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A Dialogical Format for Exploring & Discussing World Problems
By Dawn J. Lipthrott, LCSW

I wrote this article for a newsletter of a group to which I belong that seeks ways to bridge differences and conflict in the Middle East. Members of our community share a commitment to repairing the world. Many of us are also committed to using a dialogical process developed by Harville Hendrix, Ph.D. and his wife, Helen LaKelly Hunt, Ph.D., as a way of dissolving or resolving conflict in our interpersonal relationships. That model has also been used in group format between Christians and Jews discussing anti-Semitism and the Holocaust. Combining this way of looking at a situation with Hendrix's dialogical model can bring new understanding.

The format below adds additional possibilities to help explore situations when the 'other side' is not available, or it can be used to open your own thinking before speaking. This expanded format requires the person to not only step out of his or her own cherished 'position', but to imagine a variety of possibilities that helps one see the sense of other position, whether or not you agree with it. In a true dialogue, the other person or group will tell you their position! However, the 'imaginary validation' presented here can strengthen your skills of Expressing Understanding and Empathy in a live dialogical process. From the foundation of Expressed Understanding and Empathy roads to repair can be developed.

Repairing the World

I am convinced that our community has extraordinary possibilities for transforming our world. Every person I know in it is bright, articulate, visionary, and cares deeply for humanity.

I invite you to look at areas of your life or the world that need repair/healing. Your concern may be something that limits you or others in one or more of the following levels:

· as individual human beings
· in personal relationships
· between nations or groups
· in the world or Creation as a whole.

The purpose of this is not for all of us to bemoan or despair about the state of the world, but rather to stimulate the thinking and creativity of our group so that each of us can better contribute to healing/repair.

Format for Exploring the Issues
Answer as many of the following areas as you can:

1) Statement of a problem or concern that affects the world on one or more levels mentioned. Put it in behavioral terms . . . what the person or group did or does (or fails to do) that you are concerned about.

2) What is the message their behavior gives you?

3. What do you tell yourself about the behavior and about them, about their goals, plans, belief about you, etc.?

4) What hurts or angers you the most about it?

5) What does that message or feeling remind you of growing up in your own family? (It might feel very similar, or you may have had the exact opposite experience. It can be almost anything -- what you need is not important, you don't matter, you can never be good enough, etc.)

6) What do you know or imagine about the other person's or group's history that could possibly contribute to this way of acting or speaking? (the one that upsets you)?

7) What might people who continue fueling the problem think and feel in order for them/us to act that way?

8) What might be their fears?

9) What might be their needs that are not being met?

How might their behavior serve to protect them?

11) What do you (or your group) or say or do that may contribute to the problem or to their fears?

12) Express Understanding (this does NOT mean agreement -- you can completely disagree, yet be able to make sense of THEIR experience): Try making sense of the thinking of parties involved in light of what you know/imagine their experience to be. Start your writing, speaking with "Their thinking makes sense to me because . . ."

For example: "It makes sense because the people lived on that land for generations, as far back as anyone can remember. They have a real sense of ownership of that land. When others came in and settled on it, set up government, and essentially claimed it as their own, I can imagine that it felt like intruders were taking away something that was rightfully theirs and that their legitimate needs and claims did not matter. So it makes sense that they would see the newer group as the enemy that is trying to take over and push them out of a place they see as their own, and resources that belong to them. So it makes sense they would fight, attack, try to terrorize the 'intruder'.

13) Empathize. Try to imagine what they might be feeling (frustrated, afraid, dismissed, unimportant, isolated, etc.)

Example: So they might feel attacked, pushed aside, dismissed - as if they and their needs don't matter, robbed, betrayed, angry, victimized.

If at all possible, have a conversation with the other at this point, in which you listen without judgement, to hear the other person's experience, what happens inside of them. (If they only give you the surface statement, you might offer gentle inquiry along the following lines . . . .
. . . . what has brought you to this way of thinking/acting . . . .
. . . . what is your biggest fear around this . . . .
. . . . what do you most need that you are not getting . . . .
. . . . what feels familiar about that in your life, history?
. . . . what do you need most in this situation?

14) What is your vision of our best future in this area?

15) What needs to happen for repair/healing to take place?

16) What do you see as the greatest signs of hope and/or potential for progress in this area?

17) What actions can we take as individuals and/or as a community to help in repairing the world in terms of this problem area that best addresses the needs of all parties involved?

18) What question(s) or focus would you like the community to consider as we each offer our best thinking in response to your concern?

See our Resources for a Better World links section and articles on World Relationships

DISCLAIMER  Disclaimer: Information, observations, and opinions are offered for general reference only and should not be misconstrued as counseling advice, diagnosis or psychotherapy. Base your treatment or decisions solely upon the recommendations of your your own psychotherapist, counselor or physician or your own choices. By using this site, you signify full acceptance of our Terms of Use.   


I welcome your constructive comments and suggestions about the material on this website and how we can all be most effective in co-creating the kind of relationships and world that is honoring and respectful for all people.
© Dawn Lipthrott, The Relationship Learning Center, 1996 Renewed 2008

(May be copied and distributed as long as this identifying information is retained on copies. Reproduction for financial gain is prohibited.)