Sandra Ceciarini
citation

At BRIDGING GAPS we believe that it is only by openly recognizing differences, acknowledging diverging interests and accepting to address controversial issues that true dialogue can happen.

Why we do it

 

At BRIDGING GAPS we believe that it is only by openly recognizing differences, acknowledging diverging interests and accepting to address controversial issues that true dialogue can happen.

 

We understand true dialogue as the capacity of expressing identities, beliefs, opinions and interests as they are, without feeling the need to sweeten them or fearing negative judgments, cultural reprimand, psychological or physical intimidation.

 

We see true dialogue as the pre-condition for building trust and reaching pragmatic compromises, the only way to soothe tensions and violence in multi-cultural, multi-religious and multi-ethnic societies.


The idea of true dialogue is behind the working logic of mediation techniques and theories of change used in a number of cultures, disciplines, institutions and religions:

 

In psychology, humanist and person-centered approaches place an unconditional faith in human capabilities for change, seeing human nature more as intrinsically capable than fundamentally good: people have an inherent capacity to understand their own and others’ problems, overcome them, and live up to their full potential, if given an opportunity to do so.

 

Exactly because understood as naturally possessing the necessary potential to develop self-awareness and resolve problems, people can change from ‘within’ – using their own inner beliefs and underlying characteristics without buying into external instructions, interests, cultures or attitudes.

 

The corollary of this assumption is that change can be fostered by engaging in a transparent, accepting, caring and respectful dialogue with others. Rather than measuring people against objective criteria, open discussion brings people towards a self-assessment and to evaluate potential gaps between their self-perceptions and the way the world perceive them. People benefit from congruent, open and emphatic understanding because it helps them realize their own limits and potentialities rather than because it exposes them to an alleged ‘right way’.

 

The conditions for this dialogue to happen are: i) availability to engage in a genuine exchange, translating in a willingness to express feelings and weaknesses while avoiding any predetermined role; ii) unconditional acceptance of the other, independently from the nature of his/her beliefs, culture, behavior, sexual orientation or any other physical or psychological feature that may differ from the natural preferences of the listener; iii) coupling phenomenological readings of the other with the capacity to feel empathic towards those readings: the listener needs to make an effort to feel what the other feels, while being able to detach himself/herself from the consequences of those sensations and the actions they lead to.

 

In politics, the principle of unconditioned and unrestrained disclosure of information has been successfully used to inform the working logic of a number of Truth and Reconciliation Commissions the world over, where societies needed to come to terms with their tragic past on a morally-accepted basis. The practice of granting amnesty or forgiveness only against public confessions of past misbehaving is grounded in the idea that a wounded society needs re-establishing its social trust before being able to advance the causes of reconciliation and cohabitation.

 

National Reconciliation Commissions have assisted a number of countries in overcoming their social distrust, anger and sorrow deriving from human rights violations, including ethnical violence during Apartheid in South Africa (1948 – 1994); forced disappearances during the military dictatorship in Argentina (1969 – 1983); genocide during the civil war in Rwanda (1994); and violence committed on all sides during political conflict in East-Timor (1974 – 1999).

 

Today, structured and systematic dialogue tackling frictions and opposed interests continues being employed by facilitating partners working in peace-making processes, including in Cyprus and in the Israel-Palestine conflict.

 

In religion, the authentic relationship between man and man, and between man and God, has often been portrayed as a process bearing striking resemblances to true dialogue.

 

The very first dialogue between man and God can be found in the Book of Genesis, when Abraham addresses God in terms that have been described as audacious, tenacious, frank and humble. In Abrahamic traditions, behaviour informed by openness, mutuality and directness, that is, true dialogue, remained a central feature of moral behaviour. For example, man’s involvement both in conscience and deed is a sine qua non for securing divine forgiveness, as it is not enough to hope and pray for pardon: man must humble himself and acknowledge his wrong before he can resolve to depart from sin. In the Christian tradition, the quest for genuine and direct dialogue with God also contributed in shaping mundane events: the search for a more genuine relationship between man and God was among the reasons that brought to the Protestant Reformation and its political fallouts.

 

Hinduism encourages the seeker to delve deep into its inner realms, questioning all and experimenting the most: the disciples of the Vedas and Upanishads are taught to question and push the boundaries of the intellectual and spiritual mind to connect with the Brahman. This connection (Rigveda) is also known as a communion, prayer or dialogue – a true dialogue uplifting man to a different plane of consciousness. Veda guiding principles also inform dialogue with the external world: the motto ‘Let noble thoughts come to us from all directions’ results in the celebration of diversity and allows dialogue to win over conflict. Hindu epistemology – seeing error as an apprehension of partial truth rather than total falsehood – is also intrinsically compatible with the finality of true dialogue as a mean to deal with conflict by way of shedding light and comprehension over ignorance, incompleteness or mystery.

 

In Buddhism, continuous dialogue with the inner nature and with the outer world is part of the spiritual walk towards enlightenment and away from Dukkha. In the Eightfold Path, Right Speech – the behaviour of speaking honestly, purposefully and modestly – allows seeing people and situations from different viewpoints while retaining our features, feeling unthreatened by diversity and feeling no need to control. Such effective dialogue is nurtured by a seeking spirit, and creates a process which enables to find a shared meaning representing much more than the simple sum of the discussants’ viewpoints. Shared meaning – meaning that was originally unforeseen by the discussants – creates new insights and new possibilities for resolving differences.