different creative processes where the participants can feel included and empowered, safe to be transparent, take risks, open to what others have to say and able to take long term view of the issues.
These are important ways to strengthen cohesion as it maintains identities whilst finding common grounds
Thus the aim of dialogue is to overcome misunderstandings and dispel stereotypes in order to gain better mutual understanding. Rather than necessarily agreeing on a point of view, dialogue is about recognising and developing mutual respect so as to build sustainable relationships. By focusing on common needs, dialogue builds bridges and transforms human relations. It fosters deeper understanding, so that even though disagreements may persist, an appreciation for the perspectives of the other can emerge .
In taking a dialogical approach, misperceptions and fears can be dispelled, understanding built which lays the ground work for practical approaches to peaceful coexistence. This is extremely important when we are faced with the politics of identity as we are increasingly faced with now. As social beings, we have a unique collection of thoughts, habits and beliefs that define who we are, as they have been imprinted on our lives through a series of events and contexts. This shapes our identity and our expressions and representations of it. As Amartya Sen (2007) writes “Identity incorporates the ideas, beliefs, qualities and expressions that make a person who he/she is. This self-perception is modelled by relation with others and with an individual’s own context in time”.
Identities are important because they form the basis of who we believe ourselves to be and how we fit in with the world. Identity formation gives the sense of worth and value to people. It constructs their common views and meanings, shaping their experiences, perception and behaviour. Identity is represented through cultural attributes. While cultures may differ from one another, one aspect they all share in common is that they provide a framework to fulfil the primary human need to belong. Thus, humans strive to fulfil this basic need to belong through one or more of the broader collective identities, in addition to the recognition of their own personal identity. Their cultural identity often overlaps with language and ethnicity, and sometimes also religion.
Worldviews are also important in dialogue as they define how a person views the world, including all the conscious and unconscious elements that form and influence the person’s perception of reality. A worldview can be seen as dynamic, as these elements, as well as the individual’s perception of reality, may change over time. Therefore, inter worldview dialogue aims to improve mutual understanding of different worldviews, including the numerous identities and sub-identities, and it opens pathways for more inclusive language.
When we feel unacknowledged or receive negative feedback or experience negative reactions to our personal identities, we tend to suppress our identity and develop coping narratives. Sometimes these narratives are used to justify violence against others, and foster further exclusion or inclusion of only those with whom we share that particular identity. The good news is that the same is true in the reverse: when identities are recognised and affirmed, we also develop narratives about them. Ultimately these stories act as a protective mechanism and directly affect how we interact with others as well as influence who we choose to engage with and who we choose to avoid. Thus, when we have a single story that has been built upon negative stereotypes and false perceptions of those who are different from us, we can easily become prone towards prejudice and discrimination against others.
Dialogue allows us to become more aware of these power dynamics of identities and hierarchy of identities. Dialogue requires clarity of purpose. We need to be aware of What do we want to achieve and what questions do we need to answer in order to get there?
As someone who has been working in the space of dialogue and trust building over the last decade, here are some some of the building blocks that I have learnt that enable us to have a conversation and keep a focus on the end goal
1) Approach as a golden rule — We need to be aware of the golden rule of treating others as we wish to be treated. Bx expanding this premise, we respect others just as we expect others to respect us. We need to respect the differences that make each and everyone unique. Dialogue can take then place only between equals, which means that partners learn from each others
2) Honesty and sincerity — It is imperative that each participant comes to the dialogue process with complete honesty and sincerity. This means not only describing the major and minor thrusts, as well as potential future shifts of one’s tradition, but also possible difficulties that s/he has with it. Everyone must be honest and sincere, even if that means revealing discomforts with your own tradition or that of the other. Everyone must assume that everyone else is being equally honest and sincere
3) Openness to learn and to understanding and embracing other identities- The essential purpose of dialogue is to learn, which entails change. At the very least, to learn that one’s dialogue partner views the world differently is to effect a change in oneself. Reciprocally, change happens for one’s partner as s/he learns about her/himself. One needs to enter into dialogue so that you can learn and grow, not to change the other. This means we need to relearn the art of listening and be willing to experience it from within, which requires a “passing over,” even if only momentarily, into another’s religious or ideological experience All should strive to experience the other’s faith “from within” and be prepared to view themselves differently as a result of an “outside” perspective. People must not come to the dialogue with any preconceptions as to where the points of disagreement lie. A process of agreeing with one’s partner as much as possible, without violating the integrity of one’s own tradition, will reveal where the real boundaries between the traditions lie: the point where s/he cannot agree without going against the principles of one’s own tradition
4) Don’t be insecure about your own identity (self reflection) — Each participant needs to describe her/himself from their perspective and postion. For example, only a Muslim can describe what it really means to be an authentic member of the Muslim community. At the same time, when one’s partner in dialogue attempts to describe back to them what they have understood of their partner’s self-description, then such a description must be recognizable to the described party Participants in dialogue should have a healthy level of criticism toward their own traditions. A lack of such criticism implies that one’s tradition has all the answers, thus making dialogue not only unnecessary but unfeasible. The primary purpose of dialogue is to learn, which is impossible if one’s tradition is seen as having all the answers. Sometimes you can explore and understand yourself better when engaging with others. Interfaith dialogue to foster understanding among religions
5) Accept boundaries you are in a Journey- Don’t feel that you are the spokesperson for your entire community or faith tradition or that you ought somehow to know everything there is to know about it. Admit any confusion or uncertainty you might have if a puzzling question arises
6) Dialogue must be a two-sided project: both between religious/ideological groups, and within religious/ideological groups (inter- and intra-). Intra-religious/ideological dialogue is vital for moving one’s community toward an increasingly perceptive insight into reality. Understand similarities and differences between theological and philosophical discussions on an intellectual level. Don’t assume in advance where points of agreement or disagreement will exist. Everyone should be willing to be self-critical
7) Lived Experience is vital — One must compare only her/his ideals with their partner’s ideals and her/his practice with the partner’s practice, not one’s ideals with one’s partner’s practice. Value other peoples position and experience and spirituality by learning about different religions through sacred writings, stories and narratives. Everyone must be permitted to define their own religious experience and identity, and others must respect this
8) Trust is a means and a goal — Trust is a must. Confidences must be kept within the group. Everyone should feel “safe “ to express their ideas and feelings without fear. Dialogue can only take place on the basis of mutual trust. Because it is persons, and not entire communities, that enter into dialogue, it is essential for personal trust to be established. To encourage this it is important that less controversial matters are discussed before dealing with more controversial ones
9) Work together on joint projects to actualize your shared ideals and understandings. — You need to work together on specific projects to actualize that trust. Nothing works better than joint projects on the ground helping to actualize the commonality and differences between people.
Trust building through dialogue involving shared endeavour and mutual vulnerability requires a willingness to be open to understanding the lifeworld of another. This most certainly does not mean that one needs to agree with its every detail, nor to, in some way, concede something essential in oneself. It does however need to understand where other ideas are coming from — historically and intellectually. In other words, the doors need to be kept open, not slammed shut.
So how do we build the trust that creates the ideas and institutions that will allow us to live together as the global tribe? Using the Trust Quotient buttressed by the 4 R’s of Trustbuilding outlined in part 1 one can create a safe space for critical self-reflection but more importantly to reach out to dialogue with the other. This is extremely important to achieve what the pope calls as the search for “reconciliation and fraternity”