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Dialogue PDF Print E-mail

Dialogue

                   Gothom Arya

            The declared government policy to deal with the unrest in the South is Santi Vithi (peaceful mean or nonviolence). To many, Santi Vithi means a dovish approach as oppose to a hawkish one. However, it certainly does not mean no-action or surrender but proactive actions. Military or police actions are not excluded but used within the due process of law to ‘search and punish' the culprits but not to ‘search and destroy' the perceived enemy. Thus the priority is given to political actions to win over the hearts and minds of people. One way to do so is through dialogue

            ‘Dia' means ‘through' (not ‘two') and ‘logos' means ‘word'. So, dialogue should mean ‘flow of meaning through the use of words'. This definition of dialogue has been proposed by David Bohm, a well known physicist. The flow of meaning occurs when each participant to the dialogue, feeling that others are his/her friends, is willing to deeply and attentively listen to them. The flow of words and meaning in this way would create a new and fresh understanding that could not be reached in ordinary conversation. The more often they participate in dialogue, the more they will understand and love each other. This feeling would emerge naturally without efforts to change or win over each other through various means such as trying to convince, seducing, preaching, or lecturing. Therefore, dialogue is a tool of Santi Vithi. Unlike discussion and debate, it is not a threat to the other's identity but aiming at understanding the other and respecting the difference while holding to one own conviction.

            The key word is listening. To practice dialogue is to constantly tell oneself to listen first and listen calmly and mindfully. While listening, one should not make any judgment on what the other is saying and not think about how to respond: just listening. If the other is angry, one should listen to hear to what is coming up from his/her heart. This kind of listening will help the other to open his/her heart and with dialogue partners opening their hearts then understanding and compassion may occur.

            While David Bohm sees dialogue as a mean to touch human heart, Leonard Swidler proposes the use of interfaith dialogue to believers of different religions to learn from each other. Before entering into dialogue, there should be a preparation phase when participants try to understand the meaning of dialogue and prepare themselves. He suggests the following attitudes before entering into dialogue.

  • Be open-minded to learn, to grow, to change and eventually to act together on agreed activities.
  • Be interactive and avoid domination or the thinking such as ‘I am better' or ‘my faith is more perfect than yours'
  • Be truthful and sincere without lazy tolerance to wrong principles
  • Show trust and respect without hidden agenda
  • Distinguish the conversation at principle level from that at practical level and keep the conversation at the same level
  • Express clearly one own position or belief while showing the readiness to listen and understand other's position
  • Listen first and avoid prejudgment on other's position or belief
  • Prepare to change when the change is mutually beneficial. Seek win-win conversion not win-over conversion
  • Be self-critical in constructive way

Parichad Suwanbubbha, Mahidol University, has been lecturing on this subject for quite a while and after the start of the recent unrest in the South, she agreed to apply her knowledge on dialogue to promote understanding among people of different views. The first target groups were security officers and other officials on the one hand and religious, community and student leaders on the other. Each group attended separately one-day training to understand the basic principles of dialogue. They then joined two-day training and try to practice dialogue among the two groups. Without preparation, antagonists normally do not listen to each other and their exchange is monologue rather than dialogue. This time, however, participants were able to open up, slowly at the beginning and more so by the end of the first day. If someone was astray from the principle of dialogue as mentioned above, the participants were able to remind the person of the basic rules. After coming to know each other more, the atmosphere turned friendly, they then devised together small plans of activities they might later on implement. After this preliminary success, Parishad has been very much in demand. She tried to apply dialogue method to the conflict over public land that is used by local people as traditional herb garden whereas the authority would like to allocate it to registered poor families. Preliminary surveys on the dispute over dam construction and the garbage disposal in the South were undertaken to appraise the possibility of applying dialogue to these cases.

In many phone-in radio programmes, in the South or elsewhere, exchanges of words often produce heat rather than understanding. The training of radio programmers on dialogue is being undertaken so that they would become the promoters of dialogue instead of confrontation. Training of trainers is also planned.

Dialogue is certainly a useful tool of Santi Vithi suitable to the situation in the South.  

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Research Center for Peace Building (Old) Institute of Human Rights and Peace Studies, Mahidol University
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