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The Necessity for Dialogue
Jan 1, 2007


The word “dialogue” derives from two roots: “dia,” which means “through,” and “logos,” which means “the word,” or more specifically, “the meaning of the word.” Thus the image one gets is of a river of meaning flowing around and through those who are participating in the dialogue.

Dialogue is one of the most effective means in the struggle against negative conditioning, prejudice, and fanaticism. But in order for any dialogue to be effective, certain qualities are needed: Sincerity, humility, and interest. Sincerity is needed because this is what moves the heart. Humility is needed because this is what makes one person value another. Interest is needed because it is the source of all questions.

In his book, Dialogue, the Art of Thinking, William Isaacs writes the following:

“Dialogue is altogether a very different way of talking. Generally, we think of dialogue as “better conversation,” but there is much more to it. Dialogue, as defined, is a conversation with a center, not sides. It is a way of taking the energy of our differences and channeling that energy toward something that has never been created before. It lifts us out of polarization and into a greater sense of the commonalty, and is thereby a means for accessing the intelligence and coordinated power of groups of people.”

Why dialogue?

Firstly, by engaging in dialogue with others we can reduce tensions, conflicts, and even wars.

It is known that through the ages, religious, cultural, and ethnic differences have led to misunderstanding, hostility, and conflict. The root of conflict is ignorance and ignorance is the source of prejudice. To get to know each other through dialogue is essential for the establishment of world peace.

Dialogue between a few people can produce great results. For example, Dr. Jim Miller started a form of dialogue with doctors in the Soviet Union in the 1970s. The doctors, in turn, influenced the leaders, who in turn, helped create change and worked toward ending the Cold War. Because of his work, Miller was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Another such “unsung heroine” is peace activist Margaret Gibney, a 14 year-old from civil war-torn Northern Ireland, who helped create the Wall of Peace project in Belfast. Another is Kenyan ethnographer Sultan Sornjee, founder of the African Peace Museum in Nairobi, who encourages indigenous communities to share their traditions of peace. Miller, Gibney, Sornjee, and many other unsung heroes have faced adversity but have looked beyond cultural, social, economic, and racial issues to find a solution.

Secondly, in today’s world there are over 6,000 communities and as many distinct languages. The United States has a society that is made up of more than 260 ethnic backgrounds. Such differences naturally lead to a diversity of vision, values, beliefs, practices, and expression; all of these, naturally, deserve equal respect and dignity. Through dialogue, we can promote better understanding of and creative cooperation among cultures and religions, while acknowledging and accepting their differences.

Thirdly, technology has expedited globalization and made distant countries seem like neighboring towns. Progress in communication and transport technology during the 20th century has enabled us to overcome geographical boundaries and revolutionize our way of living. The world is now linked to such an extent that a local event cannot take place without having an impact on the international community and vice versa. The world has become like a village. But this village is very diverse and includes many cultures, faiths, and traditions. The tragedy of the tsunami reminded all people just how connected we are when we were all hurt by that disaster and rushed together to help, however we could.

I conclude with the words of several people who have changed history through dialogue.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow cited the following Chinese proverb:

“A single conversation across the table with a wise man is better than ten years’ study of books.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson said:

“Conversation is the laboratory and workshop of the student.”

Eleanor Roosevelt once said:

“We have to face the fact that either all of us are going to die together or we are going to learn to live together and if we are to live together then we must talk.”

When 2001 was designated the year of dialogue by the U.N, Secretary General Kofi Annan said the following:

“I see … dialogue as a chance for people of different cultures and traditions to get to know each other better, whether they live on opposite sides of the world or on the same street.”

Fethullah Gulen, an important Muslim scholar from Turkey and an advocate for dialogue, a man whose words and deeds have inspired millions, including myself, into conducting dialogue, states:

“Civilized people solve their problems through dialogue.”