The Project

“A human being is a part of a whole, called by us ‘universe,’ a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest… a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”- Albert Einstein

Rabbi Michael Lerner suggests that the “absolute prerequisite for making peace” is to “reconnect with what it means in the Torah when it tells us categorically ‘Thou shalt love the stranger’” (2004). Therefore, it is a necessary to cross our thresholds to connect with the other for peace to exist.

David Bohm points out that, “Love will go away if we can’t communicate and share meaning” (1996, p. 46). The corollary to Bohm’s statement is in agreement with Lerner: If humans are able to communicate and share meaning it is possible to “love the stranger.”

As a student and practitioner of Dialogue, I have constantly explored the question of how can we cross our thresholds to meet with the inimical other for the purpose of creating peace. Through my exploration of this question, I have developed a unique theory of dialogue that includes a definition of dialogue as an archetypal process that occurs in an enabling space and that has a set of observable phenomenon that emerge from that process.

4 thoughts on “The Project”

  1. John, Two questions:

    1) Do you have any thoughts about what role visual imagery could play in increasing the connectedness within communities?

    2) Isn’t the concept of community somehow tied not only to connectedness but also to the idea of exclusion? By which I mean, to belong to a community seems necessarily to involve those who are “inside” and “outside.”

  2. Greetings Dave,

    I’m not sure if my long response is the best practice for this tool, but it’s worth giving it a try! Thanks for the questions. Let me offer these initial responses:

    1) First, I have to admit that I did not explicitly include the use of visual imagery within the specific participatory engagements used to inform this thesis. However, the potential for visual imagery to enhance the dialogic process I’m speaking about is as true as it is for communication in general.

    Visual communication within communities seems to increase the speed at which shared meaning and symbol sets are developed, enhances communication for and inclusion of visual learning styles, can help develop strong identity symbols, can develop cohesive and internally consistent design themes, and creates important synchronous and asynchronous shared history as part of forming communal memory. These uses are specifically related to enhancing the characteristics of emergent dialogue that I propose.

    I would also add that visual imagery as it occurs in visual thinking can help in surfacing relational bonds within communities. For example, the use of systems dynamics and mind mapping can both offer tools to communities. Further, this visual component can be used to enhance asset-based community development projects by showing both interdependency and potential synergy within communities. Like systems dynamics specifically, visual imagery and visual thinking offer ways to distill and then present important information within a field, a way of identifying and highlighting what’s important, what to fore from ground.

    Specifically for the purpose of communicating the archetypal model I’ve proposed within this document, the use of visual imagery seems to have been and continues to be very useful. So, to the self-referential purpose of enhancing group and community connectedness through conscious use of this model, visual imagery has been very useful to me.

    2) Absolutely, I do see connectedness and exclusion tied together in a system. This system seems very similar to the systems which describe flocking and schooling behaviours, in which the systemic goal is to maintain relationships which are neither too far nor too close.

    In the work of Patrick Hill, one defines one’s intramural group as those that one thinks are like oneself, and who allow one to say things without questioning them, and the intermural group as those unlike the self. So, in some sense, community is about identity formation, and that means having some kind of foil against which to compare the group against those that are different.

    It seems essential to also be clear that while layers of community interpenetrate they seem rarely to be entirely equivalent. So, members of various functioning sub-communities exist and participate within a larger context, and visa versa, and extending up and down the ladder of abstraction.

    It is not necessary for difference to mean the divisive hierarchy between self and other; but, there is a conspicuous absence of useful ways to talk about difference without implying hierarchy. This is something that I have continued interest in.

    Also, within the archetypal model I present, crossing the circles of engagement can be facilitated by mediators. Where a role within the willing circle may not be able to directly engage with the inimical others, it may be possible to engage through the mediating roles between. For example, a Giraffe may be able to engage with a Hyena through the mediation of a Jackal.

    Dynamic balance within dialogical space as part of the dialogic process includes the notion of balance between inclusion and exclusion, a dynamic balance between collective and autonomous principles. This is one of the qualities of the boundary between the circles of engagement. Including the truly inimical is something that can be fatal, so exclusion is an essential function of creating a boundary at the edge of a dialogical environment. In my thinking is the notion of ‘enclaving’ where groups determine their useful and necessary boundaries. But, it’s also essential to the overall dialogical environment that these boundaries, which create enclaves, have the possibility for permeability. It is not necessary to take in the inimical, but it seems necessary to have an open invitation to those willing, and moreover to those that become willing in the future as the dialogic process builds and then permeates the surrounding larger environment, to come willingly into a more interior circle of engagement. Further, it also must remain possible for a group to hive itself off from a larger group when the larger group does not offer an enabling dialogical environment.

    Thus a sub-group choosing to enclave with those actually willing can become the catalyst for future change in the larger group because they’ve excluded disabling or inimical entities, until such time as it becomes possible to re-cross their group boundary to further, ongoing inclusion. But, even if it does not happen obviously that further inclusion becomes possible, in the meanwhile the emergence of dialogue can create change in the environments within and without the circles of engagement.

    One example of this kind of thinking is present in Thich Nhat Hanh’s Peace Is Every Step (1992) where he uses the example of leaving our windows open, but not so open that someone comes in an steals our stuff. It seems rational and necessary to both open and close our windows to the world, as individuals and as organizational entities. To be fully open to the world is to become a victim to it. However, to be completely closed to the world is to become unwilling, and thus become inimical to dialogical space and dialogic process. Relational filters, like perception filters, seem essential to maintain a nourishing balance between too little and too much. I have thought about dialogue’s relationship to the world as similar to that of Thich Nhat Hanh’s engaged buddhism; a special practice that is at the same time, paradoxically, both removed from the mundane world but also of necessity interdependent and participatory with that world at the same time.

    The notion of ‘enclaving’ and my thinking around that is something that unfortunately did not fully make it into my thesis, but is integral to my thinking. This is one example of the additional material I have to add back in. I hope these systemic and relational analyses are something I can include in subsequent additions to this site.

  3. In my previous reply I said:

    “1) First, I have to admit that I did not explicitly include the use of visual imagery within the specific participatory engagements used to inform this thesis. However, the potential for visual imagery to enhance the dialogic process I’m speaking about is as true as it is for communication in general.”

    But, as I’ve been remembering the visual component to the case study I did in Ireland. In that case study, I talk about some of the specific ways that visual elements help to create both enabling dialogical space and opportunity for both community and dialogue across thresholds of conflict.

    That paper is on my main site as “Dialogue in Ireland” and an associated photo tour.

    I think the exploration in that paper supports some of the thoughts in the 1st part of my previous response.

Comments are closed.