Curiosity and conversation

At our most recent event, taking place in Manchester in July, more than 40 people came together to learn more about dialogue, each having the chance to be part of two different workshops.Much of the potential of dialogue in society has still to be realised, concluded a report from Lisa Cumming and Ute Kelly from Bradford’s department for Peace Studies in 2010 . A good range of initiatives have been developed over the last decade, however, some of which have contributed workshops at Northern Friends Peace Board events under the theme of Building Peace in Diverse Britain.

One of the organisations we invited on this occasion was Talk for a Change who have recently published findings that in some way take up the baton from the earlier report from Cummings and Kelly. In ‘We need to talk about….’, they ask “Can discussing controversial issues strengthen community relations?” That dialogue is not just a superficial exercise in problem-solving can be usefully summarised by these couple of sentences from the report:
“Perhaps our deeper purpose is to help people to open their hearts and minds to hearing different and oppositional ideas and beliefs, and to see things from another’s point of view. We aim to allow a little air and light into a discussion, to be prepared for confusion and strong feelings, and to give time for people to find their way towards change.”
Raj Bari and Jo Broadwood from Talk for a Change led a workshop that opened up discussion around some of these ideas, as well as facilitating a simple exercise in developing a better understanding of a situation causing someone difficulty.

Justine Huxley, of St Etheleburga’s Centre for Reconciliation and Peace , brought a workshop that explored the power of narrative in dialogue, inviting us each to undertake an exercise that began to shed light on our own personal stories. St Ethelburga’s works particularly in an interfaith context and has done a lot of work on creating safe spaces for dialogue. A way of approaching difficult dialogue that Justine shared with the group was that of ‘Disagreement Success’. In the accompanying handout, we read: “
“If our response on encountering a difference which disturbs us (i.e. a threat) is to start by taking a side, we have taken the first step to allowing polarisation to lead us into conflict. An alternative strategy is to develop curiosity about the nature of the disagreement and about our own and our opponents’ positions”.

The day was enriched by live music during our tasty vegetarian lunch, by the comfortable and bright surroundings of Manchester’s Cross Street Unitarian Chapel and by the eagerness to share and to learn from workshop leaders, NFPB project volunteers and participants. Thank you to everyone involved.

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