Peacebuilding Through Dialogue
I probably would not have read Peter Stearns’ edited volume if a) it didn’t have a launch event at George Mason University’s School of Conflict Analysis and Resolution where I’m a visiting scholar and b) if I didn’t know some of the authors. I’m glad I did for two reasons.
First is the general topic of dialogue. It’s been something I’ve been interested in since I read a piece by the legendary pollster and philosopher, Daniel Yaneklovich, who stated that a dialogue is a discussion that is so intense that it leaves neither participant unchanged. As Stearns and several of the authors describe them, dialogues occur when people listen to each other, treat each other with respect, and enter the discussion wanting to learn rather than score points against each other. My peacebuilder friends who have chapters in the book recount some of the ways they and others have led dialogues that have made a difference. In the process, they uncover some key themes those of us who care about the state of our country’s political discourse today might consider—including how to engage in a dialogue when you yourself have a firm position on one side or the other, the role of dignity, the importance of sustaining a dialogue over an extended period of time. As I look out at some of the groups trying to heal the ideological divides in the countries I work on including my own, most of them would have a lot to learn from the last third of Stearns’s book.
Second are the authors whose names I didn’t recognize. It turns out that the book was inspired by Soka Gakkai International, a Japanese spiritual group which was inspired by Nichiren Buddhism from the thirteenth century but has gained a global following of some 12 million people in the last half century or so. Soka Gakkai (which can literally be translated as Value Creation Movement) is the one Buddhist inspired movement that plays a role akin to the Quakers, Mennonites, or Brethren in Christianity. It puts peacebuilding at the heart of its agenda. In Soka Gakkai’s case, dialogue is at its heart since much of its practice involves dialogues over key texts, personal experiences, and more. At a time when mindfulness, empathy, dignity, and other such values are gaining in popularity, Soka Gakkai has a lot to add to our understanding, especially of the connection between true dialogue and peacefulness.
Peacebuilding Through Dialogue doesn’t provide all of the answers, but it raises most of the right questions. Dialogue alone won’t bring world peace. It is, however, a necessary tool to use in getting there. This book will help you see why.