The necessity for time and space is primarily one of self-evident logistics for dialogue to occur. However, there is reason to believe that time and place need specific characteristics for dialogue to emerge, and this time and space is not just chronological time and physical space. I mean to speak of qualitative time and space. Isaacs suggests that “wholesome space for dialogue” (1999a, p30) is necessary and that this enabling space is also a “field of conversation” (1999a, p234) that supports dialogue. Isaacs also includes the notion of “kairos” as qualitative time, distinct from “chronos” as quantitative structured time, in which dialogue occurs (1999a, pp288-290).

The work of Oldenburg (1999) supports this notion of qualitative versus quantitative time and space when he makes clear that informal time and space must be part of healthy relationships between individuals and community. Oldenburg develops the idea of time and space in relation to the need for a commons, a third place that is neither home nor work, where people can meet and interact with one another in un-programmed ways. Oldenburg explains:

“The benefit of participation both delight and sustain the individual, and the worth of the third place is most often counted in personal terms. Yet, even those profits of participation that seem most personal are never wholly so, for whatever improves social creatures improves their relations with others. What the third place contributes to the whole person may be counted a boon for all” (1999, p. 43).

In other words, Oldenburg’s “third place” is outside of normal time and is a place where individuals and community are transformed.

Havel (1986) developed the concept of self-conscious culture in which a community is aware of the way its culture has developed, and points to theatre as a time and place where this self-conscious development can take place. Theatre then provides time and place as a foundation for the development of a community dialogue about its own cultural development.

‘Sticky rice’ is Brown’s (1995) metaphor for the way sharing meals creates bonds between people. A more technical term for this from Christian theology is ‘commensality’, the sharing of meals as an act of community. This prandial sharing is an example of creating qualitative time & space.

One primary task of the Compassionate Listening Project (Hwoschinsky, 2002) is to create for the participants a safe place to both speak and to be heard, which is an experience participants may not have had before for contentious or painful issues. The speaking and listening is essential to a process of discernment that reveals the fundamental connection between humans. This purpose of specialized listening happens in an intentionally created time and space. These intentional spaces, whether ritual, theatrical or political are all enabling dialogical spaces.

Posted by John Bell on December 10, 2006
Tags: The Fifth Principle of Dialogue

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