The 7-page article, Repairing the Breach: The Power of Dialogue to Heal Relationships and Communities (2014), by Robert Stains Jr was published in Journal of Public Deliberation: Vol. 10: Iss. 1. Dialogue has an incredible power to create a space for individuals to come together and work through difficult conversations that may have previously been felt by the participants as an insurmountable task. Public Conversations Project use of the Reflexive Structured Dialogue process creates an opportunity for a profound shift in conversations, as participants share their own personal stories, emotions and identities; to see and foster the humanity in each other and explore the common ground between both “sides”.
Find the PDF available for download from the Journal of Public Deliberation site here.
From the article…
Dialogue holds the promise of healing in all these contexts in which community is broken. The sense of community depends on the quality of relationships, and relationships grow from conversations. Therefore, the quality of conversation drives the quality of relationships and the possibility of community. At the Public Conversations Project (PCP), we have found that shifting the conversation through Reflective, Structured Dialogue invites and enables people to move from certainty to curiosity to caring; from mindless stereotyping to genuine interest by changing the nature and process of their conversations. Whether it’s a church divided over theology and human sexuality, a workplace split by gender issues or a region mired in religious and ethnic conflict, in dialogue mutual curiosity and exploration build on each other and relationships move closer to being restored. Much work has been done in our field to create and facilitate these kinds of healing conversations. Because they remain less visible than other kinds of dialogue, much more work needs to be done by practitioners, scholars and funders to evaluate, expand and sustain them.
Hope for relationship and community healing comes when dialogue focuses on personal stories, emotions and identities. It can counter the effects of the stories told of others that shred relational and communal bonds and the emotions that inflame or imprison. (Black, 2008; Freedman & Combs, 2009; Seikkula & Trimble, 2005). In face-to-face dialogue, participants have the opportunity to edit and add to the stories that are told about them, changing the ways that they are seen. As Black has observed, it is “…through telling and responding to personal stories, group members craft their identities and take on others’ perspectives” (Black, 2008, p. 93). This experience of being witnessed is powerful and connecting. It opens receptivity to others’ stories, dilutes stereotypes and invites the heart 1 Stains: The Power of Dialogue to Heal Relationships and Communities as much as the mind. And heart-focus can transform enemies to friends (Eilberg, 2014; Palmer, 2011).