Written by by Radha Gopalan
We live in extraordinary times: there is the crisis around justice , violence of human against human and human against all life systems, preoccupation with our own wants, desires, aspirations. Then there are people and communities that are trying hard to live cohesively with respect and dignity with each other, nurturing and living with nature, listening and responding to its rhythm. To make sense of these times we need to first understand and really get an insight into this situation. Why are we where we are?
This world that we have created is an outcome of human imagination and ingenuity: our economic and social systems, our rich and vibrant cultures and languages and the way we live and engage with each other are manifestations of human thought including imagination. To draw on this aspect of exploration we require to sit with each other as humans first, without judgement, listening to each other’s points of view and opinions, without needing to convince anybody of a point of view. It takes various forms. It could be a conversation, discussion, negotiation, debate, or dialogue.
About a year ago in the November of 2016, a few of us at Bookworm, were discussing the Laudato Si, Pope Francis’s Encyclical on Care for Our Common Home. The powerful way it presented scientific evidence of climate change to appeal to humanity to be just and fair to all life forms, was striking. It was not just about the science making powerful arguments about the need to take action against climate change. There was a moral imperative. How do we engage with this? Somewhere in that discussion a realisation emerged that this needs more diverse points of view and a wider engagement. The form of engagement we chose was a dialogue: not a debate not a discussion and lecture /presentation. Thus began the Dialogues @ Bookworm, Taleigao, Goa. These are monthly dialogues held on a Saturday evening, open to everyone.
This need for a dialogue emerged because of the complex issues of our times now, which have no ‘right’ answers, no winning arguments. There are no ‘experts’ who can present the right solutions to fix the problem. These issues require collective exploration. By understanding how we think and why we think in a particular way we can re-imagine our world, find creative, just and fair ways of being in this world as a part of and not apart from Nature.
We also want to dialogue because spaces for such explorations are shrinking. The shrill rhetoric, aggression and thirst for instant responses, quick fix solutions that has taken over our lives has also taken over our thought processes. This is only deepening the crisis around us.
When we dialogue around ownership of natural resources such as land, water and forests we try and explore how each of us perceives ownership. By listening to diverse perceptions we think about them, we try and understand the context from which that perception and perspective is formed. We do not judge it nor do we try and change that perception. But what we try to do is hold all the perspectives together and maybe collectively learn something new. When we dialogue around fairness and justice we try and understand what it means to each of us. Our cultural context, education, exposure, moral and ethical value system informs our perspective about these ideas. When we share and listen to each other with respect and try and hold all the views, without judgement, we hope to be able to arrive at a new and shared understanding of justice. Often this may not happen immediately but as we come together and dialogue regularly we will get to that point.
Ideally, the dialogues should just happen as people settle down in the dialogue space. However in the early days of dialogues it helps to have someone initiate it since people are still new to each other and the comfort and ease of a familiar community needs to be built. At our dialogues we sit in a circle so that we are all facing each other and the communication is direct. We do not have a leader or presenter rather we have a facilitator, often to just trigger the dialogue and make sure that the spirit of the dialogue is maintained. This is a role, we hope, will have a finite life span. Each dialogue then takes on a life of its own and then at the end of 90 minutes we usually try and pick an idea or subject to dialogue around for the next session. To build and sustain dialogues it is important to have the same group of people meeting regularly to build a cohesive community. At the Bookworm Dialogues we hope to be able to create such a community which can engage in a “sort of collective dance of the mind that, nevertheless, has immense power and reveals coherent purpose. Once begun it becomes continuing adventure that can open the way to significant and creative change”.
 Bohm, D., Factor, D., Garrett, P. 1991. Dialogue: A Proposal. http://www.infed.org/archives/e-texts/bohm_dialogue.htm.