Goal 2—Rebuild Relationships
A. Challenges that undermine Relationships
The basic human need to belong to a group backfires in polarized societies that separate “different” peoples from one another. When we cannot see our connection with others, separation deepens, and our ability to address urgent issues is hindered. Human complexity and biology can lead to social dysfunction, but, if we choose to do the work, it can also lead to collaboration and human flourishing.
- The Reality of Division: Why do we need to rebuild relationships? Social and media representations of different groups of people can lead us to create and/or solidify stereotypes or fears we have of those groups, deepening biologically-programmed “Us vs. Them” mentality. This leads to isolation, division, fear and lack of collaboration that ultimately hurts our communities and world. When we find ourselves in conflict with others, we usually assume it must be the fault of the ‘Other’.
- The Complexity of Human Communication: Studies of the communication process describe it as the attempt by one person to convey a message to a second person, who interprets what they heard. It is a highly sophisticated process of meaning-making with a multitude of factors that influence how (and if) the intended messages are received and understood by the other person. To get an overview of the multilayered process view the brief slide deck Communication.
- The Impact of Human Nature: Our brains were designed to solve problems and protect those close to us through tribalism, which are core reasons for our current divisions that are wired into our brains. (View the page Understanding Ourselves with information from the field of neuroscience.)
B. Dialogue Processes to Rebuild Relationships
Neuroscience also offers us an element of hope: we are wired, but not hardwired, to think through the dividing lens of Us and Them. Our brains can be rewired through awareness activities, contrasting experiences and transformative learning, which are part of constructive, intentional dialogue. Through committing to collaborative, empathic processes in dialogue we can learn to resist oversimplifying, hostile debates. Dialogue draws on specific skills that facilitate new understanding that leads to transformation. Enhanced social skills, such as empathy, inquiry, active listening, and curiosity, along with the capacity to relate to other views are crucial to unlock the rich opportunities of dialogue.
The following three goals correspond to how we understand the transformational potential of dialogue:
- Diversity Potentials: Deep learning that can lead to perspective change and self-transformation happens when we engage in experiences that challenge our identities and beliefs. To intentionally connect with someone we perceive as different from us provides a mirror that reveals our habits, viewpoints and values that may have been previously invisible to us. This can lead to personal growth when we consciously choose to move beyond our comfort zone to allow others’ experiences and perspectives provide us with a more complete image of reality. This can provide access to deeper wisdom to addressing critical world issues.
- Perspective Change: Research from the field of Transformative Learning that suggests that for perspective change to occur, we need a supportive space to commit to the personal and emotional process of engagement, reflection and reevaluation of our frames of reference. (View the page Transforming Ourselves with a short introduction to the field.) CBE seaks to create this type of space, complimented by our understanding that dialogue is essential for this transformative process.
- Dialogue Commitments: It is through meeting and interacting with people from different cultural and social backgrounds that learning deepens and skills can be mastered. Yet, meeting the ‘Other’ is often difficult and needs clear intentions and deep commitment for the dialogue process. Structured Dialogue has the potential to:
- create safe spaces,
- create a more intentional and careful communication process,
- systematically hone listening skills,
- practice emotional intelligence and
- grow relationships with depth.
Structured Dialogue represents here processes, where participants co-create communication agreements and dialogue formats, which enable a group to develop relationships across divisions, build trust, grow mutual understanding and address complex problems.