by Max Ediger
We have been overwhelmed with news of violent events the past weeks. Every day the evening news has brought us reports and videos of the horrors of shootings in the USA, horrific bombings in Afghanistan, a deadly assault on a restaurant in Bangladesh, to mention only a few. These events have left us feeling worried and perhaps even fearful. Social media responses have been immediate and numerous, many attempting to understand or explain the causes of this upsurge of violence. One post on Facebook especially caught my eye.
“Alton Sterling didn’t deserve this. Philando Castille didn’t deserve this. Those cops in Dallas didn’t deserve this. Just stop it. Stop the blame. Stop the killing. Stop the hate.”
We should also add that the people of Baghdad didn’t deserve this. The people enjoying their dinner in a Dhaka restaurant didn’t deserve this. All those suffering from other violence these past months didn’t deserve this.
How I wish these words were sufficient to bring about calm and peace, but I know that words, no matter how powerful and pertinent, cannot bring about the healing and transformation our societies need. Only love and a lot of hard work of the right kind can do that.
“Just stop it. Stop the blame. Stop the killing. Stop the hate.” Yes of course, but how? These questions are some of the challenges we try to deal with in the three-month School of Peace here in Asia (www.interfaithforum.org). Obviously three months is insufficient time to find answers needed to approach such complex challenges, but hopefully we can at least begin to see some hope for ways in which we can begin working so that the vision of inclusive, justpeace communities can begin to take tangible shape.
One of the most important topics we focus on during our sessions is that of dialogue versus discussion in conflict transformation processes. According to some dictionaries, the word discussion comes from the Greek and has two parts. The first is “discus” and is the same word used for the Olympic game where a discus is thrown for distance in a competition. The second part is “cussion” and is the same root used in percussion and concussion. Thus the word discussion means throwing ideas in order to hit and overcome an opponent.
The word dialogue, also from the Greek, has a very different meaning. “Dia” means a gentle flow such as a soothing breeze coming through the window on a hot summer day, or the gentle flow of a stream. “Logos”, the second part of the word, means ultimate truth as in John 1:1: “In the beginning was the word…” Dialogue therefore, means the gentle flowing of truth between persons or groups. It suggests deep listening and recognizing that the “other” is not an opponent, but has some truth to share with us. This is much more important than throwing our ideas to convince others that we are the ones with truth. By bringing our two “truths” together we find the space to build love and community.
To do dialogue, we must be willing to engage with those who are different instead of just tolerating or accepting them. In dialogue and engagement we recognize that everyone has some truth and it is important for us to learn that truth from them by listening deeply to their thoughts and their experiences. The Chinese character for listen is made up of six parts: ears, mind, presence, eyes, undivided attention, and heart. It emphasizes that in deep listening we focus our entire being on the messenger in order to receive any truth their message might have for us.
It doesn’t help to point the finger at others. It doesn’t help to only demand a response. We need to have the courage to seriously ask the question why and then listen deeply to discover the roots of the conflict. That requires engagement and dialogue and the willingness to set aside our egos, assumptions and biases so that we can listen to the truths others hold without making assumptions about them. If we can do that, then we will have a much clearer vision of what we can/must do to bring healing to our communities.
It won’t be easy and it cannot be forced. People will only engage and dialogue with each other when their hearts are ready. But we do not need to wait for others to be ready before we take action. We can start now with ourselves. Find someone whose voice is not being heard and find ways to engage and dialogue with them. It is a very small step, but it is an important step and as Lao Tzu said, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” We can take that one first step and begin the journey.
All we need to move toward healing in our world is sincere love and the courage to engage and dialogue with those who feel their lives do not matter to the broader society. Then the diversity of the world God created will no longer be something to fear, but rather will be something beautiful to celebrate in unity.