Daily Trust (Abuja)

16 December 2012

Nigeria: The Dynamics of Dialogue

opinion

"Dialogue" has become one of the most used words in our world today. First let us look at what dialogue really and truly is: The Wikipedia web site gives a beautiful exposé of dialogue in philosophical and historical categories according to which in philosophy and literary genre, dialogue was simply called dialog. The Greeks and Indians used dialogue for purposes of rhetorical entertainment and instruction. In its technical sense, the word 'dialogue' describes what the Greek philosophers invented, and what the noblest of them lifted to the extreme refinement of an art.

In this context we can identify dialogue by "ordinary minds" that discuss people, simple minds that discuss events and great minds that discuss ideas that transform the world. In the east, the genre dates back to the Sumerian dialogues and disputations (preserved in copies from the early second millennium B.C.E.), as well as Rigvedic dialogue hymns and the Indian epic Mahabharata, while in the west, literary historians commonly suppose that Plato (c. 427 BC - c. 347 BC) introduced the systematic use of dialogue as an independent literary form. The Platonic dialogue had its foundations in the mime, which the Sicilian poets Sophron and Epicharmus had cultivated half a century earlier.

The works of these writers, which Plato admired and imitated, have not survived, but scholars imagine them as little plays usually presented with only two performers. Plato simplified the form of dialogue to pure argumentative conversation about the year 405-406 BC, and by 399 he had brought the dialogue to its highest perfection, especially in the cycle directly inspired by the death of Socrates. All his philosophical writings, except the Apology, use this form. As the greatest of all masters of Greek prose style, Plato lifted his favorite instrument, the dialogue, to its highest splendour, and to this day he remains by far its most distinguished proficient.

Paulo Freire, believes that dialogued communication allowed students and teachers to learn from one another in an environment characterized by respect and equality. He was a great advocate for oppressed peoples who was concerned with praxis-action that is informed and linked to people's values. Dialogued pedagogy was not only about deepening understanding; it was also about making positive changes in the world. This focus was on making the world a better place. Today, dialogue is used to help people resolve long-standing conflicts and to build deeper understanding of contentious issues. Dialogue is no longer about judging, weighing, or making decisions, but about understanding and learning.

Dialogue dispels stereotypes, builds trust, and enables people to be open to perspectives that are very different from their own. Dialogue as a "conversation between two or more persons" is an exchange of views in the hope of ultimately reaching agreement. This should not be an argument to win or to prove who is right and who is wrong. In dialogue, a person exercises the right to hold on to an opinion which the person is convinced of. Fethullah Gűlen locates dialogue in the context of persuasion and described those who resort to force as being intellectually bankrupt because people will always demand freedom of choice in the way they run their affairs and in their expression of their spiritual and religious values.

Does the word "dialogue" mean the same thing to the people who invoke it in conversations and negotiations today? Sometimes some people turn dialogue to monologue and an assertion of one's rightness and ego. Some people just want to be listened to as if they have a monopoly of knowledge and wisdom. Some people never allow a partner in dialogue to complete a sentence before they break in or "jump in their throat" whereas dialogue is a project that creates a sacred space for an encounter with one another about concerns of human persons in their relationship with God, with the world, and with one another.

Dialogue creates a space where fear, insecurity and pain could give way to trust and love. This calls for openness and politeness in our methods of communication. In dialogue, we must learn when, how and where to talk and when, how and where to be silent. Silence is still an active and valid form of dialogue. This does not exclude the right of everyone involved in it to be attentive in listening and to be heard in responding with mutual respect. Dialogue ought to take cognisance of our various heritages from birth, environment and physical trauma one must have suffered in life because these influence the behavioural pattern of the human person. There are some actions that even the actor has no explanation for.

This is where patience is very vital in dialogue. There are times you find yourself doing exactly the things you condemn in other people. At other times you are shocked at some people doing things you think should not be done especially things that contradict human reason. Even St Paul had this feeling when he encountered himself at the depth of his being in the quiet of his life. This inward struggle made him say: "I do not understand my own behaviour; I do not act as I mean to, but I do things that I hate....Though the will to do what is good is in me, the power to do it is not: the good thing I want to do, I never do; the evil thing which I do not want, that is what I do (Romans 7, 14-25). This means that a fruitful dialogue should seek a proper debriefing and healing of memories to eradicate prejudice and preconceptions.

We must acknowledge the role of prayer in the dynamics of dialogue. Addressing the representatives of the World Council of Churches in Rome on April 11, 1986, Blessed Pope John Paul II said: "In the final analysis, prayer is the best means by which all humanity can be united. It disposes people to accept God's will for them. It also affects the relationship of those who pray together, for coming together before God in prayer; people can no longer ignore or hate others. Those who pray together discover that they are pilgrims and seekers of the same goal, brothers and sisters who share responsibility for the same human family, children of the same God and Father. Dialogue must show how much we need each other; therefore, we need to love each other for our own sake".

Fr (Prof) Omonokhua is the Director of Mission and Dialogue of the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria, Abuja, and Consultor for the Commission for Religious Relations with Muslims (CRRM), Vatican City, Rome

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